Driving excellence in business performance in today’s printing and converting sector is the key to remaining competitive and profitable.

Improving operational processes, lowering costs and delivering client loyalty can only come if the entire organization — business leaders, IT managers, prepress and operations staff — understand digital maturity.

Esko, a global supplier of integrated hardware and software for the flexible packaging sector, has recently released a Digital Maturity Model designed for packaging suppliers. Based on interviews with hundreds of supply chain customers from around the world, the model enables managers to identify and analyze their current digital maturity status and ultimately take control of their journey to higher levels of capability.

The challenge for all businesses today, whatever the business sector, is that digitalization can happen in “islands,” disconnected from the rest of the workflow, and is often implemented as a result of reactive or external factors, rather than being strategic or controlled in nature. For example, brands often demand their color management system to be implemented or a supplier requires their EDI solution is in place, before they’ll do business. This passive approach to digitization often results in unnecessary cost and doesn’t actually deliver the automation and connectivity desired to make a difference to the overall performance
of the business. To coin a phrase, leaders often create: “Islands of success in a sea of waste.”

Using the Digital Maturity Model, flexible packaging converters and their suppliers can identify their current stage of digital maturity and engage in a much more thoughtful process of defining a strategy to move forward in digital transformation to capture new levels of operational capability.

The Stages of Digital Maturity

Esko has determined five key stages on the journey to digital maturity — Reactive, Organized, Digitized, Connected and Intelligent. From leaders focused on the day-to-day costs through to the panacea of interconnected teams working across company and geographical borders, using smart technologies that connect all assets with business and equipment planning, there are key parameters that signal a company’s digital maturity stage. Also mapped out are the opportunities for movement on the model and the benefits that lie ahead in terms of enhanced profitability, competitiveness and customer satisfaction.

To proactively digitize, automate and connect four key strategies are necessary:

Manage Risk

Once a business understands where it sits with respect to digital maturity, both from a leadership and workflow perspective, it is able to adopt a clearly defined strategy for digital transformation. Especially useful for those companies identifying themselves in the Reactive or Organized stages, moving forward is typically about mitigating anticipated risks to the future success of the business.

For example, flexible packaging converters need to manage the risks associated with the flexo plate making process. Transitioning operations like plate merging and queue management to a workflow server can also eradicate the risk of inconsistent flexo print quality and minimize the risk of not hitting service level agreements. Stepping forward in digital maturity pays back in improving customer service and product quality to deliver competitive advantage.

2. Modernize

Generating a clear focus on continuous improvement, flexible packaging companies with process steps sitting in the Organized or Digitized stage of the digital maturity model can deliver a modernization strategy.

Modernization is about continually assessing state of the art technologies for replacement of current installations. For example, this can mean taking a maintenance contract on software to ensure the latest, and most efficient, version is always in place. It can also be about enhancing prepress editing capabilities with preflighting software to fix issues ahead of time and assessing PDF files for printability, avoiding downstream quality and waste issues.

3. Differentiate

Those businesses who find themselves in a more advanced stage of maturity — Organized or Digitized — can consider driving one or several of their process steps to an even higher level of maturity in order to drive valuable competitive differentiation and advantage for the business.

When this strategy is adopted, managers must truly understand the business strengths and weaknesses in order to be able to compare its performance. By identifying processes or workflow steps that lag, they can select strategic investments that will clearly differentiate away from the competition.

For example, many businesses in the flexible packaging sector require agility in responding to highly variable customer demands. They need to assess and manage the quality of incoming files and be cognizant of the time required to get customer approvals for a job to be correct for print. These challenges are often the subject of customer complaints;  therefore, it’s a great idea to invest in web-based, real-time communications to improve the speed, accuracy and security of communications i.e. job specifications, data submissions and job files.

4. Disrupt

Finally, if the business culture is a more risk-taking one, shortcutting the journey to digital maturity may mean jumping two stages at once to deliver competitive advantage. It can deliver innumerable benefits in cost-out, operational efficiency boosts and customer satisfaction but also has its risks.

New technologies take time to be embraced by employees, and the workplace culture can be challenged. Those businesses that have “learning cultures” with education and strong change management processes in place can usually handle it, but it’s not for the weak hearted.

Disruption normally comes in the form of new integrated hardware and software solutions being implemented in one go — but it’s the how of integration, rather than the what that often requires the most focus. Fast failure is considered normal to force change quickly and is normally collaboratively implemented with vendors to ensure a safety net is in place. Today, disruption means embracing cloud computing, artificial intelligence and big data to create learning organizations that can respond quickly to new customer needs.

For flexible packaging converters and suppliers to take control of their digital journey, there are three final thoughts on how to proceed. First, obtain a deep understanding of where you are today on your journey. Start by taking the test and start learning on our website or other platforms. Second, talk to your print professional to get support and define a tailored three-to-five year plan for each of your business workflow processes. Determine which strategy you are going to adopt (Manage Risk, Modernize, Differentiate or Disrupt), and then ensure your investment strategy is thought out and well documented. Avoid making erratic or emotional decisions. Above all, be proactive.