Decision Points 2006 is the theme for this 54th edition of the Web Offset Association (WOA) Annual Management and Technical Conference. To a large extent, if any recent year were plugged into that phrase, the hot issues, industry trends and challenges would be the same.
In a promotional piece for the conference, Ralph Pontillo, 2005-2006 chairman of the WOA board of directors and vice president/division director at Transcontinental Printing, observes that: “Critical decisions must be made daily—strategy and tactics, operational challenges, investment decisions and procedures. A quick glance at the myriad of (2006 session) topics yields volumes of opportunities: world and industry viewpoints and trends, maintenance, sales, technology, training, continuous improvement, business integration, recruiting and retention of employees, and much more.”
The major forces—good and bad—shaping web offset’s near-term future are already widely known. Unfortunately, there are more questions than answers when it comes to figuring out the best strategy for dealing with the challenges. The issues touch on technology, marketing and management.
Building on his earlier comments, Pontillo says, “Right now I see the industry struggling with its identity. It has become about more than just print.”
Competition has made response time an even more critical issue. He still finds it striking that the industry went from just talking about direct-to-plate technology to near 100 percent adoption in such short order.
“Web printers have to continually focus on process improvement and optimization,” advises the industry exec. “Printers know how to do that, though. Where they need help is with diversification and what comes next.”
Looking out over the slightly longer term—five or 10 years and beyond—Pontillo sees an increasingly more critical concern.
“The industry as a whole needs to be communicating with the next generation coming up about getting into this business. Print doesn’t have the standing as a career like it once did. We need to reach out to this group, which is very wrapped up in the latest digital technology,” he says.