In early February, Ricoh and Avanti announced that Allegra Network had chosen Avanti Slingshot as the core of its WorkStream™ integrated web storefront to MIS workflow automation solution that will be offered across its North American network of 270 marketing and print communications franchises. Our readers may remember that I visited Allegra Network headquarters in Plymouth MI three years ago to get a look at the new facility and the impressive Marketing Resource Center the franchise network had already put in place to support its franchisees.
Now the company is taking that support to an entirely new level with the ongoing development of WorkStream™, its integrated workflow automation solution.
Chief Executive Officer Mike Marcantonio explains that the driver behind WorkStream™ is the company’s Blue Ocean Strategy. “Our strategy to differentiate our members is for them to become sales-driven solutions providers,” he says. “We want them to be consultative. They need to be out meeting with clients, understanding what they are trying to accomplish, and proposing solutions that help them achieve a goal or solve a problem. We want to free them from having such a complicated business, and we believe that our WorkStream system is the way to do that. A fully integrated system greatly streamlines all aspects of order entry, accounting and production. It saves money and time so more time can be spent on managing and growing customer relationships.”
Chief Technology Officer Joe D’Aguanno has been intimately involved with this process. In fact, three of the current corporate centers were franchise locations of which he was an owner. He adds, “Part of our analysis involved the examination of many different technologies, and workflow automation from a production perspective was critical. We wanted to be able to move automation further upstream with a robust MIS as the core for WorkStream. Some of the development has been in-house and some with vendor partners; a key is that all elements have an open architecture.”
Allegra has had a long-term relationship with Ricoh, according to Marcantonio, who says, “I look at all the things Ricoh is doing, how they are involved in technology, the great G7 certification program they have, and I was pleased to see them take a significant ownership stake in Avanti. Although we obviously evaluated other solutions, our long-term relationship with Ricoh and their investment in Avanti was an important factor in our selection process.” Marcantonio and his team felt an immediate connection with Avanti’s CEO Patrick Bolan, and their relationship allowed this to grow from a necessary technology for their Corporate Operations to an exciting opportunity for their entire network. Marcantonio added, “I give Patrick a lot of credit for being open-minded enough to understand our vision and to have the willingness to look at his model differently to accommodate a franchise network like ours.”
Marcantonio says that while there are many great workflow automation solutions on the market, they have been unaffordable for many of Allegra Network’s centers. “By doing the heavy lifting centrally, we can change that. Our grander vision for WorkStream is to give our franchise members a best-in-class, yet easily affordable integrated technology package that will help them run and automate their businesses, from storefront through MIS and workflow. In addition to the technology investments, we are staffing up at the home office with people who can implement, do data conversions and train our people. We know that the greatest technology in the world won’t deliver the desired results if it is not well-implemented.”
When queried about which storefront the Allegra Network will be using, Marcantonio responded, “We are very close to making a decision and should have an announcement in the very near future.” D’Aguanno adds, “We need a robust front end beyond just facilitating a digital order push. Live pricing integration from the MIS available to the storefront is critical, and we need all of the technology from the different vendors to work together with WorkStream seamlessly. In the end we will have a foundation for further development and the ability to integrate appropriate new technologies into the platform as they arrive in the market.”
This article originally appeared March 5, 2015 on whattheythink.com and is reprinted with permission.