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Hamilton--Going Digital - No Pain, No Gain

June 1999

By giving the strippers plenty of warning, the firm was able to give them time to buy into the program—after the initial knee-jerk reaction—so they could learn how to use the new tools. Again, it's one thing to say, "We're going digital and if you don't cooperate, you're fired." It's quite another to explain the firm's long-term goals and then help employees see how they can help achieve them.

Stripping is a perfect example of leveraging existing expertise to move in an entirely new direction. A good stripper knows exactly why the pages need to be stripped head-to-head or the amount of shingling required to bind six eight-page signatures on the saddlestitcher. This is a far more important skill, initially, than the ability to plug pages into an imposition template. As time goes on, strippers need to develop the computer skills, so they can understand more arcane data handling and, more important, the troubleshooting that is required in any digital workflow.

Change Requires Pain
Which brings me to the second point: Pain is a necessary part of the program. If you want to change your operations, you must be ready to suffer for at least part of the journey. This is especially true of software, which is constantly evolving. To gain a competitive edge, you have to be willing to get involved before your competitors do. But that means you are likely to be a guinea pig for the software developers on which we all rely.

Thus, it is up to management to support the change agents—as organizational behavior experts call them—and be willing to see throughput decline for a while before it comes back to previous levels. It may be some time before you're able to significantly improve productivity, quality or both. But if you've done your homework and invested in a technology that shows promise, it will most likely pay off.

The hidden benefit in working with early releases and new software is that your staff gains invaluable skills and knowledge about the workflow and troubleshooting. Only by suffering through a few early test jobs can your desktop people learn to spot potential problems and develop either solutions or workarounds.

Pioneers may end up with arrows in their backs, but they also get to stake out the new territory, which can pay significant dividends in maintaining a successful printing company.

The bottom line is that you've got to bleed in order to lead. zz

—Alex Hamilton

About the Author
Alex Hamilton, a former technical editor with Printing Impressions, is president of Computers & Communications Consulting, which specializes in digital technologies for printing and publishing. He can be reached at (215) 247-3461 or by e-mail at



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