Author Archives: Howie Fenton

Drill Sergeant vs. Process Oriented Workflow Management


Need a good laugh this holiday season? Have you seen the Geico commercial in which a drill sergeant is offering psychotherapy? It starts with the patient lying on the therapist’s couch saying “and that’s why yellow makes me sad,” and it results in a berating tirade ending with “cry baby” from the drill sergeant. It makes me laugh every time I see it, but I have to admit, it’s not an unusual management style in production areas.

Recently I witnessed someone making a mistake in production only to have their supervisor push them out of the way and say “get out of the way and let me do this.” This combined with other observations led to the conclusion that production at this company was more “fly by the seat of your pants” than process orientated.

As you can imagine, that is not unusual but what was strange was that these folks had never seen any other way of managing.  When I started to explain the issues of the “fly by the seat of your pants” philosophy they looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. This led to a lengthy conversation with the two approaches as well as the pros and cons of each.

A process approach is proactive. It is designed to avoid problems before they occur or the procedure is corrected after a problem is discovered. When a problem occurs, the goal is to change the process not fix the specific job. A process approach slows down the initial process by creating SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures), training staff in those SOPs, monitoring compliance and correcting those who do not comply. A non-process approach deals with problems on the fly, may not communicate the resolution or monitor compliance and, as a result, this approach often results in more mistakes because few staff comply with the standard procedure.

When a process approach is used, it includes relentless training and close monitoring until a confidence is created in new procedures and for new staff. In many cases the training requires the creation of materials and a scheduled time for training. In contrast, a non-process approach is filled with quality inspections at the end of the process and results in a higher percentage of rework.

I wish I had a web cam right now to see if this sounds like a foreign language or just a typical production conversation. Which of these are used in your company?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.

Staffing Issues Cross the Time Space Continuum


In an article last month we talked about the fast approaching crisis in staffing. For most people in our industry, this is more of a nuisance because most of us are struggling with the declining sales and profits in our industry. But I would argue that the inability to attract young people to our industry is the greatest issue in our industry. Why? Because if you don’t have staff it does not matter if the demand is growing or shrinking because your capacity will be zero.

I learned in a recent assignment that “feeder programs” or programs in vocational schools and high school printing programs are disappearing. For most high school counselors and students, the impression of a career in this industry conjures up images of dirty, low paying jobs with no growth opportunities. As staff approach retirement, this is going to become an overwhelming problem. The result for the industry is an approaching shortage of skilled workers with the ability to work with these evolving and changing technologies.

Not to sound like a Star Trek episode but this issue crosses the space-time continuum. According to recent reports from the Canadian Printing Industries Sector Council (CPISC) nearly half of all employees are approaching retirement age, with 30 percent of all industry employees between the ages of 46 to 54 years and 19 percent older than 55 years of age. And on the other side of the world a report from a few years ago from Australia (PIAA -Printing Industries Association of Australia) found the exact same problem. According to the PIAA:

The printing industry ‘PRINT21 Action Agenda’ identified a shortage of people in the industry with skills that span the knowledge spectrum of the printing process, financial management, sales and marketing management, as well as information technology. PRINT21 concluded that for printers to be successful into the future, they needed to invest in their people to develop the skills that would enable the printer to put forward unique value propositions to customers that were more than just products, but represented unique business solutions to their customers.  What is required is a change of focus to ‘value adding’, rather than commodity-based competition.

The PRINT21 study of printers and their customers clearly showed that printers need to significantly enhance their competencies in managing relationships with customers and suppliers.  To do this, printers need to develop a sustainable source of appropriately educated and trained employees that:

  • Understand printing technologies and processes
  • Have an excellent appreciation of value chain management
  • Have an excellent appreciation of the developing technologies that are driving the new direction for the industry, such as digital file management, data warehousing, digital asset management, content management and print on demand.
  • Are trained in sales and marketing, particularly solution selling
  • Are innovative and flexible
  • Have strong team and leadership skills
  • Have project management skills
  • Are customer focused

Since writing that first article on this subject I have talked to a lot of people. The message I have heard is consistent. The problem does not seem to be ability but motivation.

It’s not that we don’t have the training materials or teachers, but vocational schools, high school and college and university programs are disappearing. While there are organizations such as GAERF with programs such as PrintED/SkillsUSA and manufacturers like Heidelberg and Xerox supporting education issues, all are facing an uphill battle – and while winning some battles, overall we are losing the war. The age old question becomes can we turn this around before it becomes overwhelming?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.

Business Slow – Maybe a Good Time to Upgrade Your Wireless Network


It is not true everywhere but in many companies work slows down between mid December and mid January. While a festive time and it’s easy to relax, it’s also a great time to get some projects done. One thing you might consider is upgrading your wireless network.

Over a year ago the IEEE’s Standards Board ratified the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard. The main advantage of 802.11n over the “g” and previous Wi-Fi standards is speed. The “n” standard takes advantage of MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) antenna technology for much faster performance. In addition, the MIMO technology is more reliable meaning fewer “drop offs” because there are multiuple antennas working. In other words, if a signal doesn’t get through it can be sent in another way with another antenna. Another advantage is range, which allows you to reach further.

Since the standard has been out a long time we have been seeing prices fall for routers as well as for USB receivers that can plug in to your existing computers and allow you to communicate faster and more reliably.  I recently upgraded a wireless network from the “g” standard to the “n” standard. It cost less than $150 and made a huge difference to everyone on the network. The one surprise was that despite the longer range it was not better at penetrating walls. In fact, there is evidence that the single antenna 2.4GHz “b/g” Standard has better “wall penetrating” qualities.

But if that is not an issue and you go shopping for an 802.11n router, keep in mind: there’s also a “dual mode” 802.11n option. Both the older 802.11g and newer 802.11n operate on the 2.4-GHz radio frequency band. But the dual 802.11n routers run on both the 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz frequencies. The 5-GHz frequency is an even better one to use, especially for large files, as we often see in print production because there is less electronic interference. Also consider the difference between the 150n and 300n routers.

It does not matter if your wireless network is at home supporting games and Netflix or if it’s at work supporting sales and shipping staff — is not that tough to get up and running with the latest wireless routers. But don’t forget to set up all those tedious security protocals and do your homework for a highly rated router. But there are great deals and this is a good time to do it. Anyone have any recommendations for routers?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.

The Manroland and Océ Agreement


Last week Manroland and Océ announced a cooperative agreement. Considering the different products and distribution channels across different countries it is an interesting agreement between two of the printing industries manufacturing giants. Manroland is one of the world’s leading suppliers of offset printing systems, and Océ Printing Systems is a leading manufacturer of digital high-performance continuous-feed printing systems. Although details are not clear yet, it appears that this effort will focus sales and marketing opportunities for both companies for offset and inkjet printing as well as integration of workflow solutions.

Starting 2011, Manroland and Océ will offer total digital printing solutions aimed at the graphic arts industry – solutions that will include consulting, systems, services and materials provided by a single source. The companies will supply solutions that cover all of the manufacturing steps within the graphic arts industry by combining print data management and digital and offset printing, as well as post processing.

Manroland has expertise in the development and manufacturing of offset printing technologies as well as in the associated post processing and finishing systems. Océ has experience in the fields of system integration, workflow management, and variable high-performance data printing.

According to press releases, both companies feel that their offerings complement each other. Manroland will make its entry into digital printing space and Océ will receive access to new market segments and have the opportunity to extend its growth in the inkjet press market. Inkjet production systems are increasingly being used as a supplement to book production, to create customized newspapers and for personalized direct mail applications.

This is not the first time an offset press and digital printing manufacturer has tried to partner. In April 1999, Heidelberg took over the Office Imaging/Black/White Digital Printing Division of Eastman Kodak Company and Heidelberg and Kodak formed a joint venture known as Nexpress. A few years later this dissolved and on May 2004 Kodak announced the completion of its acquisition of NexPress Solutions and Heidelberg Digital. In March this year at a pre-Ipex briefing Heidelberg announced that it is talking to potential digital partners to enable it to sell digital presses in 170 countries and that a deal should be in place by the end of the year.

Therefore interesting questions emerge. Will this result in a synergy of offerings and sales channels? Could this be the start of other cooperative agreements between other traditional offset and digital printing manufacturers? Do you think we will see more partnerships like this?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.

Apple “Smoked the Competition,” But Still Consider Extending the Warranty


Over the weekend, PC World published the results of its annual reliability survey, incorporating reports from 79,000 tech users to assess customer satisfaction with reliability and tech support. As in previous surveys, Apple topped the rankings in an assortment of categories, with PC World going as far as to say that Apple “once again smoked the competition” in the desktop, notebook, and smartphone categories, winning high praise from customers in all reliability and service categories.

The Macintosh and iPhone maker did so well that virtually all its scores were above average. Apple’s only average scores were related to the company’s deftness at replacing failed notebook components, and in two areas pertaining to serious problems with the iPhone, the latter perhaps stemming from the iPhone 4’s well-publicized antenna issue that resulted in dropped calls for some users. The report points to Apple’s use of high-quality components and a straightforward software experience for providing customers with high levels of satisfaction. In addition, the company’s retail stores with Genius Bars offering service and support are seen as a key component to Apple’s customer care initiatives.

Personally I love the Genius Bars and look for excuses (and for available seating) around the Genius Bars just to learn. You can learn more in 15 minutes at the Genius Bar than in 6 months of reading magazines. I hate to admit it but this weekend when I was visiting family in New York City I made an excuse to go to the visually stunning store in New York City. I told my family that I had to check out the Black Friday deals (which were really available on line) and then spent some time at the Genius Bar.

But just because the Mac is reliable I still encourage people to take the 3 year extended warranty. I have owned more Macintosh computers than I care to admit. One of the most important things I learned a long time ago is that taking the 3 year extended warranty is always a good idea, especially for laptops.

A week ago when I went to install the new MS Office on my laptop and found my disk drive was not working, I was not too concerned. I simply found my bookmark for my local Apple Store and made a reservation at the Genius Bar. After 5 minutes of testing, they told me that my optical drive was not working, took my 2.5 year old laptop in, fixed it for free and returned it the next day.

But this is a controversial subject. Many people say it’s not worth it to buy an extended warranty. I have found that an extended warranty has saved me money on every laptop I have owned. Do you agree? Do you think the extended warranty is worthwhile?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.

A Crisis in Staffing is Fast Approaching


Everyone knows that the printing industry is changing and evolving from an industry that was dominated by traditional printed products to more print related services and digital technologies. Well not everyone knows this, because if young people were aware of the evolving importance of digital technology then maybe they would be more interested in pursuing careers in the graphic arts. But they are not and we are about to experience a crisis in staffing. The question is why and what can we do about it?

Part of the problem is that the projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that printing jobs will decline by 8% and prepress jobs by 18%, which is misleading. According to the Canadian Printing Industries Sector Council (CPISC) nearly half of all employees are approaching retirement age, with 30 percent of all industry employees between the ages of 46 to 54 years and 19 percent older than 55 years of age. Therefore, even if the number of jobs declines if half the existing staff retires there will be huge opportunities or gaps in staffing.

This is compounded by a lack of on the job training. In NAPL’s Organizational Development & Compensation Study only 13% of companies spent more than 1% of their annual revenue on training. How much training do leading companies offer staff? Some experts have argued for figures as high as 5–6%, but the available statistics show that training across all industries has averaged between 2 and 2.5% of payroll for most of this decade, with leading companies spending as much as 3%.

But the greatest issue is that the graphic arts industry is simply not attracting young people. Graphic arts and printing programs in high schools and vocational schools are disappearing. I am working on an assignment for a university with a printing program and they tell me that there used to be 15 local high schools and vocational schools driving students into their program – now there are only 5.

The result for the industry is an approaching shortage of skilled workers with the ability to work with these evolving and changing technologies. The Skills and Technology Roadmap report released by CPISC found that the industry needs new workers that are able to operate complex print machinery and also those who can understand and leverage the information and digital technologies.

For most high school counselors and students the impression of a career in this industry conjures up images of dirty, low paying jobs with no growth opportunities. As staff approach retirement, this is going to become an overwhelming problem. Clearly there are no quick fixes, but what do you think can be done to address the crisis in staffing?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.

Barry Diller Says Print Adds Value to Digital Media


Barry Diller, the well known TV and multimedia mogul, announced a joint venture last week between his news and commentary site The Daily Beast, and Newsweek. The motivation, according to statements made by Diller at a news conference, is the synergy of digital media and print.

Diller is the Chairman of Expedia and the Chairman and CEO of IAC/InterActiveCorp, the parent company of the Home Shopping Network, Ticketmaster,, and Citysearch, and is the media executive responsible for the creation of Fox Broadcasting Company and USA Broadcasting. Last week Diller agreed to enter into a 50-50 venture with his news and commentary site The Daily Beast and Newsweek.

At a conference in New Orleans a few weeks ago, Diller talked about the importance of offering a print version in addition to an electronic version to add value to internet advertising. “Advertisers like to have a print representation of what they’re trying to say, if it’s tied well, and into this very fast-moving Internet publication,” he said. He saw benefits for Daily Beast journalists, too. “They’ve been deep in the mess of the Internet for the last two years,” he said. “Taking that experience and that sensibility and going left toward print is actually a good industrial combination.”

“It’s hard to make enough money on digital-only platforms,” said Jim VandeHei, executive editor of Politico, a nonpartisan media company covering national politics and Washington. Interestingly Politico despite being a thriving Web site still generates about half its revenue from a print publication distributed free on weekdays around Washington. “Digital is clearly the future, but print — in the right circumstances — can still thrive and help provide a bridge to an all-digital future,” Mr. VandeHei said.

People involved in the negotiations say that it has had its ups and downs.  Over time Diller has become increasingly enamored with the idea of coupling his two-year-old online start-up with one of the most established brands in print journalism.

But experts are saying it is an ill conceived idea. According to the NY Times, “Putting together The Daily Beast and Newsweek makes little financial sense.” Later in the article Mark Edmiston, a former media investment banker who was the president of Newsweek in the 1980s is quoted as saying, “When you step back, this is not a marriage made in heaven. You have two very different owners with very different motivations. I don’t see how you can take two money-losing businesses and put them together and come up with a single entity that makes money.”

The responsibility for getting this to work will fall on the shoulders of highly respected editor Tina Brown. Tina Brown rose to prominence in the American media industry as the editor of the magazines Vanity Fair from 1984 to 1992 and of The New Yorker from 1992 to 1998. In 2000 she was awarded the CBE (Commander of the British Empire) for her services to overseas journalism and in 2007 was inducted into the Magazine Editors’ Hall of Fame.

But achieving success will take more than just a world class editor. There needs to be a strategy resulting in synergies of the two properties, which has not emerged yet. What do you think? Does a printed version add more value to a digital only version?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.

CFOs Skeptical but HR is Embracing Social Media


International Communications Research, a Media, PA-based independent research firm, conducted a phone survey with more than 1,400 CFOs and found that about half the CFOs said their “greatest concern” about employees’ use of social media was wasting time on such sites during business hours. Besides those concerned about workplace use of social media, another 18 percent were worried about employees behaving unprofessionally while using sites such as Facebook or Twitter.

The survey also found 11 percent were worried about employees posting financial or confidential company information and 10 percent were concerned about employees posting negative comments about their firm. When asked about the greatest benefit for a company of employees’ use of social media, 28 percent said it’s a way to provide better customer service. Another 22 percent saw it as a way to enhance the company’s reputation.

Social Media for Recruiting?

One of the challenges in the printing industry is finding people with technology skills. In the White Paper “Variable-Content Digital Printing: Staff for Profitability” that NAPL published a few years ago, 90% of the companies surveyed said they needed new skills to offer variable data services: 80% said they needed to beef up database management, 72% information technology and there was a tie for third place at 69% between sales and marketing.

But for some HR professionals social media is breathing a breath of fresh air into their daily work load. Finding people who write blogs or are active in groups such as LinkedIn is a pretty good indication that they are comfortable with computers and writing. A recent post on notes the growing number of places recruiters are posting jobs, with LinkedIn at the top of the list. As someone who used to do a lot of hiring, I always preferred to hire someone who had a personal connection to my company.

1. Create an Online Presence That Reflects Who You Are – The trick here is balance. On the one hand you want to be honest and real but you need to still be brief and keep to the point.

2. Make the Most of Your Time – Like preference marketing (how do you prefer to be contacted with which messages: email, phone, SMS text, mail) today’s high tech person has specific channels they want you to use. Find out if they want a phone call, an email or an SMS text and then use that.

3. Individualize Your Approach – It’s not a one-size-fits-all so like you target an advertising message to someone’s interest, target your communications to their interests.

4. Be Authentic – Like in sales, one of the keys in social media is creating the relationship. Be honest and open and look for commonalities.

5. Share Interesting Stuff – It’s hard to believe but many younger people are not consumed by work. Often stories on other subjects have more meaning to them. So sharing news, tidbits, etc. of general interest can create what might be the equivalent of “social media small talk,” which leads to bigger conversations.

6. Focus on Substance – The key to any recruiting is uncovering people’s skills, interests, aptitudes and figuring out how well they fit into the culture of the organization. That means focusing on serious questions too, such as strengths and weakness, and what motivates you.

Has anyone had success in using social media as a recruiting tool?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.

Inkjet vs. Toner: The Battle Heats Up at Graph Expo


Walking the show floor at Graph Expo it became very clear that there were almost no big iron presses and the two emerging digital printing camps: electrophotographic (EP aka toner) and high speed inkjet web presses. The EP devices are going through revolutionary changes and are used mostly for a wide variety of short run applications. While the inkjet presses are going through revolutionary changes and are targeted for high volume applications.

On the EP front, both Xerox and Kodak announced similar size upgrades (26”). HP showed the Indigo 7500 digital press, which added the new Vision System, which can detect unintended marks and reject pages and automatically reprint them even with variable data printing.

This was the first US show you could see the inkjet presses. Meeting with Aurelio Maruggi, Vice President and General Manager at Hewlett-Packard, I learned of the new HP T350 press, which prints at 600 ft/min., which is 50% faster than the T200. One of the nagging unanswered questions about the HP Inkjet presses is head life. According to Maruggi, customers are reporting they are replacing 1 print head every 3 shifts, which is 3 times longer than HP expected. Three other exciting inkjet presses were the Kodak Prosper 5000XL, Fuji Digital Inkjet J Press 720 and Dainippon Screen Truepress Jet520 ZZ (aka Ricoh 5000VP).

But the most interesting thing I saw at the show was an event in downtown Chicago sponsored by Cabot. Founded in 1882, Cabot Corporation is a material manufacturing company headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. Its profit came in at $248 million for fiscal 2010, a reversal from the company’s net loss of $125 million in the prior fiscal year. Their Inkjet Colorants are part of their New Business Segment.

After the show, in the Grand Ballroom at the Peninsula Chicago Hotel, there was a panel presentation moderated by Andy Tribute with Mary Lee Schneider, President, Digital Solutions and Chief Technology Officer for R.R. Donnelley; Frank Delfer, Executive Vice President of Technology and CTO, DST Output; Chris Carosella, Vice President of Product Development & Regulatory Affairs, IWCO Direct; and Marco Boer, Vice President, IT Strategies.

The panel talked about many customized communication and inkjet related topics. For example, DST is the largest third-party First-Class mailer in the US. There is an interesting side note about DST that comes from the book “Data Driven Print,” written by Pat Sorces and Michael Pletka. In the book they talk about how DST is successful because they understand how to match printing technology with the right manufacturing cost to create cost effective customized communications. Sorces and Pletka describe how DST combines Oce VarioPrint technology with the Extreme Dialogue composition engine for effective and cost efficient transpromo 401K programs.

But the focus of the presentation was how some printers were installing color inkjet heads on their web presses and creating, in essence, a press that could print using offset printing, color inkjet printing or a combination of both. Some of the larger companies may have staff capable of installing these heads; other companies may hire integrators for the installation.

System Integrators, such as Adphos, are offering to add color heads to web presses. Adphos is a privately-owned company in southern Germany with subsidiaries and support offices worldwide. They have already done a proof of concept by adding color Kodak Prosper heads to a Goss Sunday Press.

An integrator in the US that specializes in adding inkjet heads is Buck Automation. According to owner Buck Crowley, there are a wide variety of heads available for different applications. Crowley talked about the importance of matching the heads to the specific application but discussed viable heads from Lexmark, Canon, HP, Domino and Versamark. According to Crowley, the costs to install are much lower than the purchase price of an inkjet press. Crowley described a recent project he worked on in which he added four color heads to a web press capable of printing at 800 ft/min. The installation of inkjets across 52 inches cost about half a million dollars and the resulting cost per page was 3¢. And that cost/page may be high because an advantage of adding heads is that you may be able to buy the Inkjet Colorants and, not unlike a microbrewery, make your own ink for much less.

Where do you stand in the battle of digital printing technologies?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.

Things are Bad for Printed Newspapers But Good For Printed Textbooks


You know things are bad for newspapers when the CEO of a leading newspaper has to take time during a quarterly earnings call to assure the world that it will continue to print newspapers. That’s what New York Times Co. CEO Janet L. Robinson said last week. “Let me also assure you that our print product is live and well,” Robinson said, last week.

Of course she also talked about how they lost $4.3 million last quarter and outlined the state of the paper’s many digital initiatives (an investment in the news sharing service Ongo; the advent of a pay model for in the first quarter). We talked about this in blogs last month, when Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., told an audience, “We will stop printing The New York Times sometime in the future, date TBD.”

However, the writing is on the wall as their digital ventures grow while print dollars decline. Total revenues decreased 2.7 percent in the third quarter of 2010 compared with the third quarter of 2009 as advertising and circulation revenues declined 1.0 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively. Online advertising now counts for a 27 percent share of the New York Times Company’s overall ad revenue, as its web ads rose 14.6 percent. This represents a significant turnaround from Q3 2009, when the NYTCo’s online ads fell 7.2 percent.

Start up technology company Ongo has announced $12 million in investments from Gannett Company, The New York Times Company and The Washington Post Company. The company is poised to launch a consumer service for reading and sharing news and information from multiple publishers. Press Engine, the Times’ promising new app development program is set to launch in the fourth quarter.  Press Engine is reportedly fetching a licensing fee upwards of $50,000 from publishers. Other digital initiatives that Robinson touched on were the growth of Times’ business news blog, DealBook, last week’s release of the “full blown Times” iPad app, and the recent partnership with Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight political stats and polling page.

Unpredictable Media Choices for Textbooks

It is getting harder and harder to predict which consumers will prefer which form of media for which products. Most people assume that all young people want digital devices and older people want paper. But that is not true. I have some grey hair and I read the news everyday either on my computer or my Kindle and I appreciate the up-to-date nature and convenience resulting from electronic versions.

More fascinating are the results of two studies saying college kids prefer paper textbooks. According to the National Association of College Stores and the Student Public Interest Research Groups, a national advocacy network – three-quarters of the students surveyed said they still preferred a bound book to a digital version. Students are reluctant to give up the ability to flip quickly between chapters, write in the margins and highlight passages, although new software applications are beginning to allow students to use e-textbooks that way.

Which do you prefer – paper or pixels … and for which publications – newspapers or books?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.