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Getting your printing business resilient to crises – here's how

Crises are all around and can be found in all areas of life – currently it's the Corona and climate crises, gone are the dotcom crisis in the Internet industry or the financial crisis. Whether we like it or not, difficult situations or even crises are simply part and parcel of life. 

Crises, even if it may not seem so, do not come out of the blue. They are usually the culmination of a negative development over a more or less long period of time. This development goes unnoticed – or people simply don't want to acknowledge it, and gloss over the situation.

Constant crisis in the printing industry

The printing industry has been in a kind of permanent crisis for decades. One reason for this is that every time the economy suffers from crises, advertising and marketing budgets are the first to be cut, and print jobs then also fall victim to these decisions. 

One example is the media crisis triggered by the advent of digital media, which caused circulations of newspapers and magazines to fall, in some cases dramatically. Another tremor was triggered by "digital disruption“, the emergence of print brokers offering standardized print products online at unbeatable prices – and the days when their offerings were focused on the production of business stationery are long gone.

Price increases or shortages of raw materials, as in the current paper crisis, and the shortage of skilled workers, which existed for years, also have high crisis potential.

Crises of the house

But crises can also be homemade. They can be triggered, for example, by an incorrect perception of market trends, the missing of new technologies, products that are not in line with the market or – the classic – by deficiencies in the organization and thus inefficient business processes. But the temporary absence of management as well as fires or water damage can also develop into crises.

The focus of innovation in print businesses in the past few decades has been on production technology – the machines, processes such as computer-to-plate, color management, production workflows and more. This has led to a huge increase in efficiency because the technology has made it possible. 

The importance of organizational aspects for the efficiency of processes was simply overlooked for a long time. Thus, especially in small and medium-sized companies, administrative processes are the poor relation, the focus is often on production, the aim is to execute jobs, to get orders out the door. 

Sometimes things that are essential for business survival, such as invoicing, dunning and more, fall by the wayside – not to mention quick and correct costing. Thus, orders were often acquired without knowing whether they would be profitable. Cost controlling did not take place, and process optimization was a unknown word – this is still very often the case today.

No buffer for difficult times

The tragic consequence of this was that hardly any print business was able to build up any significant liquidity and thus a healthy cushion. However, this is necessary in order to survive difficult situations or to develop new business models. Everything was "sewn on a butt joint".

When things got tight, a takeover often seemed to be the silver bullet. The hope: synergy effects and possible staff cuts would get the company back on track. In the short term, this is probably true – but if the homework is not done, if the processes are not optimized, the joy will be short-lived.

Regardless of whether a crisis has hit the printing house from the outside or is home-grown, the final phase of a crisis is basically always the same: the print business can no longer hold its own in the face of competition, falling earnings put a strain on liquidity and eventually lead to insolvency. 

Externally induced crises such as the Corona pandemic are certainly a fate for which companies cannot specifically prepare. However, companies that have set up their business processes and procedures perfectly and optimize them on an ongoing basis generally also demonstrate greater resilience to crises.

Foundation for continuous optimization

Create a structure that enables you to identify problems, pitfalls and efficiency killers at an early stage. A simple solution is to hold regular meetings with the employees in the individual departments – they know best from their day-to-day work where things are going wrong. 

Openness is key here; it's no use if the team doesn't dare express concerns to the management. The result should be a protocol listing processes need to be optimized, what is necessary for this, who is responsible for it – and by when the task should be completed.

This procedure is wise even in small companies with only a few employees. The reason: In day-to-day business, the relevant experiences are usually simply drowned out – comments such as "we should" or "would it not be better“ during work or breaks simply fizzle out. 

This ongoing optimization is not only important in the event of a crisis – optimum processes are also a clear advantage for print businesses when competing for customers.

Flexibility helps in a crisis

When a crisis occurs, you have to react quickly. This is all the easier if all business processes are designed to be flexible.

One of the biggest hurdles is the crippling silo knowledge. All employees gather specific knowledge while working for the company, for example about temporary solutions to recurring problems, about individual circumstances at customers and much more. If the employee in question is not there, processes come to a standstill or customer service suffers. Such knowledge islands should be systematically unlocked and the expertise made available throughout the company.

The Corona pandemic, at the latest, has shown that flexibility must also be ensured with regard to work locations. Of course, there are limits – production cannot be re-located. But all other tasks – costing, customer service, accounting and others – should be able to be performed from a home office, for example.

Many companies had real problems with this in the context of Corona. But it doesn't have to be a global pandemic – all it takes is a burglary, a fire, water damage or other individual loss events.

Innovative IT creates security

To create this flexibility, print businesses should definitely also take a look at their IT landscape – is it capable of coping with these challenges? 

Traditional software programs installed locally on each workstation are likely to fall behind here. What is needed today are applications that can be operated via any Internet browser and best are used in the cloud in a software-as-a-service process.

If employees then work on laptops, the time required to move their workstations to the home office, for example, basically equals the time required to drive home.

At the same time, the cloud ensures that data is centralized outside the company in highly secure data centers. This means that no data is lost in the event of damage to the company premises and work can continue almost seamlessly.

Cooperation with production partners

These safety measures naturally primarily affect workplaces in administration, work preparation and customer service. But greater security can also be ensured with regard to production.

The key is to build up a network of trustworthy production partners. If business operations in your own company are only possible to a limited extent or not at all, these partners can step in to ensure that current orders can still be processed. 

Such partnerships are also helpful in normal operations, for example when it comes to deal with peaks in orders.

Networking the entire printing industry

In the near future, all this will be possible in a very simple way – the basis for this is Zaikio  that we are currently developing. The aim is to network the entire printing industry – print businesses, suppliers and also customers will be able to communicate and collaborate with each other at eye level via Zaiko.

A preview of what will be possible is provided by Zaikio Procurement, which is already available. The app, which can be used via any browser, is revolutionizing the often cumbersome process of purchasing materials in printing houses. It enables direct access to the systems of connected manufacturers and suppliers of paper and consumables. 

This eliminates the need for time-consuming updating of price information and equally time-consuming telephone inquiries about prices and availability. This not only optimizes purchasing efficiency, but also makes the creation of quotations much faster and less prone to errors.

A next important step in the development of Zaikio will be Mission Control. This app will become the digital control center in print businesses – it centralizes and harmonizes all job and production data so it can be used by all other applications as well as machines.

Zaikio thus creates the basis for the comprehensive, end-to-end digitization of business processes in print businesses. The platform makes an essential contribution to securing the future of the businesses – even in the event of a crisis.
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