The Third Wave: An Iron Tale about the Business of Print, Vol. 9

This column is the ninth in a yearlong series of columns about the challenges facing the converting industry. Through our 2002 series of print and web articles, Raine provides critical insights, specific industry examples, and thought-provoking ideas about how technology is impacting converters today. We examine tactical-to-practical practices for decision-makers, namely the CEO, to inspire, innovate, and initiate action. In this issue we concentrate on how companies can get started in technology thinking.

A Four-Step Plan
Raine has simplified the process for making smart technology choices into four steps. This month, we look at the first step. The other three steps will be discussed in upcoming columns (based on The Third Wave) at pffc-online.com. These four steps include:

  1. Choosing a Platform
  2. Assessing ‘Tech’ versus ‘Net’ Readiness
  3. Getting Lean from Manufacturing to Selling
  4. Creating a Technology Radar Screen
Step One: Choosing a Platform
A handful of converters are right in the middle of deciding whether or not to implement a full-blown ERP (enterprise resource planning) system. The alternative would be to implement only those systems that manage profitability of major converting assets -- namely the pressroom. No matter which road one chooses both require a chunk of change and serious resource commitment.

It's becoming clear the value pieces for printed and converted products will come from outside of print. Therefore, when creating a technology architecture, print should neither be the starting point nor the centerpiece of the plan. In other words, if print is not a real growth market (and quite possibly may never be again), then printers need to accept this fact and plan accordingly.

Decisions should concentrate on selecting and installing technology infrastructure that drives supply-chain workflow best practices. In other words, technology architecture centers on workflow information and not assets.

Print-specific applications become a secondary consideration and are band-aided in the short term. This strategy will allow for more growth options in the future. Albeit uncomfortable and tough to justify given that many converting businesses live on a depreciation-weighted balance sheet, technology choices using this framework become the enabling paths to new revenue.

Likewise, those who start with print asset-based applications at the center of their technology architecture will soon find they are locked out of new business opportunities or can not compete. A print-centric infrastructure will limit integration abilities with customers’ systems. It will also be difficult to drive the same level of cost savings out of print-centric organizations because workflow construction is around "converted or print jobs" versus "extended or full service programs."

"Make iron the tail and not the dog in business plans and technology choices": It's important to embrace the role of technology and even more important to move toward an infrastructure that's not heavy iron or asset-based but, instead, to one that's workflow centric and information-based.

There are great tales of inventive pride and valuable lessons learned that come from converters -- stories about real value and real growth. Converters are not without options... quite the contrary.

This article is excerpted from the Raine whitepaper The Third Wave: An Iron Tale about the Business of Print, downloadable free of charge from RaineConsulting.com.


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