“If Strategy Is So Important, Why Don’t We Make Time for It?” is an article by Dorie Clark in the June 2018 issue of the Harvard Business Review, as well as a really good question. In research conducted by Management Research Group (MRG) with 10,000 senior leaders, 97% said that “being strategic” was the leadership behavior most important to their organization’s success.
There are few people who would argue with the proposition that acquiring an inkjet device is a strategic investment. There are quite a few who would argue about whether the typical inkjet purchase is approached in a strategic manner. Over the past six years at the Inkjet Summit and through more formal interviews, I have spoken to more than 50 companies who have described a purchasing process that sounds very much like this:
- Assemble a page or less of requirements
- Select three to four OEMs thought to be leaders
- Selected from one to a handful of applications and request samples from OEMs
- Look at the sample output and pick favorites
- Negotiate the best price for the solution recommended by the OEM
It’s not that an inkjet buyer shouldn’t do these things; it’s that they should do them better. Here are five things to do better so that you know that you made a truly strategic, long-term decision.
1. Know What You Need and Put It in Writing
It’s important to create an overview of your current business model including volume metrics and the characteristics of each type of job at a fairly granular level of detail. It can be challenging enough for you to understand the features of all of your work internally, but you also have to clearly communicate your requirements to the solution partners you will be evaluating. If you do a good job on breaking your current volumes into types of work and describing their characteristics, potential suppliers will be able to use these requirements to help you to determine what volumes can be successfully migrated, the logical order and the cost effectiveness of migration, as well as a likely timeline for completion. The approach and timing differences for getting your volumes on board can make a huge difference in your ROI from one solution to another.
When you are documenting these requirements, don’t forget about software. A lot of software processes are nearly invisible, with tentacles that integrate across the operation. Software can also result in the biggest professional services aspect of your inkjet implementation and if these costs aren’t understood, you could be signing a blank check.
2. Position for Growth
Not all of your current work may be a fit for inkjet. On the other hand, inkjet may enable you to take on new kinds of work. Many companies put together their requirements based only on their current book of business and that could cause you to ignore press or software options that would allow you to grow.
Brainstorm with your sales team and your best customers on opportunities for growth. Consider doing a market analysis to look at new applications within your existing vertical markets that can be enabled by inkjet as well as new verticals that have similar characteristics. Ask the OEM and software companies bidding on your business about market review and business development support. OEMs may be willing to help you with this type of strategic analysis as part of the buying process since it is in their best interest to help you get volume onto the device.
3. Decide with Data
If print quality is an important competitive factor for your business, don’t just decide that you all like one of the samples best. Measure. Measure a lot. In addition to asking the supplier to run samples of your production jobs, run a reference or fingerprint file that is designed to show text and line quality, strike through, color density, and other measurable aspects of print quality. Measure these data points and trust the numbers, not your eyes. Also capture data from the OEMs on the speed at which the samples were run, the profile used, and the ink consumption necessary to deliver the results. Naturally, you will also want to know that comparable (not necessarily identical) paper was used to generate the sample prints.
When comparing the price and value of the various options, look at the complete cost to purchase and implement the solution (software, hardware, professional services, personnel, and space considerations) as well as the cost to transition volumes onto the solution. Timing to ramp up and to eliminate redundant equipment can skew results considerably. It takes some time to crunch the numbers, but without a comprehensive comparison you don’t know the true cost.
4. Get What You Paid For
When your requirements are well documented and decisions are made based on data, you have a much better shot at getting what you expect out of a solution. But, there are opportunities to do even better.
Make sure that the data points used for your decision making process are built into your contract and acceptance criteria. Did your test process show a particular color density? Text clarity? Ink usage? Make sure that you are getting those same results, at the promised speeds, as part of your implementation.
Your acceptance period should not end when the machine is installed on your floor, it should extend until an agreed level of production volumes are successfully transitioned onto the press and until all software, hardware and finishing components are up and running with the new, agreed-upon workflow.
Also, you may be promised free or discounted services such as training, business development support, or professional services hours. Make sure that you work those into your ramp up process and don’t leave money on the table.
5. Embrace Change
An investment in production inkjet is typically not about doing exactly what you do now. Sometimes there is a change from pre-printed stock to plain paper, or from sheet fed to roll fed production, or the introduction of data-processing and personalization. Sometimes the transition to inkjet can open new markets or lead to an entirely different business model.
There is no doubt that there will be change, and management will need to create a change management strategy for sales, procurement and operations. Change that is planned for is transformative. Change that is not planned for leads to chaos. The first kind is better.
Speaking of better, most processes can be improved with a more strategic approach. Of course, many buyers don’t think that they have the time. It’s often a long and arduous process to reach decision to evaluate inkjet; once that tipping point is reached many companies just want to cut to the chase. While you may not need to go through a full RFP process to find your optimal inkjet solution, you do need to keep an open mind and create a data-driven framework to support a strategic decision.