August 23, 2004 -- What makes your business unique? Every company has its own culture, people, objectives, goals, business issues, and challenges. Some of these reflect the broader characteristics of your vertical market, while others are tightly related to the specific markets you serve and your unique operational needs. Since no one understands your needs better than you, it's natural to want to work with companies with the same awareness of your business and industry--and which can support you with solutions developed using this knowledge as a foundation. Your challenges might be in book publishing, transaction processing or more recently, HIPPA or Check 21. As a print provider, you want to know a vendor possesses the knowledge to work with you to develop a solution that's appropriate for your enterprise. You don't want to have to explain how Sarbanes-Oxley, Check 21 or HIPPA affects your business. In fact, more and more, businesses look to vendors for industry expertise, knowledge of typical business processes, regulations and specific application requirements. The 80/20 Rule Have you ever noticed how when you go to the doctor with a medical issue he or she spends a big part of the visit asking questions? Your doctor knows a lot about your general health and is quick to apply that knowledge before dispensing a prescription or other method of treatment. He may even conclude that he is not qualified and send you to the appropriate specialist, who asks more questions before recommending the best course of treatment. On their first visit to your operation a vendor should spend about 80 percent of their time discussing key industry trends and asking questions to learn about your business priorities and challenges. The same kind of consultative process should be applied to your business. When any vendor first comes to your shop, pay attention to how much time they devote to learning about your business and demonstrating they understand your industry. They should spend about 80 percent of their time discussing key trends in your industry and asking specific questions to increase their knowledge of your business priorities and your specific challenges. They might, for example, cite five leading concerns facing businesses like yours and then ask if any align with your greatest challenges. Then 20 percent of their time should be spent explaining how they can provide a variety of solutions that address your unique business requirements. Knowing the Pain Points From your side of the table, you want to know the vendor understands your specific pain points, such as where document processes don’t move smoothly, where your customers are not entirely pleased, or that cost you money. If you are involved with financial services, they may know, for example, that Check 21 is likely to place increased demands on your MICR printing and finishing capabilities and how you need to prepare for that. Or if you are the central CRD for an entire school district, they'll know you are wrestling with budgeting and cost containment, along with job submission, delivery and accurate accounting. Public school systems, in fact, are a key digital printing market, and are under relentless pressure to increase efficiency and reduce costs while producing a diverse range of documents. Increased student populations, changing curriculums, tightening budgets, lack of networked printing, and variable quality are some of the broad issues. These exacerbate such day-to-day challenges as document scanning, archiving, cost accounting, job submission and distribution, and tight turnarounds. Similar issues face corporate CRDs and quick and franchised print shops. It really comes down to getting the maximum value and productivity out of a print engine and its supporting software. Look for vendors that start with deep industry knowledge and focus on learning your specific business issues before they present product or pre-defined “solutions”. An effective document production solution must address all these concerns by leveraging equipment to accommodate the many types of jobs involved, and comprehensive workflow software that is compatible with existing equipment and processes. The new VarioPrint 2110 from Océ North America, for example, was designed from the outset to deliver the print quality, reliability, ease-of-use and throughput for the demanding applications of a busy CRD. It uses sophisticated Océ PRISMA software to provide high-end tools for job submission and ticketing, cost accounting, archiving, scanning, and more over networks and the internet. In a school district CRD, for example, the combination of PRISMA and the Océ VarioPrint 2110 could handle the printing requirements for multiple schools. In a corporate environment, it can take in jobs from many sites or work groups. In each type of environment, the same core equipment and software tools can be configured to the customer's unique requirements, and be used to drive Océ and non-Océ devices alike. Your specific business requirement may be for a print engine, pre- and post-processing equipment, or software to drive the entire system. As you consider the options, look for vendors that start with deep industry knowledge and focus on learning your specific business issues before they present product or pre-defined “solutions”. They must have the creativity to listen to your needs and apply their knowledge to merge datastreams, integrate workflows, successfully manage projects, and provide end-user and administrative training. All to ensure that the final result is a significant improvement in your business. Imagine going to a doctor and having him dispense a prescription and a series of pre-packed physical therapy sessions before you can fully explain your ailment, medical history and any allergies. The results could be dangerous and possibly life-threatening. Why tolerate vendors who treat the health of your business the same way?