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Commentary & Analysis

Print Software is a Tool (like a Hammer)

We confuse tools for solutions. Print software is a required tool that is part of an overall investment in making your business more productive, profitable, and competitive. The business results come from your vision, your plan, and the deployment of your labor who utilize the tool to deliver the business results you desire.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: September 2, 2014

Investing in print software is about the promise of leverage; the use of the print software tool will presumably achieve a desired business result. The buying process then becomes the description of all the things the technology can do for your business. We make print software investment decisions in this cloud of potential and excitement because generally we’ve been living with the pains of our old print software or manual system for a long time so we’re excited that relief is on the way.

“We mistakenly believe that the purchase of print software will actually create the business results we desire.”

We mistakenly believe that the purchase of print software will actually create the business results we desire. You purchased a required tool much like a hammer, yet you’re expecting the delivery of a completely built house. If you’re building a house, the hammer is one of many tools combined with an architectural vision, a construction plan, lots of skilled labor, and additional unplanned costs of all kinds that will eventually end with the desired result of a new home.

Print software is a required tool to create business results. The actual business results are achieved only when you make all the other required investments around the tool. A home’s architectural plan is a vision of the final result, in order for a print software project to succeed it has to have a vision of the business results you want to achieve. A vision should not be confused with a tactical goal. Here are some tactical goals that are often purported to be the vision; stop paying maintenance on our old systems, stop having to rekey web orders into our Print MIS, go-live, get this one e-commerce store up for this one customer, the ability to produce an accurate estimate, etc.

When you use the word vision, many people tune out because “the vision thing” has been diluted by grandiose statements in hallways with eagles flying in the background. My recommendation is that you use two ways to describe vision for print software projects which provide context to all participants and help everyone know whether they are going in the right direction or not. The first way to communicate vision is what I call “what do you want to be able to say?” This is a statement to be made in the future that describes what you can now do or how your business has changed because you have reached the desired results of the project.

Print MIS

I now believe the data that is coming out of our Print MIS now because we did the hard work of setting up all our true-costs. I used to intuitively know we were losing money on some jobs, now I don’t have to rely on my intuition, the data tells me and I make data-driven business decisions.” — Print Owner

I used to run around the shop asking everyone what was going on with my customer’s jobs, now I simply login to the new Print MIS and view all the job status of my customers on one screen. I have so much more time for selling, my recent increased sales numbers are proof that it’s working.” — Sales Representative


I used to have to get a hold of someone to order, either by e-mail or phone. Now I can order when it’s convenient for me and I get proactive status on the job. I prefer this way of ordering for simple orders, and I appreciate that there is someone local to talk to when I have questions or complex orders where I need help. — Print Buyer

I used to estimate every single job that came into this shop. I was slammed from the minute I got in everyday to the minute I left – always feeling like I was behind. Now that we’ve segmented order entry between full-service and self-service (web-to-print), I can now do the complex estimates faster and more accurately, in fact I think the sales representatives are selling more complex solutions because I have more time to source and consult with them.” — Estimator

These are examples; you have to create a vision of how everyone’s job will be different when you meet your desired business results. Putting the new reality in their words, via a sentence that is relevant to them provides “context” and will go a long way to helping you get everyone on board with the project. You have to start with the end in mind. As a leader this is your job to envision a new reality.

The vision is so important, if we continued on the analogy of building a house vs. a print software project. Most print software projects were started with no vision/architectural plan. For Print MIS projects I would say the number one missing element is the foundation, people dive into the program and start “configuring things” like costs, activity codes, customer data – it would be like trying to install the doors and windows in a house before you had the foundation or frame up! So many Print MIS systems are partially implemented, limping along because there was no big picture understanding or vision to provide guidance on the overall project.

The second way I like to anchor the vision is to determine the meaningful metrics you will measure to know whether you’re heading in the right direction. Metrics are like mile markers on the highway, are you heading in the right direction or not. Once people have the end vision in mind, they will get busy working but how do you keep them on track? You decide up front what should be measured to evaluate progress.

For Print MIS projects, here are some example metrics. What is your average time to turnaround an estimate (inquiry to delivery back to the customer)? This tells you about the volume of estimates you’re doing, how efficient the process it, and potentially how complicated your jobs are. Tracking this metric has important business results tied to it; there is a great deal of business advantage to reducing the time it takes to get a customer an estimate (studies have shown it increases your win percentage). Actual to estimated job costing variance is another great metric to start to measure. How good are you at estimating your manufacturing process and how good are you at executing on that plan? This metric also reminds you (daily) that you have to keep refining your processes to make it more and more accurate.

Print MIS and Web-to-Print projects impact your whole operation; think about a few metrics to track for all functional areas of your operations. Common web-to-print examples; total number of unique users on your stores, the conversion rates on your stores (% of visitors to buyers), overall percentage of self-service order entry are all good metrics to track your progress toward your vision. There are also overall business metrics that everyone contributes to but it’s important to give each functional area a way to relate to how the changes you are asking them to make are impacting specific business outcomes.

The purchase of print software is like buying a hammer to build a house. You have a lot more investments to make in order to achieve the business results you desire. The vision or contextual story of the end result is the most important investment, without it your team will start building doors and windows before there’s a foundation poured. You (as the business owner) have to play the role of architect and leader. This is the number one reason print software projects go off the rails, everyone loves to blame the software – mostly because software is an easy target. When there’s a clear vision of the end result, the construction crew doesn’t get hung up on one missing feature or one bug, they figure out how to get to the end vision in spite of the imperfections. Without a vision, the team is easily derailed and then it’s just a never ending construction site, half completed, causing more disruption that good, with a lot of finger pointing/blaming for missed expectations. All of it costing you time and money.

Jennifer Matt is the managing editor of WhatTheyThink’s Print Software section as well as President of Web2Print Experts, Inc. a technology-independent print software consulting firm helping printers with web-to-print and print MIS solutions. You can reach her at jen@whattheythink.com.



By Jeffrey Pierce on Sep 02, 2014

Another excellent article! In my experience, it's often the lack of wise, effective, visionary leadership in the first place that leads to throwing money at print software ... in the hopes of "buying" a vision for process improvement.

God bless those print software sales people, but convincing an executive of their sophisticated system's benefits is not enough. Somebody has to get buy-in from the rest of the organization, and too often this collective vision has already been neglected by the boss for far too long.

The new print software then meets resistance from users, who prefer to live with -- and defend! -- the pain of the old process to which they are accustomed, rather than embrace the pain of adjusting to a new (and yes, still imperfect) system.

Sadly, without the proper leadership, these print software systems can be perceived by the organization as a hammer ... a hammer that management is hitting them over the head with!

Jeffrey Pierce
Senior Premedia Technical Staff
R.R. Donnelley


By Jennifer Matt on Sep 02, 2014


Thanks for extending the analogy of the hammer - I'm sure that's what a lot of people feel like when they've been told - "go implement this thing" without any strategic direction or support from leadership.

Software implementations force you to answer all kinds of questions about your workflow, your personnel, your pricing, your costs, etc... All those decisions have to be made in order to implement an ERP/Print MIS or a web-to-print solution. It is these decisions that generally hang up the implementation process because that one unlucky resource that you threw this at because he/she is "technical" can't possibly make all the decisions on their own. Nor can they lead a change management program that impacts the entire company.

Again, I don't want people to get scared off by the "vision" word. Its not Steve Jobs vision like - its simply communicating what you want to be able to say when you're working in the new norm with the software. It is so important for you to describe what the new reality will be in your own words and then help others see what their new reality would be as well.




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