Because your print business needs one: a software masterplan

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 14:48
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Your software investments deserve big picture, strategic planning. It’s time to step back and assess your core business processes and how software helps, hinders, optimizes, or ideally automates the steps required everyday to deliver on your customer promises.

The fight for attention.

Running a print business is a constant battle for your attention as a manager or owner. Every day you can simply show up for work and drown in all the issues fighting for your attention. Added to this daily grind is the overwhelming reality of how much the world around the print industry is changing and hence expecting your business to evolve (quickly and constantly).

All of this contributes to the fact that most printers have never really stepped back from their print business and assessed an overall strategic plan as it pertains to software. Printers have done this kind of planning with production when it comes to new production and finishing equipment. This is to be expected; other than buildings, the presses represent the most significant capital expenditures in a print business.

Software planning? Why?

But printers should think about their overall investment, strategy, and plan for the software running in their business. More and more, software is taking on a larger role in all businesses, print is no exception. The level of integration between software solutions in every print business is getting tighter, more “tightly-coupled,” and hence delivering more potential efficiencies.

Point solutions.

If you have never done it or you haven’t done it recently, it’s a good time to step back and look at your overall software strategic plan. Stop shopping for “point software solutions”—meaning something within their business has inspired them to start shopping for a web-to-print system or a prepress automation solution. This leads to discussions around features, pricing, and implementation. There is no big picture context to this approach to purchasing.

Software playing nice together.

When printers think about purchasing a print software solution, they should start with questions about the other technology already operating at the printer. You want all the software products to play nice with each other and ideally not have too much overlap in what they deliver for your print business. You can’t afford to buy products in isolation; they must “fit” with what you already have.

Start with MIS/ERP

A print software strategic plan must start with the Print MIS/ERP. The Print MIS/ERP should be the foundation of every print business. It should be a trusted system of record. This a big “should” because for many printers, there is a lot of fear and doubt about the data in their Print MIS. Strategically speaking, the Print MIS being a trusted system of record is the #1 most important factor in your overall success (more than your sales team, your press operators, or your leadership). The #2 factor as it pertains to software is whether your Print MIS can be easily integrated (meaning, can it easily get data in and out of the system because once you have trusted data, you want to share it with just about everyone—employees, management, customers, vendors, etc.).

Make an inventory of your software systems

The next step in a software strategic plan for a printer is an inventory of all the other software systems currently deployed. What does this mean? Here are a few of the most important things in evaluating software already deployed at printers.

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  1. Duplicate software solutions. Do you have multiple systems that basically provide the same solution? Who cares? You should. Understand the idea of “technical debt”—every software solution you deploy in your business comes with a lifetime babysitter that you pay for! It might not be obvious to you because this babysitting is done by full-time employees that you’re already paying but it adds up and how many printers have technical people with extra bandwidth these days? (Exactly: nobody.)
  2. Too many software solutions. Assess carefully all the applications and (custom) developments you find in one company.You want to have just enough software and no more.
  3. Software solutions that are hard to maintain by a small team. All software is written in a specific coding language; common ones are .NET, Java, PHP, etc. Software is also based on databases; common ones are SQL, Oracle, etc. For most commercial software products, it doesn’t matter to you as the end user of these platforms. You’re not going to be writing code or querying databases directly. Where it matters is when you step over the line and start hiring people who write code. If you have solutions written in three different languages, chances are you’re not going to find one person that can support all three applications. When you can, try to standardize on technologies so your team can get good at a smaller number of things.
  4. Software solutions that are isolated (non-integrated) and are causing manual labor to “connect” them. One of the most common examples of this is a web-to-print solution which does not pass the orders into the Print MIS. Each print software solution should do what it’s good at then gracefully pass onto the next software solution in the workflow. This is how it should be: a job is ordered by a customer via web-to-print solution, it gets passed into the Print MIS, scheduled, produced, packaged, shipped, and then passed to invoicing for an automated invoice to the customer. The order entry to invoice end-to-end workflow. This requires thought, configuration, and testing but it totally makes sense to do this upfront work if the math works out that you save seven minutes on every order and the customer orders hundreds or thousands of times per month.
  5. Workarounds. This is the most important detective work and the hardest to find. Managers or owners typically do not know about all the workarounds deployed by their teams to shepherd work through the business. There are spreadsheets, Word documents, PDFs, Post-It Notes, paper logs, facilitating “hidden processes” that are being done with the tools readily available and in the comfort zone of your team to accomplish what should be done in software.

Make an overview of business processes.

A strategic software plan steps back and looks at the big picture of your business processes and then analyzes what software does to help, hinder, or automate these business processes. It is a plan that you can then prioritize and attack incrementally over months or maybe years. When you go out to invest in new software solutions it gives you a better view of how new software must fit into your existing business. It will make you a more strategic purchaser of software.

Consolidate software.

An important part of the software strategic plan also is the list of technologies you plan to remove! Consolidation of software technologies saves you more than just annual maintenance fees; it increases the morale of your technical team, it opens bandwidth, it reduces your security surface area (basically the number of places you can get hacked).

Dataline helps.

At Dataline we have helped over 1.000 print production companies setting up a healthy MIS platform and building administrative and workflow processes out of it. This is a solid basis for better insights in and control over the business, higher efficiencies and healthy margins. Talk to us if you want to audit your company’s strategic software plan and related processes.