As sales channels and competition proliferate, and marketing nimbleness becomes ever more important, growing numbers of multichannel merchants are seeking greater efficiency in managing content workflow and maximizing productivity within and across their media and channels.
Of course, replacing existing desktop publishing and/or e-commerce production workflow systems and processes is no small decision. Determining the right solution for a company’s business model and marketing priorities, from among a number of viable, competing solutions in the marketplace, can seem a daunting prospect.
Where to begin? Orvis’s October announcement that it had selected a solution—Comosoft’s LAGO–and was moving forward with implementation seemed to offer a timely opportunity for examining one specific multichannel merchant’s system scenario.
Meg Kearton, director of creative services-production for Orvis, agreed to share the background with MCM, although she stressed that Orvis is still in the implementation stage and that it’s chosen, at least initially, to deploy only some of the system’s capabilities.
Genesis and Key Drivers
Orvis is fully engaged in multichannel marketing, with online/digital channels representing critical and growing sales/revenue streams. However, print catalogs remain its largest channel, and system obsolescence challenges affecting print production were a primary driver in investing in a new system, Kearton reports.
Orvis produces 65 print catalogs per year, ranging in size from 24 to 304 pages, with an average per-catalog circulation of approximately 2 million. Last year, the total print-production staff of 22– seven production managers, five copywriters, seven art directors and three pre-press professionals—produced 6,600 catalog pages. “We run a very lean department,” says Kearton.
For print catalogs, Orvis has been using a custom-built in-house digital asset management (DAM) system, capable of housing both images and copy, since 2003. Orvis has been researching alternate systems/solutions for several years, planning to make the investment when the efficiencies to be gained would cost-justify this, Kearton says.
The tipping point came this year. The proprietary system was breaking down more frequently, and was no longer supported by its builder. Also, the system ran on Mac G5s (a model no longer made), and as these had to be replaced, users of new Macs lost access to the DAM system at their workstations. “We gave the new Macs to art directors, who don’t need continual DAM access, as other team members do,” Kearton says. “But eventually, so many Macs had to be replaced that it was clearly time to get a new system.”
Orvis had determined that LAGO best fit its critical requirements, including that the system could handle both images and copy; compatibility with both Macs and PCs (the rest of the company, including Web production, uses PCs); and company-wide access to the image database (some 80 staff and managers, in total).
Initial Capabilities Being Deployed
LAGO is a master data management and workflow production system with a suite of integrated, modular applications that manage data, content, workflow, user tasks and product information.
Orvis’s initial implementation is expected to yield a number of productivity benefits for Web production (part of its separately operated e-commerce department) and elsewhere in the company, as well as print production, Kearton reports. Down the road, Orvis may look at expanding into more modules/capabilities—for instance, expanded Web functionality or content/production management capabilities for mobile devices, she says.
Orvis does not currently envision using LAGO’s capabilities for enabling controlled system access by vendor partners to input product information according to the retailer’s specifications/formats—its current operational procedures with vendors (and third-party channel partners like online retailers) will remain in place.
For the present, Orvis has invested in licenses for the LAGO admin module (the basic framework for the system’s database) and Automat (which generates all PDFs), plus three of LAGO’s numerous modules/capabilities [Comosoft’s site offers more comprehensive information on LAGO’s capabilities]:
*CS: The plug-in from the LAGO database to the Adobe InDesign page layout application. Functionalities include click-drag-and-drop and automatic updating of copy/product information (SKUs, pricing, etc.) as changes are made to the database.
*Explorer: For Orvis, the key functionality of this module is page-building, according to Kearton. It will also use the page-preview tool, which enables viewing the current status of a page/spread/section throughout the production cycle. (Orvis is not using Explorer capabilities such as automated production planning/tracking functions tied to specified deadlines; automated page square-inch analysis/squinch; or a merchandiser tool for creating electronic “whiteboards” that auto-incorporate squinch and other sales/product data.)
*WebAssets: A DAM module that enables rapid searches for images and other digital assets, based on the images’ history of use in print or other media promotions, or by other criteria stored within each image. Searches can use metadata, including image key words, and images can be previewed/downloaded in a variety of file formats.
Streamlining DAM, Copy Preparation
Currently, it takes Orvis print production five days, on average, to build a catalog—meaning placing the images and copy on each spread as reflected in the line review sheets (LRS’s) prepared by merchandising, reports Kearton.
With LAGO, an SKU or other identifier can be used (if desired) to pull up the entire history of how a product has been featured in catalogs and other media, or a specific presentation. All assets associated with a presentation are linked. Print production staff download a catalog’s LRS into the system, identify the presentation required, and build/work on pages from there.
The time saved in gathering presentation assets alone should reduce the average catalog build time by about two days, reports Kearton.
In addition, because the old system did not retain copy styling, staff had to restyle the copy block after each revision. With LAGO, style information is preserved and accessible indefinitely for use in all catalogs and promotions. Further, instead of having to separately make the same copy revision in multiple catalogs, once copywriters have made a revision in Explorer, it’s reflected system-wide. (Less re-inputting also reduces the chance for errors that would need to be fixed at proofing stage.)
All of which should reduce per-catalog styling/corrections time, which can currently take up to three days, by about two days, estimates Kearton.
The new system, unlike the old, catalog-only DAM system, can also be used for production of collateral promotions such as small mailers and store signage—extending the assets-gathering/styling/corrections streamlining to these materials.
Eliminating Proofing-Process Prep Work
Currently, to circulate pages for proofing by various staff/departments, Orvis batch-prints PDFs of all of a catalog’s spreads. Proofs are circulated three times during a catalog’s production lifecycle, and each batch-print takes at least a half-day, during which the process is tying up a computer. With LAGO, a revised PDF is written in the background each time a change is made, so the PDFs are there and ready to circulate via Adobe Acrobat at each proofing stage.
Orvis has chosen not to use a LAGO WebProofing module that tracks annotations captured by-user/date/time stamps in the system. That requires a direct online connection, and staff members need to download PDFs onto their computers for proofing while traveling, explains Kearton. That means using the existing procedure of making offline changes in Acrobat and uploading these via a Web DAV server to make consolidated changes viewable by all users.
Benefits Extend Beyond Print Production
The new company-wide ability to easily locate and access images will also result in time savings for various departments/users outside of print production, including Web production, social media, merchandising, and the dealer department.
One example: Web production staff will no longer need to leave design files and go to the high-res folder each time they need to find images; instead, they can search for and download all images needed for a project simultaneously.
In addition, all departments/users can now easily view every image taken during photography shoots—including images not used in print catalogs, which might in some cases be better-suited for their specific needs/medium.
Also, Web production will now use an XML feed that automatically sends finished copy to Orvis’s proprietary Web store manager (where copy from pages is stored for Web use), where it can be picked up directly–eliminating another series of previously required steps.
Maximizing Resources to Leverage Opportunities
The significant print-production time savings expected from streamlining the processes described above are “exciting—to say the least,” says Kearton.
Kearton plans no changes in print production staffing or the basic workflow set-up. The underlying objectives driving investment in a new system, she stresses, are employing technology to eliminate redundant, automatable functions so as to optimize use of a lean staff of skilled professionals.
The expectation is that once the staff is fully up and running on the new system, it should be possible to re-allocate some time to more skilled or creative aspects of the process, such as predesign and color-correction work. “Might our existing staff be able to produce more pages? That’s obviously one of a number of potential options or advantages—but such strategic discussions will need to take place after we’ve evaluated actual productivity gains and performance metrics for the new system,” Kearton says.
Orvis of course expects to realize broader, strategic marketing and operations advantages enabled by the streamlined production processes/shorter catalog cycles. Among these: Longer pre-production lead times could potentially provide more flexibility to capitalize on sales and merchandising trends, and optimize inventories.
While Kearton declines to share specifics on Orvis’s investments for the system, she says that, in addition to the costs of licensing modules (including 22 CS module user licenses needed for all print-production staff to access InDesign, and 15 user licenses for Explorer), and installation and training costs, Orvis’s scenario required that it buy an Oracle database and an InDesign server to realize the desired capabilities. As with all systems, some ongoing maintenance will be required, and some level of additional internal IT support may be needed.
Orvis has a standing policy of 30-/60-/90-day evaluation/reporting for all capital investments. In this case, however, evaluations will be done 30 days after full implementation (scheduled for January), and then six months out, when the first full catalog will have been completed using the new system.
Orvis will employ both “hard” and “soft” metrics to quantify ROI. Current average times for specific functions (down to the minute) are known—these are routinely tracked down to the minute in print production (and other departments)—and by-function times required using the new system will start being tracked in the same way once implementation is complete. Using average salaries by specific function or group, the time-spent metrics gathered over six months will be used to calculate cost savings for one full catalog.
Orvis’s evaluation will also include other cost/savings factors specific to its operation, such as estimates of costs that would have been incurred in the absence of a new system.
Orvis’s latest projection is that payback on its system investments will commence within about a year after implementation, Kearton reports.
Once the system has been operational for a sufficient time, Orvis will also conduct ROI evaluations that factor in any growth/revenue opportunities directly attributable to new capabilities/procedures enabled by the new system.
The initial “discovery” process, in which a cross-departmental team of Orvis executives met with Comosoft to explore and document all current workflow processes, took place in May 2012. Comosoft then created a draft solution design, which was honed via review by Orvis executives.
The resulting roadmap was used by Comosoft and Orvis’s IT staff for system installation. Installation of the basic (non-configured) Oracle system on which LAGO runs took two to three days, and transference of assets from the old DAM system took five days. The full installation process, including company-specific configurations, takes place over approximately six months, during the general system implementation/training process.
Training began in August, with production managers. That required about four weeks, followed by three weeks for copywriters and two weeks for art directors. After each group’s training, Comosoft staff were on-site to provide one-on-one assistance as staff used the system. Training of other department users, and company-wide training in accessing images, is scheduled for completion by end of November.