Case studies

How self-serve technology is changing the art of print sourcing

By January 14, 2019 No Comments

The print sector is set to change in the next five years. According to our research over 80% of print requirements – whether financial services, regulatory, retail or consumer – can now be priced and purchased on line, instantly.

The print industry is still worth a staggering £13bn in the UK. Technology providers have innovated in software and are looking for a critical mass of buying organisations to start sourcing print in the same way that consumers have been buying goods for almost a generation.

Self-serve innovators such as Airbnb, Just Eat and Uber are a great success in their sectors. Self-serve print sourcing can be the same but with one critical difference – the print sector must learn from its past mistakes and manage the supplier network correctly.

In this brief article, we look at the benefits of the upcoming revolution, and how organisations need to adapt for self-serve to become the new normal.

How will it work?
Crucially, the person who creates the specification takes control of the entire process. Whether a marketer, operational stakeholder or an experienced print buyer, the user is guided through a series of specification options. Support will be needed in one form or another, and ultimately this will have to be a combination of helpdesk, on-demand expertise, on-site support and project management provision – but that must all be flexible according to the customer needs. One size fits all is unlikely to work fully in this space.

Once the user is happy with the specification – a process that may take as little as 1-2 minutes – the enquiry is sent into a secure processing environment. This could feature dozens of registered printers who dynamically manage prices in a real-time market; it could be lots of pre-set specifications where competitive prices are based on job-ganging; it could be an algorithm that learns standard industry cost parameters; or it could be a baseline of previous prices paid to set the future price. We’ve seen many self-serve ways of sourcing a supplier, but the winners will be those that balance choice, competitiveness and simplicity in the sourcing process.

Whichever, the sophistication is improving month by month and with it the ability of more stakeholders to control the print buying process. With the right governance and support, it’s clear that the traditional role of print buying and print management is under threat as every user can be made to feel like an expert.

Presented with a number of choices, the user needs to be able to validate their chosen supplier against pre-determined quality, qualification and governance criteria before placing the order. These checks can be as sophisticated as the buying organisation requires – from simple quality standards to supply chains that are fully vetted for social responsibility standards.

Many of these environments also feature integrated applications and modules to manage workflows such as digital asset management, web-to-print, purchase-to-pay / distributed ledger, postage, warehousing and distribution. In some cases, an old-fashioned manual written specification is needed – that requirement isn’t going anywhere and we expect all systems to allow for a free text quote request.

What are the customer benefits?
The superior user experience is the most apparent improvement – giving freedom and control to whichever stakeholder assumes the responsibility. These systems are generally configurable to fit other business processes, so multiple organisational benefits follow as it becomes possible to gain total control of transactional data. For example integrating with ERP / P2P process and getting direct contractual relationships between buyer and seller to alleviate GDPR concerns.

The promise is that this creates the conditions to be agnostic and the choice to work with the best print manufacturers becomes the norm.

What still needs to be worked on?
As with any shift in ways of working in a corporate environment – and depending what needs to be unpicked in a particular organisation – strong, knowledgeable leadership is required to implement change. It may be that funding is required for implementation, development and hosting. Someone has to administer the users and access rights. There may be perceived resource constraints on internal IT teams, and alignment to IT roadmaps and the technology stack may be deemed necessary. These blockers will vary depending on the willingness of the buying organisation to change. Yet it is not the technology providers that will be the delay – they are ready to go and can have enterprise customers up and running in a few hours.

However, it is becoming clear that there are a few areas where the technology providers need to put in more effort. As is stands a lot of functional reporting for departments such as procurement, finance, and CSR are still under-developed, which will limit the likelihood of implementation as the questions of these senior stakeholders cannot be answered.

What are the industry benefits?
From a supplier’s perspective this revolution is expected to lead to better payment terms (80% of the industry are SMEs) through direct customer-supplier relationships. The best printers will benefit with knowledge and supplier choice being moved back to the end customer. They are also freed up from long and complex quoting processes, and set to enjoy the faster decision-making process.

A high level of trust is likely to be restored as there is full transparency of cost and performance, and hidden fees such as rebates are removed from the supply chain. Both local and national print suppliers can compete on a level playing field, allowing sector growth and greater innovation.

About Harler
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