Thursday, 27 November 2008

Shortness of time

I think it's Parkinson's second law that states that 'work expands to meet the time available to it'. And it's certainly time that gives printers most of their problems.

There's never time to consider the estimate properly, or look at the alternatives. No time allowed to check the copy or repro thoroughly. The minder never has the time to read the jobsheet carefully (that's what he says, anyway).

And customers think the presses run at warp factor nine, and expect deadlines to stay the same despite the last-minute changes they chuck in the way. Never mind the courier who has a different time on his watch from everybody else!

Older printers will remember that when faxes came in they were thunderstruck. It meant they couldn't just post off the proof and have a two or three day breathing space until the next stage. But now it's far worse. The customer thinks he's done all the hard work, and that all the printer has to do is press a magic button and the precious source file gets miraculously corrected where necessary and transformed into neatly packed boxes of perfectly printed copies.

So don't print buyers appreciate the effort that printers make? Well, they do if it's pointed out to them. Printers usually try hard to sell the service angle and not just the print, but it's a struggle. And it's always time that does for you. That prestige job that has to be 'just so' is always the one with the silly delivery time, and of course makes a mockery of your original costings.

Let's hope that Printpak saves you time in estimating and invoicing (and protects you from underpricing, miscalculating and missing opportunities).

Anyway now its time to pack up my computer, and spend a little quality time with my family before it's bed time.



Wednesday, 19 November 2008


Last weekend I was at an international print trade fair, and being outside my usual environment I was able to inspect a few rival print MIS products without fear of recognition. Most of our rivals are extremely reluctant to show us their products, so I have to resort to subterfuge for this kind of thing. (If any are reading this, please feel free to download and inspect our system.)

Anyway, what I noticed principally was the apparent extreme complexity of what I saw. Screen after complicated screen - they seemed to be enormous and comprehensive systems - very appropriate for such expensive products, and judging from the prices, evidently aimed at large print companies.

But thinking further about it I came to an altogether different conclusion. Large print companies often do large jobs but fewer jobs, unlike the smaller jobbing printer who tends to do more jobs but with a lower average value. It follows that the administrative headache is actually rather worse for the smaller printer than for the larger.

So one perfectly logical business strategy is to write a simple system, aimed at larger companies, because their requirements are less demanding, and charge more. Larger companies can afford it, but to justify the expense the program has to be made to look both powerful and complex. When, er, it isn't.

But a really useful program would actually have to be powerful, more efficient, more simple to use, and priced so even the smaller company could afford it.

So lets get this paradox straight. The expensive product seems more complex but doesn't need to be that great, but the inexpensive one needs to be very powerful but seem very simple. The word that comes to mind is 'sprezzatura'. This Renaissance Italian term means doing something very difficult while pretending it's actually easy. Like someone juggling while riding a mono-cycle, or maybe a pianist continuing to play the most amazing jazz while talking to the audience.

Sprezzatura is what Printpak does. I've only just realized it. We know that our estimating tools are second to none, and whenever we put in something really useful, someone always says 'that looks too complex - how can we make it look simpler' or even 'how can we hide it'. We've always had to do that because the product has always had to sell itself, without expensive salesmen on the road, and without lengthy on-site configuration. We have to make it seem easy. But when you stop to think whats actually happening inside, it's a lot more powerful than the expensive systems.

So that's my word for the week. Sprezzatura.



Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Printpak Users

I'm away from my desk this week, training the support staff on the up-coming update, which will include purchase orders, job costing and stock control. Staying in a hotel gives you a lot of time for contemplation, and I've been thinking about Printpak's loyal customers.

A couple of our established users have kindly agreed to guinea pig the new release for us, and I was reflecting how the relationship between software house and customer is a two-way affair. In the printing industry there is so much that is non-obvious to outsiders, and so many idiosyncrasies that we depend on our users for feedback almost as much as they depend on us for the programs.

Some of our users have been with us for over fifteen years now, and I like to think our software has grown with them. And although the Kords are now mostly retired and the new digital presses have swept in to take over the short-run market, many of the essential processes are virtually unchanged. We still design an image, transfer it to paper, and then fold, stitch and trim it. The basic core processes of Printpak still preserve the original logic from all those years ago, which I guess is the sign that we got it right in the first place.

So to get back to the subject of our users, I've come to realize that in the same way that their requirements and problems fill our lives, our software permeates their lives in a way I don't think we always appreciate. Its only when you go on-site to a large installation and see Printpak on every desk in the office that this really comes home.

What we write, they use daily, and that heavy responsibility is really what makes this job so worth while.

But enough schmaltz.

Before I finish, I came across this cartoon of the 'Anatomy of the Printer'. If I'm infringing somebody's copyright, please let me know, but it seemed too good not to share. I haven't been able to identify the artist so if anyone can tell me I would be grateful.


Thursday, 6 November 2008

An Industry First

Well - its been a long time in the making, but I think we're about to score a Print MIS industry first.

We've now fixed November 28th as the official launch date, but pretty much everything is in place now for the first FREE fully featured Print MIS. This should finally mean that the estimated 50 percent or so of printers who don't currently have an MIS has no excuse to remain ignorant about whether they are covering their costs.

This industry is known for its suicidal undercutting. That normally gets even worse in a recession. Now maybe there's a way out. All it takes is for printers to work out the real cost of doing each job - including an allowance for indirect costs, and then to dig their heels in and refuse to budge lower than that figure. Sounds simple, but you'd never believe the reasons for not doing it!

"If we included all the costs we'd never get the job" (no comment)

"If we're working all round the clock we must be doing something right" (then where is your enormous expected profit?)

"It's a sprat to catch a mackerel" (but it's interesting to see that the customer who stitches you up for a small job will fillet you even more efficiently for the larger ones!)

"But we've already covered our costs this month" (so why give it all away?)

So thats it. If independent print companies are to survive, they have to keep an eye on their profits. There's really no excuse any more. Not when there's a free MIS available.