by Bill Schiffner
According to a new Kodak Professional survey, nearly two out of three U.S. professional photo labs, faced with managing more digital images and the need to become more efficient and productive, will incorporate some degree of digital workflow into their labs within the next year. Additionally, most of those polled will add digital workflows within the next six months.
The survey, conducted by Kodak Professional, a division of Eastman Kodak, and distributed to approximately 320 labs nationally this past summer, is part of a Kodak Professional initiative to gain insights into how labs are employing "digital workflows" the hardware and software needed to process digital images and run a photo lab's operations.
"The survey results indicate that the photo labs which adopted digital early are serving more customers in more ways and making more money," said John Blake, GM, Lab Solutions, and VP, Kodak Professional. Film scanners, image analyzers, printers, image management software, order-entry systems and Internet-based services all can comprise digital workflows. Without digital workflows, labs cannot process digital files. They must use paper-based order and billing systems, and they must manually create special products such as photos with text and graphics.
"The survey states that many labs already have added digital to some level. More than half of the respondents report that almost 50% of their current workflows are digital. That number could surge, according to the survey, as nearly six in 10 say they plan to add digital capabilities in the next six months," said Blake.
Cost A Key Factor
Blake reports that cost appears to be the primary factor for labs deciding to add digital capabilities. "According to our survey, labs that already have gone digital report more efficient workflows, which yield higher productivity and create the ability to handle higher volumes of work. For them, digital workflows ultimately have boosted sales and reduced costs."
"Labs are finding that digital is too pervasive to ignore, but the good news is they don't have to take on the costs and challenges of adding an entire digital workflow all at once," Blake said. "To manage their investments, most labs will find it best to take a modular approach to lab digitization while building a complete digital solution in the process."
"Another barrier for labs converting to a digital workflow is that some are hesitant to convert their entire workflow to digital all at once. They want to do it in piecemeal and add a hybrid workflow system for a while so that can support both the film and the digital customer. Many of these labs are still processing the film and keeping the photographers happy, scanning it. Their customers are getting the benefits of the digital workflow once they make the file from the scanned film," Blake explains.
He adds that most labs are still experimenting with the workflow that works best for their business.
"Our survey's findings underscore the need for professional labs to meet a growing demand from their customers to add digital imaging capabilities, as well as to migrate operations to more efficient and productive digital workflows to remain competitive," said Blake.
"Another key message in the survey is a validation of what we have heard from our customers. It reinforces that the architecture we are designing is built around a modular architecture that can grow as the customer wants it to grow at a rate they can afford and that their customers are demanding," reports Blake.
Blake says that software is the key ingredient of a successful digital workflow. "When going digital, most of the labs focus on the hardware first and then software. The software is the key component and core piece of any digital workflow. Kodak's DP2 lab software is becoming an industry standard. It is open architecture and can interface with most equipment in the lab. K-Pro modular architecture allows lab to scale to workflow as they add to digital equipment. In addition, our Pro Shots software allows photographers to interface with the lab."
Blake added the digital technology in the future will create new revenue opportunities and new product offerings for the professional lab. "Digital is accelerating at a much faster pace with photographers. The latest data is that digital camera files on the people lab side of camera technology is increasing. The number of digital camera files coming into the lab is growing exponentially each year. Film will continue to be around for a very long time but what you will see over time is that digital files will accelerate the need for more capacity for digital output."