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Collaboration: It's something you probably are already doing to
some degree. But get prepared to do even more because it has
steadily become one of the hot-button issues of printing workflows.
When your customers begin asking how they can be
more involved in the actual production process”?and they
will”?you will need to come up with answers that will work for
you as well as them.

The essential concept of collaborative workflows is to give both
the print provider and the print customer access to and control of
jobs going through the production process. That sounds good to
most designers, and scary
to most print shops, but it's
starting to happen in a big
way, whether you like the
idea or not.

Some workflow companies
are making collaboration
capabilities a big selling
point for their products. In
the commercial arena, for
instance, Creo (now a subsidiary
of Kodak) has made
a big push on its Synapse
InSite product, which provides interactive tools for marking up
proofs, on-line job approval, and even the ability to make
changes to a job, job ticket, or job schedule through an Internet
connection. But the concept is by no means just for commercial

Of course, the biggest advantage is the ability to zap files
across the Internet virtually instantaneously, eliminating the
cost and time loss of sending hardcopy proofs. The time and
cost benefits can be particularly important in the wide-format
market, since speed is almost always an important factor; in
addition, the short-run/one-off nature of the business makes
the cost of a hard-copy proof a much higher percentage of the
total cost of producing a job.

From basic to sophisticated
On the most basic level, it's a fairly simple matter in many of
today's workflows to create a PDF of the final output file and email
it to the customer for approval. If you are already working in
a PDF environment, you don't have to invest thousands of dollars
and have a custom-designed workflow to begin collaborating
with your customers.

PDF is rapidly becoming an important tool for soft proofs, for
instance. The new Adobe Acrobat 7 Professional program offers
an array of tools to mark up and comment on PDF documents,
and many companies are using these tools to streamline the
workflow. Since ICC profiles can also be embedded, Acrobat 7 not
only permits accurate color evaluation (assuming the client
understands color profiling and uses calibrated monitors), but
also allows them to mark up any corrections directly on the file
so they are easily understood and applied.


Beyond Acrobat, the actual extent of collaboration can vary
widely: from the ability to track every job and even manipulate
files and the production cycle while offsite, to merely being able
to verify that a job is in production.

Collaboration can get very sophisticated if you want. Systems
are available that allow users to actually grab assets from
your servers and make corrections and alterations. Printers can
set up file-access permissions to allow varying degrees of
access. It can get very complicated and very pricey, and solutions
can be homegrown or vendor supplied.

The best route, however, may be to start simple. First, learn
to use the new tools in Acrobat for marking up PDF files, and then
show your customers what can be done. You might want to hold
off for now on more sophisticated collaboration.

How much access?
Customers will soon be clamoring for access to their jobs, and
once some print vendors begin providing it (as some already
have) the demand will steadily increase. Some clients will insist
on having near total control of their projects”?something that
can cause intense headaches for production managers.

That's the downside of collaboration, and you'll have to make
a decision as to how much access and control you want your
customers to have. Will allowing such control improve or impair
your production efficiency? How much do you really want your
customers to know about your workflow? And what do you want
to let them see?

Most of the solutions to these questions can be answered by
consulting a proficient IT professional to set up the proper safeguards
and permissions. Although they can execute the software
and hardware tinkering, they'll need to know exactly what
you want them to do before they can do it.


Don't let the access questions scare you away from the idea of
collaboration. At the very least, check into the options you have and
the various possible methods of implementing such a workflow.

Stephen Beals ([email protected]), in prepress production
for more than 30 years, is the digital prepress manager
with Finger Lakes Press in Auburn, NY.



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