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Partnerships to profitability and the role of business development

by Mark Lawn, European Solutions Marketing Manager, Professional Solutions, Canon Europe

Just as printers are often implored to add-value to their customers in order to succeed in digital print, so too must press manufacturers. The days of manufacturers selling a piece of machinery as a standalone piece of kit on the merits of its relative “speeds and feeds” are, thankfully, long gone. Today’s digital print company operates in a far more complex business landscape, defined by a series of intertwined and often intricate relationships with designers, customers and suppliers. Successful print companies are less likely to regard themselves as simply suppliers of printed products, but something more akin to consultancies. This means that the production process itself can no longer be regarded simply as a series of isolated steps towards a finished, saleable product – an overarching, holistic approach that considers the complexity of the digital workplace is needed. Our experience tells us that professional print companies want to deal with press manufacturers who are interested in developing a partnership that’s truly symbiotic in nature, and not simply shifting boxes.

The intricacies of technology
The intricacies facing printers as they integrate increasingly complex technologies, including the internet, workflow, variable data, MIS as well as digital and offset equipment, has led to a form of convergence in the industry. In the late 1990s manufacturers of press equipment and software collaborated to create the JDF standard in recognition that a common XML-based language was needed to facilitate process automation between, often competing, vendors’ equipment and software. And at Drupa 2000 the rights to JDF were signed over to CIP3, which was later renamed CIP4, to ensure that the collaborative work on the non-proprietary standard continued and encompassed the entire life-cycle of a print job, including device automation and the collation of management data at each stage of the production process. As a member of CIP4, Canon remains resolutely committed to developing software and hardware that supports JDF and PDF data exchange to increase customer productivity.

Canon Workflow Program
However, feedback from Canon customers suggests that their needs cannot simply be met by adopting open standards. Printers in this new business landscape are faced by the need to drive efficiencies, improve margins and cope with technology shifts. With this in mind, Canon launched the Canon Workflow Program as part of its commitment to provide a solutions-based approach to its customers. Canon defines this solutions approach as a commitment to providing printers with the right combination of hardware, software and professional services for their business so that the performance delivered is far greater than the mere sum of its parts. This means that Canon proactively supports them through a combination of technology, education, IT and, perhaps most importantly, ideas. This ethos underpins the Canon Workflow Program, which is a structured, all-encompassing and tailored package of services, support and solutions that is designed to help customers identify the right workflow for their circumstances. And because no two businesses are the same, the programme employs a blend of solutions, both developed in-house and from best-in-class third-party partners, to deliver peak performance. This strategy is supported by customer research, as it’s estimated that up to 40% of print device purchase decisions are heavily influenced by the quality and range of workflow software offered by a vendor.

Canon’s Workflow Program represents a significant investment in the professional print industry, further illustrated by the fact that Canon Inc. invests 8% of its non-consolidated sales revenue in research and development. Canon’s recently launched, JDF-compliant workflow software, iW Prepress Manager (iWPPM), which was developed over three years, was granted a total of 82 patents. The programme also comprises solutions from our partners, including EFI’s Digital StoreFront for production workflow, PlanetPress from Objectif Lune for variable data, and an exclusive version of X-Rite’s i1 Process Control for colour management on the imagePRESS flagship brand of digital colour engines. Along with iWPPM is Canon’s print management solution uniFLOW Output Manager.

Indeed the rise of open standards has not only increased the need for manufacturers to partner with each other, but also opened up a world of opportunity for the printer. Last year Canon Europe announced a partnership with Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG, one of the founders of JDF and the world’s largest offset press manufacturers, to develop connectivity between Canon’s high-end digital colour engine, the imagePRESS C7000VP, and Heidelberg’s Prinect workflow. However, this is not simply an exercise in technical excellence – it will deliver a hybrid workflow and the promise of unified digital and offset technologies.

The hybrid workflow: digital and offset become truly complementary
Digital press manufacturers, fuelled by enormous research and development investments and buoyed by the resulting technological breakthroughs, have produced a new generation of digital presses that can deliver a print quality that is indistinguishable from offset, coupled with the advantage of economic short-run production and variable data. With this there’s the opportunity for the two technologies to become truly complementary, based on economies of scale at the point of production, taking into account plant capacity at a specific time, rather than a production process per se.

Just a few years ago, print jobs existed as either digital or offset at the point of inception and were produced accordingly. Right at the very beginning of the process designers were forced to take the well-trodden path to offset, or if they wanted variable data or lower run lengths, down the digital route. Things were fixed and pretty inflexible, once a job was destined for either technology it wouldn’t deviate from its path. However, common colour management and hybrid workflow systems mean that output devices can now be seamlessly integrated and selected to produce a job at the very last moment, based on what is the most economic. This gives the printer flexibility like never before and with it the opportunity to maximise their investments in both offset and digital plant. After all, people who consume print don’t buy a particular process technology – print’s inherent value is its ability to communicate effectively. Similarly, the combination of high-quality offset and digital equipment, linked via a common workflow, allows printers to put the output process to the back of their minds and concentrate on making money.

Partnerships between manufacturers and customers
And just as equipment manufacturers routinely partner with each other, they must also strive to foster long-term relationship with printers by helping them to develop their own competitive advantage. Vendors that sell a box, offer little customer support, only to send a salesman calling when they believe that the machine’s lifecycle is coming to an end, will not survive in this industry for too much longer – printers are businessmen, and far too astute to allow that. Manufacturers need to provide their customers with demonstrable ways in which they can add value, which is illustrated by the rise of manufacturer business development programmes. After all, the process of purchasing the right combination of hardware and software, linking it seamlessly, and training operators in how to run it is, in many respects, the easy part. Canon understands that technology is not an end in itself – but simply part of the bigger picture of business. Therefore Canon’s holistic approach ensures that its customers have the requisite tools and skills needed to drive business through their solution by identifying new revenue streams.

Canon’s Essential Business Builder Program
This is where Canon’s Essential Business Builder Program is unique in the industry. The programme itself has three elements: a binder full of reference information for customers; a workshop programme, to be delivered by independent experts; as well as one-to-one, bespoke consultancy. However, rather then being an esoteric exercise in marketing, like many manufacturers’ programmes, Canon’s Essential Business Builder Program has been produced, quite deliberately, by experts with years of practical experience working in the graphic arts.

Our experience tells us that printers have neither the time nor the inclination to devote to a programme that’s packed with marketing graphs and borders on the ephemeral and academic. This is why Canon’s Essential Business Builder Program offers advice solely from people with on-the-ground experience quoting real-life, field-proven situations, which can easily be adapted and implemented. Rather than simply suggesting that printers should “add value” to products, Canon’s programme illustrates, with real commercial examples, how  print providers have managed to sell more services by becoming more involved in the creative process from the outset, or how others have successfully targeted new vertical markets. We know that this approach works: some users of the programme have reported a growth in their digital business in excess of 60%, which they have attributed to elements that they have introduced from the programme – genuine added value, as opposed to mere lip-service.

Print, like all industries, operates in a far more complex business environment than ever before. Progression in digital technologies, such as the instantaneous transfer of massive amount of electronic data over the internet, has led to a more collaborative and consultative approach between companies, which means that the old business relationships between customer and supplier have changed. Business today is far more likely to involve an increasingly intricate series of relationships. This is why the trend of collaboration between suppliers when it comes to technology integration is one that will continue. However, Canon believes that its commitment to providing an overarching, umbrella approach to its professional print customers, instanced by research and development to produce flagship products, as well as the Canon Workflow Program and Essential Business Builder Program, is unique to the industry and sets it apart.

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