COVID-19: an opportunity to accelerate digital transformation in speciality print?

The seismic change that countless industries have experienced in such a short timeframe cannot be overstated. Social distancing measures in particular present an exceptional challenge for more contact -intensive businesses, especially as they are likely to remain in place for several months ahead.

At a time when human contact and touchpoints are being minimised, digital technology is proving to be a key asset in tackling these practical challenges and supporting new ways of doing business. Digital platforms have become integral to business continuity.

With digital transformation being embraced and fast-tracked across the board, what is the impact going to be on speciality print? That will depend largely on each individual business’s ability to adapt and make the right changes and – where necessary – investments.

First of all, there needs to be a recognition that operating models will have to change. Print businesses can take this opportunity to drive digital transformation initiatives that will bring about multiple improvements. Some of these changes, for example digital workflow enhancements and implementation of web-to-print technology, can help solve external challenges, managing fluctuating demand and delivering a positive online customer experience. Others, such as the introduction of greater end-to-end workflow automation are crucial to maximising productivity and facilitating smarter, more sustainable production. All of these factors have now become necessities.

For instance, web-to-print has proven to be integral to the successful reinvention of a number of print companies and those using these solutions to set up or enhance online ordering will be at an advantage, as they are able to offer a more streamlined, user-friendly buying experience and reduce cost-intensive upfront processes. After all, when we think of the transformative effect that digital technology has had on businesses, e-commerce is often the first thing that comes to mind. It has single-handedly re-set customer expectations in terms of user experience and overall efficiency in web-based ordering.

A good example of a business model tailored to customer needs at this time of digital acceleration is print-on-demand. With just-in-time service now an expectation, having the capability to print jobs only once they have been ordered gives customers the flexibility they are craving, while also eliminating the challenges that print service providers face surrounding minimum order quantities and stock management.

However, being able to meet these evolving demands also means finding ways to streamline production, maximise uptime and improve response to higher customer demand for smaller order volumes. Here automation has a key role to play. Fortunately, business automation tools are no longer exclusive to large enterprises. There are cost-effective solutions for smaller companies that can help businesses to handle increasing numbers of individual orders, ensuring turnaround times and customer expectations are met.

Another key consideration is that, in a time of change and disruption, print businesses need to be prepared to reinvent themselves and build alternative services and revenue streams. This is best illustrated by the numerous emerging stories about printers refocusing their capacity towards the production of personal protective equipment (PPE), while signmakers apply their expertise in instore graphics and POS to delivering items such as self-adhesive floor graphics to enforce social distancing in stores, pharmacies and other public venues.

Despite the turbulent times ahead, print industry professionals can still look for positive opportunities to support customers in new ways while also driving innovation in their products and services. So while the immediate priority for business owners so far has been the well-being of their employees and the relationships with their customers, the next steps should be to look beyond and try to envisage what the ‘new normal’ will look like for their business.

Adopting a digital mindset is a good start, as it will enable print businesses to keep up with the pace of digital acceleration and changing customer expectations. Print service providers have a unique opportunity to implement new online business models that address tomorrow’s challenges today. Finding ways to effectively digitise services will help forward-thinking PSPs stay one step ahead of the competition and persevere through these uncertain times.

By Graeme (FESPA on 28/05/2020)

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