Print service providers today can't keep operating without any digital components. Deployments, such as management information system (MIS) software, are the beating heart that maintains the workflows of the printing industry. However, that doesn't mean there is a single best solution for every print shop. The question of which brand or kind of print MIS to use today is more nuanced, and answering it intelligently can change a print provider for the better.

The difference between a good technology implementation and a bad one can be very significant for a print service provider's future. As the printing industry becomes increasingly digital, at least on the back-end, it's time for leaders to ask themselves what they need to do to secure their companies for the future.

Solution and problem must match
A disconnect between what a print shop needs and new software put in place to manage its workflows can cause major inefficiencies. WhatTheyThink contributor Jennifer Matt pointed out a common shortcoming experienced by many print service providers: Employees are engaging in highly inefficient processes because of a lack of trust in or knowledge about the software that is supposed to be making their lives easier.

Implementing a new solution without figuring out the current status of the print shop workflow may not work out for a business. No matter how advanced the MIS, trust is hard to come by. Matt quoted MIS expert Jane Mugford, who explained that a company implementing a new software solution will take approximately a year to really accept the tools. This means that patience and support are key in getting printing organizations off of inefficient systems and onto more unified workflows.

The other key step is to make sure the MIS the team is working to trust actually matches the shop's needs. Matt pointed out that not all software products are alike, and it's very possible to get a complete misalignment between capabilities and problems. A solution based on high-volume automation, for instance, doesn't represent a meaningful upgrade for a shop that only completes a few orders at a time.

What's the cloud's role?
One of the interesting questions regarding the software-driven future of print involves the cloud: Is print likely to become a cloud-friendly sector? Printing Impressions columnist Erik Cagle took on this question in late 2016, pointing out a few of the things the cloud can and cannot do for print service providers. He indicated that there is still a bit of hesitation around making a switch to hosted software for vital systems such as MIS. This is perhaps unsurprising, as it matches the slow-building trust Matt described.

In the final analysis, the decision on whether to go into the cloud tends to come down to an old-fashioned battle of risk vs. reward. Cagle explained that the whole question becomes a little simpler when print shops consider cloud-based MIS products next to on-premise versions, comparing the options line by line to see just what would change if the business chose the cloud. He added that leaders have been making this comparison lately – and many have been finding in favor of the cloud.

One possible comparison point is software's capabilities regarding backup and disaster recovery. This is a cloud strength. Since data is always stored in a system off-site, it's there waiting to be backed up. In-house computer failures don't lead to data dumps on the cloud. Cagle added that flexibility is a cloud benefit. When a shop grows and needs more software capacity, it's easier to get on a cloud model.

Accessibility and cost control also favor cloud use, as even off-site workers can log into a remote hosted system, and paying monthly fees for access is a financial model without unexpected spikes. Measuring such benefits over worries about loss of data control or vendor lock-in will likely determine whether shops are comfortable going to the cloud for their next software deployments.

The new lifeblood of print
While today's print service providers are some of the last bastions of high-quality physical products for marketing, data storage and more, acquiring good digital systems could help them thrive. Instead of recoiling from this dichotomy, keeping outdated workflows or not adding enough automated elements, print shop owners should take a look at all that the latest software options have to offer their organizations.