American Printer's mission is to be the most reliable and authoritative source of information on integrating tomorrow's technology with today's management.

Mills Davis, vice president, Interprise Strategy printCafe

Jul 17, 2001 12:00 AM

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Every printer wants to better understand the trends facing the industry in the coming two to three years. How will these trends affect the print process? What challenges will they present, and what steps can printers take today to seize control of the future?

Printers succeed when they identify a need in the market, understand their customers, organize their processes and operate their businesses in a way that satisfies customer needs. The customer comes first.


Print customers' priorities are changing. New concerns propel them in new directions. Advertising agencies and creative services want to provide more comprehensive services. They recognize the importance of the Internet for communications and business-to-business (B2B) agility. They are developing e-business links with clients, suppliers and media channels.

This group of customers has a shifting strategic focus toward integrated programs for public relations, marketing and media communications. Creative processes are becoming more digital, with an emphasis on collaborative authoring, cross-media design and digital imaging. Lifecycle content management and cross-media delivery are the keys to brand and campaign management.

Global 5000 corporations want to make their core business processes more efficient. This requires them to integrate, manage and deliver content, as print and other media.

From a marketing and communications perspective, the economic goal of Global 5000s is to multipurpose content, reduce the cost of media, speed time to market and maximize return on brand. They want to market to and service specific audiences, hence the growing importance of personalized content and 1:1 communications, as well as distribute-and-print delivery. Because they have to cope with increasingly shorter product and information cycles, these companies are approaching their product, service and process communications from a lifecycle perspective. The Internet is now part of every corporation's business strategy.

Publishers and direct marketers want to maximize performance of their core business. This requires them to closely integrate their content and business processes to reach targeted micro-markets with products, services and events. This focus allows them opportunities to maximize return on content investment and minimize the cost of media delivery.

Processes are becoming more digital, networked and integrated. Content origination is transitioning from a page/document model of authoring and production, to a model that creates and uses databases during each stage of the process. This database maintains content elements and objects that can be purposed across media, versioned, customized, personalized, etc. The new content processes feature collaborative authoring; meta-design (design for use in multiple products); management of content, media and digital assets; and cross-media content delivery.

Small office/home office users (SOHO) and consumers want no-muss, no-fuss access to digital print and media services via the Internet.


The B2B process is the cycle print buyers and printers use to work together. This is how the print buyer researches customers and suppliers, submits requests for quotes and proposals, reviews estimates and quotes, negotiates and executes agreements, places and receives orders, tracks and reports the status of work in progress, notifies and accepts delivery of goods or services, invoices and settles accounts; and provides and evaluates management information and performance.

The business of printing, publishing and media communication is moving to the Internet. Services are the building blocks of networked business. Across networks, almost every kind of service can be outsourced.

Printers are challenged to provide a B2B solution that links with customers' management systems and content-media solutions. The focus is less about e-commerce and more about facilitating responsive customer relationship management. It can involve presenting a common customer window that supports cross-selling and total customer service; providing customer access to a full range of content and media services; enabling transactions plus status and management reporting; and integrating with customer administrative, content, procurement and management systems.

Economic trends favor the continued growth of outsourcing. Print customers will be faced with increasing options for configuring their processes, as well as what they choose to outsource vs. perform internally.

Print customers will weigh a number of issues when considering outsourcing.

  • Known function or service at lowest cost. A specific service is sought from the company that can deliver the best price. To compete, the printer must develop extreme process efficiency and economies of scale.

  • Best-of-breed functionality, unique competency or niche expertise. Specific capabilities are required from an innovator, specialist or technology leader with singular capabilities, quality and/or service levels. To compete effectively, the printer should focus, innovate, specialize and deliver unique products or services.

  • Complete end-to-end process for print procurement, production workflow and delivery. Can the printer provide a total end-to-end service, from idea to fulfillment?

  • Comprehensive cross-media process that facilitates multiple returns on content. Printers are expected to do more things for existing customers, addressing a broader range of their print, Internet, content management and other media needs. Success depends on mastering technical challenges, broadening service offerings, cross-selling within the customers' organization, and implementing programs to strengthen and deepen customer relationships.

  • Content/media programs integrated with customers' product/service life cycle and core process. To become a strategic partner to customers, printers provide print, information management and media services from idea to prototype, test market, launch and support.

This approach can require diversification of product and process based on customer needs and priorities. Printers must extend themselves to become part of the business processes surrounding customers' demand for print.


New business environments will be digital, Internet-enabled and powered by shared knowledge. That is, they will have business rules, production process specifications, and certification procedures that facilitate operations to deliver economic advantages to all parties involved.

As shared business environments emerge, printers will need to restructure and integrate internal management, production and business-to-business processes so they can integrate with the customers at the least cost and with the greatest efficiency. Business will be conducted over the Internet according to rules of the business. The Internet will also be used to configure content, media production and fulfillment processes.

In the future, “intelligent” services will emerge. Based on industry standards, these can adapt to changing circumstances, optimize processes and be mass-customized to meet specific needs.

All printers will be challenged to use the Internet to upgrade their B2B process to become a better partner for their customers. Changes to consider include:

  • Use the Internet to provide a common face to all groups and individuals within a customer organization, and an easy-to-use point of access to all information and functions.

  • The Internet can facilitate selling and cross-selling. Common sales tools can be created that are easily accessible via the Web. These can include marketing materials, presentations, education programs and other website downloads. Web-based tools should also include sales planning, scheduling, contact reporting, expense reporting, proposal development and access to libraries and repositories. Also, printers should provide access to customer histories and business intelligence. As appropriate, provide customers with self-specification and ordering abilities.

  • Support the sales cycle with computerized estimating, scheduling and job setup. For example, sales teams can develop presentations, proposals, specifications and estimate requests using PDAs and wireless tablet (laptop) computers.

  • Empower front-line customer service by integrating internal information. Allow customer service representatives (CSRs) to use the Internet to set up, administer, track and provide real-time access to all job and customer information.

  • Move the content-media process onto the Internet. Enable content origination, content management, proofing and revisions via the Internet.

  • Use the Internet for technical support. Download instructions and technical information, as well as software applications and upgrades. Use the Internet to provide interactive technical support and customer service.

  • Integrate the printer's internal management system with key suppliers.

The trend is toward communications programs that link customer business, content and production processes, and output multiple media and product categories.

Printers must align their mix of products and services with emerging customer demand. They must strive to achieve cost and value leadership in core markets. Printers should shift some percentage of business toward digital printing and services with higher margins and rates of growth.


Management information systems are the cornerstone for success in the Internet era. A management information system allows printers to orchestrate and keep track of jobs, projects, processes, assets, resources and relationships with their clients and suppliers.

The challenge is to build a unified information environment that cuts across all aspects of the printing business. Building on this foundation, printers can harness the growing array of digital devices, workflows and integrated opportunities to better meet changing customer demands.

Key management system trends include:

  • Shop-floor data collection using digital devices and direct machine interfaces

  • Real-time operations reporting, financial status and executive management reporting

  • Internet-driven integration of production, management and B2B processes

  • Integration between businesses using industry standards and enabling business service environments

  • Flow management and process optimization based on knowledge processing.


To seize the future, the printer's plan must address five key aspects of the business: business model, process, people, organization and technology.


Does your business model respond to the changing needs and priorities of your customers? What are the value-adds? How are they delivered? Does your company have the right mix of products and services? Is your business sustainable?

Printers should take a careful look at their business model — the mix of customers, products and services, processes and overall strategy. In evaluating your current business model, ask four questions:

  1. Does it deliver substantial ROI?

    Future business strategies must pay for themselves. Strategies must be executed within a reasonable period of time, with acceptable level of investment and resources.

  2. Will the business model improve profitability?

    Any business model should positively impact the bottom line. Printers can improve profitability by reducing costs as well as by delivering higher-margin products and services.

  3. Does it grow the business?

    A business model must positively impact the top line. The printer can grow by increasing business with existing customers, acquiring new customers for existing services and developing new business with new customers.

  4. Does the business model differentiate the printer from its competitors?

    A business plan must provide differentiation through unique competencies, leadership in products and processes, a compelling go-to-market strategy, or superior execution and service.


Do your internal and external processes fit with the new realities of your customers? Do they provide the right capabilities and functions? Will the process architecture deliver adequate performance, and is it scalable? Are the building blocks proven?

Printers face the challenge of reengineering the way they do business to streamline processes, raise service levels, cut cycle time, improve quality (reduce errors) and eliminate costs. The Internet just raises the bar. Printers must profitably integrate their business management systems, content and production workflows, and customer services, to prosper in an Internet era.


Does your staff have the right mix of skills? Does your company have sufficient IT talent? Consider technical and business consultative skills. Does your company have enough people with technical project management skills? Is your business cultivating peer groups and “professional” communities to develop specialized skills plus a broad understanding of the new patterns and processes?

Computer literacy is not optional. It is mandatory. Everyone must master a thoroughly e-way of doing business. The ability to work with the Internet and computer applications will be part of everyone's job in every phase of operations.

Key areas that should be considered include:

  • CONSULTATIVE SERVICES | Customer focus, problem solving and innovation are required in a printer's strategy. Printers need to recruit, develop and retain an adequate team of senior-level people with business, technical, development and project-management expertise. Expect to pay these people well.

  • IT SKILLS | Most printers need greater depth and breadth of IT skills. Capabilities needed include networking, databases (business, data warehouses, content, digital asset management, fulfillment, etc.), management systems, CRM (customer relationship management), content-media processes, Web and Internet, software development and project management.

  • OUTSIDE RESOURCES | Develop an outside network of professional and technical experts that can serve as resources. Seek to recruit the “best of the best.” As new business develops, printers will need to call on the services of capable people and firms.


Are you organized to meet customer and stakeholder needs effectively? Are your responsibilities and incentives correctly aligned? Do you have the right structure? Agility? Flexibility?

Cross-functional teams are required to maintain the requisite skills for delivering an outstanding service to customers. They also can help accelerate time-to-market for needed innovations and process improvements.

Cross-company professional communities should be nurtured for marketing, sales, customer service, operations (e.g. scheduling), consultative services and technical disciplines (IT). Their purpose is to establish and deploy best practices, standards and common procedures.


How well is your IT infrastructure aligned with the Internet? How comprehensive is your networking? Does it have adequate bandwidth? Do you have the appropriate computing platforms and servers? How deep is your application expertise and breadth of knowledge?

  • IT IS KING | The building blocks of the new infrastructure are computers, networks, databases and distributed processes. Information technology is a core competency that printers must have. It is not just a cost to be minimized — it's a strategic necessity.

    Printers must upgrade their network and computing infrastructure. The only strategy is high-bandwidth, secure, accessible-anywhere, total connectivity.

    Infrastructure changes to consider include:

  • Develop globally accessible network communications. Make it easy for print customers and internal personnel working anywhere in the world to interconnect and access corporate facilities, printing, presentation services, video, distance learning and so forth.

  • Deploy integrated computing and information services. Invest in fast pipes (local-area networks that transmit data), high-capacity servers (computers that store information and orchestrate processes) and high-speed Internet service. Provide anytime/anywhere access to data and applications, cross-platform computing and communications, plus IT support.

  • Make laptops, handheld computers and cell phones into Web-powered offices.