Archive for the ‘Workflow’ Category

What You Need to Know About “S Curves”… No, it’s Not about Baseball

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

We can all debate about what the most important goal in business should be. It’s always been my opinion that the most important goal is to “create a sustainable competitive advantage”. From that point, all things follow. The problem is that of all the goals and objectives you can identify creating a sustainable competitive advantage may be the most elusive and most difficult to achieve. However, understanding the concept of “business cycles” and where your company sits in the cycle can provide you with a powerful tool to help you avoid the dreaded “stall point”.

First, let’s understand what the “S Curve” and why “Stall Points” need to be avoided at all costs. Every business begins, develops, and disappears along a consistent pattern sometimes referred to as a business cycle. This business cycle follows the pattern of an “S”, thus the term “S Curve”. The lowest point on the S Curve represents the start-up position as the enterprise searches for a value proposition that is desired by customers and that differentiates it from the competition. Assuming the start-up phase is successful the business then moves into the growth phase. This part of the cycle is characterized by “optimization” as management focuses on leveraging the success of the value proposition. Typically, the growth phase involves significant investments in equipment and staff. Often debt begins to grow. Management is totally focused on harvesting the profit potential of the original value proposition without understanding that without developing a fresh, updated and more relevant value proposition their competitive advantage is quickly disappearing. They are headed to the last part of the business cycle, the crown of the S Curve, the must be avoided “Stall Point”.

Why be so concerned about hitting a Stall Point? In their book, Stall Points, Matthew Olson and Derek Van Bever talk about the insidious nature of Stall Points. They point out –

  • That Stall Points are hard to predict; most come as a complete surprise to management.
  • Most organizations’ growth actually accelerate into a Stall Point.
  • Recovery must come quickly or recovery may not come at all.
  • Only 7% of the companies they studied were able to return to growth.
  • The average company they studied lost 74% of its market capitalization in the decade following the Stall Point.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid falling into this trap, and there are steps you can take if you hit a Stall Point… both of which I am happy to share… on the following condition. I only ask that you respond to this blog. Write a comment. Let me know if you would like me to follow up with more information. It’s as simple as that. If I don’t hear from you I will assume this blog has reached its Stall Point.

High-End Digital Print: What Does It Take to Get It?

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

What does it take to produce consistently high-quality pieces on a digital press? Not just solid commercial-quality work, but output that consistently meets the most demanding client expectations? Lately, I’ve been doing a series of interviews with high-end digital printers asking this very question. Here is what I’m hearing. Please chime in with your own thoughts.

1. Understand how your clients define quality, then purchase equipment that is capable of meeting those expectations. For example, for one printer, “quality” was evaluated by the ability of the press to print on uncoated and textured sheets. This need, expressed by a high percentage of his unique customer base, was one of the primary drivers in his purchase decision.

2. Hire dedicated press operators that “own” the equipment the way a press operator takes ownership of his press. Hire people who understand the equipment, how it works, the range of adjustments that can be made, and how to work within the available parameters to optimize print quality.

3. To the greatest extent possible, let the press operator do his or her own press maintenance. Give them the tools, the flexibility, and the authority to keep the press in top condition. Let them do maintenance at the moment they realize it needs it.

4.  Set expectations upfront. Work with your clients upfront to show them what output looks like on different equipment, different substrates, and using different techniques. Show samples and even run rough proofs so they understand upfront what the job is going to look like.

5. Get sign-off on hard copy proofs before running the job. Hard copy proofs might seem old-fashioned these days, but every one of the printers I talked to used them routinely. This way, clients know what they’re getting before you run the full production length job — then they sign off on it. No surprises!

What do you think of this list? What would you add to it?

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?

How Pizza Changed the B2B Customer Mindset

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Post provided by IWCO Direct. 

We all know that technology continues to transform the ways companies serve consumers at a rapid pace. But have you thought about how these new conveniences are changing the mindset of B2B customers? One of the most noticeable changes is how access to real-time, detailed information in peoples’ personal lives is also becoming an expectation in their professional lives.

Shoes Shipped Fast; Pizza Personalized; Forget the Taxi

Maybe this change started with shoes. The Zappos mantra of exceptional service in the form of selection and delivery times moved the expectations bar higher. Then Friday night pizza delivery morphed from a phone call to a mouse click or screen swipe. Order pizza online at Domino’s and you can choose olives on the left or right and know who’s making it. Then the “Dominos Tracker” allows you to watch your pizza move through various stages of production with a notification when it’s left the store. It’s a similar situation when you want to avoid the hassle of hailing a cab. When you order car service through an app like Uber, you can see the fare and precisely how long until your car arrives. And like your pizza, all large shipping companies, including the Postal Service, provide the ability to track a package you shipped or a product you ordered along its delivery route to its final destination. These consumer experiences, and many more, are transforming how customers expect to be served in business settings.

Changing with the Changing Mindset

This nearly instant access to information has shifted the mindset of the B2B customer. They want – and need – a similar level of transparency on the status of complex projects and transactions, in as close to real-time as possible. At IWCO Direct we’ve noticed this changing mindset. We are streamlining our workflow processes with tools that add value and make it easy to do business with us. But we’re not stopping there. We’re transforming our customer experience model and production processes. By enhancing our digital workflow, we will give our customers more robust views into the status of their jobs, along with the tools they need to make their job easier.

All of this is being implemented with the understanding that every individual action collectively creates the customer experience. From accounting to the production floor, we all play a role. As you can imagine, this is quite the undertaking. We’re very excited about how it will transform the experience for our customers and more fully engage our employees. We plan to share updates on our progress and additional insights in the coming months, so please check back often.

You can read more posts like this on the IWCO Speaking Direct Blog. 

Blog Author: Pat Deck
Executive Vice President of Customer Experience and graduate of The Citadel and the Naval Postgraduate School. Bringing the “work hard, play hard” philosophy to IWCO Direct for nearly five years. Commissioned Officer of the U.S. Navy, music and travel lover and Chicago Bears fan. 

PODi reviews PRISMAprepare

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

PODi recently independently reviewed the Canon Océ PRISMAprepare workflow suite and authored case studies and product briefings on these workflow solutions. The overview from PODi:

“Canon’s Oce PRISMAprepare simplifies and streamlines document make-ready processes to efficiently compile, correct, personalize and program print applications. This includes various layout and tab programming, spine printing, color splitting and releasing to production presses. While it can be integrated with other software packages, PRISMAprepare can also be used as a completely self-contained stand-alone make-ready solution.”

PODi completed their analysis by posting a series of podcasts reviewing PRISMAprepare capabilities including:
• Document Editing
• Page and Image Editing
• Personalization
• Make-ready Automation

For more information – visit PODi’s site here.

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:

Adobe Creative Cloud: What a Difference a Perspective Makes

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been listening in on the perspectives of designers on Adobe’s transition to cloud- and subscription-only services for its suite of creative software like InDesign, Photoshop, and the like.  Today, I “listened in” on a conversation from the print production perspective. What a difference a perspective makes!

On the design side, I see high levels of emotion. Particularly from small shop owners who are concerned that the monthly cost of the subscription will be burdensome, that they will not be able to access their files if they stop their subscriptions, that they will lose sovereignty over their software (forced upgrades, Adobe’s fine print that it can modify the software, even on their computers, at any time), and an overall feeling that this is bad business and indifference to the needs of the design community.

There are those, however, who either embrace the move or tolerate it. They add a surcharge to their invoices to cover software costs and move on. These folks tend not to hang around the negative discussions. They pop in, say their piece, and get back to work.

On the print production side, what was interesting to me is that I didn’t see any of the Adobe-bashing that I saw among designers. There were concerns about the move, but rather than being philosophical or hypothetical, participants cited specific, concrete concerns that were stated matter of factly. Not, “This is so unfair!”, just “Okay, this is the way things are. How do we handle this?” In resonse, concrete solutions were offered, gratitude exchanged, and again, back to work.

The number one issue that was raised that I saw was concern about compatibility with RIPs, which tend to take time to catch up to software upgrades. Will the move to Creative Cloud only mean that they will have more prepress headaches?

The answers included:

  • With CC, the most recent upgrades are always available, but you don’t have to upgrade if you don’t want to. If you want to wait until the RIPs catch up to latest upgrade before actually upgrading yourself, you can do that. It’s no different from purchasing a boxed solution in the past.
  • This is no different from the way things are now. Prepress departments regularly get improperly prepared files that won’t print. Adobe CC just means more job security?
  • This may create (or should create) more competition among RIP manufacturers and a closer working relationship between RIP manufacturers and Adobe.
  • Have the designer export to PDF with PDF-X1 for Level 1 and Level 2 RIPs and PDF-X4 for Level 3 RIPs, the issues disappear.

What are your production concerns?

In Line or Not in Line, That is the Question

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Finishing Web Inkjet Printing, Part 2

Last week we discussed the components that you need to put together a finishing line for a web-fed inkjet system.  So now you have a good idea of what you need.  But now you have to look at your own workflow, customer requirements, and need for flexibility, and decide whether this is to be an inline system, or broken up into sections.    So the question becomes more strategic, and it is one only you can answer.   The answer is that it depends on your product mix, your service level requirements, and your operator skills.

If you ask the printer manufacturers, they often would prefer that you separate the printing from the cutting and finishing.  The reason is simple:  Most inkjet systems will run with little downtime if they are kept running smoothly from roll-to-roll.  All systems will suffer productivity losses if they are stopped and started while in production.  Some will experience more downtime and waste than others (an analysis for a different day), but they all will be less productive if the systems are stopped and started in synch with the needs of finishing equipment.  And this may be your best choice.  But it also may not be.

By separating the finishing from the printing systems you get both productivity enhancements and detractions.  The price you pay for separating the two processes is that you need more labor to handle the printed roll transfer between printing and finishing, you can experience more product waste due to roll damage and setup, and you can lose time in getting the first piece out the door.  You can also increase your risk of wasting a specific recipient’s piece, if your product is personalized, causing more pieces to be reordered.  You also have extra costs of an additional extra unwinder and rewinder.

What you gain by separating print from cut is also important to look at:  You get an important buffer between the printer and the finishing system, which allows your most expensive component to be as productive as possible.  If you have many different product sizes or types, you get the flexibility of using one of several different finishing lines depending on the product type, without a time-consuming mechanical changeover.  Although specs are changing all the time, usually finishing lines can run faster than the print engines, allowing them to “catch up” to production if there was a mechanical maintenance item on them that needed to be replaced, like knives or other wear parts.

The reciprocal discussion can be made for keeping everything in line.  You gain in less labor, faster first-product out-the door, lower chance of losing a piece or damaging part of a roll in the process.  But you give up finishing flexibility, and if any part of the entire system goes down, the entire line gets shut down.

That decision gets more complex due to the growing sophistication of in-line finishing systems.   One firm has been a pioneer in developing multi-capability in-line finishing, and can saddle-stitch, cold glue, or adhesive bind in-line with most continuous printers.   A recent installation in Italy, in-line with a continuous web ink jet printer shows that it can be a great choice, under the right conditions.  The finishing portion can divert printed sheets to either the saddle-stitcher, or the adhesive perfect binder based upon a sheet barcode.   This might be the ultimate in in-line finishing.

All of these pros and cons to inline vs. near-line discussion can be quantified, and your specific “best configuration” really depends on the financial and service level requirement set.  Here again is an area that an independent expert can become an invaluable resource in helping you determine how you should approach your new venture.

From Roll to Page: What do I need?

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Finishing Web Inkjet Printing,  Part 1

This is the first installment of a 2-part series on web inkjet finishing.  This installment will cover the tactical considerations that need to be considered when building your finishing line, and the next installment will be the more strategic question of whether your system components should be in-line or near-line.

The thought of moving to high speed color inkjet printing is very seductive, with the availability of fully variable images, continuously improving quality, runs as short as quantity of one, and the nearly non-existent expense of make-ready, but there is a lot to analyze and decide after making a decision to do it.

After you decide on a printing technology and vendor, the next biggest consideration is finishing.  High speed color inkjet printers are web fed, and there needs to be all of the cut/stack/fold/bind operations that any web printing process requires.  But these processes are handled differently because of the differences in how digital print creates a finished piece as compared to traditional offset printing.  As you are aware, the digital printing process prints one complete book or mailpiece at a time, minimizing or eliminating the need for collating.  Depending on your end products, there are some strategic decisions to make, and some tactical ones, too.

The tactical decisions are the end-product-specific things that you need to finish your printed piece:  Do you need to perforate, punch, stack, slit, slit-then-merge 2 or 3 webs, or fold?  Your finishing vendor can determine the modules and accessories you need based on your product descriptions, and these selections are generally fairly straightforward.

Perfing/punching decisions are broken into two parts:  Static punching and perforating usually gets placed before the first print engine.  This is a device that allows you to create the tractor or pin-feed holes along the outside edges of the paper, and cross perfs at each page if you have legacy bursting/folding equipment that you need to use.  Don’t forget the web cleaner so that chads and paper dust is minimized going into the print engine.

Dynamic punching and perfing can be triggered by either barcodes or other queue marks that are inserted in the margins by the print file and give you the flexibility of placing horizontal and vertical perforations, either partial or full width, on only selected pages.

Then you need to understand how you are going to bind.  If you come from traditional printing, binding is a bit different in the digital world, since you can print an entire book or other document sequentially. As a result, little or no collation is necessary, except for getting covers on publications and books, or getting your printed stack into an envelope.  So your standard pocket-style binders or inserters are generally not going to be suited for this new product stream.  You will need to investigate binding devices that will handle the new product stream.  Again, your binding equipment vendor can help you make this selection based on your end product.  The considerations for digital print binding are much broader than they were just a few years ago, with choices that include stitching, perfect binding and even a cold-glue binding option.

Now that you have the right components and modules to finish your product, you need to decide whether they should all run as a single production line, allowing you to load roll paper in one end and out comes a finished book, mailpiece, or other product, or break the line up into two or more pieces.  That issue we will discuss in the next installment.

Just us next week for Part 2 of this post! 

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.

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.”


  • 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.”


  • 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.”


  • 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.”


  • 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.

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.

Reflecting on Apple’s Impact in Graphic Communications

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

There has been a lot of reflection and praise all across the Web over the past week following the announcement on August 24 that Steve Jobs, Apple’s iconic CEO, resigned from his top spot at the company, likely due to his worsening health condition from a long bout with pancreatic cancer. Commentary has ranged from high praise to personal experiences with Jobs to some people saying “it’s just not that big of a deal.”

Much is being made of Jobs’ influence on Apple’s highly successful products: the original Macintosh computer, along with the seminal line of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad devices. Additionally, there is a lot of talk about Jobs’ influence on Apple’s advertising and marketing efforts, of which many memorable ads have come. One area that hasn’t gotten as much light shed on it during this time of reflection is Jobs’ influence on our own industry of graphic communications. Whatever your feeling about Steve Jobs and Apple, there is no denying that the Macintosh helped spur the desktop publishing revolution and catalyzed a transformation across the media production landscape, including print, video, and now interactive applications.

Much of this revolution can be pointed back directly to Steve Jobs’ influence on the first Macintosh PC and its successors. Jobs once noted during his graduation speech at Stanford University that when he dropped out of Reed College, he still snuck into a number of classes (even though he wasn’t enrolled), and one of those classes was calligraphy. He learned not only about calligraphy but of typography and what comprises good design aesthetic. Good design and typography were, therefore, major factors that influenced the design of software for the Macintosh, as well as the form factors that are prominent in today’s popular Apple products.

The first Macintosh PC had a variety of fonts to choose from, as well as pre-loaded software for word processing and layout. Soon after the Mac’s initial release, LaserWriter printers could be connected to the Mac, and third-party applications like Aldus PageMaker, Adobe Photoshop, and QuarkXPress were developed and initially touted Mac-only support. With creative software primarily available on the Mac platform throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s, Apple held a dominant presence in the graphic communications industries.

While Windows-based PCs have made inroads in these industries, especially from a pure business administration perspective, recent InfoTrends research indicates that the Mac platform is still holding strong throughout the graphic communications industries. Apple’s market share in terms of operating systems is comparatively larger in our industry than in other industries, and companies are generally very good about upgrading to the latest operating system releases. With Apple still on stable footing and creatives still attracted to Apple and Mac, it’s hard to fathom this will change anytime soon, even with Jobs’ sudden departure.

All told, Steve Jobs had a tremendous influence on the creation of the Macintosh, which in turn had a significant impact on the core creative processes and workflows we’re all now accustomed to today. You could say that he’s doing it all over again with the rise in popularity of mobile devices, with Apple at the center of that transformation. While it may be disconcerting to those thinking about from the perspective of the future of Apple, Jobs has created an innovative culture that is instilled through every aspect of the business, from product development through its retail stores. It’s definitely hard to imagine Apple without Jobs at the helm, especially considering the downward spiral it went into after he left the first time. This time, however, he has built up a strong team that he can confidently pass the torch to for at least another generation.

Project Management Math

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Consider the following desirable equation:
New projects ≤ Projects completed

 Do you find that for yourself and your organization the number of projects added is at a rate disproportionate to the number of projects completed? Why is that?

Organizations place a high value on project management skills, which are critical for successful project completion on time and on budget. There are numerous classes and certifications in project management and major software programs dedicated to providing discipline and consistency to the project management process. The importance of managing project resources and scheduling the project timing is well understood. Time and effort is devoted to identifying the tasks and understanding the inputs and outputs of each task for completing the project. The tasks are sequenced and dependencies and end points of each element of the project are identified.

So, why is it that so many projects fall short of their goals?

I submit that the main reason is that we don’t apply the same effort and discipline to compiling and managing the list of projects itself. A few companies have created Project Management Offices, but their scope is often limited to projects in one department or function such as IT. Every company and department has a project list that seems to continually grow. Is the list complete? Does it include projects or activities which are required to keep the business going, such as audits? Is there a way to track all of the efforts underway in our organizations and what resources are assigned? To manage the project activity going on in our organizations, we need a disciplined approach.

Projects should support the corporate or department Strategic and Business Plans. The objectives supporting these plans should represent “filters” that each proposed project should be evaluated against before it is started. Does the new proposed project help us meet a defined strategic or business objective? All too often a project is conceived and started without ever considering the overall impact it will have on other efforts underway. Once filters are applied and priorities are established, resource requirements can be addressed.

Understanding resource requirements and availability is critical before proceeding to launch projects. What staff or other resources are needed for a project? Simply adding projects to resources that already have full plates will guarantee that current projects as well as the new ones will experience delays. Projects with overburdened resources will suffer starts and stops while resources bounce from one hot project to another. This causes inefficiencies and increases the risk of errors in critical project steps.

Another part of the project management process that should be applied to managing the project queue is determining the sequence for project implementation. An assessment of the organization’s project list could reveal that completing one project first will make other projects simpler and easier to complete. Consideration should also be given to breaking major projects into smaller ones, allowing a quicker return on the efforts and creating a sense of accomplishment. With the reductions in the workforce over the last several years, a growing sense of frustration exists as to having too much to do and never accomplishing anything.

The overall process of managing the organization’s activities and projects is really simple:
• Apply filters to the list and set priorities
• Assure necessary resources are available and have adequate band width before starting
• Avoid the mega project that goes on and on from inception by breaking it into shorter term achievable efforts

The process to manage the project efforts for maximum efficiency and results is easy, but implementing it is hard and must be supported at the top. With many pressures in all companies today, management generally tends to continue to distribute new important projects, unknowingly creating unsupportable goals. Limited resources cannot complete an ever-increasing project list. The final challenge in controlling projects comes in creating a culture that allows the people involved in a project to push back and seek some relief when the number and complexity of their projects gets to the point that nothing is getting completed. Without that culture, neither the company nor the employee wins.

So, what kind of company or department is yours?
New projects ≤ Projects completed, or
New projects ≥ Projects completed

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