The print industry, like many others, has undergone significant transformations, adopting advanced technologies to meet the demands of a digital era. Automation has played a pivotal role in streamlining workflows, enhancing efficiency, and reducing operational costs. However, within this landscape, a challenge has emerged — the presence of “islands of automation.”

In this blog, we delve into this phenomenon, exploring its origins, challenges, and, most importantly, strategies to overcome it.  Duncan Ellis, General Manager at Avanti Systems, a Ricoh Company, delves into the concept of ‘islands of automation’ and provides valuable insights for understanding and addressing the ‘islands of automation’.

Origins of ‘Islands of Automation’

‘Islands of automation’ refers to the fragmented nature of automated systems within a print workflow. 

Within a company’s operational framework, one automated system may be implemented in a specific area, while another system operates independently in a different section. So, despite investing in various automation tools, these systems often operate in isolation, hindering seamless integration.

“Many commercial printers have purchased different pieces of automation software over the years, but because they don’t seamlessly integrate with their management information system (MIS), they end up with isolated automated systems.”

This lack of integration and communication between these software solutions leads to departmental isolation and all the data and information generated by these systems require manual transfers from one isolated entity to another.

Understanding Why Isolated Systems Emerge

The emergence of ‘islands of automation’ can be traced back to several factors. Businesses often invest in automation solutions to address specific challenges or bottlenecks within their workflow. However, these solutions may not be part of a comprehensive, integrated strategy. 

Moreover, growth through acquisitions can introduce a mix of inherited software solutions, creating a disjointed landscape. At times, it can be just simply more of a departmental view of the business rather than an all encompassing view of the business. To look at the workflow comprehensively really means you have to look at it from an enterprise resource planning (ERP) perspective or a print MIS perspective. 

In a commercial print workflow, various areas demand attention. Pre-press and web storefronts are key components. Despite common integrations, challenges arise, for example, with multiple storefronts, leading to manual interventions and workflow complications.

It’s important to note that virtually every print operation encounters some form of ‘islands of automation.’ The prevalence is influenced by factors such as the duration of business operations, the complexity of the workflow, and growth through acquisitions. Printers find themselves grappling with disparate systems that fail to communicate effectively with each other.

The Challenges ‘Islands of Automation’ Pose 

The challenges stemming from the existence of isolated automation systems are diverse and multifold. When data can’t seamlessly flow between different automated systems, manual intervention becomes necessary. 

The manual rekeying of information, such as transferring data from estimates to orders or job tickets, becomes a routine occurrence in this scenario. Unfortunately, this routine introduces an array of challenges, including escalated operational costs and an increased potential for errors, further complicating the operational landscape.

To delve deeper into the ramifications, let’s consider a specific scenario where a job undergoes transitions from a web storefront to the pre-press stage. 

If there is no seamless integration, these transitions encounter manual interventions, disrupting the workflow. These interruptions act as breakpoints, leading to delays and inefficiencies in the overall process. The cascading effect of these disruptions goes beyond affecting operational timelines and it poses a tangible risk of revenue leakage for the business.

The evolution towards more integrated and interconnected automation solutions is crucial in overcoming the challenges posed by isolated automation systems in contemporary operational landscapes. A harmonized flow of data between different stages is essential to mitigate manual interventions, reduce operational costs, and enhance overall efficiency. 

Strategies and Technologies to Overcome the Challenge

The key to overcoming ‘islands of automation’ lies in connecting disparate systems effectively. Implementing a robust Print MIS acts as the central hub, ensuring data flows seamlessly across the entire workflow. 

So data and analytics do play a crucial role in this process. The centralized nature of a Print MIS ensures accurate and real-time data, enabling informed decision-making. By leveraging data insights, businesses can identify further areas for optimization and continuous improvement.

“The goal is to become a more automated shop, but if these solutions don’t integrate, they operate independently, requiring more manual intervention.”

Avanti Solutions

Avanti offers solutions, such as Slingshot, with an open integration approach. This allows businesses to retain their existing software solutions while connecting them to the central Print MIS system. The integration minimizes manual interventions, streamlines workflows, and enhances overall operational efficiency.

Consider this case study of a customer who invested in Avanti Slingshot® Print MIS to address their ‘islands of automation’ problems – a print business that was struggling with disjointed systems, was able to effectively bridge the gaps between disparate systems, ushering in a cohesive and unified workflow. This also marked a noteworthy decrease in manual interventions, an optimized allocation of resources, and, most importantly, an elevation in customer service quality. 

This real-life example serves as a powerful testament to the potential of integration to bring about tangible improvements. By seamlessly integrating with existing software, the customer not only streamlined their operations, saving valuable man-hours, but also strategically redeployed resources to tasks that added more value, leading to an overall enhancement in operational satisfaction.

The Impact – Immediate and Long-Term Benefits 

Post-integration, businesses observe immediate benefits such as reduced manual interventions, improved accuracy, and streamlined workflows. Long-term advantages include sustained operational efficiency, enhanced customer satisfaction, and a competitive edge in the market. 

The implementation of integrated automation solutions not only addresses current challenges but also future-proofs the business.

A streamlined and integrated workflow positions businesses competitively. The ability to offer efficient services, meet customer expectations, and adapt to industry changes becomes a distinct advantage. Integrated automation contributes to building a resilient and future-ready printing business.

As technology advances and the print industry continues to evolve, integrated automation will play a pivotal role. Future trends might involve more sophisticated AI-driven solutions, increased connectivity with Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and a heightened focus on sustainability. 

Continuous Improvement Initiative

In discussing the transformative capabilities of solutions like Slingshot, Ellis emphasizes the commencement of an MIS implementation as the initiation of a continuous improvement initiative.

This approach involves a thorough examination of print operation workflows, identifying opportunities for optimization upon the implementation of the print MIS solution. The journey of continuous improvement doesn’t conclude with the project; instead, the most successful customers persistently evaluate the workflow, gaining a deeper understanding of the software’s potential for improving their operations.

Once a system is live in production, users progress from basic utilization to asking more complex and nuanced questions, demonstrating a growing comfort with the software. Although a print MIS serves as a long-term solution for customers, spanning a decade or more, the focus remains on integrating continuous improvement into the operational process.


In the journey from recognizing ‘islands of automation’ to overcoming them, businesses undergo a transformative process. The importance of adaptability and integration in the print industry cannot be overstated. Avanti Solutions, exemplified by Slingshot, offer a pathway to a seamlessly connected workflow, eliminating inefficiencies and fostering continuous improvement.

For a deeper understanding of overcoming these challenges and gaining insights from industry expert Duncan Ellis, we encourage you to listen to the full Ricoh Software Streamline episode. Explore the intricacies of integrated automation and discover how it can propel your print business into a future of efficiency and competitiveness here. 

For a no-obligation demo or workflow evaluation of Avanti Slingshot®, please contact us. We’re here to help.

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Duncan Ellis

Meet the Author

Duncan Ellis

As General Manager of Avanti, Duncan Ellis is responsible for driving the company’s daily operations and also leads the teams responsible for all software implementations. Their emphasis on Project Management, Training Effectiveness and Continuous Improvement drive greater success for our clients. Prior to joining Avanti in 2017, Mr. Ellis spent a dozen years working with Fortune 500 clients at Xerox Canada in various Sales and Management roles. His focus on employee engagement, business development, operational excellence and client satisfaction led to Mr. Ellis winning three President’s Club awards at Xerox. Mr. Ellis holds three degrees from the University of Toronto: Master of Education, Bachelor of Education, and Bachelor of Physical Education.

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