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SMALL PRINT SHOPS, PUT YOUR HEAD IN THE CLOUD!

Cloud services open opportunities for small to medium printers.  

Print shops with under 20 employees have historically been left out of the move to automation. Mostly due to high up-front costs, and the in-house technical skills required to support such solutions. Now, the environment is changing and changing quickly. Cloud based, Software as a Service (SaaS), solutions are making what once were solutions reserved for the larger printers, available to any size printer — especially the small printers.  

The paradigm shift

A paradigm shift, a concept identified by the American physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn, is a fundamental change in the basic concepts and experimental practices of a scientific discipline.   — Source, Wikipedia

The printing industry has seen its share of paradigm shifts in the past 30+ years. Desktop publishing, electronic imposition, direct to plate, digital printing, and more — all paradigm shifts that help move the printing industry into the digital age.

Along the way there were also a couple paradigm shifts that were not as popular in the printing industry. The internet and mobile computing being two of them. These two paradigm shifts caused many changes that touched almost everyone’s life and changed about every industry in the modern world. The printing industry was no exception.    

Fast-forward to 2020. Out of the blue, the world is hit with a pandemic causing a sudden and huge paradigm shift in how we interact, communicate, live and work. Now we need to learn to work remotely. Keep our distance from other people and learn how to do business in a new way — often behind a mask and plexiglass. 

A shift to the cloud

In the background over the past 15 years, yet another paradigm shift has been slowly brewing and this one is good news for small to medium sized commercial print providers.    

In 2006 Amazon launched what they called the Elastic Compute Cloud. Not a very catchy name and not too many people noticed it in 2006. However, it was the beginning of Amazon Web Services and the first cloud environment developed for others to develop on without a huge investment in servers and software to pull it all together. Of course, later (much later in many cases), Google, IBM, Microsoft and others eventually caught on and now offer their own cloud development environment. 

Significance of SaaS

I’ve been in the traditional software development most of my adult life starting in the late 80’s with Aldus Corporation (the inventors of desktop publishing). Back then software came in nicely designed boxes with floppy disks, documentation, and a variety of other information stuffed inside. As a product manager at Aldus, you had a huge list of things to check and double check before you could say the product was ready to ship. Mistakes in the software or even the packaging were costly. In the case of a product like PageMaker, issuing an emergency bug fix after release of a new version would cost millions of dollars in time, materials and lost goodwill with customers. What was worse, as a consumer, you had to wait years for major upgrades and months for fixes. Nothing was instantaneous. 

Fast forward to today. For the most part, no one ships boxes with disks anymore. Software is either delivered as a download, or as an on-line SaaS solution. Software licenses are moving away from permanent licenses to subscription licenses allowing companies to bring on solutions as they need them and turn them off when they don’t.     

According to Report Linker (2020), automation and agility is fueling the growth of the SaaS market.    

Some of the other factors driving growth of SaaS offerings are:

  • • Easy to try before you buy.             
    • Fast to deploy.             
    • Minimal training required (in many cases).             
    • Always up to date

SaaS and the small printer

If you consider the main drivers to the growth of SaaS solutions — automation and agility — that fits perfectly with the printing industry — especially the small to medium print service provider. 

Smaller print providers typically don’t have the time or resources to invest is large scale solutions. With SaaS solutions, a printer can focus on a problem or solution, do a little searching and within an hour, probably find and try several solutions that meet their needs, are easy to implement, and cost effective.    

Here are some examples.   

Let’s say you want to improve the form you use on your web site for customers to request a quote but your web site is too limiting and you’re not comfortable with HTML to create your own forms. So, you search for “on-line forms” and in seconds there are several choices of services available that can create on-line forms and link them to your web site.  For the record, one of my personal favorites is Jot Forms.   

In another example, maybe you’ve picked up a couple new clients that require extensive design services and you need something to help manage the projects and keep your designers on-time. So you search for “project management solutions” and again, you’re presented with several choices that you can try right then and see if it will meet your needs.    

Lastly, maybe you set a lot of appointments to talk with new or existing clients and it’s always a hassle coordinating dates and times. Again, you search for “Scheduling solution” and now you have several to choose from and try. I just did this one myself and are trying Calendly — it has a very impressive set-up.   

No matter what you search for, more than likely there’s a few solutions to review and try. The best part, many offer free service levels and at a minimum almost all offer a free trial that is actually useful so you can be assured the solution will work for your needs. Plus, as the business changes, your needs may change and most SaaS solutions allow you the flexibility to either upgrade to a more appropriate level, or you can just cancel the old service and start a new one when needed.    

But these services have nothing to do with printing?   

True, and I wrote the article this way on purpose to make a point.  SaaS solutions are touching every aspect of business (accounting, sales, customer service, etc…). Don’t limit yourself when looking for solutions. Large or small, just about every business function out there has a SaaS solutions available.

SaaS reality check

I’m sure this all sounds pretty good, but not all SaaS solutions are created equal. Depending on the problem you’re trying to solve, or the solution needed, you may still have to invest heavily up-front to get the solution working. 

In printing, a Print MIS solution is a good example of a solution that requires planning and commitment. You’re probably not going to sit down one afternoon and change your Print MIS provider that day. With this in mind, if it appears the solutions you’re finding are too complex but you still need a solution, try to narrow your parameters and maybe by being more specific in your search you can find an easier solution. 

Conclusions & Recommendations

SaaS solutions are transforming how businesses buy and deploy software — including commercial printing. Small to medium sized printers can benefit from SaaS solutions because it makes many services, cost effective, fast to deploy, and easy to use. In addition, the SaaS offerings are expanding quickly and there’s always new solutions coming into the market.   

The landscape for software is changing fast. Very fast. The printing industry will see a flurry of existing solutions move to the cloud, and new services introduced. It’s going to be a wild ride over the coming years.    

Given the above, here are my parting recommendations:

  • 1.     Keep an eye on the ball. Set aside time to research possible solutions for your problems. Even if it’s only a couple hours a month, you will learn about new services you didn’t know existed that may come in handy in the future. 
    2.     Give it a try. In most cases trying a solution is free and you can quit at any time — very low risk. Also, if you’re concerned about security, be sure to look for the “lock” icon in the URL indicating that service is taking steps to secure your data. 
    3.     Don’t limit yourself. Maybe the solution you need is print related, or maybe it’s not? Maybe there’s one function of a larger solution you already have that could be better? You might find a SaaS solution that specializes in that function and does a better than what you have. 
    4.     Don’t forget your customer. Think about their experience of doing business with your print shop. How can you make their experience exceptional?  
     5.     Be agile, but not spastic! Being flexible is the “name of the game” these days but making too many changes, too quickly can cause confusion with your clients and employees.   

I hope this short article has sparked your interest in learning more about SaaS solutions. There’s a ton of solutions out there today and there’s more coming. The more you’re prepared for this paradigm shift to the cloud, the sunnier your print business days will be.   

— 

About the author 

Michael Reiher, president of Good2Go Software LLC, has been creating award winning solutions for the graphic arts and printing industry for over 25 years.     

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