It's redundant to say the printing industry is different today than in decades past. Look around and you'll see telltale signs of change: The way companies are consuming physical documents is radically new. While key records in highly regulated industries are still on paper, digital communication has become the medium of choice for internal memos and marketing materials alike.

The recent changes to come to the printing business haven't been the death knell some foresaw initially, however. The fact that there is no longer a built-in market for print products is changing the way service providers, equipment vendors and raw material producers operate, but it isn't driving them away. There are ways for adaptable, intelligent and agile companies to carve out new niches in the tech-savvy current marketplace. In fact, those fastest to adapt may become the new leaders of the space.

Tech and know-how, a perfect match
It's no secret that in a digital world, printers should become more IT-savvy. Everything from cloud-based systems to new printing methods to replace photogravure is worth a look. However, as WhatTheyThink columnist Jennifer Matt recently pointed out, becoming a leader in this sense means adopting a new mindset and expertise, as well as hardware and software. Companies that buy every new innovation to hit the market without considering how to integrate them or what they mean in context may end up behind their competitors.

Matt specified that she has worked with print service providers that have taken naturally to new tech and become scalable and effective members of the industry – and has also witnessed organizations that use tech but don't understand it. The latter kind of company is feeling frustrated with the digital transition, but these businesses are their own worst enemy. No matter how powerful and user-friendly technology becomes, there will always be a case for organizations possessing internal knowledge and relevant expertise.

Right attitude for success
When it comes to the characteristics that separate adaptable and powerful print services from the pack in a tech-saturated market, the qualities aren't rare or esoteric. Matt suggested such common-sense practices as embracing the fact that important systems will keep changing and taking responsibility for integration and development issues instead of shifting blame. If organizations are ready to embrace this mature and thoughtful mindset instead of raging against the changes taking place around them, they may find themselves well-positioned to lead the next generation of printing.

The author also explained that technical department leaders should be ready to educate themselves on new systems as they debut. When it comes to cutting-edge solutions, there is no long-held training framework with all the answers. Employees need to be able to take the reins and teach themselves about the products and solutions that are revolutionizing the business. Matt made the important distinction that great IT directors today don't have to have genius-level knowledge. Instead, they should have good situational awareness, seeking relevant help when needed and picking appropriate new directions for tech.

The fact that new industry paradigms emerge every few months is one of the most important ideas to take on in such an environment. The key concept of printing today isn't "the industry has changed." Instead, think in terms of "the industry IS CHANGING." Today's online ordering systems will beget tomorrow's, and printer hardware will improve further. Companies ready for what's next are poised to succeed.

The framework of a winner
Printing Impressions contributor Philip Beyer expanded upon what it takes to run a successful and impressive business. He noted that companies showing off strong poise on the surface, winning business with their well-calculated appeal, are often organized impeccably behind the scenes. He specified that leading organizations in all fields use technology – but don't let it define them. While they stay up to date, leading organizations have codified their processes and don't let operations get random or chaotic.

The author echoed one of Matt's major points: Access to tech does not make a company successful. Every organization with a budget can bring in new printers or ordering systems. Having an effective business framework on which to hang those tech advancements is therefore a critical component of success. Beyer noted that when firms without strong defining processes purchase tech and get current IT solutions in place, it doesn't really help – they stay fundamentally haphazard.

Printing today is a wide-open field
Companies in the printing industry are still recalibrating from the changes in print's status. They'll likely be operating in a transitional climate for years to come. Some leaders will be able to thrive in this in-between space and others won't, but technology alone won't tell the tale. Some printers will have the personnel and processes to make IT work for them and embrace practices their customers like and appreciate. Others may fight against the march of time, stick with one system for too long or fall back on bad habits that tech can't erase. Those firms may feel the sting of print's evolution more than their competitors.