Strategic Technology Stack for Production Inkjet

By Andy Gordon / Published:

Andy Gordon

I recently listened to Stephen J. Dubner interview Ford Motor Company’s CEO, Jim Hackett, on NPR’s Freakonomics (episode 357). The question posed was Can an Industrial Giant Become a Tech Darling? Hackett talked about Ford’s efforts to respond to market changes, turn the business around, and remake itself into a technology company. It’s a fascinating story of an industrial business in transition and its preparations for the future. A fundamental aspect of this transition is the development of a new technology stack, focusing on transportation and mobility, utilizing software, the cloud, robotics and artificial intelligence to ultimately solve major transportation problems and reduce friction in people’s lives. One thing that stood out was his discussion about the disruptive nature of technology to industries and the need to embrace transformation or be routed out by competition who understand Moore’s Law and plan for advancements.

Ford’s Hackett, discussed how Tesla is a disruptor to the auto industry because a rocket scientist looked at the industry from a different perspective. Tesla developed a new platform based on electric only engines, made-to-order manufacturing, direct sales, mobile technicians who make house calls, and a supercharger network where drivers can fully charge their vehicles for free. Hackett makes this point to illustrate that either change will come from within the industry or from outside influences. The print industry is painfully aware of this reality. But while the print industry hyper focuses on offering more non-print services, it must also be aware of the changes happening further upstream at the board level of its customers and their corporate strategy.

Then I read that Quad/Graphics was buying a creative agency, Periscope. I’m pretty sure that most people in the printing industry are tired of hearing about the need to focus on horizontal efficiencies, vertical market solutions, and evolving into specialized services businesses. For the most part, we have seen many smart companies make the transition and there are examples of businesses where you can barely tell that they offer print in their marketing collateral, yet print is still an important core offering. Are these transformations enough?

Quad/Graphic’s announcement may seem like another transformation into a marketing service provider, but we also must note the dramatic changes occurring in the agency business and their bitter battles with strategic consultancies who are muscling their way into their core businesses. It’s a fight for the higher value opportunities associated with core costumer business functions. Not only are these companies staffed with the best and brightest, but they are building service and technology platforms based on best practices and demonstrating their thought leadership through impressive research activities. I’m certain that Quad/Graphics recognizes this battle and doesn’t want to lose out. So where will the innovation come from that transform the printing industry and how will it serve customer requirements? What role will technology, and specifically inkjet, play in supporting that transformation? The graphic below illustrates the role service providers play in supporting important business functions within their customers.

In The Strategic Press Decision, I looked at the buying criteria of inkjet presses based on product and market strategies. I cautioned that a new press acquisition must be carefully considered based on the overall business strategy. Building on this theme, I encourage the industry to think about the role of an inkjet press as part of a broader strategic technology stack that positions the business for transformation and disruption. If you think about Moore’s Law, technology shifts are going to happen a lot more quickly than most expect and either you get out in front of the change as a disruptor or face the risk of being among the disrupted.

When devising your technology stack, naturally you will want to consider how to produce your product better, faster, cheaper. Your strategic vision should also be focused on the print consumer with the goal of enhancing customer experience through print and related services.

Many transformational ideas for print have been imagined, tested and realized through digital print technology. But, there were also innovative ideas that didn’t go anywhere, in part because of cost and the lack of scalability. With production inkjet, that equation changes and should provide innovators and entrepreneurs the tools to be disruptive. But the press must be part of a comprehensive technology stack that is nimble and can evolve as your innovation evolves.

Listen to Hackett’s interview and how he talks about Ford’s journey and consider how we can apply this learning to our industry.

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Andy Gordon

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