Resources for automating workflows

I’ve developed many different automated workflows, but I couldn’t have done it without some key resources at my disposal. There are too many resources to list in one article, but the ones discussed below are great to start with if you are keen to further automate your workflows.

The homepage of Crossroads (http://Crossroads.Gradual.com), announces that “Crossroads is a unique communication platform that draws together a large ecosystem of software vendors offering automation products for publishing workflows”. Here you can see the workflows readily available for the open automation platforms SWITCH, FullSWITCH, and PowerSWITCH, which are all ready to automate at first click. The latest version of SWITCH, a major upgrade, is chock full of new features. There is a dashboard, variables (which I use to customize email notifications and more), more scripting capabilities in PowerSWITCH, and shortcuts in the designer end of the program.

EskoArtwork recently acquired Gradual Software and created the Enfocus business unit. Information about it is available on the Enfocus business unit at http://www.gradual.com/Home/EskoArtworkacquisitionquestions.php. Enfocus maintains that the open nature of SWITCH will not change and that they will continue to proactively support third-party products, even if they compete with Enfocus or EskoArtwork products.

The whole point of gradual automation is to start small and continually improve, update, and upgrade your workflows. You needn’t do everything at once, but you can always find a better way to do something as you go along.

Begin with an open automation platform, then add the ingredients needed for your workflow, such as XML, JDF, XMP & XPath, SQL, Applescript & Javascript, Automator, Creative Suites with Acrobat Pro, Quark, PitStop Server, and Microsoft Excel. This list is a good start, and you probably have most of these programs on your Mac.

The tutorials at www.w3schools.com are very helpful and cover XML, XPath, Javascript, and SQL.

The online tutorial for XML and XPath shows you how XML describes the data and XPath steps you through an XML file to find the data you want. XPath is used in Apple and Javascripts to pick out pieces of data from an XML file and pass it to the script.

SQL is the language used to talk to your MIS database and can also be used in Apple and Javascripts to pull data or enter data automatically. A fully automated workflow can enter information into the docket system as well as prepare files for RIP or Press.

Applescript information is available at http://macscripter.net/unscripted. There are many categories to check out and lots of items for beginners. Applescript is very useful as it can talk to almost anything on your Mac. Use it when you need flexibility to talk to programs like Excel, TextEdit, and Events that are part of the system. It can even control keystrokes on the keyboard, which can come in handy when the rest of the tools are unavailable.

At http://automator.us there are step by step tutorials on Automator. There are ready-made automator actions you may download at macscripter.net and a movie at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aq2lEsG68JU . Automator on its own is a great place to start creating workflows. They can be saved as a folder action for an instant hot folder workflow.

Learning Applescript or Javascript will open up the possibilities for automating Creative Suites, Quark, Acrobat, Excel, Word, the Finder, and the list goes on. Going through some tutorials about XML and XPath will give you a basic understanding of other forms of data like the JDF standard and XMP data in Photoshop images.

You don’t have to become an expert on everything that is listed here. Learning one or two items well is often enough to create an automated workflow that makes a difference. The point of automation is to transform some action that is done the same way every time, and it’s best to start with something small. Put the steps into a script, action, or flow and use the automation every time for that process. Then you add more and more bits to your system. This is where an open automation platform can come in and organize processes, control programs, talk to servers, and communicate with users. Automation is best when introduced gradually. After all, we are all learning something new in every job we do.

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