Last week in Chicago was very busy. While the show was a lot smaller, printers were at Graph Expo to buy, and there was a lot of purchasing going on. Whether it was deals for hardware or software, the checkbooks came to Chicago. There were many deals done for digital presses, Print MIS software, web-to-print software and everything in between. These were intentional buys - not impulse ones. In years past, it was so easy to walk the floor and buy something because it looked great on the floor. Nowadays people come equipped with ‘pre-show’ research and are looking to the show to answer final questions and take advantage of the ‘show deals’.

Now that the attendees have found their way back home in possession of (insert name of new software or hardware here), now the real work begins. Deciding what to purchase is hard. Making the purchase is easy (although parting with the money is never easy), but the hardest part of the process is having a successful implementation both internally and externally. As my colleague Jennifer Matt always says "you can have the most beautiful ecommerce website out there that is a brilliant technical implementation, but if your customers don't know it exists, none of it matters”. Similarly on the technical side, a lot of mistakes happen when printers incorrectly assume that the majority of the work rests on the vendors to implement. While the actual installation and basic configuration does rest with the vendor, making any software solution come to life for your company rests on your shoulders. It is a lot of work and you need to gear up for it. Most printers have very under-utilized Print MIS or web-to-print technology. The key is to implement any new solution to the maximum potential that lines up with the vision you had when you purchased it. The love-hate relationship that can exist with technology is there - you love it before you buy it and if you don't have a successful deployment, you come to hate it. Even though it was the same tool you were originally enamored with.

So, to avoid repeating common mistakes that happen with new software, here are some tips to help make sure your new purchase doesn’t end up in the under-utilized category:

1) Get clear on where the fit is

Is the new technology replacing something currently in place or is it a 'net new' acquisition in that you are not replacing anything?

  • If it is replacing existing technology, you need to have a 'retirement' and transition plan for the existing technology. If it is customer facing, you need to look at a transition plan for your customers. For Print MIS transitions, there are all kinds of considerations - data migrations, removing legacy bandaids and so on. For web-to-print, there are carefully calculated store transitions that need to happen. These transition plans need to be well thought out and defined before you start to implement the new technology
  • If it is net new, while in some ways this is easier, it is somewhat more complicated in the sense that it can be easier for the new technology to be treated a bit like the ignored youngest sibling. Our 'old' habits that we have always had are harder to break if no tools are being taken away. An example is if you have never used web-to-print technology, it can be harder to push your team to transition customers to the new system if the only 'web' interface they have ever used is email. If a customer’s store is going to be replaced, you are forced in to building the new store.

2) Get real about timing

Just because you took advantage of a great special on the show floor, doesn't mean you necessarily should run home and start implementing. If your busiest time of year for orders is the fall, it doesn't make sense to disrupt the environment in a peak season. Waiting a couple of months when people have more bandwidth to ensure success can be a really good decision

3) Line up your vendor

Armed with the decision of when it is best for you to implement, reach out to your vendor and schedule their time. The more lead time they have, the more able they will be to meet your desired dates. This is particularly true if a vendor needs to be on-site.

4) Get marketing working on the project

Marketing needs to be a key part of any implementation that impacts customers and this is especially true of web-to-print implementations. Even if you won't be installing technology for a couple of months, there is a lot of pre-work marketing can do to get ready. Marketing plans are equally as important as technical plans, especially when it comes to web-to-print

5) Evaluate resource capacity

Determine who is on the team and what capacity they have to take on the project. If the answer is they work 5 days a week with no excess hours to spare (like most people working in print today), you need to get serious about how you will free them up. This is something I talk about a lot, and while it may seem repetitive, it is so important. You cannot just pile this new project on top of their (or your) existing workflow if you want it to be successful AND done in a timely fashion.

6) Define the vision

One thing that is so easy to get lost in is the original reason behind the purchase. We quickly get sucked in to the tiny details. So, while it is still fresh, write out the one or two reasons of what your vision was behind the purchase. How is the technology going to enable you to take your business to the next level? If you can keep site of the vision, the tedious and tactical details become easier to take.

Without a doubt there were a lot of great purchases made at Graph Expo. The quality of what the vendors have in the market today is top notch in terms of capabilities and innovation. Before the trip becomes a distant memory, take the time to do a high level plan to prepare for a successful implementation before the noise of daily life gets in the way.