Is there room for smart automation in your business? You know the tools: Google Home, Alexa, Siri, Bixby and Cortana. At home—and on the go—they make life easier, but is their room for that level of connectivity in your business? The answer is yes! And just a bit of automation can go a long way to creating an environment where calls to help desks and customer service team members are reduced, if not eliminated.
What is IoT?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept. It refers to how you can use the internet to link devices and processes together, collect data, and even control what happens in an environment. You use IoT every time you ask SIRI to give you directions or Alexa to turn off a light. Consumer product manufacturers figured out the power of IoT early on and hung on to the coattails of companies that implemented internet-based solutions in manufacturing. Many companies that make everything from cars to tools, and even printers, use smart manufacturing techniques that leverage communication between processes using sensors that communicate over a network. That was the birth of IoT, but it has pushed boundaries in every direction.
Every new type of sensor, every new type of communication option, and every new aggregation and analysis solution in the IoT space brings more opportunity to build efficiencies and optimize processes. Whether you run a franchise print shop, and In-Plant, or a global print service provider, IoT may have value for you.
Start with thinking of communication as a manufacturing process. Print, email, pushes to apps, and web banners form the threads that lead to a product – communication output. Each process has a workflow associated with it that has touchpoints, handoffs, and the potential for bottlenecks. Each process also has constituents interested in the current state of work-in-process. Print sales reps want to be able to assure their customer that their work has started in prepress or has made it to shipping. If their clients have communication delivered by email or through apps, they want assurance that the material has been developed and they want to know when it has been delivered. Production teams always want to know what is coming, what has problems, and what is ready for delivery. Whether you are building machines or creating communication, processes and workflows get the job done.
IoT brings the opportunity to connect manufacturers of printing equipment, finishing equipment, and the software that supports it with sensors to capture data and communication paths that use the data and make it available to adjacent processes and to dashboards. Companies like Baldwin Technology have been creating IoT connectivity for print workflows for some time, but they aren’t alone. Many manufacturers have smart sensors embedded in their hardware, but not all expose the data for use or provide it as actionable information. That will change in coming years.
The value emerges when every device and process can communicate with a central dashboard. It gives everyone in the business the information they need to schedule, load balance, and streamline bottlenecks. This is Print 4.0, and it will take time to do the programming, implement APIs, and map the best places to capture data, but it is coming.
In the McKinsey Taking the Pulse of Enterprise IoT report, there is a data point that 98% of enterprises have IoT initiatives on the books. That is likely accurate for large corporate enterprises, but not for mid-tier and smaller operations. No matter, it will trickle down as solutions become affordable, and as they become embedded into existing workflow platforms. In a business context, you will begin to hear more from your vendors, and you should listen!
But you don’t have to wait! There are many enterprising print shops that have already begun to leverage IoT solutions to give the team real-time visibility to all print floor functions. They have done a bit of programming to map production reports to make them readable and searchable in Google Home, SIRI, and Alexa conversations. They have opened the door to freeing time in their CSR teams by eliminated (or at least reducing) the calls to ask about a job status by making it a simple inquiry to SIRI on their phone or a home automation device sitting in the office.
In some shops today, you can ask Alexa where your print job is. In coming months and years, it will become a normal part of workflow processes. And it is all brought to you by the letter I, O and T.
Intrigued? Start a conversation with us!