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IT Gurus — Tech Trek: Search for Stars

September 2008 By Cheryl Adams
Managing Editor
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WHILE IT applications in the printing industry find their roots in the early '90s, their diverse applications in today's digital environment is where they are finding their true calling. And calling is exactly what customers are doing--requesting more IT-based products than ever before.

Computer programming, database management, variable data printing, Website design, Web-to-print storefronts, PURLs, hybrid workflows, fulfillment. These are increasingly hot button requests. And, more printers, turned marketing services providers, are expanding their product offerings. As they do, they need IT people--the programmers who will turn their virtual dreams into a literal reality.

IT people are highly prized employees, whose skills and capabilities are quickly becoming a treasured asset, if not necessity, for successful graphic communications providers. Employees with a print background who have strong computer skills--database and programming experience to manage mailing lists and such--are ideal candidates. Those skills are very much in demand, says Arnold Kahn, president of the PrintLink executive search agency in Rochester, NY.

IT, Print Expertise Needed

"IT positions in the printing industry are relatively new, and small- to mid-size printers are struggling to find qualified people. Most IT people have worked outside the printing industry, and printers are eager to find qualified IT candidates with printing industry experience. Some of the larger printing firms have recognized the need for IT initiatives several years ago and have a leg-up on those just becoming aware of the need now," he adds.

Starting on the ground floor is very difficult when you're starting to incorporate IT applications into a printing business. It's extremely important to define what the IT person will be required to do. Basic IT experience, or experience in another area of IT, is not necessarily a good fit with printing applications.

Before a printer brings in any IT capabilities, or before upgrading to newer ones--for example, Web-to-print, JDF and automated workflows--the company must define the jobs and describe the requirements.

Kahn advises: "You only have a fit once you know what the job is and whether the applicant can do that job. The IT core of any company begins with the right software and the right person to program and maintain it. Offering IT services is a way to expand business, but if the game plan (the job description) isn't adequately defined, or if the IT person doesn't have the right skill sets to run it, the program may fall on its virtual face."

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