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Hamilton--Who Needs a Systems Integrator?

November 1999
Need a new workstation? Just look in the latest Mac Warehouse catalog or local computer shopper. Software upgrade? Check out the developer's Website.

Given the commodity nature of the computer industry, who needs an integrator? And what is a systems integrator anyway? What value do they bring to the party?

Integrators are the back-room folks who make all that "stuff" work together. Perhaps more important, they are the ones who fix it when it doesn't. Can't get Color Central to print correctly? Of course, you know that you can only use specific drivers—or nothing will print. Installing a server running Windows NT 4.0 and can't get volumes to appear on the client Macintoshes? Why, everyone knows that bug requires Microsoft's service pack No. 2.

The fact of the matter is that most people don't know. They're too busy trying to meet the day's deadlines.

Staying in Business
Given that most prepress operations are small businesses with limited technical resources, integrators provide the support and service that can be crucial to staying in business. In many respects, relying on an integrator is like having an insurance policy: You only learn how much it's worth when the chips are down.

For example, if you have to get a job out the door by 5 p.m., and you don't have a clue as to how to get your Macs to "see" those volumes, an integrator is probably in a better position to solve the problem faster than Microsoft or Apple. That's because the integrator is a service-oriented business.

"Buying the equipment solves nothing," asserts Stephen Shinnick, vice president of sales for All Systems Integration, a Woburn, MA-based integrator. "There are still many issues to resolve. The role of the integrator is to know where each piece of technology fits—and how they interact with one another."

Take computer-to-plate. Is this a technology that your firm is ready to adopt? What additional hardware and software is necessary to keep the platesetter—and, therefore, the press cylinders—humming along at top speed? A good integrator will understand not only the maturity of the technology, but also the prepress environment in which it must operate to make sure they are complementary.

In addition to installation and technical support, a good integrator functions like a radar system on a ship—scanning the horizon for any technological developments that will impact the prepress industry. Whereas, until recently, the industry was focused on productivity at the desktop, now it's moving to overall system throughput—workflow.



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