Viewpoints

Digital strategies allow government traffic sign shops to do more with less

By Scott Chapman

U.S. Federal, state and local departments of transportation (DOT) are expected to, despite severe and often inexplicable budget cuts, serve the public with “a fast, safe, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people.”

A tall order, especially when the expectations are also to increase employee productivity, reduce operating costs, maximize the use of public resources, commit to sustainability and be creative with identifying potential new revenue streams.

Given these high-bar expectations, how can DOT traffic sign departments and their partners propel themselves forward to both better perform and help ensure the safety of about 210 million American drivers who navigate the 4.09 million miles of U.S. roads every day? While there is no magic elixir to cure all the ailments, now is a logical time to address how the adoption of a few key internal digital strategies can replace dated technology and significantly improve key areas of operating success in the creation of traffic signs.

DOT sign departments are realizing that adopting a more digital-focused strategy can transform every aspect of internal operations and outputs, including enhanced communication with customers. But, often times, beginning the process might seem overwhelming. Business transformation experts suggest that a digital transition does not need to happen in one fell swoop.

What are some of the most logical technologies to embrace for sign departments just beginning their shift in mindset?  A few, including electronic recordkeeping (ERK), electronic records management (ERM), and digital sign printing are a good place to start.

For ERK and ERM, the main purpose is to reduce the manual recordkeeping and manual burden paper records demand. Digital technologies allow agencies to more easily capture, store and retrieve information and meet legal reporting requirements. Especially within government agencies, which are highly regulated and bound by strict compliance rules, this shift can significantly reduce the internal burden a manual system presents.

In addition, because of more immediate access to critical business information, this digital shift will result in improved business processes that lead to better decision making abilities. As workers spend less time searching for relevant information or traffic sign records, they can focus on other critical areas of public safety. Finally, this digital management can lead to more innovative ways of increasing revenue, a task that is challenging in many of today’s departments.

Another area in which transitioning to digital strategy makes sense is in sign printing. Introduced in 1993, digital printing technology has grown tremendously but has seen a slower uptick within government agencies. A study by Smithers Pira called “The Future of Offset vs. Digital Printing to 2018” says that the worldwide digital printing industry will grow from $131.5 billion in 2013 to $187.7 billion in 2018, a compound annual growth rate of 7.4 percent.

For government departments tasked with printing highway and other road signs that have stringent color, retroreflectivity, and long-term warranty requirements, digital traffic sign printing provides many benefits that traditional screen or computer-cut processes don’t. Some of these include:

  • Cost savings: Without the need of expensive screen print expenses including tables, washout stations, and other equipment, digital printing lowers the cost significantly and doesn’t rely on the need to print large quantity, bulk orders.
  • High quality: Digital printing quality has come a long way since its introduction. Qualified printers output products meeting color and durability requirements, fine detail, and with greater image consistency than hand-pulled squeegees.
  • Speed: Digital printing simplifies the whole process and its minimum set up means fewer steps and faster output. This can enable sign crews to spend more time tending to field maintenance.
  • Customer personalization: With one-off runs not tied to bulk orders, digital printing easily incorporates theft-deterrent and dating features, as well as agency branding capabilities.
  • Green process: With no screen print processes that typically include strong solvent storage and disposal issues, digital traffic sign printing speaks to agencies’ desire for sustainability.

The most important consideration in this shift to a digital strategy is to make the shift to a gradual one. The intent is not to add additional burden to the staff, but rather to utilize technological tools at their disposal that will lead to a more efficient operation and a safer public.

Scott Chapman is responsible for developing and executing Avery Dennison Reflective Solutions global marketing communication strategies. Scott has more than 30 of involvement in the traffic safety industry, and currently serves as Chair of the Sign Committee for the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA). 

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