Print service providers today have ample motivation to improve their workflows and operations in general. A market with fewer opportunities for huge-scale print orders naturally requires a fresh approach, especially one with a focus on saving money. Furthermore, many of the chances for business that are popping up today involve specialized, one-off jobs. Tackling these without efficient internal processes may be costly and difficult, causing headaches that can be resolved with a new workflow.

Leaders considering big improvements in 2018 are likely curious about the approaches having success in other corners of the printing industry. While every shop has its own unique needs and requirements, these overall trends serve as valuable starting points to prevent companies from throwing time or money into projects that don't produce results.

Therefore, it's time to reflect on how printing businesses fared in 2017 when updating their operations. Paths to success may vary, but a few distinct trends defined the industry's efforts to stay relevant in the digital world.

Software and finishing flash their promise
WhatTheyThink columnist Richard Romano specified that hardware has stayed relevantly stagnant over the past few years. This is not the symptom of some grand failure of imagination by print shop owners – they are merely already using some of the most powerful and effective assets for their purposes. A wholesale technological revolution hasn't taken place, with manufacturers introducing variations on their existing hardware offerings instead of shaking up their lineups.

Romano placed the true development of the past few years in the software sector. Companies have embraced automated processes in the standard commercial print market segment, as well as specialized operations and wide-format applications. Romano added that while not every company has the automated processes it will need to excel over the next few years, there has been progress toward acknowledging the central role these solutions play in modern workflows.

Furthermore, Romano praised the variety and effectiveness of the finishing solutions coming to the market. When printers are able to differentiate their offerings via fancy finishing techniques such as unique textures and foil, they gain a potential selling point. Printers responsible for signage and other special jobs have a special affinity for these processes, and their ability to create such items may keep them relevant in the years ahead.

Romano finished the rundown by considering the progress made in inkjet printing. This technique has expanded beyond commercial print and entered the textile printing and industrial segments of the market. The analyst also suggested that digital label printing has potential to become a valuable inkjet segment, potentially eclipsing the more highly touted packaging market.

Changing processes and making them stick
Once they've been inspired by the progress their fellow print service providers are making, companies have to get down to business and implement new processes and solutions. Printing Impressions columnist Philip Beyer warned that many organizational leaders take the wrong approach to this process and end up disappointed with the results. He added that despite this curiously low success rate, changing up business operations is not actually complicated or inaccessible.

Beyer stated that the journey of improving a company's processes in lasting and valuable ways involves leaders figuring out which issues are most hurting their ability to be productive, them addressing them directly. This means overcoming common doubts, including the fact that company owners may assume any solutions they put in place will be rejected by their employees or under-used.

The individuals who succeed are leaders who commit themselves to seeing the process change through, putting themselves in charge of the issue and creating systems that will keep the company running if and when they step away. Making a print shop more self-sufficient is a common and valuable goal for managers, and one that can take many forms. Seeing which ones apply, then not stopping the implementation project until they are in place and functional, can serve as an ideal method of transformation.

Living in a new world
Dealing with the present-day print market can be confusing and challenging, due to the fact that age-old profit-producing strategies are losing the viability. This doesn't mean printers have to give up on the sector, simply that they'll have to keep a close eye on their processes and bottom lines. Leaders who understand the best ways to improve their particular operations are better equipped to survive such a market than their competitors.

The past few years have seen subtle but meaningful process improvements across the commercial printing world. Rather than copying any of these changes 1:1, leaders in the field can take inspiration from their objectives and spirit and apply that to their own work.