Interview: “The digital transformation has to start in the boss’s head!”


Martin Spaar, the head honcho at the Swiss specialist magazine, Publisher, ((LINK)) recently asked me about the topic of online print vs. digital transformation – a conversation that I want to share with readers of my blog. Feedback is requested.

Despite increasing domination by the big boys with their print factories, Bernd Zipper still sees great opportunities for small service providers in the online business, especially if they operate smart, customer-focused B2B portals.

PUBLISHER: At the last Online Print Symposium you unveiled some interesting, yes even alarming statistics and forecasts. Immense price pressure is set to continue, and by 2020 the large print factories are forecast to have acquired a 50% share of total print volumes. Are the small guys now definitely going to be sacrificed?

Bernd Zipper: Those are indeed our forecasts. Our research shows that the major players are growing by 10% a year in the Open Store segment, while smaller providers are only managing around 4% growth. However Closed Stores – customized portals – are growing the fastest at nearly 14%. We therefore see excellent growth opportunities as far as small, smart B2B portals are concerned, especially for smaller print providers.

PUBLISHER: But even here the print factories will have a significant price advantage. And we are seeing how they are now attempting to monopolize these markets.

Bernd Zipper: Right, things always revolve around price or rather costs. However you need to consider the bigger picture – pure print costs are not the only key factor. All handling costs, including logistics, carry more weight. If you run a smart eBusiness print operation, your business can save a great deal of money. That’s the crucial point.

PUBLISHER: And why are the small guys supposed to be able to do that better? The big boys are indeed absolute masters in optimizing processes.

Bernd Zipper: What matters is linking in to customers’ processes. These can’t always be standardized – the small guys are simply closer to customers. They run their businesses with more passion and commitment and thus provide a more in-depth level of service and support. They have known their customers for years and are able to think proactively, which enables them to develop such streamlined print processes.

PUBLISHER: Sounds good – and how should a small job printer proceed, in order to exploit these advantages?

Bernd Zipper: We’re talking eBusiness, in other words modelling existing processes and services online. This digital transformation is the major challenge for small print providers, who have barely got any experience in this field.

This is where the major portals indeed have a key advantage. To make any headway you first need to live and breathe digital transformation in your own company. That usually requires you to make radical changes in terms of corporate culture.

PUBLISHER: And that is where the catch is …

Bernd Zipper: Absolutely! I frequently visit companies and think to myself – have I been beamed back into the Middle Ages? Outmoded ways of thinking or doing things usually prevail, which is certainly not the right environment for successful digital transformation.

Cover of the current publisher edition 4 I 16
Cover of the current publisher edition 4 I 16

PUBLISHER: Once you have acknowledged that and dragged your business into the modern age, how do you proceed from there?

Bernd Zipper: To be able to live and breathe digital transformation, this concept first needs to happen in people’s minds – first in the boss’s head and then in the heads of everyone else in the company. The first question that needs to be asked is: “What does it make sense to digitalize in our business?” The second question that the boss needs to answer then has to be: “What is it about me that has to change?” These folks really need to get out of their comfort zones!

PUBLISHER: What would be possible responses?

Bernd Zipper: Every co-worker should have a digital identity. The working day no longer begins when you clock in, but when you check in digitally. Knowledge should be shared internally, for example via a corporate wiki. Info screens should display up-to-date information and welcome customers.

As a next step, companies can then focus on what’s going on outside the corporate organization, for example with a corporate Facebook page. Or you can pimp your website, by adding, for example, an apprentice’s blog. You can add whatever you like to this list. And of course the first project with an online link-in to a customer should follow soon after.

PUBLISHER: So bosses really do have a challenge on their hands!

Bernd Zipper: The boss has to acknowledge the necessity of the transformation, but does not need to do everything on his/her own. He/she has to learn that he/she needs accomplices – and not just co-workers. He/she should involve them in the process of transformation and can, for example, invite them to take part in an ideas contest. Or set up a Tiger Team within the company that drives the whole process forward step by step.

What is certainly required is a willingness to hang in there every day in this Internet-driven competitive environment. If the boss doesn’t want that, he needs to look for a substitute or partner. For one thing is certain – these days old-school business models sure don’t work anymore!

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