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The Next Big Thing in 2014

More than half of all in-plants intend to invest in hardware and software next year. A new survey reveals where they are planning to put their money.

December 2013 By Arianna Valentini
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As 2013 comes to a close and business plans for 2014 are put into action, in-plants are preparing to upgrade hardware and software to improve efficiency, while evaluating new opportunities to offer customers "the next big thing."

As in-plants consider adding new media channels, printing capabilities and services in 2014, their challenge is finding the right combination of "new" to win buy-in from customers. In addition, many new investments require time for implementation and staff education before any return on investment can be realized.

To identify key 2014 investments, InfoTrends recently surveyed readers of In-plant Graphics as part of an ongoing partnership with the North American Publishing Company (IPG's parent) to monitor emerging market trends. The survey, conducted in September, focused on finding out which equipment, services and software would be key investments for the coming year. The results point to where in-plants are planning to put their money in 2014, and can serve as a guide for operations undecided on investments for the coming year.

Solid Investment Plans

The 87 in-plant decision makers who responded to the survey reported solid plans for investment in 2014. More than half reported plans to invest in hardware (59 percent) and software (54 percent). Alternatively, 29 percent reported they would not be making investments in the coming year, either because there was no need to, or because they had made significant investments in 2013.

The Software Side

In-plants will actively invest in software to enhance their operations in 2014. The top two software investments planned are print production workflow management (37 percent) and variable data (33 percent). Reasons for investing in these solutions, as well as many others, center on in-plant operations upgrading technology to maintain productive operations (see chart on previous page). In-plants that are investing in workflow solutions are doing so mostly as a way to upgrade their current tools, but 25 percent have chosen to add workflow management to improve efficiency.

Those in-plants investing in variable data publishing have done so as way to offer a new service and for business growth. In previous surveys of In-plant Graphics' readers, InfoTrends found low adoption of variable data services; however, those operations that did offer the service reported increases in print volume. Offering VDP is a means to demonstrate the value of an in-plant to its parent organization.

The Hardware Side

As demand for more complex print work that involves more intensive finishing applications increases, in-plants are confronted with the dilemma of whether to outsource such projects or invest in finishing equipment to produce them in-house. Survey results suggest in-plants are leaning more toward investing in finishing equipment. More than 38 percent of in-plants reported they have budgeted for new finishing equipment in 2014 (see chart). When asked to explain their reasoning for investing in finishing equipment the majority said it was to increase efficiency. Expanding finishing capabilities leads to higher productivity, less outsourcing and provides customers with a one-stop source for their printing needs.

Another key hardware investment is in high-speed inkjet printing; 33 percent of in-plants are considering investing in high-speed color inkjet next year. For 37 percent of those in-plants that are considering this purchase, it will be a new offering. Again, hardware such as this allows in-plants to compete with commercial print firms that may be winning outsourcing work due to the lack of offerings within the in-plant. Bringing high-speed inkjet capabilities in-house enables in-plants to offer customers quick turnaround and high-quality work, and compete more effectively with outside competitors.

Have a Strategy for Success

When looking at investments for 2014 and beyond, InfoTrends recommends that in-plants evaluate current infrastructure and business models to determine how the investment fits in the organization and its production workflow, and what value it will deliver. Careful evaluation will help determine if the investment fits.

Secondly, make sure that investments provide the customer real value, and make sure to market that value. Many in-plants in this survey plan to promote services to customers via e-mail, print advertising and events that showcase new products and services. The goal is to ensure that customers are well informed on new offerings and their value.

Indeed, 2014 promises to be a year focused on productivity enhancing and service expansion moves to improve internal operations, thwart external competition and keep work in-house. It is important to remember as 2014 kicks into gear that the success of an investment starts with a solid strategy.

Arianna Valentini is a research analyst for InfoTrends’ Production Group. In this role she is responsible for responding to client inquiries, conducting market research and analysis, and providing coverage of industry events. Her areas of expertise are wide-format printing, digital packaging and labels, and functional and industrial printing. Contact her at



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