Cloud-powered Print Production


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Cloud-powered Print Production
Business intelligence you can see… and use

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

With almost everything that takes place on a computer landing in “the cloud” these days, it’s no surprise that your print workflow can go there too. After all, the cloud is fast, reliable, secure, and a click or two away. The problem with many cloud-based workflows, though is that they don’t always provide access to some of the information business owners need. For example, it can be difficult to compare past work, current jobs, and ones just completed in terms of labor, materials, productivity, and profitability. And we all like profitability.

Are your presses and customers profitable?
The need for such comparisons became front and center at a meeting a few weeks back where people were talking about determining the long-term profitability of a given client. What did that job really cost? Did we make money on it? And are we making money on that customer or not? When you have 100 or so clients running dozens of jobs each month, pulling client- or job-level detail out of a few months’ worth of spreadsheets takes a lot of time, so there is probably some value in collecting the needed data regularly and I’ve talked in the past with Avanti about its Avanti Slingshot® Print MIS software and knew it collected a lot of details about each job. But it was not always easy to pull out the information a user needed. Since Ricoh Company, Ltd., acquired Avanti in 2017 I’ve wondered whether Ricoh’s penchant for gathering data about its presses might change the game for print providers. I’ve talked with Avanti about its software and am familiar with Ricoh’s presses, so I figured the two companies might have some interesting answers. So I got on the phone.

I soon wound up on a con call with Josh Perkins at Avanti Computer Systems in Toronto and Lisa Oakleaf at RICOH Graphic Communications in Boulder. Perkins is the Director of Product Management at Avanti and Oakleaf is the Senior Product Manager of global marketing for RICOH SupervisorTM. Supervisor is a cloud-based, vendor/press-agnostic print shop data collection and visualization solution that gathers and displays operational data coming in from printers and elsewhere. Perkins and Oakleaf gave me an overview of what “gathers and displays” really mean, and in the demo of RICOH Supervisor and its new integration with Avanti Slingshot, showed several ways print providers could gain a firmer grip on productivity and profitability.

Data collection and presentation
Avanti Slingshot still aggregates the various parts of a workflow to give users a good sense of what works well in a shop and what could do with some improvement. While this data has always been accessible to Avanti users, Ricoh Supervisor makes access easier. When the data is uploaded to Supervisor (which happens automatically), the data shows up in easy-to-understand graphical displays. Users can peel back the layers of production performance, by device, time periods, and at the job level. I like seeing data displayed visually versus on a spreadsheet and thought the info portrayed as a mix of data and graphics in Supervisor would make most business owners or operations people smile.

Remember that I said vendor/press-agnostic? Slingshot and Supervisor show uptime, downtime, pages and jobs printed, how many jobs are in the queue, and more for every connected press on the shop floor. Have a mix of presses from three vendors? The Avanti upload to Supervisor includes all presses in use, so you can check on your presses over any web connection. Yes, that means from your lake house, the golf course, or your boat. To make it more obvious for a visual guy like me, another graphic showed daily print volumes for each press. If you view this over time, you can see when a press was offline or down for service and how other machines were there to keep your operation running. Many shops have such data available but not all at once and not in one place for every press with customizable detail. This is far from a trivial point: RICOH Supervisor provides ad hoc reporting and analysis of data from multiple sources through customizable widgets and dashboards. This lets you see and use the information that’s most important to your operation. I am yet to see another system that provides this level of detail about all the presses in a shop. This is an important benefit since I can’t recall being in many shops with less than three makes of presses.

OK, you can’t see everything. For example, you won’t see why the pre-press team didn’t set a color space correctly or why a certain job took longer than usual to run. But on the whole, you get the info needed to see whether or not a job is making money, and if it’s not you can determine if there’s a problem that needs addressing.

Like many software products, RICOH Supervisor has a customizable “dashboard.” The data it shows can help improve job estimating, operator skills, regulatory and operational compliance, and simplify shop management. Studying this dashboard and operating “by the numbers” provides a solid foundation for growth, such as knowing where to invest.

I know integrating new technology and getting a team up to speed on a new Print MIS and using the cloud for some key detail can take time away from other business priorities and may lead to some internal pushback. So bring in the cavalry: work with Avanti and Ricoh technology specialists to streamline the process and implement a solution for you and your business. These days, you need to use every tool available to make sure your business delivers on customer expectations while remaining profitable and attractive to potential buyers. Your Ricoh representative can tell you more and provide a live demonstration or trial of RICOH Supervisor and its integration with Avanti Slingshot. I’ve seen a lot of this stuff over the past few years, and this one is worth a closer look.


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