Digitalisation of print

Moving from inflexible value chains to dynamic networks

Moving from inflexible value chains to dynamic networks

The digitisation of the print sector means far more than simply using technology to offer new products.
It involves a transformation of business models, breaking down traditional value chains in favour of flexible, dynamic networks that bring customers closer to providers.

There are four core elements to this digital transformation:
• automation,
• networking,
• digital data and
• digital access to customers.

Each uses certain “enabling technologies” to facilitate different digital applications.
Together, this adds up to a renewal of the print industry – or Print 4.0.

1. Automation

The prerequisite for this digital transformation is the automation of all printing processes. This includes procurement and purchasing; administrative tasks such as merchandise management and customer support; production; and logistics.

For many print providers, this transformation is already well underway, using the enabling technologies of robotics and artificial intelligence.

Automated computer-to-plate imaging technology, for example, has set a new standard in the industry, reducing costs and increasing production.

2. Networking

Once all processes are automated, networking becomes possible, linking individual value chains to their supply chains.

The key enabling technology is the Internet of Things (IoT), which will enable any piece of machinery or component of the value chain to communicate with others both inside and outside each individual company.

The IoT is already well on the way to transforming every industry, print included. By 2020, some 200 billion objects worldwide are forecast to be part of the IoT, and by 2025, the global worth of IoT technology could be as much as $6.2 trillion.

For the print industry, the IoT will mean that many processes within the supply chain can occur autonomously, without the intervention of humans. Printing presses are already employing predictive maintenance to great effect, and prepress and finishing machinery will soon follow suit.

Digital logistics management, through networking with freight forwarders and courier services, is also standard in the industry today. Wideband networks enable the high data rates necessary for such linkages, while cloud computing boosts computing power.

3. Digital data

Once machines are communicating with one another through the IoT, these networks can become self-enhancing. Key to this is the use of analysis tools to process and learn from the vast amounts of information in cloud-based databases, or Big Data.

By capturing, processing and analysing data, decisions can be made more swiftly and automation advanced. Networks can use artificial intelligence technologies to learn and improve.

Big Data really is the next Big Thing for all industries, with revenues for software and services projected to increase from $42bn in 2018 to $103bn in 2027, according to Wikibon.

It also brings a major new challenge to the print industry: data security.

4. Digital access to customers

With the previous three core components in place, print providers can focus their attention on the customer. They can build direct, transparent links with their consumers, and offer new services and support.

Online print providers are leading the way, for example through expanding their businesses into new areas such as advertising technology.

Smartphone apps enable customers to order printing while on the go, while Xerox has now announced a new product: a cloud-connected printing station that will be situated in public locations.

Breaking down value chains

While new technology can bring the links in value chains closer together, it can also break them down. The secret of success lies in understanding the rules of the digital market and occupying strategic positions faster than the competition.

While traditional companies are currently able to counter this with their in-depth understanding of the manufacturing process and their customer focus, this advantage is shrinking.

Newer, more agile e-commerce companies are increasingly exploiting their advantage over the traditional industry players: they are reacting faster, with more innovative business models.

The print industry is changing fast – and only the companies who stay ahead of the game will be the winners.

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