American Printer – four Keys to Thriving Past 2021: Speed up Digital and Automation Transformations

An American printer’s comment
By Andy & Julie Plata
American Printer and the OutputLinks Communications Group

February 2021

This is the first in a four-part series called “4 Keys to Thrive beyond 2021

  1. Accelerate digital and automation transformations
  2. Wholeheartedly adopt new strategies and practices
  3. Establish “green” as a competitive advantage
  4. Aggressively market your business to a much wider audience

This article focuses on number 1, accelerating digital and automation transformations.

CoronavirusThroughout our careers we have had the opportunity to work closely with companies ranging from governments to some of the world’s largest corporations and small owner-managed companies. For the past three years we have followed the financial markets and participated in discussions with well-respected thought leaders. We also surveyed over 30 print company owners for our various publications.

Recently we looked at how COVID-19 has affected business owners and employees, with a particular focus on printing organizations.

This article is based on the above experience.

Accelerate digital and automation transformations

In the past, digital and automation were seen as cost-saving investments. Now, however, they need to be recognized as strategic competitive strategies. Business is won or lost because of a company’s ability to support its customers’ important initiatives.

A recent McKinsey & Company article contained two key revelations:

  • COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of digital technologies by several years.
  • COVID-19 has brought companies past the technological tipping point – and changed business forever.

While the McKinsey study likely excluded commercial printers, its findings apply, and here is why. A company expects its supply chain partners to support its new digital and automation initiatives. And even if your company doesn’t have many large corporations as customers, there is a trickle down effect. Trickle-down means that companies that supply companies may be your customers. And when they’re upgrading to support their customers’ initiatives, they’ll need your company’s support.

Our Software Assistance department is an excellent barometer for digital acceleration. For many years, Software Assistance has helped the country’s largest financial institutions, retailers and manufacturers update their printing infrastructure. But since COVID-19, the demand for these services has skyrocketed. The reason is that these old print-only infrastructures need to be replaced NOW to support digital / automation initiatives. Our Software Assistance customers are a great example of the rush of American companies to automate.

Since Gutenberg, the printing industry has been consistently improving technology to accommodate customer initiatives. And during all these upgrades, some resisted and longed for the old ways. However, pressure has survived since 868 by prioritizing customer needs.

Thrive bbeyond 2021Print professionals need to prioritize major upgrades to their automation and digitization technologies. Automation is easier to see as a positive investment in ROI than digital upgrades. However, both are necessary to distinguish between success and failure.

Competitive advantage and new revenue

Digital and automation initiatives can open new sales channels based on COVID-19 induced changes.

Digital conferenceMatt Swain’s “Reimagining Communications” podcast highlights the dramatic shift towards digital and online channels caused by the pandemic between individuals and businesses. This means businesses need support for digital channels. And since no company wants to add new suppliers unnecessarily, as the current supplier you are in a preferred position to help them. But you have to be digitally savvy to be that supplier. By upgrading your digital platform, your business can generate more revenue from existing customers and new revenue from companies that want to move to digitally savvy providers.

Automation investments also bring revenue gains. This results from a fully integrated production / accounting workflow. An integrated workflow facilitates the rapid integration of device improvements or new devices. With faster, easier, and error-free additions, companies can profitably start new business in the growth areas of short-term, packaging and signage.

Digital and automation investments bring a competitive advantage by accessing valuable information such as:

  • Real-time information for order tracking and billing
  • Profitability by order, sales area, customer or product line
  • Where and why to workarounds that are beneficial
  • Personnel requirements per job, shift, day
  • Time-consuming handovers in production, packaging and billing
  • Device efficiency

This kind of information gain enables:

  • Simplification of the job ticket workflow from order entry to delivery of the finished product
  • Improvement of the production throughput
  • increased billing accuracy
  • Optimization of digital and conventional printing press utilization
  • Improved SLA performance

The why and how

The goal of an automation initiative should be to create a smoothly functioning, seamless production and back office environment that automatically captures and makes accessible all production, cost and problem information in real time. Eliminating repetition, slowdowns in workflow, and excessive work results in measurable increases in production and profits.

The optimum should be almost contactless order acceptance, production and billing.

Since most companies are 100% busy meeting current customer requirements, ensuring professional advice is a key to automation success. This guide can be provided by a current print provider or an independent support group.

By automating, optimizing, updating or exchanging hardware, software and workflows that lead to production bottlenecks, an immediate or timely ROI can be achieved.

Bridge the gapThe scoreboard

  • The winners will be those who do new business because they are able to support the digital / automation initiatives of new and existing customers.
  • The losers will be those who lost customers and prospects to those who were ready for digital / automation.

The positioning to be successful beyond 2021 is the winning ticket.


In such difficult times it is difficult to invest in future success. We hope this and our next three articles on Thriving Beyond 2021 are of value as you measure these investment decisions.

If we can be of further assistance, please let us know.

We believe that new opportunities can arise from challenging situations. Therefore, we continue to offer insights into increasing efficiency to keep your company profitable.

Strengthening the print message for the digital age,
Andy & Julie Plata
Co-CEOs, American Printer and the OutputLinks Communications Group