But is it actionable?

December 1, 2004

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

Harvard professor Chris Argyris is not commonly read in the graphic arts community, nor have I ever seen him quoted in the graphic arts press. His works are pretty thick going in spots and don't easily lend themselves to sound bites. His 1999 treatise, "Flawed Advice and the Management Trap," addresses the problem of converting catchy slogans into tangible results.

Argyris' premise, simplified for the sake of brevity, was that far too much popular wisdom simply is not actionable. Every time I see another job definition format (JDF) press release, Argyris' words come back to me.

The focus of JDF stories seems to be, simply, that JDF matters. Even one sly guru's position that maybe it doesn't matter only helps to keep JDF in the news. Much like Apple Computer's public bashing of Microsoft even as Microsoft poured millions into Apple, such pseudo-debates only further the illusion that JDF is worthy of continued discussion and really does matter. Matter to whom? And, even if it matters to me, what am I supposed to do about it?

As the JDF frenzy mounts, I subject each JDF story to the Argyris acid test: Is it actionable? Fellow printers, here is where the matter stands for us.

JDF is not actionable

If we were equipment manufacturers, we could join the consortium, pledging to incorporate JDF compatibility into our equipment. If we were trade association executives, we could organize seminars and squeeze the aforementioned manufacturers for sponsorships. If we were in the trade press, we could write features and squeeze consortium members for large display advertisements. But, because we are owners and managers of printing businesses, we can do nothing. At the close of 2004, JDF is not actionable. Whatever its merits might be, there is nothing we can do with JDF, today.

JDF is a slogan

A rallying cry more than a specification, JDF is the flag bearer for universal implementation of computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) in the printing and binding business. A great concept, it's one on which I am proud to say that digital printshops are far ahead of the curve. But we are only ahead because digital equipment manufacturers added this functionality early. My own company boasts about implementing the latest technology. But we had to wait until our vendors made technology available—and workable. We'll just have to wait for systems with genuine, workable, truly open JDF integration.

JDF is inevitable

Please notice I didn't say whether JDF is important. That is entirely outside my point. I think the incorporation of JDF into new equipment is a certainty, although I'm just as sure that by the time it trickles down to our printshops, the specifications won't bear much resemblance to the JDF of today. It might not even be called JDF.

Which JDF?

Do you mean the current JDF standard as published: far too cumbersome, largely untested and certain to be subject to huge revisions if it is to succeed? Surely the current standard will be revised beyond recognition. Or, do you mean a particular manufacturer's adaptation of JDF, which includes what are, arguably, improvements but impedes integration with any other vendor's equipment? This is a giant step backward, and it is completely counter to what JDF supposedly is all about. Do you mean another CIM schema that is not JDF-compliant at all? This is perfectly legitimate, and someone else's standard might just win out over JDF, but I'm not yet ready to bet my company's future on any "standard" that isn't yet standardized.

Don't be fooled into action

Action just for action's sake is at best silly and at worst fatal. At Graph Expo 04, JDF-enabled and JDF-like offerings were available. We could take action, all right, and leasing companies were on the spot to help. But wait. If we didn't need a new (folder, press, workstation, etc.), then buying just for the sake of adding JDF capability to our workflow would border on suicidal. If we did need some new equipment, JDF features cause no harm. But a decision to buy must be based on features that will be used from the installation day forward, not on potential for future JDF connectivity.

Pioneers who shelled out small fortunes for Adobe's Acrobat 1.0, paying hefty license fees even for Acrobat Reader, were in many ways visionary. Many of them also are gone. Those who remain have absolutely no advantage over others that adopted a PDF workflow only in the past couple years. Let the debate rage on. But it sure would be nice if some of the brilliant minds would talk about something we could actually act on. Now.