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Technical Staffing for Printers – Top 3 Characteristics

Staffing your technology is as important as staffing your presses. The top characteristics for good technical resources: understand the limits of your knowledge, resist making assumptions, and see opportunities rather than roadblocks.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: July 8, 2015

What creates differentiation in the marketplace? Ideas, innovation, technology, and people are the common answers to this question. For most of the print industry’s history when we referred to technology differentiation it was all about the presses. Modernize your presses, print higher quality at a faster speed, with a lower cost and you could thrive in the print industry.

Today technology differentiation extends beyond the press and is dominated by how you leverage print software to engage deeper into your customer’s business processes as well as how you leverage print software to optimize your internal business processes. The primary tool is print software, from ERP systems (Print MIS) to web-to-print solutions. Just like the presses required great operators, your print software requires great operators. Technical staffing is a challenge because literally every company in every industry is competing for people with the same technical skills.

Top 3 Characteristics of Great Technology Staff

Understand & Accept the Limits of Your Knowledge

You may have a few ‘technical’ people in your company, some of which have worked with you for years. You trust them, they deliver for you, but their long-term experience with you means they may have a limited view of the technology landscape (through the eyes of your business). The most important characteristic in your technical staff is an understanding that they can’t possibly know everything, nobody does and anyone who acts like they do is a liability. For each business challenge you are faced with, there are dozens of ways to solve it with technology. For every time you think, ‘we are truly unique with this challenge; I assure you there are others with the same challenges.’

Many printers expend lots of energy participating in associations and peer groups because you know other print owners are struggling with the same challenges and you could be more successful working together. The same holds true for your technical resources. Too many technical resources at printers are working in isolation because our associations have failed to properly service this growing and strategically important group in our industry. There is still a dominate focus on pre-press technology and not enough focus on web software development, integrations, print MIS solutions, and business intelligence.

"The future of print is enabled by software that makes buying print brilliantly easy, embeds the print offer into customer’s existing business processes, and integrates with customer’s backend systems." – Jennifer Matt

Is your organization accepting of the words, ‘I don’t know?’ This is a litmus test for a culture that understands the limits of internal knowledge. Accepting that you can’t possibly know everything is both liberating and healthy for your business. Saying ‘I don’t know’ is the start of a process of learning not surrendering, the best way to end the sentence is ‘I don’t know, and I’m going to find out.’ The technical ecosystem is constantly evolving and your staff is busy. Don’t assume they know everything and allow them the space to say ‘I don’t know’ then give them the resources (time and access to external expertise) to continue to learn. Many printers engage with us simply as a life-line or second opinion before they make strategic technical decisions.

Don’t Make Assumptions, Validate Often

One of the most common challenges with implementing and adopting print software technology is early assumptions that get mistaken for ‘absolute truth.’ Somebody gets stuck, calls the vendor’s help desk and is told something, everyone takes it as the absolute truth and the assumptions keep building from there. We hear it all the time, ‘this web-to-print solution doesn’t do this or this Print MIS doesn’t support the way we price.’ Not every person on a help desk knows everything about the software they are supporting (this should come as no surprise to anyone).

What’s important here is to keep your critical thinking hat on even when you’re talking to someone who you think should know the answer to the question. Print software systems, especially Print MIS solutions are massive (thousands of features that interact) and they are constantly changing. Very few people have context over the entire solution, it just isn’t practical. Take the time to ask the question more than once, in several different ways. Make sure the person you are asking first understands what you’re trying to accomplish and why, context is so important. Too often we see printers calling up vendors and saying, ‘why isn’t there a button on this page that does this?’ This is a suggested solution; it would be far more effective to describe what you are trying to accomplish (the challenge) and why you want to do it (the business objective). Most of the time what you’re trying to accomplish can be done in several ways without changing the software at all.

See Opportunities, Not Roadblocks

I think this is the most important characteristic of any staff, and especially technology staff in this ever evolving landscape. You will face frustrations. You will face roadblocks. That adage that technology is supposed to make our lives easier sometimes seems like a cruel joke. Often new print software systems cause more problems before they make anything easier.

Do you and your staff see only problems, repeating the same frustrations over and over without moving onto the solutions? If you’re looking for problems, software is a great place to look – I call it a “target rich environment”. All software has bugs, all software has weaknesses, and all software vendors have challenges keeping their staff up to date on the latest changes to the software. All software vendors have sales people who like to say “yes” to every question, leading printers to believe that the software will do anything you want it to do. Your job and your staff’s job are to succeed in spite of all of this. Yes, succeed in spite of the bugs you found in the software or the lack of support, or the exaggerations you heard during the sales process.

Your attitude towards roadblocks will impact you more than your choice of software products. I call it having a “solution focus” which means whenever you run into a challenge, you define it and then you move on to finding a solution. This means you have adopted the software as yours; it’s your job to find the solution. Yes, on the path to that solution you might engage with the vendor or a consultant but finding the solution is your responsibility because the software is serving your business now.

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.

 

Discussion

By Dave Mainwaring on Jul 08, 2015

http://tinyurl.com/nup7gfdCommunication is especially important when looking for the new breed of high-tech employee. Dave Mainwaring is a former professional recruiter and owner of MainZone.com, He points to a lack of standardized expectations for technical positions as one culprit in the labor crunch.

"The industry needs what I define as technocrafters: individuals employed in high-tech/skilled positions or customer service who know the traditional aspects of the printing business as well as the latest in printing technologies," Mainwaring says. "The industry, however, has not settled on job profiles representing the technocrafter's function."

Until printers settle on what skill sets and talents are required for specific high-tech jobs, they will continue to have problems communicating with candidates. "If you can't clearly describe your needs, then how can you find a suitable candidate?" points out Mainwaring.

 

By Robert Godwin on Jul 08, 2015

One effective solution is to contract the technical staff. There are many tech shops that have the skills to support ecommerce and MIS systems. A retainer fee to an outsourced tech team out is likely a great way to proceed when the only FT staff you want are revenue generators.

On the tech side, web site maintenance should be easy enough (think Dashboard) for a clerical worker to manage. SEO for the ecommerce site can easily be outsourced. All a manager needs to do is monitor up-time for the systems and sales activity for the SEO efforts. They do that already with capacity/utilization on capital equipment and reviewing monthly sales reports. There is a lot to be said for sticking with core competencies.

Often the hired guns are more in tune with what is current than an insular IT staff. Just sayin’.

 

By Jennifer Matt on Jul 08, 2015

Dave,

What are the characteristics you see as important for technical staff at printers?

Jen

 

By Jennifer Matt on Jul 08, 2015

Robert Godwin,

I agree outsourcing is a viable option, you still need someone inside your organization to choose and "manage" the technical resources (whether they are employees, contractors, or consultants).

I find the most difficult positions to hire internally for are at the higher levels (e.g. software architect, CTO type, decision maker). This is a great role to outsource, think of it as a life-line for making big technical decisions. You have internal staff that keeps everything running, then you seek outside help to make the bigger decisions.

We get put on retainer all the time to weigh in when printers have big decisions in front of them. The internal staff feels like they have a life-line, the ownership feels they can always get a second opinion.

Jen

 

By Cory Sawatzki on Jul 14, 2015

Smart people that are open to new ideas, and want to push for change. That is the challenge. Many smart people are stuck in the thought that the way they do things is the right way. It might be a right way, but not the only way. If they are not open to new ideas, and seeking them out, they could be a big roadblock. Technology changes every day. Push for the change you want, it could be the thing that makes you stand out.

 

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