How to profit from desktop publishing

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 May, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 May, 1993, 12:00am

IF THE glossy advertisements in computer magazines are to be believed, setting up your own in-house desktop publishing system is as simple as buying a hi-fi.

You choose your hardware, select the software and you'll be churning out reports, newsletters and visual presentation aids in no time at all.

But is it really as simple as that? Not if my observations of in-house desktop publishing and graphics systems are anything to go by.

Companies, recognising the need to upgrade their visual communications, spend $50,000 to $250,000 on the hardware and software believing their problems are then solved. Reports and presentations will be put together quickly, efficiently and professionally.

But a few months down the line, the same group of executives are frustrated by squabbling over typefaces, colours and layout.

They bemoan the lack of support staff capable of using anything more than a basic word processing programme.

Instead of enhancing their reputation, the quality of materials sent out by the company varies enormously, projecting an uneven image leaving the management and many people who were involved in the creation process frustrated.

So what goes wrong? The intentions are good, the equipment budget adequate. Where does it fail? According to Professor Bill Ford, it fails right at the very beginning of the planning phase.

''It's a familiar scenario, equipment is purchased and systems set up without a thought being given to the work environment and the skills of people who work within it,'' he said.

Much consideration has been given to the combination of factors that determine an organisation's success and its ability to adapt to change. It is not only the hardware and software that need to be considered, but the people and organisation.

A desktop publishing department must be run as a production centre and operated as a factory, not an art department, but has the added complexity of mixing ''creative'' personnel with technocrats.

The most neglected area, however, is work organisation. If you really want to see how successful a desktop publishing or graphics department is - make it a profit centre; taking orders and issuing internal invoices. Suddenly things change (and for the better).

The department must develop a work flow system to deliver a 100 per cent accurate product, on time. Every time.

The department must educate its customers (the executives and managers) as to what they can and can't create and deliver, so there are no false expectations.

There are thousands of hours wasted by staff attempting almost impossible tasks with new technology.

The knowledge gap between executives must be reduced. Everyone's understanding of design, presentation and communication needs to be raised. Executives and those operating desktop publishing systems need to speak the same language.

Cliff Shaffran is managing director of Quicksilver Presentations