Dickeson--Wanted - A New Kind of Software Company
We're aware that general ledger data and reports are not intended, nor useful for, operating decisions. The premise of the general ledger is identification of asset ownership.
We also know that our job-cost accounting has an overlay of assumptions of capacity and utilization that impair its usefulness for operating conclusions. Our pricing is essentially marking up estimates of those questionable job costs.
The statistical systems we've been using are not adequate tools for print operations managers. So let's concentrate on the kind and quality of information we need to operate a printing business in the 21st century.
Just what is the information we really need as managers? Let's think about it for a moment. Start by reading Peter Drucker's latest book, "Management Challenges for the 21st Century." Then, as managers, begin asking questions like these:
Don't we really need to replace obsolete job costing, with activity-based costing in order to identify our core competencies and eliminate non-productive activity?
Shouldn't we direct our attention primarily to cash flow rather than profitability? "Profitability" doesn't assure survival tomorrow.
Why don't we use an "expert" system to assist us in pricing our graphic conversion services—one based upon perceived value-added to the user? Wouldn't this be far superior to marking up estimated costs?
Shouldn't we be using the Kep-ner-Tregoe analytic techniques for problem solving rather than selective anecdotal experience?
Why aren't we applying the scheduling lessons taught us by Eli Goldratt, in his book "The Goal," in performing our tasks?
Isn't it time we developed an information scheme that forced us closer to "just-in-time" materials management decisions?
Why can't we have a "knowledge base" browser to look for help in resolving technical problems of our printing business?
How should we establish threshold perceivers for aberrant results in our information systems? Are the upper and lower control limits of statistical quality control the answer? If so, why aren't we using them?
Shouldn't we be constantly monitoring resource destroyers like inventories and receivables? What's it going to take to danger-label this survival quicksand and force us to corrective action?
Wouldn't "fuzzy logic" systems help us identify problem accounts, doubtful "hires" and substandard product quality?
Questions like these are "content-directed" rather than technology issues. It's high time we left the "gee whiz" era of digital technology and settled in on digital information content for the new century. Take that list of questions and add your own.
Are the present printing software suppliers addressing these questions, providing needed tools for survival? Not really. They're still caught up in the wizardry of computers and digital technology. They're hawking technology rather than information. They sell us something called a "license" in exchange for payment of a royalty. This software license seems to be a license to steal in many cases. The software house proceeds to charge us ad nauseum for technical support upgrades, new releases and customization. We wind up employing expensive tech staff for network administrators and in-house gurus to use the products. We expend endless capital for the latest hardware upgrades.
And in return for all this, what do we get? We get the old wine of general ledger, job cost and mercantile mark-up estimating decanted into a new digital cask with no cost bottom. We play a digital version of three-card Monte.
Don't Blame Suppliers
Now don't blame the software suppliers. They're giving us what we ask for and what they think we want and will buy. That's good old-fashioned marketing. In the famous words of the old comic strip character Pogo, "We have met the enemy and they is us." We haven't really thought about these issues and determined what we want—what we need—to manage our businesses in the future. We're presently an industry in search of a leader. Someone—anyone—please help us articulate our real management needs!
Perhaps what we need are digital information publishers—publishers, not technocrats, thinkers who help us identify, specify and supply our management information needs. Printing industry committees chatter endlessly about collecting data. Enough already. We can't use data. We want data packaged as information that helps us decide on correct solutions and then actions.
Suppose a supplier came to you with this proposition:
"Ours is a digital information publishing company. Subscribe to our publication, and we'll install all the needed hardware and software in your plant, and upgrade and maintain it as needed, at our expense. We collect the data and provide you with a flexible information newsletter, magazine or newspaper about your production processes—in real time—on the screens of your network or intranet. We deliver information, not technology. You can filter, summarize and sort the information as you choose, and see graphics and text that we enable for you. Any time you wish, for any reason, you can cancel the service, and we'll pack up our gizmos and be gone with no penalty."
You'd immediately say, "Let me see a sample of what you're talking about," wouldn't you? If the subscription price for the information was reasonable, you'd likely subscribe.
That's what I'm suggesting as a model for printing software suppliers. Turn yourself from a technocrat into a customized, boutique-type publisher. Think, really hard, about what information we really need to manage our printing businesses. Then give it to us.
Lead us. Counsel us. Help us articulate our needs. Don't talk tech to us anymore. Been there. Done that. Cost a bundle and didn't help satisfy a single customer. No mas! We do printing. You do management thinking and tech. If it's really worth it, we'll pay for it.
Too good to be true? Maybe. I've recommended the idea to a software house, and they're thinking of running it up the flagpole to see who salutes.
Something's got to give, something's got to fracture the old, obsolete paradigms. We need, nay demand, information that promotes the right operating decisions.
—Roger V. Dickeson
About the Author
Roger Dickeson is a printing productivity consultant based in Tucson, AZ. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax at (520) 903-2295.