At the recent Allegra Marketing Print Mail franchise national convention, Vice President of Franchise Member Support Mike Dye affirmed the need to invest in technology and outlined the benefits for small business owners, employees, and customers. We asked Mike for three examples of technology that can improve operating efficiencies and speed the production process for both Allegra franchise owners and independent printers. Here’s what he had to say:
If you’re looking for ways to better enhance your business, focus on lean technology to improve handling work for your customers. It can also be a way to motivate your employees.
Paul Akers, the author of the best-selling book, 2 Second Lean, explains how lean blurs the distinction and soothes the frictions between labor and management by enlisting the brainpower of all employees from the top down to bottom up. Under lean technology, we are encouraging small (2-second) deliberate continuous improvements every day. Not sweeping changes, but easy improvements that are so small and simple that anybody can do them. In time we are able to eliminate wasteful and costly activities: motion, time, energy, searching, sorting, and much else.
The first thing we do is have our centers’ employees read Akers’ book. Next is for our regional directors to bring together management and employees at each location for a full-day presentation where we walk team members through their lean process, coach them on making continuous improvements, and facilitate input and interaction. Even though we’re a franchise with proven systems, we have commercial printers, small digital printers and owners who provide promotional products as a major segment, so we customize the lean technology to their customer base.
One lean process we’ve established is called, “What’s bugging you?” Let’s face it: everybody has something in their job that’s bugging them. We give employees the power to voice their complaints, concerns and ideas during daily or weekly meetings. When continuous improvement occurs, two things happen, 1) there’s an improvement in how they execute their jobs, and 2) there’s a pride that surfaces when employees are part of the process and are able to accomplish more whether it’s moving a project through the Center faster or saving money on a certain action.
A great complement to a lean culture is a set of automated and integrated business software tools to manage the production process from initial order through production, shipping, and delivery. If you’re an independent printer, a quick Google search will lead you to many off-the-shelf software options that purport to do just this, however, how does one choose the right solutions?
Here at Allegra, we have access to the WorkStream™ technology platform that features integrated options for online ordering, MIS business management, and production workflow. While an MIS system is central to all printing businesses, online ordering is increasingly becoming the expected method for 24/7 order submission by clients. Rather than email or call in an order, they can access everything online via a custom portal that features their products, including personalized products such as business cards that can be configured and proofed prior to ordering. This is both a benefit to the client and the printer, saving time and eliminating the need for back and forth proof approvals. Better yet, orders from the online store can be automatically transferred to your MIS system, eliminating the need to key them in, improving accuracy. Similarly, order artwork and information can be pushed into your production workflows, eliminating production process steps and chances for error.
The WorkStream™ system is supported by both the Allegra Marketing Resource Center and the Technology Development teams. Both groups are staffed by experienced graphics, marketing, and technical professionals available to advise in all critical phases, including onboarding planning, configuration, and custom client portal planning. They can train you to build your client solutions or build them for you, allowing you to spend more time on sales and revenue growth. Finally, they are your support team, advising on the best methods and strategies for achieving the best results.
A third example of technology is one we use through our suppliers. It has a lot to do with understanding the workflow in the production area. Many of our suppliers offer educational tools to both franchise systems and independent printers to produce things faster. We’re able to augment those tools with online training programs for existing employees and new hires.
Researching, testing and providing the latest technology to our franchise members is a priority at our home office. My job is to work with all our various departments—marketing, sales, training, IT and operations, and communicate with our regional directors. They, in turn, are connecting with center owners and employees acting as business coaches and reporting back to the management team. We’re problem-solving across our Allegra franchise system, advancing continuous improvements through technology in how we work, run our businesses and satisfy our customers.