February 10, 2005 -- In the immediate future, printers must learn to rely on technologies they do not understand in order to meet the needs of their customers. Information Technologies (i.e., Computer Integrated Manufacturing, JDF, XML, ADsML, etc.) will become a more important part of every printer's business, yet many will likely find themselves without the expertise to comprehensively support all things digital "in house". Consider the requirements: there will be technology upgrades in the pressroom, prepress, and every other manufacturing and administrative operation in the company, and the systems will need to be connected. The skill sets needed to support these technologies seem rare and isolated. Not many people in Admin can handle process control at the press, and--generally speaking--pressmen are not real handy with servers, storage systems, and Internet Protocol. To hear people talk, film is in the past and CTP might mean 'Computer to Press' sooner than later. Mind you, that addresses only the changes in the pressroom and prepress; we face even greater challenges in respect to our ability to properly utilize today's technologies for communicating. Most of us have e-mail and a website, but as a respected industry veteran recently stated in a presentation (with respect to our adoption of Information Technologies), "We are light years behind other industries." You won't need to know how all that digital technology works; you know that your customer wants it and your business will benefit. If you have any problems with it, you will call someone for service. We know it; we talk about it in the hallways at Graph Expo as if we're talking about somebody else. We know we need to find better ways of creating and nurturing relationships with customers. We need to consolidate our company resources and eliminate unnecessary redundancies in effort and equipment. We are acutely aware of the very real need to squeeze every point we can out of every single transaction. We must accept the fact that our future is digital. It is inevitable. "You don't need to know it to use it." I usually fall back on this when I come to the realization that a customer is resisting change only because he doesn't understand everything there is to know about a new technology. It's a natural reaction for a hands-on guy who uses a loupe to look at color. "I don't know much more than an average school kid knows about internal combustion engines," I explain, "but I manage to drive one to work every single day. If something goes wrong with my engine or the chassis that it sits on or any of that electronic stuff, I take it in for service. It will be the same in our business lives, too. You won't need to know how all that digital technology works; you know that your customer wants it and your business will benefit. If you have any problems with it, you will call someone for service." But who can provide the unique expertise required to serve and support the digital printer? Who has a comprehensive knowledge of digital interoperability and process technology trends specific to our industry, with access to a wide variety of competing products, as well as the ability to install, integrate and support them? This resource should be able to explain and demonstrate the features and benefits of technology options relevant to you, and then deploy them to your satisfaction. Moreover, this entity will become your [outsourced] support team. Not 'support' in the sense that the graphic arts community has come to define it--semantically. What we call 'service contracts' are (in many cases) actually Extended Warranties. We will need a more comprehensive definition of Service and Support; one that includes preventative maintenance and calibration for everything under the digital umbrella, with troubleshooting and 'break/fix' services available for business-critical situations. We will need someone to accept responsibility for monitoring and maintaining our networks and data storage systems, as well as our platesetters and presses (when we don't have an expert on staff). We will need their help on a regularly scheduled basis. For a digital printer, Service is the new consumable.