By Pat Taylor, Proactive Technologies March 28, 2006 -- Last week I talked about how to take the first steps to digital independence. This week we get into some of the details of how to build your new, independent infrastructure. How do you survive the technology tidal wave? What options are there for managing the technology you need to survive in the printing and publishing business? Customer demand for digital technology and the functionality it delivers is driving our industry to transition, and change will be a constant for another decade, or even a generation. The hardware and software tools used in the digital workplace will present new challenges to decision-makers; when every department is computerized and the whole plant is one big network, you will need more than your best Mac hand to manage it. How do you survive the technology tidal wave? Choices, Choices One option is to select a single vendor for a comprehensive solutions package. For example, there are press companies that offer more than Big Metal; you can buy everything from MIS to workflow from them, and the [process] components are guaranteed to work together. Since they build everything you use, they can provide comprehensive Support Packages and Maintenance Contracts. You can be partners. Alternatively, you can do what you have always done: purchase the separate components (press/workflow/bindery/business) from the manufacturers that best meet your needs and buy Maintenance Contracts on the equipment. As more of the technologies you depend upon become standardized, however, you can consolidate and outsource support to general practitioners who provide comprehensive services at market-driven rates. Obviously, the support option delivering the best bottom line is preferred. As more of the technologies become standardized you can outsource support to practitioners who provide comprehensive services at market-driven rates. Let's consider the specifics of these options. If you select a single source solution, you become dependent on your vendor/partner. Dependency can dictate a [support] premium; if only one company knows how to solve your problems, you will pay whatever they demand for their service. Moreover, you limit your capabilities to those of your vendor/partner; if their new color management system is not particularly good, neither is yours. If you purchase stand-alone components, you will still be dependent on manufacturers for support, but you are no longer limited to any one company's technology. And here is where 'digital independence' starts to mean something. Standards-Based Digital Independence means creating and maintaining a standards-based infrastructure upon which you can build and grow a digital business to your specification. It means owning that infrastructure and keeping it separate from the applications you purchase to provide specific functionality. Soon, we will break down the wall between Admin and Production, and all our business systems will rest on a common foundation. It will (in all likelihood) be a Windows network; Apple rules on the creative side, but most of today's workflows and business systems run in the Windows environment. It's cost-effective; PCs are less expensive than other computer platforms and you don't have to rely on your vendor to support a Windows environment. It is the common denominator in business software. Workflow applications, business intelligence and collaboration tools can all communicate with Windows; there are lots of products to choose from, so prices are competitive and selections feature-rich. Additionally, it's cheaper to support an independent infrastructure; there are plenty of local Windows administrators willing to watch over your systems on a part-time basis. This means that (a) you can build your own digital infrastructure and (b) you can afford to support it. We will break down the wall between Admin and Production, and all our business systems will rest on a common foundation. When you're digitally independent, you can look to service providers for help supporting your business equipment and save money spent on high-dollar support contracts. Imagine having a technician come by once a week to look over your computer Event Logs, maintain all the security patches, and make sure your data is available and flowing freely through the network. Independence allows you to outsource support for less than half the cost of a full-time employee. Independence allows you to outsource support for less than half the cost of a full-time employee. Invisible Support In the near future, y ou can subscribe to Managed Services and a company will manage your digital infrastructure remotely. Instead of waiting for a weekly or month ly visit, you can have your systems monitored proactively, 24/7, for event t hresholds and warnings. Managed services can: * P redict disk drive failure before it occurs, preventing costly downtime and maximizing productivity. * Maintain the security status of all managed servers, and ensure that business data is backed up, verified, and copied off-site for Disaster Recovery. * Monitor network traffic, and reroute users to create bandwidth for production. * Aid the transition to 'full digital' for a substantial number of printers. You do not need to dive any deeper into technology than you want to: just ask the right questions of your vendors and technology managers. To build and maintain your Digital Independence, you need first be aware of its importance. You do not need to dive any deeper into technology than you want to; just ask the right questions of your vendors and technology managers, and communicate your desire to build and maintain a standards-based infrastructure. Understand that a digital business needs a digital foundation, and that you need to own the foundation. Specifically, you need a gigabit Ethernet network with a file server, fault-tolerant storage, data backup and disaster recovery system. The data storage system is accessed via the network and is common to all company departments; it provides databases to Accounting, PDFs to Prepress, and e-mail to everyone. All other computers plug into this network and all other processes are outside the core. Own the core: it's that simple. Audit your digital infrastructure with these things in mind; that is the first step toward freedom.