Last month, the industry triumvirate of Christopher Bondy (RIT), Wayne Peterson (Black Canyon Consulting Group), and Dr. Joe Webb (WhatTheyThink) unveiled their UnSquaring the Wheel project, a new approach to print business strategy and operations comprising a book, workshops for company leaders, one-on-one consulting and coaching, and other resources on- and offline, UnSquaring the Wheel will “roll out” at Graph Expo next week with a two-day workshop.
The UnSquaring methodology comprises a company assessment that divides the business into three broad disciplines: Platform, Resources, and Customers. Each of these is subdivided into three specific areas of concentration (aspects or pillars) representing nine spokes radiating out from the center of a wheel. “Platform” assesses a company’s technologies, processes, and services; “Resources” assesses a company’s employees, financial situation, and strategic alliances; and “Customers” assesses the overall customer experience, the “brand,” and business development strategies. Each of these elements is evaluated on a scale of 0 (needs the most improvement) to 5 (needs the least improvement) and plotted on a circular grid, with 0 in the center and 5 along the circumference. If all nine of the assessed elements score a 5, the graph describes a perfect circle. Elements scoring less than 5 cause the wheel to become less round—or more square. Identifying where the “squareness” occurs shows what the company needs to improve to thus “unsquare the wheel.”
I have an in with the authors, and managed to obtain an early copy of the book, which will be available at Graph Expo. As I was reading through it, a lot of what the authors talk about sound virtually identical to what I and our contributors have been writing about wide-format printing on this site, and it seemed to me that the UnSquaring methodology would be perfect for commercial printers looking to expand into wide-format graphics.
“Wide-format is so significant, much like its digital print counterpart, because it’s really a new-generation workflow,” said Chris Bondy, co-author, and Gannett Distinguished Professor in the School of Media Sciences at the Rochester Institute of Technology. “Right from the outset, wide-format is almost a quantum leap beyond traditional print methodologies.”
All three of the disciplines are applicable—indeed, as we’ll see all nine pillars or facets are equally important—but in this article I want to focus on “platform.” According to the book, “the ‘platform’ discipline…focuses on new business models that are aligned with current and future market requirements” (page 115). The three pillars of the platform discipline, as mentioned above, are technologies, processes, and services.
The technology pillar seems fairly obvious: adding wide-format printing equipment and the ancillary technologies that service it on the front and back ends. The UnSquaring approach to technology looks at new equipment, hardware, and/or software in the context of the business’ current capability, and seeks to examine where it will fit, from the standpoint of complementing or supplementing what the company already has, and meeting market needs for what the equipment actually produces. Will adding a new technology bring value to a company and its customers? The UnSquaring approach walks through the steps involved in assessing why and how to add a new technology like wide-format printing. And not just wide-format printing, but dynamic digital displays (DDS), aka digital signage, is also becoming a more and more important component of “sign and graphics” shops.
“‘How do I do wide-format services and also [electronic] displays simultaneously?’” said Bondy. “To me, that’s a natural growth direction. Everything we talk about in terms of the platform architecture is really about building an infrastructure to be able to do that: managing your collections, determining the resolution of the imagery, and being able to send it to a display screen or to a wide-format printer. That would be a forward-looking workflow. It’s about a lot more than images. It’s managing assets and deploying those assets.”
Thus, the processes pillar comprises what happens once that technology is added, creating a “recipe” for using those technologies to deliver products and services in a precise, repeatable, scalable, and cost-effective manner. It’s also about ensuring that the business has the right cultural discipline to follow the recipe.
“Culture is critical,” said Bondy. “If you don’t refine your culture simultaneously with the technology, you’re destined to reduce yourself to a job shop.”
Finally, the services pillar weds technologies and processes to develop a business model for actually making money with the new products and services. It distinguishes between jobs and projects, devises a services-selling process, and details the vital skills that are needed for effectively selling new services and products. We’ve written many times how selling wide-format—be they ongoing projects or discrete jobs—is different from other kinds of printing. Bondy cites the farmer vs. hunter distinction between sales personalities: “farmers” are salespeople who cultivate relationships and help them grow, while “hunters” are those who are actively on the prowl for new opportunities. In today’s print market, especially wide-format graphics, companies want the latter.
“Hunters are able to find the long-term sales opportunities,” said Bondy. And they’re not likely to be traditional print salespeople. “People with a design and creative background and can sell are ideal,” he said. “They can ideate with the client and get them thinking about the big picture.”
The UnSquaring methodology doesn’t emphasize any one pillar or discipline over another. Technologies, processes, and services are all equally important to keep the wheel unsquare.
“The three have to work in unison with each other,” said Bondy. “You have to understand the technology and how to incorporate it. You have to have very streamlined processes or you’re not going to be able to drive profitability. You have to be able to package the results of that technology in some kind of a services model that moves you in a position where you’re not just selling a mark on paper, but what that mark on paper brings you in terms of value.” That value can be a long-term relationship with a client, a contract with reoccurring projects, and other forms of repeat business.
The emphasis is on services-minded strategies vs. the job shop model. The danger, then, is going to all the effort and expense of adding new technologies, and processes optimizing the use of those technologies, and then falling down in the last mile.
“We have a great technology with potential for high margins, and we reduce ourselves back to a job shop model,” said Bondy. “‘Here’s what I can do that sign for.’”
The UnSquaring methodology is all about closely examining, or “poking,” at the nine pillars, or facets of the business in all three disciplines.
“The moment you poke at one facet, another facet would rear its head,” said Bondy. “If you don’t look at all the facets simultaneously, you’re not getting the company to move in an integrated way.”
It’s hard to roll forward on flat tires, which is the essence of the “unsquaring the wheel” analogy.
If you’re attending Graph Expo next week, take your own wheel for a spin. On Tuesday, September 15, from 2:00 to 5:30 p.m., attendees will receive an introduction to the methodology. Then, on Wednesday, from 8:00 to 11:30 a.m., they’ll reconvene for the continuation of the topics and a Q&A session. For more information, visit www.unsquaringthewheel.com.