By Frank J. Romano May 10, 2004 -- Can we summarize the challenges facing the printing company of today that wants to be the printing company of tomorrow? Here are seven in no particular order. 1. Mystery Jobs: Almost every job is created by a stranger, and they often apply strange methods. There is no standardized workflow as jobs enter different plants in different forms for different equipment at different levels of automation, used in different ways by people at different levels of skill and training. Every job is a custom job and every job is a mystery inside an enigma. 2. Shrinkwrapped Workforce: Our new technically- and business-savvy workforce must be able to monitor processes in order to acquire data for decision making. They need to work smarter, not harder. Most printing skills are now in software packages. Printing university students who graduated in the 1980s and were then castaway on a desert island would have difficulty adapting to a modern printing company. Continuing education is a necessity. 3. Continuous Investment: To eke out productivity gains, printing companies must upgrade press, finishing, and other systems regularly—like every year. This calls for financing and capital access that makes the bank a virtual partner of the printing company. In the past, press equipment was easily remarketed because of its unchanging mechanical nature. Electronically-based equipment is made obsolete every five to seven years. This mandates continuing re-investment in technology in order to save time or cost, or both. 4. Relentless Technology: Printing companies are constantly installing new systems and re-training personnel to gain the most minor production benefits—which ultimately add up. New technology has been justified through workforce reduction, but we are running out of workforce to reduce. There will be additional changes in the printing workforce as workflow automation is applied. 5. Print Competitors: E-books, e-paper, and other electronic substitutes for print are evolving rapidly. A significant problem is distribution of paper-based products, and new methods bypass the postal system. As each sheet of paper converts to electronic methods, it changes the printing industry by reducing print volumes and thus reducing the number of manufacturing sites. Over the last decade, there was absolute growth in print volume; today there is not. 6. Commoditization: Visit three commercial printers at random. They are all “quality” printers. If printing companies produce the same level of quality, where is the differentiation? Without such, the result is that print becomes a commodity, and the free market will cut its price to the bones. 7. Value Add: If print is produced to the same level of quality, why does the customer choose Company A over Company B? It comes down to the print purchasing experience—and that comes down to the relationship with the sales contact, the efficacy of customer service, and the ability to squeeze jobs through the system. A printing company strives for 100% capacity, but this means that some rush jobs (and they are all rush jobs) cannot be accommodated.