Archive for the ‘Technology Management’ Category

Digital Print Quality Issue: Punch, Counterpunch

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

I have spent a lot of time over the past several weeks starting and moderating discussions about the output quality of digital print and different perceptions of what can be produced. It has been so interesting to hear the perspective from both sides — printer and client.

Clearly, with the right press, a skilled operator, and the willingness to properly maintain the press, you can achieve outstanding quality. But that takes time and dedicated resources, and just as clearly, not all printers always believe it’s worth it.

Consequently, for experienced designers who understand production, there is a notable divide:

In my experience, digital quality is often very dependent on the type of provider you use. For me, digital printing is pretty standard no matter the machine used, but if you work with folks who care a lot about quality, rather than speedy turnarounds, then digital can meet offset standards. But you have to have folks at the plant readily able and willing to take on the issues of banding, gradient quality, and color consistency in order to meet the offset standards. In my stable of print providers, only two are willing to go that extra distance. The rest seem to be more concerned about quick turnaround and low pricing. Which has its place, but I will always use the two printers who will give me consistent quality and work with me on my concerns for those products that require those types of things. — Name withheld [by me] to prevent inundation

This takes us to the classic dilemma. Do I focus on quality and clients willing to pay for it (even if it’s a smaller market)? Or do I go for volume for less discriminating buyers willing to accept less than the level of quality the press is capable of outputting in order to push through more volume at lower prices?

I’d love to hear some thoughts on this decision. Both are equally legitimate business decisions based on different business factors.

Which way did you choose to go and why?

 

The Survey Says: Digital Print Image Quality

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

If you haven’t checked out The Digital Print Survey conducted by What They Think and Unisource (March 2014), it’s a fascinating read. While the results are not projectible to the industry at large, the results are drawn from nearly 400 responses and provide a compelling look inside the shops of a representative cross-section of digital print providers.

To me, among the most fascinating sections are those relating to digital print quality. This was such a hot button for years, and if you ask PSPs today if the issue still exists, you’ll hear a resounding “No!” But that’s not what the data says. Do you agree with these results?

When asked, “In your opinion, in general, how does the output quality of your digital color production presses (HP Indigo, Xerox iGen, Xeikon, Nexpress) compare to the output quality of offset presses?”

  • 53% said “about as good as offset”
  • 8% said “slightly better than offset”
  • 2% said “is much better than offset”

In addition, 86% said they were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the image quality coming off their presses.

However, only 67% were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with color matching and 63% were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with color consistency. Even fewer (43%) were satisfied with color matching.

When asked about their production challenges, “getting consistent print quality” was in the top three challenges, with 30% of respondents giving this answer. “Getting consistent color” came in fourth, with 29% of respondents giving this answer.

When asked which job elements reproduce “fine with no problems,” relatively low percentages of respondents agreed with the following:

  • fine lines / detail (47%)
  • solids (36%)
  • gradients (22%)
  • custom colors (18%)

What I take from this is that, in the end, printers are satisfied with the overall print quality on these presses, but especially when it comes to fine detail and color matching, it still takes a lot of work.

Would you agree with this data?

Is Gradation Still an Issue in Digital Print?

Friday, April 4th, 2014

I ran across this discussion in one of the digital print groups on LinkedIn this morning and thought it was interesting. I wonder what you folks think here. What are your experiences?

The original question was why the member was having trouble with gradations on his digital press. The discussion was highly technical and beyond what is appropriate to reprint here. However, among the potential culprits named in the discussion were the following:

  • Resolution
  • Line screen
  • Different resolutions based on XY axis, i.e. 2400 x 600 dpi (especially on older presses)
  • Dot size and shape
  • Level and frequency of calibration of the press
  • RIP interpretation of the data (and, consequently, the age of the RIP)
  • Age of the digital press
  • Whether the press is using standard elliptical halftone dots
  • Whether stochastic screening is used
  • Trade-offs in recording resolution and speed of production
  • Whether color curves are calibrated to match the offset press and stock

One participant suggestion: Use a Gaussian blur. (“Best gradations ever.”) Another posted a link from Adobe (“Illustrator / printing gradients, meshes, and color blends“) that breaks down all the potential issues to help with troubleshooting gradient issues.

One participant noted:

Gradation in digital printing is not appearing like offset because of the physical resolution of the technologies you compare. Standard offset reproduction of the image is 2400 dpi arranged in 150 lpi. This is how the RIP is setting the image before physical reproduction by the imagesetter on the offset printing plate and then by the printing press onto the substrate. This standard RIP setting gives a visually smooth image for the human eye when printed because these settings guarantee reproduction of all 256 grades/tones used by the RIP to reproduce the picture. Remember the RIP uses the rule of 16 x 16 = 256 for calculating grades/tones. Offset technology can go to a sharper image with, for example, 4800 dpi (smaller dots) and 300 lpi. Even 9600 dpi and 600 lpi is possible. Only on the condition that dpi is increased proportionally with lpi will you reproduce all 256 grades/tones to see a smooth image at the end. That means you will see a sharp or very sharp picture with smooth gradation only when increase dpi together with lpi. (Lightly edited for clarity.)

What are your experiences? Are you still having gradation issues in your jobs? If so, which of these do you see as the culprit(s) most of the time? How do you handle these issues?

Stay Ahead of the Curve with Automated Web-to-Print Solutions

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Want to learn how to keep your print services on top within the fast-paced marketing community? If so, InfoTrends’ Kate Dunn offers insight and recommendations on how to adapt and automate print services for your clients. Sponsored by the PressGo program of Canon Solutions America, this webinar gives you the information needed to bolster your online business.

You might be asking, “What are some of the web-based market models out there?” For starters, there is the standard Ad-hoc Send-and-Print, which most printers already have in place. This allows the customer to upload a single file, receive a cost estimate, and send the file to print. The Catalog and Template based models mainly surround business communications, sales and marketing collateral, and direct mail, which are customizable to certain degrees. The holy grail of models is Process Automation, which integrates an enhanced supply chain with fully customizable print ordering.

OK, let’s apply a model to a real-life scenario. With an automated template process system, a realtor can sign-in online, choose a business card template, select copy that pertains to his property sales pitch, send the card to print, as well as have the business cards packaged, postmarked, and mailed to recipients. Accomplished all in a series of clicks without having to juggle communications with a number of service providers.

Let’s review: why are automated print services so important? Well, InfoTrends predicts that 40% of all printed materials will be procured over the Internet in the coming year. Customers are asking for automation services in order to streamline their supply-chain and maximize profits. In short, web-based automation adds value for both you and your clients. Today’s marketing supply chain consists of multiple, interconnected suppliers that an organization relies on to produce materials (print, promotional, and point-of-sale) to market their products and services. It’s astonishing, however, that 70% of businesses surveyed have no way to track or predict obsolescence within their supply chain. The last thing any client wants is a loss of control over their brand! That’s where a web-based approach is applied to fix the gap. Some of the benefits include: customer access 24/7, increased print accuracy, reduced customer service workloads, and enhanced volume production. Sounds like a nicely packaged offer to me.

If you want the complete list of benefits, the stats, and further insight into web-to-print solutions, view the webinar here:

10 Trends to Define Marketing for 2014 – 10 Experts Weigh in

Monday, November 4th, 2013

As we approach 2014, and all of the marketing challenges that come with it, SourceLink is rolling out our “Ten Trends to Define Marketing” series again, with a twist. This year, we sat down with ten industry experts and asked them what trends they anticipate in 2014 and the years to come. We will be rolling out these articles over the next six weeks – Here are the experts that we sat down with, and a brief synopsis of what they had to say:

1. Ginger Conlon, Editor-in-Chief, Direct Marketing News – “The Virtuous Cycle of Customer Centricity” – Oct 29

Into 2014, consumers will wield the power to dictate how they are marketing to, and marketers are tasked with creating content that is driven by consumer preference. Understanding customer behaviors and preferences will lead to sophisticated micro-marketing campaigns, and marketers will then be tasked with modeling content creation and communications strategies based on how content is being utilized.

2. Judith Hemmel, Vice President of Customer Intelligence, SourceLink -  “Moving From Creepy to Credible” – Oct 31

An overarching theme through several of the interviews is was the extreme importance of mobile marketing. Consumers now have the ultimate choice of whether to engage with a brand, cultivating an environment of permission. This phenomenon will further strengthen the move from push to pull marketing, and messaging must move from “Creepy to Credible.”

3. Skip Henk, President and CEO, Xplor International – “Sitting on the Sidelines or Taking the Leap of Faith” – Nov 5

Human behavior is the true game changer in 2014, and there is tremendous value in how customers allocate their time to take in new information.  Augmented Reality, a still-emerging technology, very well could lead to a print revival. Marketers will fall into two categories in embracing these new technologies, those taking the leap and those sitting on the sidelines waiting for more proof; which Skip sees as the “winners and the losers” in the fight for customer attention.

4. Bryan Yeager, Financial Services and Mobile Payments Analyst for eMarketer–“Social Media and Mobile Craft a Path to Purchase” – Nov 7

Mobile penetration reached a tipping point in 2013, and looking into 2014, past trends converge because of the smartphone and its ability to enhance the customer experience. Marketers using social media up until now have merely been laying the groundwork for the real opportunities for engagement and conversion. Wearable technologies bring flashy new avenues to truly connect with customers.

5. Roehl Sanchez, VP and Chief Creative Officer, BIMM Direct & Digital - “Data Drives The Creative Process, and the Modular Builder Emerges” - Nov 12

Data begins to drive creative decisions, and creative decisions facilitate the use of data. We are entering age of real time marketing, and the definition of marketing and advertising “Creative” is shifting, especially when it comes to mobile design. Marketers must familiarize themselves withmicrocampaigns and start thinking mobile first. The creative professional must start to be a “modular builder,” and embrace a shift toward strong creative rooted as much in functionality as in design.

6. Rich Brown, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, SourceLink –SOLOMO and the Evolution of Location Based Engagement” – Nov 14

Social plus location plus mobile (SOLOMO) will a gamechanger in 2014, as marketers truly perfect geofencing technologies and make actionable use out of location data using offer-based engines. Data use concerns and privacy legislation gain lots of attention in 2014, and marketing organizations rally to support the responsible use of data. Marketers start to effectively link return on investment between offline transactions and social engagement.

7. John Foley, CEO Grow Socially and CMO InterlinkOne– “The Amazing Powers of Personalization” – Nov 19

2014 will see BIG advancements in mobile technology, which will allow for in-store personalization and other amazing interactions. A surprising amount of companies are still behind the content and social engagement curve in 2013, and will evolve into more social businesses in 2014, with more content being distributed than ever. Personalization sees a surge in the depth and relevancy, paralleling advancements in marketing automation.

8. Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs – “Organizing your Company Around Content and the Emergence of Short-form Media” - Nov 21

Marketers have been making content creation a priority, but next year will see a need to allocate resources to dedicated personnel. Next year’s trend will be a wider adoption and need to understand short-form content. Social media engagement leads to emotional connection and a better brand experience. Print remains a crucial part of marketing spend, and continues to claim significant portion of marketing budget.

9. Cindy Randazzo, Vice President Strategy and Insight, SourceLink – “A World Where IT and Marketing make each other Stronger” and  “Multisource Attribution in an Omnichannel world” – Nov 26 and Dec 3

Cindy had so much to say that we will be covering her thoughts over two articles.  First, 2014 brings the realization that IT and Marketing cannot be siloed, as their strengths will make each other stronger and will account for the weaknesses in the other, as the “right and left brain” come together. Big Data becomes relevant for all industries, as it is mined for interests, and used for multiple forms of variable advertising. Consumers start to ask the question “How is it possible that you don’t know who I am?”

10. David Burstein, Fast Company contributor and author, “Fast Future: How Millennials are Shaping our World.” – “The Marketer’s Role to the Millennial” – Dec 5

Companies must make consistent strides towards social responsibility and innovation as core tenets to developing as an organization. “Millennials” (those born in the second baby boom years of 1980 to the early 2000s) have become the most messaged-to generation ever, and marketers embrace emerging technologies and develop new means to stand out. Deep customization stands as central to the communications experience between marketers and Millennials.

To read the entire series, keep checking back to the SourceLink blog here.

Breaking Down the Barriers to Inkjet Adoption

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Last week, Canon hosted a cross-section of prominent companies from the graphic arts, book, direct mail and transaction printing segments in Munich Germany. I was pleased to be invited, along with other expert presenters from Canon Poing CECGartner, InfoTrends, InterQuest, IT Strategies, Madison Advisors and NAPL. The  Leadership  Forum was held at Canon’s impressive 14,000 square foot Customer Experience Center where several cutsheet toner presses and a huge array of high-volume, continuous feed inkjet presses were configured as custom application demonstrations. I had ample opportunity to network with attendees and learn what was driving them to update their technology. While not specifically an inkjet event, the majority of attendees at the Leadership Forum were evaluating the transition to inkjet or expanding on an existing inkjet implementation. The top three reasons cited:

  • Speed/Time to market requirements;
  • Full-color, white paper efficiencies;
  • Plans to enter new markets.

My charter was to prepare a wrap-up session on “Preparing Your Business for Inkjet ” along with two customers; Bob Radzis of SG360 (a direct mailer) and Mike McCombs of RevSpring (a transaction printer.) These two gentlemen shared their successes with transitioning to inkjet along with candid feedback on the challenges they faced as early adopters. Dialogue with attendees focused on perceived challenges with inkjet adoption but, there were very few actual barriers cited. Some key take-aways were:

  • Inkjet has clearly reached a tipping point among high-volume printers of variable applications;
  • Quality is no longer perceived as a barrier to adoption;
  • Customers were encouraged by the increasing variety and availability of inkjet papers and seemed confident that the trend would continue;
  • Customer seemed to recognize that the right workflow solution was as critical as selecting the right press but were less aware of the critical tradeoffs between paper selection and ink usage;
  • The major remaining obstacle to inkjet adoption is production volume. Mid-volume companies often can’t generate the business case for inkjet.

While this was a working trip for me, it was also an opportunity to attend great sessions covering the social, economic and technical factors that are changing the print industry in general, as well as, drill-down sessions on key drivers of change in book printing, direct mail and transaction printing specifically. Whether you are a print provider or a consultant there is constantly more to learn in our industry and the Canon Leadership Forum did a great job of blending business, technical and market related content with product demonstrations and networking opportunities. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Canon’s CEC, or attend a future Leadership Forum I highly recommend the trip.

Elizabeth GoodingElizabeth Gooding is the President of Gooding Communications Group and editor of the Insight Forums blog. She writes and speaks and provides training on trends and opportunities for business communications professionals within regulated vertical industries.

Risky Business

Monday, February 11th, 2013

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image8059703

Property and Casualty (P&C) Insurance carriers are in the business of assessing risk; risk of theft, damage, injury, professional malpractice and catastrophe as well as investment risk. They make their money by laying odds on the likelihood that things will go sideways for their customers and that they will earn enough money by investing the pool of premium dollars to pay out on the bet if things do. Lately it seems that climate change is blowing up all the models for setting the odds of a natural disaster and insurers are dealing with defining and delineating coverage for new threats like cyber-terrorism that have completely changed the game.

The core systems most insurers have in place are woefully inadequate to handle the scope and pace of this new insurance game. In order to keep up, companies have built add-on modules and work-arounds to their core systems, often relying on Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Access “Band-Aids” to keep business moving. Many carriers that have upgraded their core systems did it on a “go-forward” basis leaving existing business on the old policy administration or claims system and writing new business on the new platform. At some companies this has happened more than once and there are now several “core” systems in production for different lines of business. All of the Band-Aids, work-arounds and go-forward solutions have left data scattered in multiple repositories just when carriers need data in one place more than ever.

In order to adequately assess risk, insurance carriers need large amounts of policy, claims, fraud and customer demographic data all in one place so that they can use risk modeling and data analytics to determine which types of risk are profitable to insure.  According to Accenture’s  2012 North American Claims Investment Survey, 54% of P&C insurers have core systems that are more than five years old, 66% say their claims systems are not optimized to collect and analyze data and 78% regard their capabilities inadequate to manage new forms and levels of risk, such as those presented by cybercrime, terrorism and increasingly frequent and severe natural catastrophes. So, after years of avoiding the disruption, expense and well – risk of a major core systems upgrade many companies have realized that they just can’t avoid taking the leap. A small study of 37 insurance carriers by Novarica indicated that 25 percent of large P&C insurers and more than 40 percent of midsize carriers were in the middle of converting their policy administration systems or planning to start a conversion at the end of 2011.

Keep in mind that the typical core systems upgrade will take from an incredibly fast eighteen months to a more typical three years plus to complete, depending on the number of undocumented work-arounds that need to be incorporated into the system and the level of data conversion to be completed. This means that a large percentage of the industry is either planning a core system upgrade or in the midst of completing one. And what comes out of these systems you ask? Documents, lots and lots of documents: quotes, policies, premium invoices, notices, claims reports, payments and more.

Opportunities abound for reducing the costs of producing documents in parallel with core systems conversion. Bringing systems together increases the opportunity for postal optimization, targeting analytics and improvements to the design of the documents themselves. The core systems upgrades have a larger implication as well; they enable insurers to develop more segmented and personalized products to appeal to different age, risk, ethnic and geographic groups of consumers. Direct marketing and agency marketing support is becoming more tailored and personalized as well with multi-touch, multi-channel and multi-language campaigns hitting the paper, airwaves and cyberspace simultaneously.

P&C Insurers are expected to spend an average of 17.5 million on Claims System upgrades alone. This seems like a pretty substantial number until you consider that the top 16 P&C insurers spend an average of $315 million on advertising each. GEICO alone spent over $993 million on advertising in 2011. This is not counting direct marketing spend – P&C Affinity Mail alone exceeded 500 million mailings in 2011 according to Mintel Comperemedia.

Savvy service providers are positioning themselves to help insures take advantage of newly upgraded systems and a wealth of new data to improve their customer experience throughout the insurance lifecycle. With their plates full to overflowing with core systems conversion initiatives, insurers need help to ensure that the tangible representation of their value to consumers – namely insurance documents – are not put at risk by the very projects intended to reduce risk. Now is the time to show insurers how to redirect some of those advertising dollars toward investments in customer experience and cross-sell using low-risk, high-reward solutions like direct mail, statement marketing and personalized collateral in tandem with QR codes and other calls to action that drive social media engagement and leverage consumers interest in mobile insurance applications. If your company isn’t positioned to help them, maybe you should be looking at some core systems upgrades too.

 

Elizabeth GoodingElizabeth Gooding is the President of Gooding Communications Group and the Editor of InsightForums.com. She covers business communications trends in highly regulated industries such as insurance, financial services, healthcare and telecommunications.

Thoughts on Breaking Down Silos

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Silos are complicated. No single silo fits all.

On his blog, author Greg Lowe talks identifies four types of silos — regulatory, business unit/hierarchical, interest-focused, and project-focused. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Lowe makes the excellent point that silos often are in place for good reason. And yet, “…decisions get made that are good for the silo, but may be bad for others or the company.”

First lesson, then: What leadership really wants is not silo abolition, but rather silos that are transparent and permeable.

But wait, there’s more.
Lowe’s four silos are all institutional silos. Silos hide themselves in other clothing, too. For example, social media silos require special treatment or eradication or, at least, inspection. For more on this silo,  download Nancy Pekala’s article on “Smashing the Social Media Silo:A Ten-Step Action Plan.” Or see what a social media digital manager like Wildfire has to offer.

And that’s not all.
Guarav Dhillon, CEO of SnapLogic, tackles the BIG DAWG in his blogHow to Eradicate Data Silos, saying, “I propose that the most important technique we can embrace in our quest to eradicate data silos is the containerization of data.” (Am I losing you yet?). Not to worry, just remember that, if you want to run an agile business, you must expect that you’ll be changing your SaaS systems (software-as-a-service or cloud service) much more frequently than you ever changed on-premise systems … [in other words] you should expect to replace business apps as often as you replace your household gadgets.” (I did lose you, didn’t I?)

If you’re still with me, know that Data Doghouse deals with the Scourge of Data Silos, too. “Each wave typically advances BI (business intelligence) in some way, but does not really create the breakaway promised; truly pervasive BI remains the Holy Grail. What is almost guaranteed with each new wave, however, is yet another data silo added to the many that already typically litter an enterprise landscape … The bottom-line is that business people need data and analytics from across the enterprise and not just from a new shiny BI silo. But for this to happen, the BI team has to stop the madness by not creating yet another silo and legacy application. Can you say “no” to the data silo?” (Honestly, I’m not sure I can say no. This silo thing is 50 shades of dominant).

Beyond saying that they exist, we’re not even going to talk about search engine optimization silos. And yet, if you must, be our guest in visiting this blog, which appears to tell us how to build silos. Yes, I’m just as dismayed as you are … even distraught.

So. Has it come to this? No More Silos EVER?
In its “State of Marketing Survey” whitepaper, IBM stresses that organizations need an integrated marketing suite that can take customer information gleaned from a variety of different sources and apply it to targeted offers delivered across channels and planforms.” As experience shows, that’s easier said than done. We are not allowed, however, to simply give-up.

Yes, indeed, we need data and many other silos. So, now what?
Writing for Forbes, John Kotter suggests that organizations create a “guiding coalition” whose job it is to break down barriers — that is, “a team of people committed to changing the way the organization operates, composed of people from all levels, divisions and locations. Don’t pick this team; require people to apply for it to gauge their level of commitment.”

To make it happen, this Harvard Business Review article suggests leadership create a compelling case for innovation, bolstered by a fully aligned strategic innovation agenda.

Let’s bring in the machines, too.
Michael Hickins, editor at the CIO Journal, describes the variety of software being used (e.g., Jive,  box,  and Yammer) to offer social networking and collaboration within a corporate environment.

1to1Media describes the experience of Imagetek in devising a new, robust CRM system. According to Steve Ogden, the company’s general manager, “The new system has decreased doubling of work between different departments and apart from saving time, has also increased accuracy.”

And, if you’re not behemoth, that’s good news. Chief Marketer attacked silo proliferation in early October, concluding that smaller companies manage the outbreaks better. “The larger the enterprise, the more likely it is that customer information is managed and stored via a third-party data warehouse. That means marketers must broker the data they need from IT … For example, companies that have cloud-based built data models can achieve a 45% increase in channel efficiency and a 20% reduction in costs. Those are difficult results to achieve without the benefit of flexibility..”

For marketers interested in comparison shopping for software aimed at silo smashing and marketing integration, find some options below [none of which I've used or endorse]. Additions and recommendations are welcome here. We’re all a little desperate.

IBM EMM Suite
Soffront
SnapLogic
Ensighten
OptifiNow

 

What about the people?

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

In my previous blog, I focused on technology and inkjet.  After thinking more about this I realized that in our rush to new capabilities and new technology, we often seem to forget the people who have to work with the new technologies.  From my personal experience, if you have a great technology but do not have the right people behind it you never reach the full potential.  In looking for some insight into this I found as usual it gets back to the basics.

  1. Involve the people who need to execute in the planning and specification process.  Those who do the work are in the best position to know the detailed steps in each process, the common roadblocks and bottlenecks, and the key contacts in the organization to get things done. Our workers are our greatest resource, however many organizations do not tap in to the enormous wealth of experience that walks through their doors each morning, and walks out again each night.
  2. Identify process owners who will take responsibility for a process end to end. This passes the ownership to the people, and uses their experience and knowledge to bridge the gap from the present to the future.  It will also help to break down the silos in an organization.
  3. Empower the line managers to drive business performance on an ongoing basis.  Action plans, communication resources, and employee development tools are all critical in affecting positive change.
  4. Work on developing requirements for each of the suppliers and customers within the organization the same way you do for external customers. Seeing how their own local processes and procedures fit into those of the wider organization and its goals allow employees to see the “big picture”. For many, this is incredibly empowering and motivating. Don’t assume you know what another function needs, especially when implementing new technologies.
  5. Commit to and deliver on investing in the people as well as the technology they utilize.  Provide training and resources for them to become as comfortable and effective with new technologies as they are with the current way of doing things.  Remember that change can be a frightening thing and forcing it upon the people will lead to inefficiencies and possibly “revolution”.
  6. Make change the norm and part of the company culture.  Through a  continuous improvement culture, employees will remain emotionally engaged with the organization and motivated to continue working toward common organizational goals

In looking for parallels to our industry, I was struck by some research in Health Care and Performance Improvement1.  Our industry is a labor intensive one, and relies on people with a variety of skills and knowledge to deliver superior offerings.  We all hear about the move from Print providers to Service providers, so looking at a high tech service industry I think offers some clues and reinforcement to the role of people in performance improvement.  Not everything was transferable to our industry however some ideas from this article which should be considered are:

  1. “Sound and effective leadership is critical to a healthy clinical operation. Without it, optimal financial performance is rarely achieved”
  2. “Making business decisions without reliable data is, especially in today’s environment, a costly and unforgivable mistake.”
  3. “Using available technology and a few simple management practices, virtually any clinical operation can improve decision making and deliver optimal outcome performance.”
  4. “In many healthcare organizations, managers are inundated with unreliable or outdated data, making it next to impossible to monitor operations and, more important, respond quickly to effect change to meet budget and productivity goals.”
  5. “A major area of weakness in many clinical operations is ineffective management of direct care hours. Too often, human resources are not aligned with other resources, or restructuring personnel for maximum advantage is seen as a low priority in times of organizational change.”
  6. “A network of support fosters better service and optimal performance.”

I see some opportunities for us to continue to learn from areas outside our normal scope, and help our people continue to be one of the major elements of change and improvement.  The old saying about People, Process and Technology being the three legs of a stable and successful operation may have never been more applicable than today with more and more change required for us to thrive, not just survive.

1.  Ten Components of Successful Clinical Health Care performance – A Phase 2 Consulting White Paper. 

What’s Your “Critical Turning Point” 1:1 Technology?

Friday, September 14th, 2012

It’s hard to believe that I’m finally at the age when I can say, “I remember when. . .” Just like those “old codgers” who used to remember technologies and processes so foreign to me back in the early 90s as a young twenty-four-year-old, wet-behind-the-ears editor of Printing News for whom digital printing technology was no big deal because, well, didn’t we always have computers?

On the cover of one of my first issues of Printing News was my first disaster. It was back when (then) Indigo E-Prints were only sold in packs — I mean pairs — and the first pair was being installed at a facility in Manhattan. There in the headline, in 36-point type or whatever we were using at the time, I called them MAN Rolands.

Anyway, let’s not talk about that. I began covering digital production technologies that day and spent a lot of time interviewing printers and listening to accolades and complaints and walking trade shows in shoes that were comfortable but didn’t match my clothes.

It’s funny how certain things stand out to you, and after covering digital production for however many years, there was one product — a simple product — that stood out to me and still does today.

It was at a time when the quality of toner-based production was still rapidly evolving and graphic designers were still suspicious and critical, and rightfully so. It was a scoring machine designed specifically for toner-based presses. By scoring the folds first, it vastly minimized the classic issue at the time, cracking across the fold. I don’t know why it sticks out to me as being so important, but for some reason, of all the technologies I covered in those Printing News years, it does.

So here’s my Friday question, and I’d really like some input on this from Digital Nirvana readers. Is there a technology like that for 1:1 printing? Something that, to you, stands out as being a “critical turning point” in the area of workflow, productivity, inspection, data management, cross-channel integration, or anything else?

Tell me a story, give me a memory. If you had to pick one critical, turning point technology that you feel fundamentally changed (or is changing) this market, I want to know what stands out to you.

After all, I told you about the “MAN Rolands.” You owe it to me.

Don’t Just Do It

Friday, June 15th, 2012

When we talk about helping companies with process improvement, people seem to think it is not very exciting.  Something that is incremental, or, in other words . . . slow.

Some companies like to buy their process improvements – just get a new piece of equipment, and it will force some internal change while providing a new product or service or higher quality or faster delivery, or . . . lots of other things that don’t actually happen easily.

New equipment and new software tools are the cool stuff; we can show “products” or output to our prospects and customers.  Our sales team gets it, and our customers get it.  We all “get” what we can hold in our hands, or see on our screens, and even the self-proclaimed non-technical among us get the benefits of having software tools that enhance or accelerate our delivery of products or services to our customers . . . and sometimes at lower prices!

We put a shiny new full color roll-fed inkjet printer the size of an Airstream travel trailer on the floor, and we have samples of the great quality and talk about how fast we can deliver to our customers.  Or we get a mail sorter, even bigger than the printer, to reduce postage costs.  You can walk a customer around these things and show them the commitment and the investments the company is making to support them.

Many companies create great plans for the acquisition and integration of software or hardware to provide new products or services.  The plans include an ROI that seems quite reasonable. Almost inevitably, the upstream or downstream requirements or impacts are not entirely understood or represented in the plan.

These other “mini-projects”, (if you’re lucky they are mini), require resources in people or skills that are not available, or maybe resources you don’t even have.  The project plan grows.  The implementation date moves out.  You find yourself to be stuck – either due to the lack of the right resources at the right time, or due to paralysis as you try to assure you now address every opportunity, risk, and option you can imagine before proceeding one step further.  Minimally, you find your implementation to be taking much longer than you expected, and the ROI not kicking in as you’d planned.

So, back to process improvement.  A critical but often overlooked component of process improvement is making decisions about what NOT to work on, what investment NOT to make, if you are not ready.  Do not bring on a piece of equipment until the resources are available to transform the existing printstreams to take advantage of the capabilities.  Don’t invest in software to provide new services until you have a specific vision based on what your customers would value, and what you can deliver to them, and staff with the skills, or staff available to be trained.  And those other projects that you ARE ready for?  They’ll get done much faster, because the resources are not distracted.

Human beings tend to be oriented to eat the whole elephant.  Make sure there are short term wins you can see, as well as milestones on the way to meet the long-term goals.   Don’t just do it.

What is the “right” tool for improving business performance?

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

When to use which one, and the need for flexibility!

Every day we hear about tools and programs for improving operating performance. There are many of them, with more versions coming out all the time. They include TOC, Lean, Six Sigma, ISO, CMM and BPI/BPM. Some, such as Six Sigma and ISO, have rigorous training and certification programs which are major projects to undertake in themselves. What is a company to do to understand which to choose, and possibly even when?

The answer to this question requires an organization to clearly define goals, timing, and the rationale for beginning at all. Is there a specific issue, or is there a client/industry mandate, or is the business looking to establish a base for optimizing performance overall? A comprehensive overview is impossible in a short piece such as this, so I anticipate this distillation may provoke some lively feedback and discussion.

TOC – Theory of Constraints

  • Focus: identify constraints or limitations for a task or process
  • Action: eliminate the constraint
  • Results: maximize the throughput
  • Limitation: usually targeted to a single task/function

“Build it and they will come.”

LEAN

  • Focus: eliminate waste, operate just in time
  • Action: make to order, optimize single piece flow
  • Results: rework eliminated , reduced inventory, reduced floor space, reduced cycle time
  • Limitation: difficult in a project oriented business more effective with ongoing production

“Don’t build it until it is needed.”

SIX SIGMA

  • Focus: variation in a process, tracking error/incident statistics and cause
  • Action: DMAIC – Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control
  • Results: find and eliminate sources of variation, can help with complex problems due to structure
  • Limitations: rigorous, statistical intensive approach, can lead to analysis paralysis; cost for six sigma training and certification can be high.

“Build it exactly to customer specification.”

ISO

  • Focus: documenting the process
  • Action: document the existing process in detail in a structured way, and audit compliance to the documented process
  • Results: consistent and repeatable process drives highly repeatable outcomes, improved supplier quality
  • Limitations: focus is on documentary evidence, so a poor process can be documented and followed and certification still achieved. Corrective action focuses on the documentation. ISO is a costly system if certification is pursued.

“Document what you do and do what you document.”

BPI/BPM

  • Focus: define, analyze, and improve cross-functional business process
  • Action: map the existing process, define tasks and inputs and outputs for each, identify and remove gaps and overlaps, manage with metrics and link actions to results
  • Results: refined and reengineered process with reduced cycle time and cost, and increased first pass yield.
  • Limitations: requires top down support to be truly effective, scope of process needs to be clearly defined, must apply the appropriate problem solving tools and project management skills

“Manage as an enterprise around meeting overall corporate goals; use the right tools as applicable.”

Companies need to have a clear understanding of their goals and needs, and a measure of their tolerance for change. The urgency for improvement is another critical factor. Finally, consider what skills you need to add, and/or assistance you may require to most efficiently and effectively address your needs and the tool you choose. This can reduce the time to achieve results and improve the probability of success.

Increasing Corporate Value

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

What is your organization doing to improve its value for the shareholders and stakeholders? Companies in general, and specifically those in the print and communication industry, have been working hard to improve profits and increase EBITDA as the economy continues to be depressed. Our industry not only has the economy to deal with, we are also contending with increased communication options and new technologies. Companies have downsized, right-sized, consolidated, and merged. This has helped maintain profits and EBITDA in the short run, but at what cost to the stakeholders – our customers and staff?

It seems to me it is time for a change from the old method of headcount reduction, restructuring, and lowering prices, to an approach that establishes long term stability, acceleratesidentifying and making the right changes for your business, and results in improved profitability. The tools for this new direction exist in Business Process Improvement (BPI) methodologies. By stepping back to look at the whole business,not just one function or production area, and applying the disciplines of BPI, companies can learn how to do more with existing resources in several ways. By eliminating overlappingor redundant efforts that have crept in silently over time,resources are released from non-value-add tasks to be re-allocated to projects like new technology, or products andservices to meet new client requirements. End to end process evaluation also bridges company silos to assure issues are not just pushed from one area to another, and identifies where there are communication and information gaps or delays which canresult in extra efforts and cost to meet client deliveries.

When is the last time you did a detailed review of your process and workflow across the organization?

Hard numbers and real-life cases exist to show that even after significant labor and cost reductions have been made, a structured BPI approach can increase EBITDA, cash flows, and shareholder/stakeholder value.

Simplicity Begins With Ugly Pictures

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Several years ago, Rob Carter, CIO of FedEx, looked out at the web of mind-numbingly complex systems around the company, and knew they were not sustainable. Some came from mergers and acquisitions, some were developed internally, and all were “necessary” to various business silos around the company. He knew it would be a tough job to demonstrate the seriousness of the problem, gain the support of business executives, and create urgency. In a “Mastermind” interview at last week’s Gartner Symposium ITxpo, Mr. Carter spoke about the transformation of IT at FedEx.

The difficult challenge he faced captured my attention, especially his comment that “I’m a big fan of ugly pictures”, to explain complex problems. From experience, I am a big proponent of mapping processes, (which generally results in a pretty ugly picture), as a basis for identifying and prioritizing opportunities for business improvement, as well as being a catalyst for generating creative solutions and high-level support for resources. Would the “ugly pictures” help Mr. Carter to show all the business executives at this very large organization the ramifications and future consequences of continuing down their silo’d paths?

The “ugly pictures” he created were maps of the spaghetti bowl of the entire FedEx IT infrastructure, including the total counts of all the applications, platforms, databases, HR systems, interfaces, tracking entities . . . you get the idea. He used the attention-getting ugly pictures and compelling stories behind them to get agreement and support from the top that a lot of time and money were necessary investments to avoid the time bomb lurking in the increasing system complexity.

FedEx proceeded to create a completely new IT strategy by “. . . decomposing the business into foundational services. Who is a customer? What is an address?” All the businesses had their ideas of an “address”, and had their own address databases, so instead of “knocking heads” trying to choose which of the existing systems is best, the company started over. They identified and solved for 22 core services, such as label services, address services, and location services, that really matter to the “simple” business of “picking them up and putting them down”, as Mr. Carter described their transportation business. Over time, interfaces fell away, some apps were no longer necessary, and a simpler, services-focused IT infrastructure resulted.

Have you or someone in your company created your own “ugly pictures” to help to re-focus, and simplify systems or processes? What did you focus on? What were the results?

Graph Expo Software Trends Revisited

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Back in August, I published an article on the main WhatTheyThink site that highlighted my top five software trends to watch at Graph Expo. In general, this year’s show was an indication that solutions are just as (if not more) important as speeds and feeds, and software is top-of-mind for print businesses looking to succeed in the face of still-challenging times. Now that Graph Expo is over and I’ve had some time to reflect, I’d like to revisit the trends I outlined and see how they matched up with what was at the show.

1. Integration, Automation for Print and Beyond

As Cary Sherburne reported in her Graph Expo retrospective, production automation is a critical technology that will help drive efficiency and scalability in print businesses. Collaboration among different vendors to help their customers meet their goals is happening at a greater rate than in the past, as evidenced by many of the larger OEM vendors showcasing partner solutions and integrations at their booths. Hybrid Software, which specializes in providing software technology that integrates disparate information and production systems, had a consistently packed booth. Enfocus also generated a lot of interest with the new release of its Switch automation tool. Regarding the “beyond” part of this trend, the inaugural marketing pavilion that featured a variety of marketing-related solution vendors exhibiting also generated a significant amount of traffic despite its somewhat undesirable location toward the back of the show floor.

2. The Next Wave of Web Enablement

There were a number of developments and even some new entrants at Graph Expo related to the Web services space. As I mentioned in my original post, I was anticipating the launch of a new print eCommerce solution from Keen Systems. I was able to grab a pre-show briefing/demo, and the solution definitely has some potential; it also won a “Worth-a-look” award, which is great for a first-time exhibitor. Another company that has been around for a few years but just started exhibiting again was PrintNow, which offers three easy-to-understand software packages that service providers can leverage. Aleyant Systems, creators of the Pressero system, debuted their updated online interactive design tool, which was rebuilt on HTML5 instead of Adobe Flex/Flash for broader device support. EFI also previewed the latest version of its Digital StoreFront product, which included a revamped interface and ordering workflow. All in all, the future of Web enablement is shaping up quite nicely, and was on display at Graph Expo 2011.

3. Taking a Fresh Look at Print MIS

While production automation was one of the critical technologies outlined in Cary’s piece, MIS was the top critical technology, and there was plenty of activity related to MIS at Graph Expo this year. While EFI’s dominance in this space was certainly apparent, there were plenty of developments from other players. Heidelberg highlighted its Prinect Business Manager based on its CERM acquisition; the company plans to begin initial implementations of the solution in October or November. Technique received a great deal of attention at the show because of its new mobile application (iTechnique), which provides sales reps and managers with access to information such as customer profiles, active jobs, and the ability to submit new proposals. Avanti Systems highlighted its recent integration with Ultimate Impostrip, as well as its Customer Relationship Management capabilities. Finally, the very recent merger of vendors printLEADER and PrintPoint resulted in shared booth space and a showcase of how their products work together. With a renewed focus on operational optimization, MIS continues to be a key enabler, and printers are taking note.

4. Harnessing the Cloud

As I mentioned in my last post, utilizing the cloud results in easier implementations, reduction in software costs, and provides scalability as needs change. For print businesses to be more agile and make changes or shift directions as the market requires, flexibility and scalability are key factors. Many vendors were offering different flavors of cloud computing at Graph Expo. We already mentioned Keen, which is a true multi-tenant, cloud-based service. Many other vendors are taking the approach of leveraging virtualization, enabling customers to deploy software with less hardware footprint and greater efficiency. Kodak mentioned that it enabled virtualization with its Prinergy workflow suite earlier this year, and many customers have taken the opportunity to optimize their deployments.

5. Getting Serious About Mobile

While this trend was listed as number five on my list, I really think that mobile made a huge splash at Graph Expo and the issue of mobility will become a focal point for both vendors and service providers in the near future. I counted at least a dozen different mobile-related product announcements and features at Graph Expo, and I fully expect more to take shape between now and drupa. Some of these developments are around mobile marketing, including the ability to make print more interactive. Other developments are around the concept of mobile production management. My colleague, Barb Pellow, went into many of these announcements in further detail in one of her recent articles. It will be interesting to see how these applications are adopted by service providers and what benefits they provide.

Overall, Graph Expo was pretty great this year, and I think many of the software trends I highlighted were fairly prominent themes at the show. These are just my own views, though. What did you see at Graph Expo that really stood out to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.