Transforming Print to Digital Media Operations
The Inevitability of Change.
Traditional media companies today face considerable challenges. Paramount among them are the need to reconsider business models, evolve content creation and delivery strategy and continuously adapt operations in a fast-changing environment. These challenges are generally applicable in both the b-to-c and b-to-b media business. Change or perish is evidenced throughout the industry, yet change is not in itself a survival guarantee.
The business case for transitioning print operations business units are well documented:
• Consumers shifting time spent from paper reading to digital interactions
• Costs for print products (PP&D) v. digital distribution
• Print dollars to digital dimes revenue transitions
• Evolving consumer functional and facility interaction for gathering information
• Re-envisioning content models to unique and appropriate presentations in a multimedia landscape where print, Web, tablet, app, wap, and mobile all play a role, present different value propositions and are fluid in their evolution
Given this changing landscape, operations executives need to pursue a number of key actions, among them:
1) Develop, in writing, both strategic and tactical plans to implement operations changes that are organically derived from corporate strategic goals. This should also take into account managing the cultural changes required of the organization.
2) Identify and make visible business model transition goals including general timelines and appropriately associated P&L forecasts to facilitate investment and other transition considerations. Identify current state and scale change complexity.
3) Engage staff in the process of change and be transparent with the unknown. There are no secrets in the industry and yet management often feels uncomfortable engaging “old process” employees, often because they may not be part of the long term or future vision.
4) Discover and align the beliefs of staff and key suppliers to the transition goals. (Nothing subverts transition efforts faster than contrary beliefs, spoken or not.)
5) Leadership must adapt to transformative behaviors creating trust rather than fear.
Overcoming Barriers to Change
Established companies are already in varied states of digital evolution. Content migrations, new digital products and platforms, operational workarounds, partially integrated workflows and asset management solutions have likely been introduced but usually function well below optimum and at different stages of evolution. Core print production continues to deliver critical revenue, and will likely continue to for some time, but changes in product focus have meant print processes evolve more through ad hoc requirement-based changes rather than as planned and aligned to long-term strategic goals.
Production and Supply Chain
Many current print production staffs have been scaled back, moved to service providers or even off-shored, helping bottom lines adjust to shrinking revenues but stressing staff and quality assurance processes alike. Staff perception is often of being asked to do more with reduced resources, or being of diminishing organizational importance. Print contracts meanwhile, governing huge costs, remain critical and will continue to be negotiated not just for print manufacturing but transition issues as well. A loss of senior production experience in media companies as well as a tighter, more consolidated printing market means there is much to be gained or lost in the execution of large paper, printing and distribution deals.
Ongoing print supply chain management, sourcing, technology and process efficiency optimization is critical to maximize the revenue that facilitates future investment but must be in the context of change management. Centralized v. de-centralized production operations will also present different strategic advantages and disadvantages. Migrations need to vision the future state so that transitions present minimal operational disruptions and cost efficiency in the long-term.
Technology solutions have typically been regularly introduced or outsourced, but rarely from a zero start point so redundancy, connectivity, translation, migration, access or other utility issues are usually present. For example, issues such as XML infrastructure adoption without full XML utilization are typical. Partial automations and sub-optimizations for pieces of disconnected workflows have been the norm, like a house that’s added eight rooms in eight years, with six architects.
A positive development has been a growing adoption of Agile Development methodology to supplement or supplant the more methodical Waterfall methodology that dominated old media technology development. Operations executives can adapt programming methodologies to non-technical operations to manage constant change.
The future business model should be proudly (and at least broadly) envisioned as a fundamental part of the current company Strategy. This presents guiding principles for enabling evolutionary process deployment as well as allowing for establishing investment budgets and ROI.
Operations Process Audits need to be performed with appropriate productivity measures identified. This should include both traditional and new media processes. Because a business or product is new does not mean it should be excluded from continuous improvement efforts. Media has literally hundreds of metrics but process measurement for continuous improvement has lacked historically.
An overall Business Operations Map should be created to enable visualizing bottlenecks, overlaps, hand-offs, tools and end points in core processes and be the living documentation of change. Too often these are oral histories or partial documentations and become problematic in cost, time and resources.
“Staff is our greatest resource” is certainly a correct principle but that does not necessarily imply the staff that is currently employed. Communication, assessments, role transition planning, functional realignments, transparency, training and hiring new skills are essential elements to successful staff delivery of strategic goals.
Operations Technology Audits document the supporting systems to the business processes and need to be integrated 3-dimensionally into the operations process mapping for efficiency and opportunity identification. Besides infrastructure, Asset Mapping is a key sub-process to view the supporting resources used to deploy or monetize assets. Cost-Per-Asset and similar metrics help create objective measures of efficiency and provide targets for new processes or investments to meet.
Closed Loop Process Evolution: Why It’s Important
This fundamental loop puts the focus on why things are done and not just how, a habitual operations trap. Legacy processes have often transitioned with a focus on “how” jobs should be done given a new context. Ask why and trace that back to the end user need and the value creation. It often takes three to five “why’s” to confirm the connection, but lacking a value connection invites automating or “improving” processes that may not be necessary or should be rethought.
If a process is introduced or changed and it is to be transitory or temporary, that process must be tied to trigger metrics that initiate the next stage in the evolution. Continuous Improvement or Six Sigma change management helps prevent stalls and partial transitions, re-directions and constant budget bickering.
Managing The Future
Key to all business change is a plan that starts with a detailed knowledge and documentation of current strengths and the current operations state. A vigilant eye on evolving markets, customer needs/wants and a strategy for how those will be fulfilled profitably keeps the evolution to the new business model on track.
Processes tracked to their purposes as well as their function are key to appropriately detailed visual maps showing the “then, now and next” in a way that creates a clear connection to the company’s operational state.
Transformative change requires executive vigilance to the how/why continuous improvement model and courage to fund a vision, stay the course and manage the inevitable variations that will challenge the plan. With all the technology and process change, fundamental excellence in management communication, employee motivation, recognition and assurance of high value customer-provider relationships are the bricks and mortar needed to secure the foundation for migration to an evolved and profitable information media industry.
Tom Fox’s publishing career includes executive roles at American Express Publishing and Time Inc. He is the founder of MyEureka Solutions LLC, a business skills consultancy and currently a Sandler Training franchisee helping the media supply chain with revenue and operations strategies and implementation training. He can be reached at email@example.com.