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Commentary & Analysis

The Transition from Physical to Digital Communication

This pace of change is outrunning your print business’ technology decisions. A web-to-print platform decision you made two years ago could be completely out of date with the mobile-first world we live in today. Your aging ERP/Print MIS system has no way of understanding a product that exits your building via an Ethernet cable rather than a shipping truck.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: October 21, 2015

Your customers are evolving from physical to digital communication methods (like it or not).


It feels like this happened overnight, we went from delivering communication messages riding on physical mediums to delivery of instance communication to fingertips. We spent decades optimizing a supply chain to deliver physical products, with special attention to that “last mile” reliable, quick (aka overnight), to a unique individual. In the digital supply chain the first mile is no different from the last mile, overnight feels like an eternity, and you can get to that unique user wherever they are with their mobile device.

Your customers; corporations, non-profits, higher education, and government are all in the middle of a dramatic transition from physical to digital communication. The pace of change is alarming to most, opportunistic to many, and paralyzing to some. This pace of change is outrunning your print business’ technology decisions. A web-to-print platform decision you made two years ago could be completely out of date with the mobile-first world we live in today. Your aging ERP/Print MIS system has no way of understanding a product that exits your building via an Ethernet cable rather than a shipping truck.

The change is happening across all industries, impacting all customers; the responsibility to adapt is shared between you and your vendor/partners. You cannot adapt in isolation, your vendor selection has never been so critical. Technology decisions are not one-time events; you are buying a ticket on your vendor’s train. Choose wisely. You want to believe in where they have come from, where they are now, and where they are going, and maybe most critically at what speed. Don’t be delusional, your vendor cannot carry the whole load, it’s a partnership. Too many printers are stuck in a cycle of blaming the vendor. You are more in control of your success with a particular technology product than your vendor ever will be. For every failure in the marketplace with a commercially viable product, there are examples of companies thriving using the same product. Is your culture focused on finding flaws or succeeding in spite of software’s inherent blemishes? If you dive into any software looking for bugs, you will be rewarded – most software is a “target rich environment.” Stop looking for what’s wrong and focus on how you can optimize the software to make your business THRIVE. Trust me; it produces way better business results.

End-users (your employees, your customers, your customer’s customers) are establishing their online technology preferences and expectations from Google, Apple, and Amazon. People expect software to load at the speed of Google, have the selection of Amazon, and the user experience of Apple. So many times I hear people outside the software industry say, why is this so slow? How hard could it be? Google searches the entire internet in a fraction of a second. Let’s leave it at this, the company building your Print MIS or web-to-print solution has just “slightly” fewer resources, raw brain power, and money than Google in order to optimize their software. Users have the expectation that technology should be as easy to use as an Apple product. I think this is the true brilliance of Apple; they democratized the use of technology through brilliant hardware and software user experience. There is no user manual for the iPhone, yet it is one of the most complex technology devices humans have ever created. I bought an alarm clock the other day and was astounded that not only was there a user manual but that I had to actually refer to it (it quickly got packaged back up and returned).

Users are also expecting the unlimited selection of Amazon, not that you have to build a global shopping environment but I call this preference, “why can’t we have all these things in one place?” Enterprise software proliferation has created a mess of solutions that require separate URLs, logins, passwords, and an overbearing level of burden on the employee. How many marketing tools does a sales person have to utilize to do their job these days? Each additional tool may seem to add new features and functionality but these don’t come without costs. This is the reason I can’t believe my ears when printers say they don’t do any outsourcing /solving customer problems that they don’t manufacture themselves. If you own the customer relationship why wouldn’t you solve any problem you could for your customer as long as you could do it profitably? We are too stuck in only selling what you can produce, that is an internal focus (prioritizing your business, your ROI on your capital investments). When you’re externally focused, guess who you are putting the priority on? YOUR CUSTOMER. My bet is on externally focused printers who are obsessively trying to solve more and more customer challenges.

I was speaking with a Fortune 100 company recently. Their sales process is document and compliance heavy. They have been spending millions of dollars a year supporting the sales process with generic printed materials. Their industry, like the print industry is going through tectonic changes. Their target customer demographics are changing. In one interesting anecdote, one of their largest customers now consists of over 50% Spanish speaking individuals with mobile-only internet access. Think about that, they used to print one version of all their sales materials and deliver only via print. Today they need to produce personalized materials, in multiple languages, and deliver them to a mobile device not because mobile is a “nice to have” but because mobile is the only internet access this target customer has access to.

Get comfortable with change; build a culture of acceptance of change. Resistance is futile, your attitude is everything. The culture of a company is a reflection of the leader, when leaders embrace change, the culture is accepting of change. The change is not limited to our industry; the change is happening everywhere – most importantly the change is happening for your customers. You can either ride out the rest of the transition (cease to remain relevant) or adapt and become part of the new set of digital communication solutions.

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.


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