We train on presses, we engage with the press vendors. We make sure operators are competent – why don’t we do the same for software solutions (especially Print MIS, production workflow, and web-to-print)?
When printers buy a press, they prioritize around training for their operators. The operators engage and ask lots of questions. The printer and the press vendor are in almost constant communication that first couple weeks of operation. Running the press is vital to the success of the organization. The more skilled your press operator is the better quality they will produce with the press and the more chance of differentiation over the other printers who bought the same press.
Why don’t we do this same thing with print software?
I was in a print manufacturing facility the other day, there were two primary software packages being utilized to move orders through the plant; a Print MIS and a production management/pre-press tool set. I could not get a consistent answer on who was the expert on either system, nor was I hearing anything close to confidence about their current utilization of either system. Between these two systems, people were spending many hours a day on them, yet nobody really knew how they really worked. Here’s the real irony, it was easy to get people to complain about what “they thought the systems did poorly.”
I know nobody reading this article is surprised that I could walk into a printing plant and get people to complain about software or software vendors. The point I’m trying to make is that too many people jump to complaining about software before they have investing ANY TIME in learning how the software works. This means that many of the things they are complaining about aren’t actual defects or weaknesses in the system – they are lack of knowledge issues. If I ask about knowledge, the next thing I hear is “I was never trained.” So you’re using a system all day every day, you just got thrown into it, there was no formal training process. We’ve all been there. Here’s where you can choose to be passive or assertive.
Choice number one – passive. Keep complaining, keep using the system by winging it every day and hope the vendor doesn’t change it too much with each release so you can continue to coast. Go through your day always feeling a little insecure about making any changes because you don’t really understand how they might impact other parts of the system.
Choice number two – assertive. Stop complaining and start learning. Don’t wait for someone to schedule a boring webinar or send you some documentation, do your own discovery. Think of the questions you would like to know about how this system works and try and find them online. Even if you don’t find the answers, you’ll find other people looking to solve the same problems. Call the support desk and see what they know. Ask about any ongoing education provided by the vendor. Ask about videos, podcasts, webinars. Seek out knowledge. Find peers who are also using this technology – share best practices.
I am absolutely convinced that a printer’s success can be directly related to their skills, knowledge, and ability to run their print software. When there is little expertise the process that inevitably gets created is one with spreadsheets, PDFs, and email. When you don’t engage with your tools, you work around them. When you work around them you create error prone, manual, duplicative, human labor-intensive processes that will not profitably scale.
I am shocked when we go into a printer who is in dire need of help with their Print MIS and the first question we ask is “who is in charge of the Print MIS?” When that question can’t be answered, it isn’t hard to understand how you got to this state. Software; like presses does not run itself. In fact, software keeps moving, your business keeps changing, and therefore the learning has to keep moving on your software packages and how your business uses them.
Who is an expert at your print software systems? If you can’t answer that question – start the process of addressing this situation. An expert is keeping up to date on how this system works today and what changes are coming in the future. An expert builds relationships with the vendor so they can influence the product roadmap. An expert takes ownership of the solution and is invested in optimizing the solution’s impact on your business.