The digital presses are certainly expanding in every way, both color and b/w. The print quality gets better, 4 colors are becoming more, they get faster and more productive, price per page is decreasing, size and kind of substrates is increasing and finishing is being included. I have little doubt that this trend will continue and that we are fortunate to have some of the best manufacturers in the world in this industry. Having said that, I don't think that improvements in the equipment will be the key ingredient to helping printers grow their businesses in the next few years.

The most important element of a digital printing business has always been, and still is, a well-defined business model. If a printer tries to add a digital business as if it were just another press, they will not be successful. It may look like a duck and quack like a duck, but sorry-- it's not a duck.

Since none of us really likes to change, the most difficult part of growing a digital business is creating and implementing the business plan. That means accounting for all the aspects of the business that will change--how the salespeople sell, how they are compensated, how to interact with customers, working with new types of customers, the knowledge level of customer service, estimating, pricing and billing, the skill set for variable data, possible new hiring, among many others.

Will it be worth it? Absolutely. The rewards include capturing a piece of a fast-growing market with potentially high margins while gaining a competitive edge and driving other opportunities in the company. What's not to like - but a good question for printers to ask themselves is--what's the best way to achieve this new business model? One way is to look for vendors that are offering business development support with their equipment. Vendors have access to the best information from past clients as to what works and what doesn't.

The question is whether they are willing and able to funnel that information into real business help for the printer. In addition to a good plan, the printer will need lots of training (not just for operators but sales, marketing and management). Also important are sales and marketing tools--presentations, samples, vertical market applications, case studies, open house/seminar guides, websites, good databases and marketing materials among others--so the new digital business can get a fast start.