by Bob Raus of Océ North America's Digital Document Systems Division A vendor with the infrastructure to deliver a wide range of products and services when and where you need them makes it possible for you to go after new opportunities with the confidence that you’ll be able to deliver. November 29, 2004 -- Most product lines in our industry leverage technology that has progressed over the past 10 to 20 and in some cases, even 30 years. Due to this legacy of evolving innovation, stable, reliable and high-performance products are required to even enter today’s competitive landscape. Selecting the best vendor for your needs goes beyond powerful software, fast print engines and the applications enabled by those technologies. In fact, the more demanding your business, the more you must rely on your vendors to deliver the products and services you need. That means you have to look beyond a company's technology to its infrastructure, or how a company is organized to deliver the products and services after the sale. There are several inter-related characteristics of a solid infrastructure to consider when selecting vendors for your printing operations. Breadth and depth of capabilities Shrinking margins and competitive price reductions require you to grow your business in order to survive and prosper. If you agree with this statement, then you need to work with vendor’s that can provide products and services far beyond your current needs. You might be buying a print engine today, but the new business opportunity that shows up a year from now might require additional finishing capabilities, software and services. Having a relationship with a vendor that can offer a wide range of products, services and the infrastructure to deliver what you want, when and where you need it makes it possible for you to go after new opportunities quickly and with confidence that you’ll be able to deliver. For example, you might envision offering a new range of services to a new or existing customer, but need to develop a cohesive implementation plan. Working with a known quantity provides peace of mind that you can deliver on your commitments as you expand your operations. One throat Having "one throat to choke," was far more efficient than managing multiple vendor relationships. While many independent products can be integrated into your workflow, working with a company that has products and services that span the entire workflow, and a solid multi-faceted support infrastructure will help ensure you can go beyond any inherent limitations of stand-alone products. A customer I spoke with recently who has dealt with multiple vendors in his print room has come to realize that having "one throat to choke," was far more efficient than managing multiple vendor relationships. For example, many software companies have products that do an excellent job of handling various discrete aspects of document processing, and it's not uncommon for print providers to use products from multiple vendors. But as jobs become more complex the separate vendors may be unable to handle the expanded set of tasks required. Using a single vendor that offers the needed capabilities, perhaps in a suite of related hardware and software products that have been designed to work together, provides that "one throat" while gaining the efficiency of products that are designed to work together. A path forward The most successful document production operations rely on equipment and services from just a handful of vendors for the majority of the processes they use every day. Printing may be the most visible part of your business, but it is just one part. The most successful document production operations rely on equipment and services from just a handful of vendors for the majority of the processes they use every day. They know that ensures the paper and toner they use are always compatible and will run without incident on different devices. In addition, more and more print providers want print engines that can be upgraded to run faster, use highlight color or MICR printing, or offer inline finishing options, so they look for vendors whose machines have that versatility. at the same time, workflow software has become mission critical, based on open standards, and modular so new capabilities can be added without disrupting other parts of the workflow. If you have to spend your resources time to identify and test new software to work with your applications and print engines, you will not be able to respond quickly enough to beat your competition for each new business opportunity that arises. But if your vendors already have a wide breadth and depth of offerings -- and the infrastructure to respond swiftly -- you have a true competitive advantage and vehicle for growth. In some ways it's a little like buying insurance. Most people try to buy insurance from a single company because it is less expensive to have their home, cars, boat, vacation home, and other possessions insured by a single supplier. It gives them one number to call when there is a claim, and the insurance company has a better understanding of their needs. A smart insurance agent looks for ways to deepen the relationship, just as the customer looks for ways to make sure their coverage is right for them. As you look at your printing operation, think about the infrastructure your vendors provide and how well these serve your needs as you move forward. Be sure your vendors have the range of capabilities to support you today and in the future. Gain efficiency by limiting the number of vendors you do business with to those who can meet your needs today -- and have the proven infrastructure to deliver the products and services you’ll need tomorrow.