Keeping a print service provider operating and profitable today is different today than it was in the pre-digital era of outreach and record-keeping. However, no matter what the naysayers may say, it's far from impossible. The key for printing business owners is to find ways to capitalize on the new opportunities and advantages available to them. The same wave of tech development that changed the worlds of marketing and communication has the potential to improve workflows within the printing industry.

Operations suited to modern consumer expectations will often involve a considerable amount of automation and digital transformation in general. In print, this could take the form of internal information management or external web-to-print interfaces for customers. Leaders should be open to making such shifts, embracing IT-based infrastructure rather than dismissing it. Despite its status as a bastion of physical media, the printing business can benefit from modern digital operations.

A pivotal moment
A recent WhatTheyThink report by InfoTrends' Barb Pellow and Lisa Cross focused on the state of operations in the print sector, based on data from the Keypoint Intelligence industry survey. The experts pointed out that though print providers may find themselves in need of serious boosts to their workflows, they have plenty of options and opportunities in the years ahead. The way businesses capitalize on these chances may determine their trajectory as the world around them digitizes.

Today's print service providers have access to both hardware and software that can change the way they operate, with removing time-consuming manual steps from the print workflow being a top priority. Pellow and Cross noted that the best workflow automation options available today connect every part of the print order process, beginning when the customer reaches out to the print shop and ending at payment.

Greater use of automation has the potential to completely change the way printers' business models work. The authors indicated that under 40 percent of commercial printer work moves through a completely automated workflow. This figure must increase, but printers believe they are up to the task. The profit model of the future involves better margins on jobs, and automation could be the key to making this change.

Leaders have to approach the transitional era of modern printing with a strategy in mind. This means considering the resources available over the next few years and the company's ideal workflow, then drawing up a roadmap that is realistic and leads to the sought-after level of productivity. That path will almost certainly involve a greater role for automation in everyday print processes.

Conquering trepidation
While the argument for moving into a more digitally enabled era is compelling, not everyone has taken this kind of approach. According to Printing Impressions' interview with Memjet CEO Len Lauer, there are a few motives behind this hesitation. For instance, a simple resistance to change is pervasive in many corporate cultures. Both internal operations and sales methods can be deeply ingrained, and there is understandable concern that building out new approaches will be neither quick nor easy.

While those worries do crop up often, Lauer countered them with a reminder that the share of the market for offset printing is expected to fall, with digital demand rising to take its place. Companies that cling to old ways of operating could find themselves stuck in an industry has moved on. New capabilities such as providing easy print runs of personalized items are based in digital technology, and the speed and convenience today's customers are seeking will likely force many printers to move into IT-based spaces.

Lauer added that going digital doesn't necessarily mean replacing flexographic presses with new assets outright. Some of today's digital offerings take a hybrid approach, with traditional presses being outfitted with new capabilities that will connect them to companies' workflows. Whether they choose to take this approach to modernizing their shop floors or opt for one of the high-quality digital presses on the market, it's clear that many print service providers will take the plunge over the next few years and acquire the assets to enable new, forward-thinking workflows.

A market based on demand
Printing is an industry based on what customers want and are interested in. If there was no demand for the capabilities and products that come from digital processes, there would be no pressure to upgrade. That said, such interest and focus does exist, and print service providers should be thinking about how they plan to keep up.

Workflows that haven't yet taken new methods of ordering, production, finishing and everything in between into account may be out of step with a modernizing market. Despite its old-fashioned reputation, print can adapt.