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August 3, 2023

The Rise of the Data Geeks

# Automation
# Digital Printing
# Operations
# Workflow
# Data/IT

The print industry is welcoming strategic, tech-driven thinkers who are eager to attain, use and analyze data

WebbMason recently knocked down a wall inside the company’s headquarters in Hunt Valley, MD, USA, to make room for a server. Like many other companies historically known for printing, WebbMason has evolved over the last few years into a full-fledged technology and marketing services provider. Digital and offset presses run in a building across the street, but in a large area adjacent to the server, a high-IQ team of data scientists, analysts and programmers now meets daily.

When it comes to emphasizing data in the print industry, the company has plenty of company. Across the world, an important trend is growing — the ability to get, use and track information in ways that help both the printer and its customers. The industry’s digital transformation is shining a spotlight on the value of dashboards and metrics, not just speeds and feeds.

The evolution has led to a new kind of dedicated printing pro — one whose techy know-how is a big-time asset. Welcome to the rise of the data geeks, people who are often less visible than principals or sales superstars, but whose work makes the entire company look good. They pour over spreadsheets, adjust variable data fields, help clients plan multichannel marketing campaigns, handle web-to-print processes, ensure that HP Indigos run efficiently, track social media engagement and the list goes on.

One of them is Justin Fegan, WebbMason’s 36-year-old chief strategy officer. He majored in economics and finance and was part of Merrill Lynch’s Financial Leadership Development program before joining printer Standard Register, then WebbMason. Today, his job is to build a bridge between the print and digital worlds, and to serve as an advisor to clients who rely upon the company’s WM Interactive unit for things like client-win-back campaigns and upselling strategies in addition to items like posters and brochures.

"For printers, there’s a big difference between being an order-taker and an order-maker. If you can take print and wrap it around technology and services, you have a winning combination." Justin Fegan, Chief Strategy Officer, WebbMason

"A lot of people say print is going away, but it’s boring print that’s going away," Justin says. "If you can enable brands to use print in innovative ways that blend strategy and creativity, it makes complete sense for those brands to invest more in print. For printers, there’s a big difference between being an order-taker and an order-maker. If you can take print and wrap it around technology and services, you have a winning combination."

Data: Big Challenge, Big Opportunity

Print has always been part art and part science. As the industry becomes more digital and dynamic, and as related technologies develop and advance at breakneck speeds, the science part has taken center stage. Compared with the past, it’s now less difficult to put (digital or actual) ink on paper for a client, and more difficult to find, win and keep that client in the first place.

That’s one reason progressive printers are using data in dizzying ways — to target prospects, improve client loyalty, arm customers with usage and inventory statistics, link operating systems with supply-chain partners, speed up workflow, adjust social media budgets and more.

At the same time, many printers are advancing into the larger realm of marketing and communication services. They aim to understand each customer’s business goals and pain points, then fashion whatever print or non-print solution works best. Much of that work involves data.

Printers have discovered that talking to clients about DPI is a different conversation than talking to them about ROI. The latter requires a shift in mindset, processes and hiring. Transforming to a data-driven business makes good sense, they say, but doing so doesn’t automatically generate dollars and cents.

In fact, on the marketing side, data management is the single biggest challenge for printers today, according to a recent study of 250 enterprises in the United States and Canada by research firm/consultancy Keypoint Intelligence (formerly InfoTrends). Nearly one-third of respondents said data was their most significant problem, and three-fourths said they expected to outsource data services or data analytics soon.

Data to Help Customers Thrive

DG3—Diversified Global Graphics Group, based in Jersey City, NJ, USA, with offices in London, Hong Kong, Manila, Tokyo and Sydney, is one of several Dscoop members who have made data a key strategy. The full-service printer, which produces billions of pages daily while providing state-of-the-art bindery/finishing and in-house mailing services, will soon change its motto to "Measurable Outcomes."

"Being data-driven is one of our differentiators," says Steve Babat, DG3’s Worldwide President and CEO. "We measure everything with a drive for continuous improvement, and data is the force behind how we work to deliver the best business outcomes for our clients."

Data geeks abound at DG3, and many of them are led by Joe Lindfeldt, the company’s President of Technology and Advisory Services. He’s responsible for the firm’s consulting and advisory services, design services, marketing technologies, content management solutions and custom communications. His background is in strategic development and corporate finance.

The DG3 team attacks the market with the realization that thousands of other companies can print high-quality materials and deliver them on time to customers. So instead, they talk about ways to help clients capture the attention, heart and trust of their customers. DG3 essentially acts as an extension of their customers’ marketing teams, working to build brand awareness, boost engagement, convert leads and retain customers through a data-driven process.

We measure everything with a drive for continuous improvement, and data is the force behind how we work to deliver the best business outcomes for our clients." Steve Babat, DG3’s Worldwide President and CEO

"Next-generation marketers want support in delivering relevance," digital printing pioneer Barb Pellow has written before. "They don't want to risk throwing money away without even realizing it."

That’s why WebbMason now empowers key clients to view business-intelligence dashboards 24/7. The proprietary tool (sample shown below) helps one college’s marketing team to see a real-time view of all mailing campaigns. The dashboard and associated data are dynamically compiled using a calendar date-range tool. The college’s officers receive specialized reports so they can review admissions officers’ participation and utilization of specific recruitment programs. And when school officials want to tweak a current campaign or launch a new one that includes printed items, they can customize and order those products from WebbMason’s e-commerce and asset management platform.

Justin and his team of data pros hold quarterly optimization meetings with customers to assess how they can most effectively use and improve their custom portals. "Marketers shouldn’t have to guess where leads are coming from, or how many targets have responded," he says. "They can have this information at their fingertips."

Data to Improve Workflow Automation

Combine shorter print runs with the current labor shortage, and the need for improved workflow automation is vital. Data is helping printers to save time and money in this area, too.

Dscoop member Think Patented, a marketing execution company that offers direct mail, promotional products, digital marketing campaigns and more, recently used HP's free Workflow Opportunity Wizard (WOW) tool to assess potential areas of improvement. The tool is designed to give printers around the world a customized assessment of current workflow performance, show how their calculated Automation Score compares to other HP Indigo users across 10 workflow categories (job submission, order tracking, etc.), and pinpoint where they can make gains to improve efficiency and save money.

Tammy Caserta, Think Patented’s Director of Digital, Mailing Services and Wide Format, recently learned valuable information from the assessment tool. The company, which just installed an HP 100K Digital Press and provides a range of targeted marketing strategies for clients, had been spending a comparatively long average processing time handling four workflow steps: preparing jobs, binding/folding, order tracking and reprints.

To improve in those areas, Think Patented received recommended solutions — some free, some not — that HP and other Dscoop Partners could provide. The company is now using HP PrintOS Direct To Finish and HP PrintOS Site Flow tools, and gained other improvement ideas from software provider Enfocus about its Switch workflow automation platform.

"The more efficient and automated your process for order submission, processing and fulfillment, the more likely you're maximizing performance and saving time and money." Bob Raus, Americas Category Manager for HP PrintOS, Workflow and Solution Partner Programs

"We do a lot of web-to-print, and among jobs that go directly to the press, we still have areas where can improve," Tammy says, adding that Site Flow will likely lead to significant time and cost savings. She also expects Think Patented will soon save time transitioning jobs from its presses to its cutter.

Says Bob Raus, Americas Category Manager for HP PrintOS, Workflow and Solution Partner Programs: "The more efficient and automated your process for order submission, processing and fulfillment, the more likely you're maximizing performance and saving time and money." (To take your free WOW assessment and get your automation score and recommendations, email him to set up a meeting.)

"On the automation front, the tight labor pool has raised labor costs, and everyone wants their product yesterday," says Tony Heinl, President of Dscoop member Repacorp, a labeling and packaging printer based in Tipp City, OH, USA. "Online customer service automation, equipment automation and process automation are helping printers keep up with fast-turnaround demand and rising costs."

Data That Must Stay Secure

Evolent Health is an Arlington, VA-based organization providing third-party administrator (TPA) services to health care insurance plan providers. This entails managing data, providing end-customer portals and billing services, and managing the fulfillment of materials TPAs generate daily — invoices, benefits summaries, explanations of benefits, ID cards and more.

One program Evolent manages for health plan providers is the distribution and handling of Health Risk Assessment (HRA) surveys. Its previous process involved generating survey data and then mailing the surveys. As surveys were returned, office personnel manually entered data into their customer relationship management (CRM) system, which triggered actions based on survey results. This was labor-intensive and required personnel to be removed from their daily duties to enter responses. It also led to data entry errors, which had the potential to negatively impact the end customer if an error caused an incorrect automated CRM contact action.

Evolent needed data geek Ryan Jackson, a 42-year-old who 10 years ago was accepted into the New England Chapter of the Young Presidents’ Organization, beating the age cutoff for "young" (45) by 13 years. He’s now CEO of printing, mailing and technology firm MPX (formerly Maine Printing Company) in Portland, ME, USA. The firm’s customer-driven solutions include a wide range of printed products, web-based procurement, direct mail, fulfillment and distribution, data communications and one-to-one variable print technology.

MPX’s growing IT department is a haven for data geeks. A common task for them is removing unnecessary steps in their clients' workflow processes, often accomplished through online ordering and improved proofing and reporting, Ryan says.

For Evolent, MPX started with a data transfer for the initial survey mailing, which could be automated by the client. MPX processes the data to generate two versions of the surveys for three separate plan administrators. MPX then prints and mails the surveys with standard turnaround and no burden on Evolent staff.

As a secure fulfillment organization, SFX America, a sister company to MPX, receives the mail and scans the hand-written surveys into a secure portal for data collection. The SFX team then enters the survey results into a web form designed for the survey and directly connected to a database. After a double-validation process ensures 100% accuracy, responses are released as live data or (if there’s a validation issue) flagged for further review. Once validated, the response data is released into the secure database as valid data awaiting extraction.

MPX then set up an automated extraction process that runs daily. These extracts are transferred to Evolent to be ingested back into its CRM system. The extract files are formatted and automated so that Evolent doesn’t need to touch any data files to initiate the import. Once the response data has imported completely, it triggers automated actions based on the response data as it did before.

Thanks to MPX, Evolent’s labor-intensive, inaccurate, in-house process became an outsourced solution with end-to-end automation and direct integration to the CRM. The health company also gets assurance that surveys are being received and handled quickly without the concern for busy periods like enrollment season.

"The confidentiality, integrity and availability of client data and processing services are at the core of our business," Ryan says. MPX receives and processes client data through its state-of-the-art Amazon Web Services infrastructure, and its print production facility is designed to satisfy requirements for HIPAA, PCI and other standards of data security compliance. Employees are trained annually to ensure that everyone is aware, understands and follows documented procedures and data security requirements, he says.

"Analytics are akin to the dashboard in your car," says Bill Reid, VP of Sales and Marketing at Graphic Dimensions, a Dscoop member based in Austell, GA, USA. "They can give you an excellent view into the health of your business, but they can also lend to discovering exciting new ways to improve your products and services. You’d never drive your car without the gauges in your dashboard and your business should be treated the same."

Bill says data security is critical at Graphic Dimensions, which recently shifted to a cloud-based system for accounting, project management, customer files and more. "We have a smooth and well-connected infrastructure of systems that accomplish everything we could imagine," he says. "To us, data has real, tangible value. Technology is not a commodity item."

He adds a thought that is ringing true for growing printers: "The highly skilled resources who understand that concept are redefining the future of the print industry."

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