By Carro Ford An on demand business is an enterprise whose business processes are integrated from end to end across the company and with key partners, suppliers and customers October 4, 2004 -- If you're like me, you may have been a bit puzzled and maybe even vaguely annoyed by those two guys in the IBM On Demand Business commercials. We've seen this pair in an art museum, a sidewalk café, and the waiting room of their French subsidiary. They must be marketing folk, to have so much free time on their hands. Coming from the digital document world and having a preconceived notion of "on demand", I couldn't imagine that IBM would be running a national TV advertising campaign about on demand printing. And of course, that's not what it is about, but it does have relevance for the on demand world, as I learned from Bruce Otte, Worldwide Solutions and Strategy Manager, Production Segment, IBM Printing Systems Division. "An on demand business is an enterprise whose business processes are integrated from end to end across the company and with key partners, suppliers and customers," he explains. "An on demand business can respond with speed to any customer demand, market opportunity or external threat." Four Keys to ODB Otte cites four key attributes of an ODB. "First, it has to be responsive and business-rule driven," Otte says. That is, if X, then Y. Logical. If pre-press is doing this, digital printing must be ready to do that. Next, the ODB is also resilient to problems and geared toward uptime. To this end, infrastructure is "system-managed" with automated error recovery, security controls and fault tolerance. Third, "An 'on' company is focused on what is core to them and what differentiates them," he notes. "They must become a strong consultant and managed service deliverer. So a direct mailer is no longer just a printer of direct mail, but a 'solution provider in printed advertising.'" I'll buy that for the on demand printing market. It lines up with what other folks have been saying in terms such as solution selling. Otte describes a very large printer that is striving to become the "Wal-Mart" of print. "This means they are willing to trim margins and do just about anything for less." A lot of this company's processes are Web-enabled, and their ability to be price-driven is part of their differentiation. It also fits in with the fourth attribute of an ODB, which is to be variable in regard to cost model. "It has the ability to be scalable and modify charges based on time," Otte explains. You Too Can Be On I wondered if there was really any relevance for the vast majority of average-sized commercial print bureaus. After further talk with Otte, we concluded it was in fact even easier for a small to mid-sized organization to become an on demand business. All these attributes are possible and make sense for an on demand printer to be also an on demand business. But since some of the examples I'd seen referred to multi-million dollar investments, I wondered if there was really any relevance for the vast majority of average-sized commercial print bureaus. After further talk with Otte, we concluded it was in fact even easier for a small to mid-sized organization to become an on demand business. It's far more manageable to automate one small or even mid-sized organization than one large enterprise with seven or eight sites that have to be consolidated on the same platform and workflow. The smaller guy can more nimbly position for change and make the processes of acquiring, managing and getting work out the door as automated as possible. Automation, as we all know, can result in reductions in labor, error and response time. If a printer of any size becomes more on demand, according to the IBM model, customers will theoretically want to work with him because of these benefits, as well as the advantages of the aforementioned ODB attributes like pricing and responsiveness. Want to Be ODB? The best way to approach ODB-hood is to take it in stages. The best way to approach ODB-hood is to take it in stages. You probably have some automated functions in place already. Build on that, or as Otte recommends, start the automation process at the beginning of your workflow, such as having pre-flight and prepress functions integrated with digital print. Then the print stage is integrated with finishing operations, and ultimately your workflow is integrated with your suppliers. Admittedly, this is massive oversimplification on my part, and the difficulty of achieving integrated automation, no matter what size your business, is real. However, the trend towards standards continues across the digital document workflow, and as this evolves, so does your ability to automate and integrate. Seamless workflow thrives on standards such as Open Keys and Public Keys for the security piece, JDF for printing and job ticketing, and UP3i to connect the communication channel for finishing components. The trend towards standards continues across the digital document workflow, and as this evolves, so does your ability to automate and integrate. "For an on demand business to work, you have to build an infrastructure on open standards and open systems," Otte says. "IBM recognizes that print operations are never going to have homogenous environments. You have to have pieces that work together." Sometimes this might mean acquiring the capabilities you need by buying someone else. Otte describes one of the largest data management services in Denmark, which acquired one of the largest print service bureaus in Denmark because they recognized the strategic need to tie these capabilities together. I wonder if the two IBM guys from the TV commercial have been in Copenhagen recently?