Diego Diaz is a well-known person in the workflow/automation environment, and he has his own channel on INKISH.NEWS where he shares his insights. One of the best things about his insights is that it’s based on actual work in a printing plant, so the solutions are built to serve a working environment. With a lot of equipment, software solutions, and legacy systems, Diego Diaz makes sure to ensure a consistent and effective workflow. Diego Dias works at SmartPress.com/The Bernard Group as Vice President of Manufacturing. Diego Diaz has also given speeches at workflow conferences in the US and abroad.
As with all our ‘Over the Skype’ interviews, quality is limited to bandwidth, web-cams, and ability to literally LIVE mix the conversations. However, it works, and with Over the Skype, we will bring you more than 20 exciting people, and angles on the industry as it is right now.
This is Morten from Inkish TV. It’s actually been a quite hard day. Six interviews done via Skype and Zoom and yeah, all kinds of technology and everything just because of the Coronavirus or at least that is excused, but I have actually decided that this form would probably need to go on after the Corona as well because it gives you an opportunity to talk to a lot of people in a nice way and in a format that you can’t do physically. We will continue doing our stuff the way we do, but this is a new thing and I’m very, very happy right now. As you can see, I’m smiling because I am about to welcome one of my very good friends, Diego Diaz from Smart Press in Chanhassen in the U S. So, welcome on board Diego.
And you’re the only one that have actually chosen to use your mobile phone. And that is because you said that you… What did you say? You compartmented your printing company or is that the right word?
Yep. We’ve separated out the print companies. So, all of our different sections, large format, fabrications, small format are all separated just to keep it as safe as possible. But that means that I am stuck out back with the loudest machines possible. So, I’ve fleed into an area where hopefully everyone can hear me.
I tell you that maybe nobody can hear you right now, but I know your voice has very high value in the printing industry. Not so much because of Inkish, but at least we have also pushed your name to as many corners of the globe as we possibly could because you are a writer on Inkish News and you have also been featured in several of our films. Had that changed anything? And did you get some new friends, some new contacts? Or has it just been quietly part of your life?
No, no. I have quite a bit more contacts on LinkedIn now because of that. But it’s great actually. I’ve had a lot of people reach out for help and using and Enfocus Switch and using Quiet and some of the other systems that I mentioned in the articles that I do.
And when I asked you to do these 10 articles and I think we are, did we do four now? Or five now? But when I asked you to do this it is because a lot of people are really interested in workflow automation and I think there’s a lot of specialists out in the market as well, but I think what differentiates you from most almost every other media that have stories about workflow automation is that you are actually working with workflow automation in your professional life.
Yeah, that’s been one of the funnest things. I’ve been on the vendor side. I’ve been a vendor, I’ve sold and now for the last five years I’ve been getting to apply them in my own company and that’s so much fun to be able to focus all your energy on actually doing it and living it.
That’s cool. And if you look at as you mentioned, you have been on both sides of both the buyers and sellers. I was just wondering, one thing is the marketing messages do you think they are pretty good at communicating the value of workflow automation from the perspective now that you are implementing things, do you see that they are able to communicate this in a good enough way?
I would certainly say that in the past, no, not at all. I feel like Enfocus has gotten a lot better in recent times and I think this is another thing that we’ve actually seen good out of all the quarantining is now you have everyone, all the software companies are making educational series and this is great. The actual sales and marketing has always been lackluster. I know that Enfocus has sold a lot of copies of PitStop especially, very prevalent throughout the industry, but they rarely ever say what it stood for and how to use it. It’s mostly just hey, this can add automation, this can add workflow and then you end up with all of the resellers, the consultants and the consultants love to pitch the benefits and they talk about what it’s going to do for the company. But again, they’re not saying how to use it. They’re not talking about direct value. They’re mostly speaking to the value that they will add.
It’s funny that you mentioned this because as you know, we had done quite a few films with Enfocus and I liked the people a lot. The funny thing about this that when you see there, that is also a question that I’ve asked the managing director, Wim Fransen, about a couple of times is whether they have ever been speculating about their business model because they have like resellers and I’m not questioning that model at all. So that’s not where I’m going to take it, but it’s funny because if you know Enfocus mostly from your implementators, you are very depending on the level of knowledge they have. So, when they come to your place, I think that when I saw a your printing company, I was blown away about size and the level of degree of automation and how you implemented everything and I don’t think that anybody from most implementators would be able to just go into a company like yours and suggest what you have done. So, does it resonate at all, what I’m saying? No?
Yeah, yeah. No, absolutely. The integrators, they’re few and far between. They’re integrators, they’re resellers that know a lot about the product. They’re also integrators and resellers that have huge suites where they sell many different softwares and they might be specialists in one of them, but they often don’t know everything that they sell. And that’s been my biggest challenge over the years since I’ve been a vendor selling workflow components or being a vendor supporting equipment that can use workflow components. And I would say that’s where I’ve spent most of my time is being a vendor selling things that can use workflow components as selling presses and selling things like that.
And what we frequently saw is people would buy PitStop, people would buy Switch because it’s got a relatively low price point. You don’t have quite as many people running out there and buying ESCO and things like that that have a very high price point because you’re fairly committed at that point. But you have a lot of people that do that, but they go out there with their budgets, they buy the software, it’s inexpensive, but they don’t realize that the majority of the expense is going to be in implementation. That I’m it’s skill and they haven’t prepared for that. They haven’t budgeted for that. So, they’re not willing to hire an integrator. They’ll buy the software-
Because they thought it was a cheaper, inexpensive, out-of-the-box solution to make the business better?
Exactly. Exactly. And then they open it up and they go, okay, now what? Where’s my automation?
Where’s the CD?
I got it, I installed it. Yeah. Yeah. And that’s the crux of it is that it has very little to do with the software. I’ve got it all here, which is super nice. I love this company that’s willing to invest in these different things, but I’ve got Switch, I’ve got Twist, I’ve got some ESCO products, we’ve had Printergy, I’ve got virtually everything here and what’s nice is they all have special points. They all have things where one is better than the other and once you understand them, you can get them to all work together in conjunction with each other.
But isn’t that like when we spoke about the, I think both of us got a lot of positive feedback on the articles that you’re writing, that is basically you’re hitting the nail here, right? Because the problem is… Every time I meet with Fransen, every time I meet Kevin Goldman from Chili Poppers, every time I meet some of these nice people, also the communication people, I always ask them, the more complex the software becomes, the more you actually need to communicate the capabilities offered because the problem is that as, I don’t think there’s any stupid people that are selling these things or they don’t know enough about it, I’m just saying that the complexity of these things and the way that they should be able to interconnect with a lot of different brands and vendors and technologies is not simple.
So, I think that maybe because when you write on our news and you write about these things is because you know about it because you’re trying it daily. You have multiple vendors, you have different softwares, you have even a different front ends for your customer. So, you have your work space where you have the abilities to test out literally every combination that nobody else has.
So, anytime that you’re dealing with these proprietary languages and yes, they’re open, but they’re selective to those different companies, that adds additional challenges so that you can’t just hire someone off the streets, not just anyone can work with these to make these interconnected. And that adds additional layers to the integrators where the integrator if they’re not living and breathing these technologies day in and day out, very intelligent integrators that have a lot of skill are going to struggle on a day by day basis with these.
Yeah, I get that. So, when I met you the first time, that was because of our friends from Telio Labs. I think they’re one of the reasons why, correct me if I’m wrong, but one of the reasons why that company have appealed to you is also because they have been speculating a lot about open APIs and how they integrate with the other systems through the API. Is that unique to them or do they have the same problem as you just mentioning with the other companies about proprietary systems or is… I’m just trying to figure out is everybody proprietary or do you also have solutions that talk more universal language?
No. That is exactly what drew us to Telio. The funny thing is is here we were looking for a imposition solution and as a general commercial printer, this is going way back for Telio, way back in the beginning, so try not to be too insulting to them, but they couldn’t even do double sided. I remember when we first mentioned to them like, “Hey, how do we impose something two-sided?” And they said, “You do two-sided? Why would you do two-sided?” So, as a commercial printer, that’s probably the point where we probably should’ve run away screaming, but what drew us to them is here’s a company that understands open APIs, makes really good APIs with great documentation, here’s a company that allows scripting and does so with modern scripting engines, with common languages. Wow. This is a software company that gets it. And certainly, they’re imposition for what they did, was fantastic. When you’re looking at for labels and where they started, they did a phenomenal job of it. So, we saw that and said, okay.
If they’re able to do that.
But they have promised. They have promised because they get it from a software point of view. They do more modern software engineering than any other vendor that we saw out there. And, okay, they weren’t quite there for our needs in the beginning, but they came there quickly and it’s having the foundation as a company to understand modern architecture that can work with other vendors, with other companies and where you can do things universally instead of proprietarily, that made the difference. Okay, this is a company we want to work with, this is a company we want to deal with in the longterm. They’re going to go places and they have.
Yeah. Cool. Just before I started this interview with you or this conversation with you, I spoke to Raymond Duval from Ultimate Technographics and also a relatively recognized workflow automation position partner and one of the questions I asked him was a lot of printing companies have a lot of legacy systems also because almost every printer delivered today is delivered with some kind of imposition or some kind of workflow at least DFEs are different from machine to machine, is that something that you take into consideration because you have a vast number of machines in your printing facility, also from different brands, how do you cope with those kind of things?
Sure. Yeah. Every vendor always wants to be everything to everyone so that they can lock them in.
That was not his words. That was my words because I was thinking that sometimes, sorry, so it’s just not to put him in a bad position, I was just more like if you buy a printer then you have, for example, when I used to work for Xerox 20 years ago, it was if you had a fiery front end, it was limited to be only used with that printing device. So, I had to, if I had five of them, I had needed to have five DFEs. Right? So, I was more asking because well, you have a lot of, 12,000, so you have a lot of binding equipment, you have probably more equipment than when I was visiting you the last time. So, I was just wondering, will the legacy systems that comes with the equipment you invest in, can you easily integrate that into the workflow that you are developing together with the software suites that you have decided to choose from?
Well, and every vendor does want to be everything to everyone. We see that from all of the equipment manufacturers, from HP, Xerox, everyone wants to have their own [crosstalk 00:16:33].
Okay. So, that is like Telio. They try all of them basically.
Yeah. That’s one of the things that drives me nuts about all of those vendors because for me, as someone that has all of the equipment, we like to vet everything and that includes our technology solutions and that means that we don’t just want to go with what that vendor sells in their package, we want to go with the best. And that means we need interconnectivity.
So, that’s something that we actually have got this big long form that we make everyone fill out whenever they do equipment purchases. And one of the things that we ask for is what connectivity tools do they have so that their system can connect with other systems? Because we want everything to be as genericized as possible. We go way, way, way, way back to my Osei days when I was heavily involved with, Sit4 and JDF and I’ve carried that into that form that I developed here so that we can accurately judge the equipment when we’re bringing it in. When I’m buying a press, it’s not just about how fast does it print? How good is the quality or anything like that, it’s, hey, how much can I program this via JDF?
Sometimes because you need it, sometimes because you can. Right?
Yeah. Absolutely. Every step we talk about things like Coronavirus right now and where we are and people are stressed out, tensions are high. When people are stressed out, tensions are high, things like that. People make mistakes. People that know their jobs, expert pressman will make mistakes because it’s a stressful time.
When you have automation plugging in everything via JDF, sure. Can the Pressman do it? Oh yeah, they know. But when you have automation doing that, automation doesn’t get stressed out, automation doesn’t freak out. Automation is there. It’s the calm, [inaudible 00:18:38] beside you that is just consistent day after day after day. So, that’s why, yeah, I do. I try to program everything possible via JDF.
Well, I was just going to say can the operator do it? And could they do it sometimes faster without the JDF? Sure. But it’s nice to always have it there, even if you don’t need it.
And I guess that one of the key elements in your decisions and how you have architected your workflow is also that you become brand independent, you become foreman independent, you become independent from a lot of different things where you can take pieces of your equipment and easily exchange it with something else because you don’t have to rely so much on anything else than your own workflow. Right?
That is exactly the case and that’s why we look for that interconnectivity and even our workflow itself, we do that with as far as, again, we’ve scripted everything and we’ve made external processes to do translations so that we’re not limited, I just talked about some of those proprietary languages like Switch’s ES4 or Twist, Tickle, things like that. We build software on the outside of those systems to translate everything so that we can even plug in different software pieces, different workflow pieces, different automation pieces. And because we’ve genericized everything that way it makes it agnostic not only on the production floor in terms of being able to swap presses out to whatever the latest, greatest technology is, but also to our workflow components themselves so that we can swap things out and keep things going.
Yeah. Fantastic. Talking about that, this dependency from vendors and building these architecture things that you are talking about, does that also give you an opportunity to easily scale your business? Because I don’t know how much you grow right now, but the first time I met you it was 20% annual growth both in revenue and in workforce. So, is that still something that you do and can you easily scale all your solutions?
Yes. So, we’re actually growing even more than that. But yeah, that’s part of the reason why we do it. It allows us to do things like in the case of Switch, we’ve just been adding servers as we go because we’ve built interconnectivity so that we have it automatically updating the across multiple servers, we can grow things. When we look at all of the JDF that we do throughout the shop as well, throughout the production floor, that allows us to add machines. It allows us to quickly add workers too so we can train people up. Finding highly skilled Pressman, finding highly skilled cutters, this is a difficult thing and we like to home grow, we like to make our own. That allows you to hire people for a cultural fit instead of experts and when the stuff comes preprogrammed over for them, we don’t want them to be automotons, we don’t want them to just be button pushers, we want them to know that it’s the safety net that’s always there.
It’s the safety net that’s always there and it’s a guide so when they run into a new, strange scenario and it’s like, “Whoa, how do I do this?” Because this is what our business is based on. Our business is based on doing crazy custom pieces that you’re not going to find anywhere else online. That is what we do. So, when these crazy custom pieces hit the floor, when you have them coming to your press preconfigured, coming to your cutter so you can scan it and it will set up the cutter automatically, those are all things that allow new employees for fast growth to feel comfortable approaching something that is complex, that is crazy, that is unknown because it’s pre-configured. They’ll still be doing it, they’ll still understand it, but it’s there.
Yeah. When you gave a speech in Denmark almost two years ago about your history and how you see workloads, one of the things you said in that interview I did with you was that you want everybody in the printing industry to get automated and get into workflow automation. And I remember you said that you want everybody to do that because then it will push your boundaries even more because you want to be ahead of everybody and keep being the best in class. Can you keep up to that promise, so to speak? Are you still the best?
I hope so. But if someone else wants to set the bar higher, that’s even more fun. That’s great. But yeah, we’re constantly redeveloping, we’re restructuring it every day and coming up with new ways to reach higher levels every single day.
And if you look at it from a financial perspective, does it also make a lot of sense from a business perspective to invest? Because you have a pretty large IT department and prepress department and people that work on these projects. Is it financially viable to invest those kinds of money in workflow automation?
Absolutely. It’s more than viable, it’s critical in terms of you see rework numbers go down, it allows scalability and growth, it allows you to accomplish new products. We just go back to sleeking, we just introduced sleeking and that’s such a strange thing because you’re running things through the press twice and it’s a very complex thing from a workflow point of view because the files different, the separations are different and all of that. But we couldn’t have done that without the workflow.
It would’ve been a prepress nightmare to do and instead that allows us to throw it up on the site and it allows us to do it efficiently and quickly with very little prepress input, very little operator thought. It’s all set up and these kinds of investments allow you to grow into new products.
Fantastic. Diego the last question before I will leave you because you have to go back to work, The King of Workflow, the articles that you’re writing,, what is in pipeline? What can we expect from you the next article? What would that be about?
Well, there’s six more articles coming, but I’m working on the next one right now and that should really break over where we talk about how we get away from hot folders and into some orderly scripting. So that’s-
Okay. So, that is raising the bar for our audience I guess, right?
Yes, yes. It’s the biggest step in workflow that a workflow team will take. It’s when you graduate from being prepress to being a developer.
And the fun part.
Fantastic. Diego, thank you very much for the time. I know that you are busy gentleman and I am sure that even in these Coronavirus times, I don’t think you will be unemployed in the nearby time. And by the way, thank you very much for coming to Copenhagen in December. That was awesome. And I hope to see you again next December when we have the next event. And thank you also for the friendship, we share a lot of nice music together. That is really something I like, so thank you very much.
Thank you Morton. I look forward.
Okay, thank you. Bye.