4 Keys to Thriving Beyond 2021: Accelerate Digital and Automation Transformations

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An American Printer Commentary 
By Andy & Julie Plata 
American Printer, and the OutputLinks Communications Group 

February 2021

This is the first of a 4-part series titled “4 Keys to Thriving Beyond 2021

  1. Accelerate digital and automation transformations
  2. Wholeheartedly embrace new strategies and practices
  3. Establish “Green” as a competitive advantage
  4. Aggressively market your business to a much broader audience

This article focuses on number 1, Accelerate digital and automation transformations.

Corona VirusOver our career, we have had the opportunity to work closely with companies ranging from governments to some of the world’s largest enterprises and small owner-operated companies. Over the past three years, we have followed the financial markets and have been privileged to attend discussions with highly regarded business thought leaders. We have also interviewed over 30 print company owners for our various publications. 

Recently we have been studying how COVID-19 has affected the owners and employees of companies, with a particular emphasis on print-related organizations.

This article is based on the above experiences.

Accelerate Digital and Automation Transformations

In the past, digital and automation were considered cost-saving investments. But now, they need to be recognized as strategic competitive strategies. Business is gained or lost based on a company’s ability to support their clients’ important initiatives.

A recent McKinsey & Company article shared two important revelations:

  • COVID-19 speeded the adoption of digital technologies by several years.
  • COVID-19 has pushed companies over the technology tipping point—and transformed business forever.

Even though the McKinsey study probably excluded commercial printers, their findings do apply, and here’s why. An enterprise expects its supply chain partners to support its new digital and automation initiatives. And even if your company does not have many large enterprises as clients, there is a trickle-down effect. Trickle-down means companies that supply enterprises may well be your clients. And as they upgrade to support their customers’ initiatives, they will need your company’s support. 

Our Software Assistance Division is an excellent barometer for digital acceleration. For many years, Software Assistance has supported the country’s largest financial institutions, retailers, and manufacturers in upgrading their print infrastructure. But since COVID-19, the demand is skyrocketing for those services. The reason is those legacy print-only infrastructures must be replaced NOW to support digital/automation initiatives. Our Software Assistance clients are an excellent sampling of corporate America’s rush to automation.

Since Gutenberg, the print industry has been consistently upgrading technology to meet customer initiatives. And during all those times of upgrades, some resisted and longed for the old ways. But, print has survived since 868 A.D. by prioritizing customer needs.

To thrive beyond 2021, print professionals must prioritize deep upgrades to their automation and digitization technologies. Automation is easier to recognize as an ROI positive investment than digital upgrades. But both are necessary to make the difference between success and failure.

Competitive Advantages & New Revenue

Digital and automation initiatives can open up new revenue channels based on COVID-19 induced changes.

Digital ConferenceMatt Swain’s “Reimagining Communications” podcast references the dramatic shift, driven by the pandemic, among individuals and business to digital and online channels. This means that companies need digital channel support. And since no business wants to unnecessarily add new suppliers, you as a current supplier are in a favored position to help them. But, you need to be digital-savvy to be that supplier. So, upgrading your digital platform can position your firm for more revenue from existing clients and new revenue from companies looking to switch to digital-savvy providers.

Automation investments also return revenue gains. That comes from having a fully integrated production/billing workflow. An integrated workflow makes it easier to quickly incorporate equipment enhancements or new equipment. With faster, easier, error-free additions companies can profitably accommodate new business in the growth areas of short-run, packaging, and signage.

Digital and automation investments return a competitive advantage by access to valuable information like:

  • Real-time information for job tracking and billing
  • Profitability by the job, sales territory, customer, or product line
  • Location and causes of profit-draining workarounds
  • Staffing requirements per job, shift, day
  • Time-consuming hand-offs in production, packaging, and billing
  • Equipment efficiency

Information gains of this type allow for:

  • Simplifying job ticket-workflow from order input to finished product delivery
  • Improving production throughput
  • increased billing accuracy
  • Optimizing digital and conventional press utilization
  • Improved SLA performance

The Why and How

The goal of an automation initiative should be to create a smoothly operating, seamless production and back-office environment that automatically captures and makes accessible all production, costing, and problem information in real-time. Eliminating reruns, workflow slow-downs, and excessive labor results in measurable production and profit increases.

The optimum should be a nearly touch-free job acceptance, production, and billing process.

Since most businesses are 100% busy meeting current customer needs, a key to automation success is securing professional guidance. That guidance can be from a current print supplier or an independent assistance group.

Automating, optimizing, upgrading, or replacing hardware, software, and workflows causing production bottlenecks can generate an immediate or near time ROI.

Bridge the gapThe Score Board

  • The winners will be those who gain new business as a result of being positioned to support new and existing clients’ digital/automation initiatives.
  • The losers will be those who lost clients and prospects to those who were digital/automation ready.

Being positioned to thrive beyond 2021 is the winning ticket.

In Closing

Investing for future success is difficult during trying times like these. We hope this and our next three Thriving Beyond 2021 articles are of value as you measure those investment decisions.

If we can be of assistance, please let us know.

We believe new opportunities can develop from challenging situations. Therefore, we will continue offering insights on driving efficiencies to keep your business profitable. 

Empowering the print message for the digital age,
Andy & Julie Plata 
Co-CEOs, American Printer, and the OutputLinks Communications Group 



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