Excel, PDFs, Paper, and More People (automation-less)
We apply tools from our toolset to solve business challenges, often those tools create silos of data and processes inside our company that prevent us from becoming a truly data-driven organization.
When we are faced with a challenge in our business, we apply solutions from the toolset we are comfortable with, hence Excel is the number one business application on the planet. When we have a problem that requires keeping track of stuff, Excel is the go-to-solution. There is nothing wrong with Excel spreadsheets. The issue really comes back to where this data you’re tracking in an Excel spreadsheet really belongs; and if this data needs to be shared, collaborated on, distributed, then Excel isn’t the ideal solution. Excel is selected because it is an available and comfortable tool of most people working in business today. Excel is a beginner relational database, most challenges that are solved by Excel belong in a real relational database (aka a software application which is really just a relational database with a user interface and user security wrapped around it).
In printers of all sizes, I see a common theme. When core technologies (e.g. Print MIS solutions, production management solutions, and web-to-print solutions) are not fully adopted or fully functional there are leaks in the form of processes and data storage. What does a leaky Print MIS look like? In the conference room you talk about how you use your Print MIS but if you take the time to really follow jobs around the shop, you’ll find all kinds of “other” data repositories and processes that are done outside the Print MIS. These are leaks.
This is why when we go on-site at a printer, we never like to meet with people in a conference room. Our strong preference is to meet people where they work. I don’t want to hear the story of how you work, I want to watch you work. In just a few minutes of sitting with someone in their cubicle we can start to get a sense of where the leaks are. Some have obvious physical characteristics (case boxes of printed job tickets under desk), others take a little more questioning. We were walking through the order entry workflow at a printer recently. As we were hearing the story of the CSR who gets notified of an order via email, goes into their web-to-print solution, copy and pastes into another solution, and then copy and pastes into a third solution to give the customer status; my colleague noticed an Excel file opened on a third monitor. This is where the CSR kept track of their jobs “just to make sure” – thus establishing a fourth system that he was copying and pasting into. You don’t find these things out in a conference room.
When your primary business software applications are not well understood, do not support your current business, are not flexible, or have not been fully implemented – leaks happen. Once the door is open for workarounds; it usually results in the erosion of trust in your Print MIS. Here’s a list of things people do when they stop treating the Print MIS as a trusted system of record:
- Print an extra copy of things and physically store it themselves
- Make a PDF of things and store it on their local computer drive
- Create a paper log to capture what they did (so they can defend themselves later)
- Maintain an Excel spreadsheet of stuff establishing their personal version of truth
- Send a lot more email to explain, cc, and cover their butts for activity that they are performing
You know what all this activity does to your business? Drains profits. Decreases efficiency. Slows you down. Increases the army of people required to process a job. Prevents you from being data-driven because in each example your team is creating silos of data; email, PDFs, Excel, and paper are data silos. There is not one version of truth. There is not a centralized repository accessible to all according to their roles in the organization. The data cannot be easily mined to make data-driven decisions.
All of these things (PDFs, Excel files, paper) are creating a storage challenge as well. I know, computer storage is so cheap it’s hardly worth spending the time to reduce it. The storage issues I’m talking about is more about the mindshare it takes when you decide to save a PDF of something (e.g. a PDF of a quote), then you multiple that by the 100’s or 1,000’s of quotes you do each month. Why do we need to create so many artifacts of our business process? If we have a true system of record, the only artifact of our business process should be the system (Print MIS) reports, dashboards, and dynamic queries, the production artwork file, and the product we ship to the customer.
Why should you care? If the statement about draining profits, decreasing efficiency, and slowing you down wasn’t compelling enough, I think the number one factor to your competitive success is the ability to be a data-driven company. Data-driven companies make better decisions about everything; costs, scaling, labor, and pricing. When you make better decisions, you get better results – end of story. Becoming a data-driven company takes a bunch of fortitude and effort because you must methodically plug all those leaks, workarounds, in the form of PDFs, Excel spreadsheets, and paper and bring everything back into a trusted system of record. Nothing about this process is fun or worthy of a press release, yet it is foundational to your success in this data-driven world.