By Melissa Donovan
Data, information, figures, facts, statistics, features, specifics—we’re inundated with it all, daily, 24/7, 365 days a year. Most businesses have realized that there is so much data out there, it must be beneficial to their bottomline—however many are unsure how to harness it.
In the graphic arts, print service providers (PSPs) are part of that majority. PSPs with automated software solutions in place are already proud owners of a wealth of data. Data that can increase production and influence efficiency, which is directly related to retaining happy customers. Ultimately, information that can lead them to better business decisions.
The Importance of Data
There is an abundance of data and it plays a critical role in how we operate. Automation software helps cull all of the data and filter down to the bits and pieces that benefit the PSP.
“Data is everything in today’s world—it can drive a company to profitability or bankruptcy. Streamlined data is the key to everything in printing, be that clean files, proper order entry, or getting tracking to a customer. Data drives all of this,” admits Randy Baer, ecommerce project manager, Durst Group AG.
There are different types of data. Data from internal systems like workflow solutions, software running on printers or finishing equipment, is constantly captured. “It can help improve internal production efficiencies as well as provide insight into areas of waste such as media or underutilization of printers,” says Jonathan Rogers, international marketing manager, Onyx Graphics, Inc.
“When a job is booked at a print facility and a quote is provided, many job parameters are already accessible for a workflow. Art file metadata can tell a complete story about the job. Job history data can shield a printer from error liabilities by confirming how a job was completed, and what changes and approvals a customer gave,” continues Graham Blanks, director business operations North America, DALIM SOFTWARE GmbH.
It is important for segmentation, to help understand buyer behavior. “If you have a buyer purchasing women’s promotional products or sending out postcards to a certain zip code, this information is gathered and emails can then be targeted to these groups with items that would be beneficial for re-purchase,” explains Ellen Faith Hurwitch, VP, director of operations – the Americas, RedTie Group.
In addition to data from internal systems and buyer behavior, data is used “for tracking demographics and user engagement in media, sales, and marketing; and for monitoring trends in healthcare and finance,” adds Mark Gallucci, manager, technology marketing, Agfa.
There is so much data out there, we require programs that can help us weed through it all. “Any company that can help clients make informed decisions understanding their behavior patterns and profiles will build strong relationships and business,” notes Naresh Bordia, VP business development, OnPrintShop, Radixweb.
“Data is the key to help operators, managers, and companies make better decisions. As technology evolves to deliver more performance from devices, dashboards are important to monitor output and plan production,” agrees Sebastien Hanssens, VP marketing and operations, Caldera.
While some data is helpful and other data is unnecessary, there’s also the worry of incorrect data. “When data is inaccurate, wrong decisions will be made—for example, where to ship a product, where to manufacture an order, or what machine is most suitable for the job,” says Carissa Smith, marketing director, Tilia Labs Inc.
Santosh Mulay, VP business development, InSoft Automation Pvt. Ltd., argues that data has always been integral, but increased focus on automation has further popularized the topic.
Industry 4.0, or the fourth industrial revolution, is automation, says Erik Strik, CEO, PrintFactory. “Industry 4.0-ready machines move us away from traditional manufacturing, a step towards data-driven production—it’s taking advantage of the increasingly technological world around us, the connection of disparate physical processes, and the exchange and subsequent use of data coming from those processes.”
Many PSPs are unaware of the immense amount of data their automated workflow software collects. Those that are are not usually leveraging it to its full capacity.
Mike Agness, EVP, Americas, HYBRID Software, notices very few companies aware of collected data. “They are not leveraging their production to full capacity because they have no idea of the data they have accumulated and what to do with it.”
“In our experience, print businesses know their systems contain data, but find it hard to access it in an easy way that can then be used to improve their business. It may be that training is needed,” shares Rogers.
Smith thinks another reason why few PSPs are “leveraging their machine data to augment human decision making” is a lack of trust. “We are still in the infancy of the digital transformation adoption curve. There is still a lack of trust in software making decisions that were traditionally made by humans.”
While many PSPs may collect data, they often don’t know how to use it to their advantage. Blanks says it is only looked at when there is a problem. “If there are errors, usually it is due to human intervention. They find that jobs are going through the system too slow, or files are failing that should not fail.”
Hurwitch believes that PSPs need help from marketers to understand data. “They could teach them how to leverage this information.”
“A very small number of print companies collect data, and a smaller number analyze data to drive growth. Most companies’ growth is new sales and are short staffed. Key people are involved in day-to-day processes,” explains Bordia.
This leads to time issues. “The challenge is day-to-day operations are a crutch to avoid putting resources towards what can lead to a company’s greatest gain,” admits Baer.
“The question seems to be if they have the bandwidth to do anything with that data. They seem to know how to navigate by sight but at a certain level they need data-built dashboards in order to scale,” adds Hanssens.
What type of data can be collected? Admittedly, there is a lot and it can be overwhelming.
Hurwitch suggests a PSP recognize the types of data that can enhance and grow their business, and then focus on capturing that business. “Start small and look for quick wins that increase your bottom line, prove to yourself that data is going to help and then move on to more complex ways of using it.”
“Implement one point of data collection. It’s hard to say what should be focused on initially, but I would evaluate your current workflow and see where the biggest bottleneck and inefficiencies are. You may think that getting the upfront data collected around contact management and accounting is critical. However, you may find that prepress tools can optimize production files, ensure accuracy, and feed your presses faster,” continues Smith.
Baer takes it a step further, saying to focus on what pushes you as a person, not necessarily your company. A personal investment will drive you to search for more information. “Find what you are passionate about and go from there. If you feel ‘we use too much ink,’ narrow in on that. If it is ‘it takes us too long to get answers to clients on tracking,’ go there.”
Data linked to production is essential, according to Hanssens. “The key objective of a PSP is to have their printers up and running. By avoiding downtime they ensure that they are producing and making money. To keep devices in production, they need to be able to monitor if and when they are up and running and keep them busy.”
“Initially, print businesses may want to focus on data that helps them improve production workflow efficiency. This in itself can have many components from prepress through production to finishing and shipping. Understanding printer utilization, ink usage, and media waste, for example, is just one area of the production workflow where data can help impact business decisions,” advises Rogers.
Customer data is a driving force and can sometimes be disparate. “Print companies have different processes for online customers, walk-ins, repeat clients, small clients, and large clients. Centrally manage existing customers and analyze that data to understand their profiles, buying patterns, revenue per customer, what triggers buying decisions, or when a customer declines,” recommends Bordia.
Take the First Step
Today’s automated software solutions are full of data and the PSP has the power to do what it wants with it. Automation makes for efficient production. “In the current business environment, with profit margins getting squeezed and customer expectations on turnaround times becoming more demanding, print shops should be looking for whatever efficiencies in their processes they can take advantage of,” explains Tony Tarpey, COO, SmartSoft, Inc.
A majority of PSPs are simply unaware of the important information under their fingertips, but understanding the vast amount of data available to them and leveraging it properly can increase business efficiencies and ultimately influence profitability. A good first step is identifying what is most important to a company’s success—whether that be internal data like how much ink is wasted or customer data like interest in buying patterns.
Mar2022, Digital Output