Print is custom manufacturing and there is an obsession around optimizing the manufacturing process. Our Print MIS systems have extensive capabilities to capture “shop-floor data” in order to accurately capture “actual” costs during the manufacturing process. When you run a more efficient manufacturing process, you get rewarded with higher margins and you can be more flexible with your pricing, I get this, and it makes perfect sense.

What I don’t get is the utter lack of obsession about all the activity that occurs before the job lands on the shop floor. Let’s start with sales and work our way through estimating and customer service to look at the crazy number of touches that occur by some of the most highly paid people in your business. Why aren’t we doing “sales force data collection” or “CSR data collection” so we can monitor the efficiencies or inefficiencies of these key areas?

We lack the processes and the systems in these areas because we are so focused on manufacturing. Most of the activity in these areas happens in unstructured, unconnected, and isolated systems like e-mail, FTP, and Microsoft Office. Think about the difference between a traditional full-service printer and a 100% online print provider? Virtually all this activity (and the associated costs) is eliminated when the customer orders online and the online order drops directly into production (no wonder online providers can be so price competitive).

I’m not saying that all printing can follow this path, I’m simply saying that printers should start looking at the labor costs of all the people in front of the production floor – introduce systems, start tracking activity so that you can find the inefficiencies. We should add to the industry lexicon: sales force data collection, order entry data collection along with shop-floor data collection. Everyone in the process from order inquiry to invoice should be operating in a system that can provide the data for individuals to keep refining their activities in order to create better results and allow management to make better business decisions.