Print software is a powerful tool to create efficiencies in your business. Your success with print software is dependent upon how well you can make the various technologies work and play together in your overall technology stack.
Every business has a technology stack; this is simply the set of technologies you use to run your business. The use of the word “stack” is to invoke the impression of technologies sitting on top of each other or the idea of a foundation and then add-ons. Small print businesses have technology stacks that might include QuickBooks and a cloud-based web-to-print solution. Larger print businesses might have millions of dollars invested in a Print MIS, prepress automation software, web-to-print, fulfillment/inventory, etc. Your technology stack generally reflects both the unique needs of your business and the size of your operations.
I believe “print software fit to your technology stack” is an overlooked and often underappreciated part of print software procurement. I don’t sell software, so when a printer contacts me looking for advice, the first set of questions I ask is about their current technology stack. I will not give any advice about software unless I know what the current environment is. Many times the problem the printer is trying to solve can be solved by technologies they already own! Your new print software purchases are going to join the print software you already have operating in your business. It is important to consider if those elements are going to “play nice together” and if you’ll be forced into deciding which solutions you’ll use for different challenges as many software products overlap in their features and functions.
For example, I’ve seen printers where the imposition task is done across three or four technologies. Sometimes the staff configures the composition engine (e.g. XMPie) to perform imposition, other times they do imposition in the prepress solution (e.g. Esko, Prinergy), and yet other times they do imposition on the RIP. As technologies mature, it is common for them to add more features; as all the print software solutions in our market do this, it is inevitable that solutions will overlap. Sometimes it makes sense; other times it only causes confusion.
There are some things that cannot be duplicated without causing real confusion. There are other tasks in the print workflow that can be done in various places without much disruption (e.g. imposition). Recently I was getting a demonstration of a digital asset management tool and they showed me a calendar. I asked my favorite question: “What problem are you trying to solve with the calendar in this digital asset management system?” Their answer was, “You can use the calendar to plan.” Guess what? I already have a calendar where I plan things and having more than one calendar is not a benefit—it’s a liability. Not only does having a calendar in your digital asset management system confuse things, it clutters the software. A digital asset management system is supposed to solve your challenges with storing digital assets, not solve your calendar issues. Another example I saw recently was a prepress automation tool that showed me how you could create a job ticket in the software. My immediate response was, again, “What problem are you trying to solve by putting job ticket creation into a prepress automation tool?” If you have a prepress automation tool, you also have a Print MIS. This is another example where having two systems generate job tickets is not an advantage but a liability.
You must shop for print software with the idea of what you want to solve and how that potential solution will fit into your current technology stack. This is critical to your success with the software you invest in. So many times, I hear printers tell me they are considering “product x.” When I ask them what problem they are trying to solve, it isn’t crystal clear. Technology can be enchanting and desirable, but it still must solve a problem that you have. The best example is a piece of technology that automates the production of large volumes of orders. This is a specific challenge and, guess what?, you have to have the problem of hundreds of orders coming in daily in order for this solution to work for you. Wishing you had that problem doesn’t count. The solution only delivers ROI if you have the challenge.
So many printers bought web-to-print systems whose primary solution was providing an ordering site for customers who re-ordered templated products from an “online store” environment. The problem with this purchase for a lot of printers is that they didn’t have that particular challenge. Their customers submitted jobs once; they were unique print jobs that needed estimating and prepress activities for each one (no reorder). The printer is sitting on this investment in a “storefront” that solves a challenge they don’t have. You must define the problem you’re trying to solve before you go shopping and then you have to make sure the solution you buy not only solves that problem but also is able to work and play with the technologies you already have in place in your business.
Never leave the “work and play” question to a yes/no answer. Can software “x” integrate with software “y”? When you ask this question to a sales person, they will always say “yes.” But it’s not the right question. Do you have any other customers who have integrated these two products? Can I talk to them? What data is exchanged between the two systems? At what intervals? What happens when either system goes down? Do I need technical people from my team to implement this integration? How does support work for the integrated solution? After one of these questions, the sales representative should explain how he’ll need to get help with the answers from others on his team. Take the time to learn the details here; this is no time for “trusting it will all work out as you expected.”
The value of software in your business is both solving challenges and delivering on an integrated workflow. This means every one of your software purchases has to connect into your existing technology stack. There are no print solutions anymore that sit isolated and unconnected to the rest of your workflow. One good way to think about software purchases is to ask the following two questions: What happens upstream of this solution in my workflow? What happens downstream of this solution in my workflow?