Gudrun Bonte, Product Director for SAi, explains how signmakers of any size can enhance their service offering via software, subscriptions, on-line storage, and other applications with embedded cloud functionality.
Even in a buoyant market, running a sign making business is not without its challenges. The age-old expectation of customers to have their job produced faster and cheaper offers a constant reminder of this, as does the uncertainty of being unable to predict exactly what level and type of work will come through the door.
In a world where more and more business is being done on the move, away from the office, and where there is an expectation of instant access to information, how do business owners and managers stay abreast of daily operations without being rooted to the production floor?
While the main focus in sign making may be on hardware, leading software solution providers know businesses need solutions to facilitate production and improve efficiency.
Indeed, our own introduction last year of Flexi Cloud software offers users feature-rich applications that sit conveniently on their desktops or laptops. These enable easy text layout and vinyl cutting capabilities along with the ability to generate job reports and quotes, while benefiting from Cloud storage. This is complemented by a companion mobile app for smartphones and tablets that lets business owners monitor production while out of the office, providing constant connectivity within the workplace in the same way as we have become accustomed to in our personal lives.
Though “the Cloud” has attracted a lot of hype, its benefits are real and more than 16,000 of our own customers are already using its features to transform the way they conduct their sign making operations and improve flexibility.
Improved cost management and increased production versatility
Speaking of flexibility, certain providers have revolutionized the traditional model of purchasing software with the introduction of convenient subscription options. As I mentioned previously, with the uncertainty around the level and regularity of customer orders a constant headache, buying software as and when required allows businesses to eliminate a major capital investment and enjoy a low operational cost.
For example, in our own offering we have introduced a subscription option for our Flexi line of software packages. Customers can download our popular Flexi print and sign making solution from the Cloud and pay a small monthly subscription for what is probably the most complete design, RIP, and print & cut package in the industry – without committing to a large one-off purchase. This enables print and sign businesses to accept last-minute customer jobs and respond to new opportunities by purchasing and accessing the software immediately and only for the time it is required – without significant cost. What’s more, users benefit from always having the latest version.
As one would expect, accessing software in this way is proving increasingly popular – something we’ve noticed ourselves, when in the first month more than 300 businesses subscribed to SAi Flexi. The uptake was strongest in the United States where businesses are more familiar with subscription software, but as the benefits become more widely recognized we expect other regions to follow.
Responding to today’s demands
Both these innovations are market-leading ideas and users are enjoying a host of benefits that have transformed their businesses and how they work with their customers.
Storing jobs in the Cloud sounds unexciting, until one digs into what it really means for sign makers. First of all, it adds a level of security to their jobs. Storing files in multiple locations was always a good idea, but using Cloud storage simplifies safer off-site backups. Moreover, files in the Cloud can be easily accessed across workstations and securely when out-of-the-office.
One of our customers recently told me that, having loaded a job to the Cloud, he can now present it to his own customer using his laptop – at the customer’s site – and make final changes with that customer. Once satisfied, he is able to order production, which could even begin before the sign maker gets back to his office.
Another user mentioned that he accesses jobs in the Cloud from home so he can manage his daytime schedule and tweak the designs at a time that is convenient. Better still, customers using the mobile app can check live production status while off-site with a customer and tell him that his job began production ten minutes ago. Each of these saves time, adds value and enhances the customer experience.
In the past when one bought a business or technical software package, it was a capital investment. For suppliers, production and distribution were costly and time-consuming, and the software itself often had a very short life-cycle. Software downloaded from the Cloud is always the latest iteration and automatic updates are included.
All in all, the Cloud, while an essentially simple concept, has the potential to change the nature of business for suppliers and customers. In our industry, its development will include further improvements in customer-to-sign maker communications. There are also opportunities to compile examples of best-practice and establish benchmarking information for self-improvement by businesses. These developments will be unlocked by creative users and innovative suppliers to deliver higher levels of customer satisfaction.
It is SAi’s goal to lead the sign making market in the development of Cloud-enabled applications and help our customers get the most from their hardware, software and processes. By doing so, we are always one step ahead in enabling businesses to meet the needs of their customers in an ever-challenging and changing market.