Reflections of 20 Years in Print and Tech

Reflections of 20 Years in Print and Tech

I’m in a reflective mood as I write my blog this week.  It’s now 20 years that I’ve been working as a professional software engineer.  I started coding at the tender age of eight, landed my first paid gig in my third year of university and now lead a team of developers located across the globe.  The journey has been nothing short of a rollercoaster. The landscape of the industry has transformed dramatically, with the expectations and knowledge base evolving alongside it. My Bachelor of Computer Science armed me with the foundational principles that have served as a springboard into various realms of technology and innovation.

The transition from viewing software engineering as a highly specialized skill set to a more broadly accessible trade skill has been one of the most striking changes. The field is now more inclusive, with individuals coming from diverse educational backgrounds — from highly specialized computer science degrees to self-taught programmers. It’s become evident that the intricate tools and languages that once seemed essential are now more user-friendly, opening the door to a wider audience without diluting the essence of innovation and problem-solving.

My foray into the printing industry, specifically when I took the helm of IT at what was then “Albumprinter” (now Pictureworks), was a testament to the versatility and applicability of computer science principles across industries. Despite being an outsider to the printing world, the core principles I was familiar with allowed me to quickly grasp and innovate on how computer systems could interact with printing devices, logistics, customer relationship management systems, and more. This adaptability underscored the transformative potential of technology in industries that might not traditionally be seen as tech-centric.

One important realization I’ve made in my time is that the printing industry, often perceived as being about old-world ink on paper has been constantly reinventing itself, first courtesy of digital and now is in the take off stages of another era of explosive growth driven by two things:

  1. Print has reinvented itself to become the ability to print-on or print-to-create almost anything
  2. Manufacturing automation and optimization

You can digitally print anything today.  From teeth straighteners (Google Invisalign) to shoes, bike frames to fuel pumps, fashion clothing to drapes and beer cartons to food pouches. 

The key innovation is that printing is no longer only an industry, it has become a process, which means that many firms are becoming printers for the first time.  From Invisalign to NASA, Adidas to Ikea – all these firms have become printers.  They join the explosive growth that is occurring in digital fabric, label and packaging printing.  

Turning to automation and optimization the application of artificial intelligence (AI) is a prime example of the potential for the next generation of innovation. 

At ZenSmart and Pictureworks, we’ve embraced this shift already and are preparing our clients for the future right now.  In some of our sites we have collected hundreds of millions of data points – our database technology has been selected and engineered to scale to billions of data points specifically to store all the data that future training of AI models will require.  The promise of AI in streamlining operations, enhancing efficiency, and creating new avenues for competitive advantage is immense.  The ability to deliver on inefficiency insights or solve super-complex combinatorial problems to realize step-shift gains in efficiency will sit on the foundation of the data that we have collected.

Our team, drawn from diverse technological backgrounds, has been instrumental in driving these innovations, proving that the future of printing is not just about hardware but increasingly about sophisticated software solutions.

As I look back on my career, split between the tech world and the printing industry, the journey has been incredibly creative. The printing industry, is transforming right in front of us and fast. Areas like packaging, labeling, apparel, photo, and even some forms of traditional print media continue to thrive and expand. The key to unlocking this growth lies in harnessing technological advancements to redefine what’s possible.

The journey from a computer science student to leading tech innovation in the printing industry has been a profound reminder of the power of technology to transform, adapt, and thrive in an ever-changing world.

Sammy Brent

Sammy Brent is the CIO of ZenSmart, a leading workflow automation platform that streamlines manufacturing in On Demand plants across the world.

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