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DIGITAL digest

October 2003
Clients and Suppliers Seen as Extensions of Print Operations

PHILADELPHIA—According to the final count, this year's 5th Annual Digital Smart Factory Forum drew nearly 100 attendees here from across the country. The event is sponsored by the Research and Engineering Council of NAPL.

A "digital smart factory" is an environment in which information technology (IT) is strategically applied across the printer enterprise to integrate manufacturing, business and customer-interfacing systems, according to the forum's sponsor. At this year's edition, a number of speakers stressed the importance of extending the concept beyond the print operation to include both ends of the supply chain—customers and suppliers.

"While computer-integrated manufacturing, or CIM, is an integral part of the digital smart factory, it is not the only component. Customer-facing technologies are the other critical component," asserts Charles (Chuck) Gehman, chairman of this year's forum and director of product marketing at Printcafe Inc.

Putting the idea into practice, Quebecor World has grouped a broad range of customer-facing solutions under a QWikLink brand umbrella, reports Mark Jones, senior vice president of customer solutions. "QWikLink is our portal to exchange information with our customers," Jones explains.

"Grouping our various tools helps unify Quebecor World's efforts and combats the perception of disjointed products. QWikLink represents the beginning of a truly integrated set of tools for our clients."

Jones says QWikLink is only being targeted to select customers, for now, and functionality is being provided gradually. "The key," he advises, "is to engage the system with customers who are willing to participate in its development."

Chris Wells, president of LaVigne Inc., says his company leverages e-commerce as a vehicle to implement numerous customer engagement models and revenue opportunities. Opportunities exist in providing solutions for collateral, inventory and print management, as well as print-on-demand systems and a campaign launch program, Wells asserts.

"Traditionally, the only way to capture more business when demand is shrinking has been to emphasize lower prices," he continues. "These customer engagement models provide another way."

Mills Davis, managing director of Project 10X, believes value chain integration is key to the concept of a digital smart factory. "A focus on process integration promises huge benefits to the industry—up to 10 times improvement in performance in some cases," Davis says. While noting that significant barriers remain, he claims the "shared resource architecture promises a new process platform with dramatically better lifecycle economics that benefit all value chain participants."


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