Tony Mash, former CEO of the British Coatings Federation and currently Chairman of the Stationers' Industry Committee part of the remit of which is the Innovation Excellence Awards, writes:
The industries that are served by the Stationers’ Company cover a wide range of activities including paper and ink manufacture, printing, book binding, print machinery, office supplies and printed packaging, plus all the branches of publishing and communication, be they reliant on printed or digital media…. or both.
We are all well aware of the impact of digital technology across the whole of Society in recent years. This has provided great opportunities for many members of the Stationers’ Company, but for others, quite understandably, this new technology has been viewed as a major threat to continued profitable operations. We have seen the number of printers in the UK drop from 13,600 in the year 2000 to around 9,000 today. We have also witnessed the number of paper mills in the UK halve since the year 2000. In contrast, web-based companies have found innovative ways of creating increased value utilising digital technologies in the publishing and advertising worlds. They have prospered as a result by building novel value-creating links to downstream markets.
This is not the first time that we have seen paradigm shifts that have had such a significant impact on our industries. Examples of such events go back to the introduction of printing to London in 1476, and include in later periods the arrival of radio and TV in the 20th century.
Whatever one’s business circumstances, there is a continual demand from customers and investors alike for performance improvement. This does not come from carrying on doing the same things as one has done in the past. It was Albert Einstein who defined insanity as ‘doing the same things and expecting different results’. A more practical although equally urgent message comes from Semon Knudsen who was quoted as saying, that in business, ‘the competition will bite you if you keep running; if you stand still, they will swallow you.’ Charles Darwen commented that ‘It is the one that is most adaptable to change that survives’.
It is with these thoughts in mind that the Stationers’ Company launched its Innovation Excellence Awards programme earlier this year. The Awards were designed to recognise the key role that innovation plays in business survival and prosperity at a time of immense change. Equally, the Stationers’ Company wanted to highlight those companies that have adapted well to altered circumstances, and also to draw attention to the importance of the £75b Communications and Content Sector of the UK Economy.
The reaction to our Innovation Excellence Awards programme was very positive. We were delighted to receive a wealth of entries from a wide range of industries together with support and guidance from the Government’s Technology Strategy Board. The submissions came from the paper, printing ink, printing, publishing, copyright administration, office services, marketing and packaging sectors. They underlined both the diversity of the industries served by the Stationers’ Company and the need for recognition of technical and process innovations in the market place. Many of the entries took advantage of digital technology and the internet, but there were also a number of entries that focused on developments within the traditional spheres of printing and packaging. Sustainable development also featured in the mix of entries with examples of paper and card recycling and weight reductions in plastic packaging.
The overall winner, interestingly enough, came from the traditional printing sector. The Ryedale Group had diversified into printed circuitry on plastic packaging delivering a highly effective gas sensor designed to detect micro-organisms. The development of an ‘electronic nose’ capable of analysing gas exhaled by an individual to diagnose a variety of medical conditions in addition to industrial and commercial applications was seen as a truly innovative development and is on track to deliver 25% growth in company turnover.
The Stationers’ Company will be running the Awards Programme again in 2015, and companies from all sectors within the Communications and Content industries are encouraged to participate. All companies that enter the competition will have a chance to share their innovations outside their own sectors. They will also have the opportunity to seek out and benefit from best practice ideas in other sectors.
Innovation is key to long term business prosperity, and the Stationers’ Company wishes to do what it can to facilitate change for the good of each member company, and the Communications and Content industries as a whole.