Imagine if the US public school system were considering the option of online learning. Think about all the meetings this would propagate. There would be meetings at schools, there would be meetings at school boards, there would be meetings at city, state, and federal government levels. There would be funding by lobbyists (those who sell online learning platforms). The decision, if it was ever made, might literally take decades to work out and in those decades of “working it out” it doesn’t actually always produce the best solution. More time debating things in my opinion often results in a mess of compromises based solely on theoretical fears.

Now look at what just happened. COVID-19 came upon us and in about a week or two all schools went to online learning. Very few meetings, no time for lobbyists, very few compromises. The crisis forced rapid action and iterative action and, most importantly, it opened up everyone’s tolerance for things not going perfectly. Nothing goes perfectly—ever.

I spoke with a CEO of a label and packaging company last week. He told me the story of implementing a new prepress automation solution during COVID-19. He told his team, “If you want to work from home, you have to adopt this new system immediately”—no excuses, no resistance, no time for compromises. He said it didn’t go perfectly for the first 1–2 weeks (nothing goes perfectly), but they are settling into a new normal after just 30 days. I’ve seen implementations like this take 6–9 months to settle into a new normal. 

COVID-19 is an opportunity to make drastic improvements in your workflow(s). You have a built in “have-to” reason to get your company to move away from legacy, manual-based workflows to a true digital transformation of your business. This CEO I was talking to told me he’s working on three things during COVID: online ordering, prepress automation, and ERP/Print MIS optimization. Yes, I said the CEO is working on these things. He told me he’s known he’s had to do these things in order to remain competitive, but he just couldn’t get his key people behind the evolution. Now after his success with the prepress automation tool, he realizes he has a brief window in order to push a lot more “crisis-based evolution” through his business.

Digital transformation should be a key goal for your print business during COVID-19. With many printers having some portion of their staff working from home, this is the ideal time to force processes and trust in your systems (because you can’t rely on face-to-face communication) with employees working from home. The software systems run your business; your people run the systems.  

I know many printers are fully occupied with the pressures of dropping revenues during this time. I am not suggesting large-scale purchases, but optimization of the software tools you already have implemented. There is so much unrealized ROI in software you already have. It takes human brain power and time to extract that value, but now is the best time to do it. We are working with printers who are diving deep into the improvements of processes that extract value today and will forever. The technology companies (Facebook, Twitter) are already announcing that their employees will have the option to work from home forever. COVID-19 is changing our approach to work. What would your print business look like if your entire front office staff was remote? What would your building look like? How would this change your P&L? 

This crisis isn’t going to go away and then our 2019 reality show back up again. COVID-19 has changed the mindset of how we work; I don’t think it's ever going back to the way it was. The new normal will be optimized based on everything we learned we could do without commuting to an office. Connecting employees and customers digitally saves time and money. For this to be a reality in your business it will require a trusted system of record (your Print MIS) integrated to order entry and prepress automation—all the software pieces working together so that the humans can all stay in sync from wherever they office.