Any print service provider active in today's market is operating on two levels: software and hardware. While in the digital-driven present, software is more important than ever, a good command of printers and other physical assets remains essential. Employees who are skilled in dealing with these two sides of the printing business are incredibly valuable.

While aptitude in dealing with print hardware and software will always be relevant, such expertise is especially important when something goes wrong. An issue with one of a print shop's systems or assets can show that company's mettle: Employees will either fold under the pressure, losing time and money, or rise to the occasion.

Being ready for hardware trouble
Serving as a bastion of physical information in a digital world isn't easy. This reliance on hardware is print's defining feature, but can quickly complicate matters if something goes wrong. Ensuring that printers and other assets stay in good condition is essential to print shops' continued success.

According to Printing Impressions columnist Don Piontek, the process of ensuring machinery integrity consists of a few individual elements. For instance, operators and technicians should have all the appropriate training for the assets they use every day. If they have official knowledge, they could be able to detect the signs of trouble and prevent issues before they get out of hand. This is obviously better than letting problems take printers and other equipment offline.

Piontek also insisted that printers will fare better if they have copious spare parts inventories, as well as access to accurate performance data. The general pattern of these concepts is that there is never any excuse for a printing business to keep itself in the dark. Learning every possible detail about how equipment works may keep a small tech failure from turning into a major productivity headache.

There is also the matter of working with external partners for specialized service that can't be handled in-house. Piontek recommended that print service providers do their homework on whether assets are covered by manufacturer service plans. Striking up working relationships with the third-party maintenance shops in the region is likely also relevant. Each type of printing machinery has its own unique characteristics, and some options will work better than others.

Understanding the software
Of course, hardware is part of an equation in print today, existing side by side with advanced software. Technology is the means by which print shops interact with their clients and run their internal workflows, meaning that a failure to master this element of the organization can have its own serious repercussions. Despite print's physical nature, digital tools have become the brains of the field in recent years.

WhatTheyThink contributor Jennifer Matt explained that there is a bit of a disconnect in today's print service providers – employees who have skills and training relating to their presses and other assets don't understand the software they use. The most important solutions, such as workflow management and web-to-print products, are central parts of how the printing industry runs today.

A lack of training is the culprit when print service providers' teams are missing vital knowledge about the software they use. Matt explained that it pays to reach out and seek answers to how these systems operate instead of going on using them. She explained that when employees possess real knowledge of their technology, they are able to create more advanced workflows. Individuals who don't learn the intricacies of print software end up working through basic spreadsheets and PDF documents, sacrificing possible efficiency gains.

Really learning about print software means being willing to gain new knowledge over time. Matt acknowledged that becoming an expert means hitting a moving target – there are frequent updates to the state of the art, and changes in how companies implement tech tools. The appropriate response to the situation is to dig in and embrace the challenge, however, rather than giving up on becoming better.

Experts in the craft
The duality of print – the fact that it is a modern, digital industry and one that relies on physical machinery, is what makes it so appealing to clients. People who buy print services get the best of both worlds, services delivered with modern efficiency but giving off the kind of charm and tactility that consumers crave.

Of course, for print service providers to deliver that kind of dually interesting and convenient experience, their employees have to master two kinds of performance. Hardware aptitude and deep software knowledge can turn a print shop from a merely competent organization to a top-quality partner for any company in need. Such a performance advantage can be a differentiator setting a printer apart from rivals.