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Hamilton--Going Digital - No Pain, No Gain

June 1999
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a commercial printer that, in many ways, is representative of our industry. It is a privately held firm that was started right after World War II and has grown from being a local printer into a mid-sized firm with a national clientele.

This firm, which shall remain anonymous, faced the digital prepress issue a bit earlier than most commercial printers. But, what is notable about it isn't that the firm put in Macintosh workstations and started outputting its own films. No, it's the approach that management used that is important.

The principals—the president and general manager—knew they needed a technical expert to advise them on the journey into digital workflows. Again, that's not rocket science. However, having brought on a specialist, they did two things that I consider to be the key success factors: They gave him significant control over the technological direction; and they backed him up when that direction caused conflicts with "the way things had always been done."

That's not to say they gave the prepress maven a blank check, but they put in place a structure for reviewing the technology investments that factored in both "hard" data such as ROI, as well as "soft" issues more based on judgments about technological trends. As the maven proved himself, they gave him more leeway.

Support the Prepress Guru
Most important, however, was that once the plan was in place and things started to change, these executives provided the support necessary to enable their prepress guru to implement new workflows to take advantage of the new system. It's one thing to plug in new boxes and send a few jobs through the new workflow. It's quite another to completely re-engineer the workflow and rewrite all the job descriptions so that this new workflow is the only workflow.

In the case of this printer, going digital meant changing the way the typesetting and stripping/platemaking departments interacted. In fact, it meant merging the two into a single prepress department. You'd have thought this guy was trying to change national boundaries. Members of both departments objected because they needed their own space and couldn't possibly work together in the same room. Well, with the backing from the bosses, it's amazing how well typesetters and strippers can work together as a team.

Prepare the Team
Beyond knocking down organizational barriers, jobs had to change to make the transition to digital workflows. Here, the prepress maven did the smart thing and told the strippers they had best prepare for a future that didn't require a light table and razor blades. He laid out the plan and made it clear that their job security depended on transitioning their skill sets to the new tools.


 

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