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Debra Rice is Agfa’s international pin-up

Monday, 19 February 2007
By Print 21 Online Article

Eastern Studio managing director, Debra Rice (pictured), is the centerfold of the latest issue of Interface, the international graphic arts magazine. Her achievements in integrating technology into her business while maintaining a focus on customer service are held up as a worldwide example of good management.

The following is an edited version of the Interface article.

Technology is forever forcing us to rethink the production process. We get so caught up in perfecting the workflow, we forget that we’re running a business. Eastern Studios in Victoria, Australia is the exception to this rule. The company’s business model is rigorously fine-tuned yet dynamic,so that Eastern can focus almost entirely on achieving its customers’ objectives, thereby achieving its own. Eastern is a full-service – from file to final plate – prepress company, with about 75 per cent of its work servicing the packaging industry. The 40-person organisation operates out of two locations, one in Notting Hill, another in Southbank. Debra Rice breaks her business formula into three parts: focusing on customer objectives, long-term planning, and interactive partnering.

Focusing on Customer Objectives
Eastern’s customers include package – goods companies as well as printers. While its customer base is diverse, its philosophy is singular. Eastern is committed to be the very best at one thing- prepress. In this way, it can focus on perfecting techniques – all for the benefit of its customers.
Rice says Eastern is “proactive” in its effort to satisfy customer objectives.
“We do two things,” she explains, “work with our clients to arrive at goals that can realistically be accomplished. Once we understand their goals, we design our workflow around achieving them. Agfa has been instrumental in helping us accomplish this. Designing a workflow that will respond to customer needs requires technical and strategic thinking. Agfa works hand in glove with our own R&D team.”
Rice stresses that before you can even begin to work on customers’ objectives, you have to listen and understand every aspect of what they need to accomplish, including the potential disasters. For example, food products have a short shelf life. If the packaging is not delivered on time the product has to be destroyed.

When Cadbury-Schweppes laid out its stringent list of vendor requirements, Eastern responded to each, providing step-by-step details of how the company would handle each item. They included everything from the client communications process to printer interaction to final product delivery.
“Eastern presented a comprehensive and detailed response on how it could assist in managing these issues and assist us in achieving greater efficiencies in the creation of packaging,” said Stuart Chard, strategic procurement manager, Cadbury Schweppes Asia Pacific.
For the printers Eastern serves, Rice applies the same formula- understand customers’ needs and problems and provide solutions. The company shows printers how Eastern can help them to minimise press downtime and find ways of cutting costs.

Long-term Planning
In the context of Eastern’s business, long-term means planning six to 12 months in advance of process implementation. This means that Eastern anticipates its clients’ future needs and takes steps to build upon its current infrastructure. In Rice’s words the company “maps its direction for future”.
When clients first talked about convenience and the importance of speed-to-market, for instance, Eastern began its plans to implement a fool-proof PDF proofing workflow.
Today customers review work remotely using the process. Rice confers with everyone from scanner operators to IT consultants to shipping personnel during the planning process. This means that every employee gets involved.
And that means that Rice and Eastern’s director, Roy Aldrich take steps to keep employees trained on the latest technology and procedures. Aldrich, a former printer, balances out Rice’s business perspective with tactical insight into the printing process.
Eastern worked with the :Galileo Thermal CtP system for some time before adding the :Xcalibur VLF (very large format) to make sure it had perfected the CtP process.
Having the VLF allows Eastern to supply 0.5 mm-thick plates to printers who run larger presses. Months before Agfa workflow products were ready for full release,
Rice made the long journey to its headquarters in Belgium to get a one-on-one preview. She looked at Agfa’s powerful :ApogeeX workflow automation software as well as :Delano, a project management system, to understand how these technologies might allow Eastern to better serve its customers.

Interactive Partnering
Partnering with its customers is critical to Eastern’s success. Equally important is maintaining a strong vendor relationship. Loyalty is an interactive and reciprocal chain.
If Eastern’s vendors did not respond readily to its needs, then Eastern would have difficulty responding to its customers’ needs.
“We are an all-Agfa operation,” says Rice. “Our reason for that goes beyond the technology. Agfa has demonstrated its concern for and willingness to respond to our needs. Plus, a single source eliminates all opportunity for finger pointing. If something goes wrong we have only one contact to make.”
Rice also voices confidence in Agfa’s support network. “They really know workflow; they understand its demands and the market. They see to it that we are never down. Other companies just don’t do that,” she says.
For workflow automation, Eastern uses :Apogee Series3 integrated with Artwork Systems’ ArtPro. For Computer-to-Plate there is the :Galileo Thermal as well as the :Xcalibur VLF (very large format), and the :Sherpa 43 for proofing.
Eastern also uses Agfa’s :Avantra 44 for its film workflow.
“Since we implemented the ArtPro/:Apogee workflow,” remarks Rice, “the percentage of plate remakes has dropped enormously. You have to hand it to Agfa. They have worked extremely hard to make CtP so reliable. It gives us one less thing to worry about.” Clearly, Agfa has become a critical component of Rice’s business model.
“I think of Eastern as a ‘virtual’ business operator for the printer. We look at how much into the future we can work for these people. We need strong technology partners to make that possible,” she says.

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