Everything is digital today. The centrality of technology has brought about major changes, even to industries such as print that maintain strong physical components. Print service providers set on overlooking the latest IT developments may be unwittingly weakening their own ability to compete, as the list of behind-the-scenes tasks that lend themselves to tech transformation is long. Determining which automation and streamlining features make sense for a particular print shop is one way to make concrete progress, provided employees are able to make productive use of the new tools.

Becoming a more IT-savvy print service provider is largely a matter of balance. Owner-operators need to ensure that the modern features they adopt are well-suited to the markets they are targeting and the products they specialize in. Discerning purchasers of print software platforms integrate the new tech smoothly into a workflow rather than simply throwing dollars at the problem. This thoughtful approach is critical in today's digitally enhanced marketplace.

Software's effective role
Industry expert Jennifer Matt recently used a WhatTheyThink post to address the effective use of print software. Specifically, she has noticed that there is some pressure for service providers to keep switching software platforms when they are having trouble making them work. While getting new software is obviously one possible way to improve a print shop's operations, it's far from the only one. A fine-tuned and realistic approach to tech use will naturally be a better fit than a constant stream of replacements and purchases.

The way print software platforms are marketed often involves grandiose promises. Matt explained that if print shops take these pitches at face value, they may end up disillusioned when the software they've purchased doesn't result in easy operation. She added that getting true value out of print software means thinking strategically. When buying new products, print shops should ensure they are getting systems that actually target the business cases they encounter in daily operations.

Tech environments work well when every solution has its role. Matt specified that when companies let their tech stacks sprawl, they are throwing resources away. Vital components such as enterprise resource planning and web-to-print systems should be free to provide value, without other products encroaching on their territory. Furthermore, one database should serve as the central "system of record," the home of information that all other data uses and conforms with. Duplicating data and letting it become inconsistent can lead to operational inefficiency and confusion.

Just as it's important to know when not to jump into a new software deployment, it's also vital that owner-operators know when to make a change. Matt stated that when a legacy system has become outdated and isn't up to the tasks of running an efficient modern print shop, it's fine to replace that solution – even imperative. Buyers must simply learn to carefully assess their tech problems to see which are caused by the software and which come from an incomplete approach to adoption, integration and use.

What's the alternative?
While the printing industry is full of individuals who believe in the value of technology and its role in their operations, there are naturally some holding out on making progress. In a Printing Impressions column, Pat McGrew addressed these hold-outs. Among such companies, buying too many software products is the opposite of the main problem – these printers need to realize the weaknesses that can come with a wholesale rejection of back-end technology.

For instance, McGrew pointed out that the workflow in print shops without management information systems often involves a host of processes, from basic spreadsheet programs to physical sticky notes. When so many different systems are employed – and when written and digital notes are used interchangeably – there is ample room for information to become lost or inconsistent. It's easy to see how such a shop could have trouble scaling up in volume or speed, as whiteboards and spreadsheets could quickly become overburdened trying to track increasing data volumes.

The value of putting data into such a digital system and getting it out of the inconsistent world of makeshift notes comes from several improvements. McGrew noted, for instance, that when shops deploy MIS solutions, they have a portal into their costs and efficiency data. The many steps of their processes, including finishing if they handle that in-house, become available for analysis. This allows leaders to decisively and effectively fix the elements of printing that are the least profitable.

A digital landscape
Print service providers with digital systems at their core represent a stepping stone between physical media and effective modern business practices. Provided they examine their networks carefully and make purchases based on needs rather than mere desire to keep adopting new products, print shops can drastically improve their internal operations through the better use of software. The many back-end processes that go into the printing workflow can be redefined radically through the use of modern business solutions.