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Commentary & Analysis

Strategy is Overrated

By Pat Taylor,

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: May 10, 2005

By Pat Taylor, Proactive Technologies Trying to predict the future direction of any technology is an exercise in frustration. May 10, 2005 -- The pace of Change in our world is unprecedented in the history of Mankind. It took thousands of years for civilized man to discover the fundamentals of electricity (when Mr. Franklin flew his kite in 1752), but only another 120 years before Edison taught us to harness that power for the benefit of all. Philo Farnsworth submitted a patent request for the first television system in 1927, and the technology became a commercial reality with its introduction at the New York World's Fair in 1939. Still, these developments pale in comparison to the logarithmic leap in technology witnessed by our children over the last generation. Since SuperBowl half-time in 1984 when Apple's iconic commercial introduced the world to the first Macintosh computer, our lives have become immeasurably more productive and the future more unpredictable. We see Change as a constant, and trying to predict the future direction of any technology is an exercise in frustration. I do not doubt that we will witness the evolution of JDF as a standard, but will it realize commercial success? In our industry, the unpredictability of the evolution of technology is evidenced in the development of PDF (Portable Document Format). Way back in 1997, Frank Romano and 'The Gang of Four' published PDF Printing and Publishing; The Next Revolution After Gutenberg. Their goal was "to explore the application of the Adobe Acrobat 3.0 PDF and especially its place in the new workflows that automate the printing and publishing industries". The publication stoked the fires of my imagination, and I immediately began to prepare for the opportunities that the promise of PDF meant for my company and customers. Unfortunately, eight years have come and gone and our industry is nowhere near "automated". The anticipated result or, more accurately, the deployment of this promising new technology has fallen short of expectations. My strategy, carefully planned over months and months of study, was proven utterly useless. Industry gurus successfully identified PDF as an important emerging technology and manufacturers invested heavily in its development, but who was it that failed to predict that PDF would also become 'just another file format'? Standards and Commercial Success Today, the industry is abuzz with excitement for the promise of JDF (Job Definition Format), but is now the time to invest in The Next Big Thing? Is it too early to busy ourselves with strategy sessions revolving around the deployment of JDF technology in our shop? Everywhere we look, we see code evangelists preaching the Gospel of Efficiency that CIM (Computer Integrated Manufacturing) will bring to our struggling industry. JDF promises to automate workflow, decrease waste and improve quality. (Sound familiar?) I don't doubt we will witness the evolution of this standard, but will it realize commercial success? It seems to me that there are too many variables in the print process to capture in a database table. And, if the challenges of development are overcome, will our inability to commit to a JDF standard hobble its deployment? I am a fervent advocate of 'standards' and have spent many years working to inform our industry of the relationship between standards-based technology and greater profitability. However, as a technologist, I have come to realize that building a strategy around a forthcoming technology is akin to betting on the Cleveland Browns to win the SuperBowl ten years from now. Sure, it might happen; but I would not put my money on it. The only thing we know about the future is that things will be done differently. We do not know how things will be done. Things Change Too Fast Rather than worrying about tomorrow, a wise man spends his time preparing for it. Strategy is over-rated; things change too fast to be betting on the future. Feel free to build a five- or ten-year plan, but be prepared to change it often. There are plenty of opportunities to "improve process efficiency" in Everyman's printing plant without holding out hope for something that does not yet exist. It is enough to know that our industry is 'getting digital' and all future technologies will require a digital infrastructure. Consolidate your server farms and data storage systems. Improve your ability to recover from systems failure, and secure the terabytes of data your customers have entrusted unto you. Create and expand your lines of communication to enhance your ability to communicate with your customers. These technologies exist and are of value to you today. Rather than worrying about tomorrow, a wise man spends his time preparing for it.



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