How People Enable "Enablers"
Without question, automation is the “great enabler,” but the generalization that automation eliminates people is inaccurate. More precisely, automation enables by pushing more work forward—in contrast to manual processes that can produce more work only if more manpower is added. Take, for example, the case of handwritten books: before Gutenberg’s moveable-type press, if more books were needed, they could be produced only by enlisting more scribes. And generally speaking, the results of all automation are the same as those Gutenberg’s press produced: to streamline, standardize, and accelerate manual labor.
The generalization that automation eliminates people is inaccurate. More precisely, automation enables by pushing more work forward.
These results aren’t necessarily obvious. One supplier of “enabling” technology cited the example of a client’s company whose managers, soon after they had implemented a new automated workflow, became concerned that their business volume was down. In fact, statistics later proved it had risen. But before the new workflow, their staff’s physical activities and interactions with customers were more audible and visible; whereas afterwards they occurred almost silently and invisibly via Web-enabled technology. In place of their former frenzy of physical activity, their staff had switched to more silent and streamlined automated processes that enabled them to serve customers with greater speed, efficiency, and consistency. Such is the nature of automation.
Successful automation depends on qualified staff
The reality is that, with automation at an all-time high, our industry needs good people like never before. One reason is that great technology is of little value without great staff to propel it forward. It must be expertly driven by managers who decide what equipment and software will give their company the greatest competitive advantage, operators who can maximize the technology’s capabilities and keep data-driven resources in top producing form, and sales and marketing specialists who can push high-tech products and services out to the market. As our fellow WTT expert Barb Pellow wrote in her Jan-10th Special Report on essential business strategies for 2007:
"Changing with the times brings requirements for personnel with the specific knowledge and skills to design a super-efficient work environment. It also requires the sales and operational expertise to support the expanded services portfolio that is driving print profitability and de-commoditizing print."
Another reason why automation places unprecedented importance on staffing issues is that, rather than replacing human activity, automation enables different activity, challenging people and companies to different types of achievement and excellence. For instance, a recent ad for a JDF workflow solution concludes: “The efficiency of this process allows you to free yourself from the time consuming hassles of quality control, collecting payment, and shipping, thus enabling you to concentrate on sales & marketing.”
The reality is that, with automation at an all-time high, our industry needs good people like never before. One reason is that great technology is of little value without great staff to propel it forward.
Clearly, only people can devise the innovative solutions that automation and technological advances deliver. Besides embracing the enabling advances of today’s technology and recognizing that they are enabled by people, some business communications providers are actively promoting what their advances deliver. Agfa has developed a Distinctive Marketing Award to recognize how Agfa product users are promoting their own creative use of the technology to differentiate themselves in their marketplace. Successful implementers use the tools to offer resources that enable their clients to advance their own businesses in the same differentiating manner.
People drive technology
Examples abound to show how technology is enabled exclusively by people. Technology research and development is totally dependent on human ingenuity, since its every advance must first be conceived, designed, and built by people. And in turn, the developers’ progress is monitored externally by still more people, who take the pulse of the industry and analyze and project future trends.
The technology explosion has also escalated the industry’s focus on standardization; ICC Profiles, Gracol, SWOP, and JDF protocols are only some examples But the related productivity keys of repeatability, consistency, connectivity, and efficiency are enabled--not by robots—but, again, by people. And the standards themselves are identified and developed by a consortium of human beings. Manufacturers drive these standards, too, via capital equipment and software development. In every case, they are tools to be embraced, used and maximized – enablers enabled by people.
We have written elsewhere about the importance of regulatory managers in driving technology efficiently (WTT, “Investment in Regulatory Managers Is Money Well Returned”, 9/13/2006). Additionally, today’s printers must rely on skilled front-end gatekeepers--the Customer Service Reps, Estimators, Production Co-Ordinators, Project Planners, Project Managers, and Schedulers--who keep production technology operating at maximum efficiency. And in order to benefit from all of today’s data-collection and automated reporting tools, companies need strategic planning in such forms as operations and customer-service management to measure and analyze volume and profit, then innovate and invest in process improvement.
People’s contributions extend far beyond effecting and running the company’s physical equipment or quantifying its goals and directions. They also deliver the uniquely human essentials that machines can’t.
People give a company soul
Perhaps most significantly, on a more subtle level, people’s contributions extend far beyond effecting and running the company’s physical equipment or quantifying its goals and directions. They also deliver the uniquely human essentials that machines can’t. We have already mentioned above the importance of proactive creativity. Other examples are such prerequisites of effective management as the non-mechanical ability to adapt to circumstances and irrational quirks, plus such interactive skills as motivation, persuasion, and team-building—in short, the ability not only to manage processes but to lead and manage people. Another essential qualification for any job entailing intense interaction with others is emotional intelligence—awareness of one’s own and other people’s emotions and the ability to act and react appropriately. Emotional intelligence is a huge determinant of a manager’s or any employee’s ability to communicate effectively, work co-operatively, and keep relationships running smoothly. And humanity and empathy are powerful determinants of business success, according to such formidable leaders as Brad Anderson, Vice Chairman and CEO of Best Buy, who said recently:
Every organization gets its energy from the relationship between the customer and the person who serves that customer. If a company makes the leap - honestly listening to customers - employees will bring the best of themselves and pour their energy into their work. …
Any organization is a human endeavor, but most big organizations work hard to dehumanize, to depersonalize. Why? They’re scared, because we humans are unpredictable and messy. I say, turn around and embrace it. Celebrate it. One of our employees said it best: Try to be ’a company with a soul.’
Success is the result of combined resources: business, equipment, technology – and people. People make decisions and utilize tools to deliver results.
At PrintLink we are privileged to meet a great many unique individuals who have made printing their career of choice. Not only are they dedicated to their chosen profession, but they are also passionate about the vast transitions now occurring in our industry. In these changes they always find a challenge, always an opportunity to learn, and always a way to demonstrate the finer qualities of humanity in their interactions with others. We are a personal personnel agency, and we understand clearly that people do make the difference.