Thursday, July 31, 2014

Printing in the Blue Ocean

The idea of “Blue Ocean” and the strategy behind it is incredibly appropriate for the printing industry. Most printers live in the “Red Ocean” today, and are greatly suffering (and many continue to disappear) because of their inability to get out of it.

Blue Ocean is a term coined by the prolific authors, professors and business theorists W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne in their book "Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant" (2005).

If you are in the printing industry, and are not familiar with Blue Ocean, I would highly recommended putting in some late summer reading— it’s a quick read, unlike many business books. A lot of people throw the term around loosely, but if you study it closely, it really is among the best of many popular business ideas that have emerged in the last 20 years or so.

The theory goes that in an established industry, companies compete with each other for every piece of available market share. The competition is so great that some firms cannot sustain themselves and stop operating. This is the state of companies living in the Red Ocean (as in blood red.)  At the risk of sounding obvious, firms in the printing industry are in this Red Ocean. There are many thousands of companies that are almost indistinguishable from one another.

The book contains several fantastic case studies of firms who clearly differentiate in core ways. These are firms who, by innovating and creating great differentiation, find their way into the Blue Ocean, where no firms operate, allowing the company to expand without competition. Examples in the book include Cirque du Soleil and Southwest Airlines. In the case of Southwest, at this point they’ve been copied by dozens of other companies… but they took many years to emerge, during which the company profited immensely.  In the case of Cirque, they arguably have remained alone in their unique market.

From the Cirque du Soleil film, World's Away, photo credit: Mark Fellman, Paramount Pictures
Some might think it is a stretch to compare printing to a circus, but there actually are parallels. The circus business, pre-Cirque, was in long-term decline. Alternative forms of entertainment—sporting events, TV, and video games—were casting a growing shadow. This is similar to what is happening to print in the face of digital media. Children preferred video games to circus acts. Marketers prefer digital media now, due to faster cycle times, lower costs and measurability.

An industry beset by decreasing audiences and increasing costs. In printing’s case, even without increasing costs, we are faced with price competition from weak and desperate direct competitors as well as from the easier and less costly digital media alternatives.

Interestingly, a new entrant to the printing industry would have a tough time in face of the existing competition, just like Cirque faced a challenge competing against the incumbent Ringling Brothers, who for most of the last century had set the industry standard. Cirque created uncontested market space that made the competition irrelevant. It pulled in a whole new group of customers who were traditionally non-customers of the industry—adults and corporate clients who had turned to theater, opera, or ballet and were, therefore, prepared to pay several times more than the price of a conventional circus ticket for an unprecedented entertainment experience.  

Southwest Airlines strategy, as articulated in the book, was not to compete head on for traffic from existing airline customers, but to go after people who normally could not afford to fly—to compete for business normally owned by bus and car travel instead. 

Both companies created new demand for their products. I can think of only a handful of companies in the printing industry who have taken this kind of approach.  There are a couple of ubiquitous examples who are "online printing companies”, or companies who solely do business on the internet, but whose products are tangible, print or print-related. There are also “brick and mortar” printing industry companies who have made the swim into the beautiful Blue Ocean of profits and growth.  

Can you name any of them?


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Vistaprint

Recently, a partner company we are working with at SR tried to compare us to Vistaprint in a slide deck talking about an upcoming project.  They got the comparison completely wrong. In fact, there is no comparison to made between our two companies, whatsoever. When I worked at Mimeo, people were always trying to compare us to VistaPrint, too-- also two companies that could not be more different.  The only thing the three of us have in common is that we do manufacture print, and we all do business via the Internet.  It's like comparing Yahoo, Google and AOL... there are certainly dummies out there who think those three companies are roughly the same.  But those who are students of the Internet know they could not be less similar.

I am a big fan of what Vistaprint has done. Even without the aforementioned ignorant comparisons, this is a company that is really misunderstood inside and outside the industry.  Here is an answer I just wrote for Quora. Since many of my friends and colleagues don't "do Quora" (yet), I thought I'd push it over here as well. It's about one of the differentiating factors that Vistaprint possesses.  Though actually, both SR and Mimeo have great power in this area, albeit serving different markets and using different techniques and technologies.

Is there anything unique about Vistaprint's actual printing process that enables it to print more efficiently than others?


There are several things that make them unique.  

The printed products they produce are constrained in shape, size, material and graphic layout.  They offer these discrete products only via the web.  Most printers, in contrast, attempt to print virtually any shape and size. 

The reason they can do this, unlike other printers is because they have a laser-like focus on their target market.  They test when they add new products, and they know people will buy them. So they can invest in the automation to produce those products.

Their equipment is deployed and used in a standardized way across their manufacturing footprint, and they've automated processes to the point where all the "manual" tasks are cleverly prescribed and performed by the minimum number of humans. For example, when producing business cards, the person who loads paper onto the press is also the person pulls the trigger on the imaging of the next set of printing plates for the press.

The automation results in few touches.  They run multiple customers jobs together, and then cut and sort them, and send them down conveyor belts to a logistics area where they will await other order items, or simply address them and send them to the trucks waiting to send them on their way to the customer. Practically no one in the printing industry has this level of automation across jobs.  Only elite printing companies have this kind of automation for single jobs, for single customers.

They also have some patents.

So, in summary, the answer is a resounding yes.

Friday, May 30, 2014

ThinkMSP Summit 2014

I accepted an invitation from Mark Potter, the publisher of Canvas magazine, to attend the first instance of a new conference, called ThinkMSP Summit 2014.  Mark is a really exceptional guy who serves with me on the board of the Electronic Document Scholarship Foundation.  I've known him for a few years now, and he always has great ideas.  This conference is definitely one of them.  It was an invitation only, very intimate event. I met a lot of new, interesting people, which for me is a rarity at printing industry related events (other than Dscoop, that is.)  There was a tremendous amount of interaction at the event. It was held at the Marriott Evergreen Conference Resort in Stone Mountain, Ga, which is a very nice property in a beautiful setting.



Gene Farrell
In a talk entitled, "The Art of Business Development", Gene Farrell, GM of Amazon Web Services, talked about all the ups and downs of launching the awesome FreeStyle soda machine at CocaCola, then moving over to launch a major new cloud-based software initiative, called Amazon Workspaces, which went from zero to 5000 customers in 40 days after launch. Even more interesting is that Workspaces is a product delivered with Microsoft Operating Systems running on AWS.

Kmberly Lyles Folkman
“There is a new paradigm shift in education and in business. Visual thinking and learning is at the forefront. It has brand impact for businesses, social and global impact for individuals and consumers. As a digital visual culture, we have to know how to think visually to communicate. We now have to fuse images and text to communicate ideas.” – Kimberley Lyles-Folkman, Ph.D., The Art Institute (Atlanta)

Kimberly's talk, "Visual Thinking and Learning in the 21st Century" was fascinating. But her student Dustin Kemptner, was even more interesting. It is just so thrilling to hear a student talk about graphic design work, and new ideas. He's won a few Addy awards.



Dustin talked about a rebranding experiment he did for a German restaurant in nearby Cumming, Ga. His idea was to make the restaurant an exciting and fun destination, pointing out in a tongue and cheek way that that no one ever says, "Let's go get German", like they do about Italian, or Mexican food, for example.  His campaign would definitely sell this idea.  A new logo, menus, a website and mobile app all tied in the new branding effort. Print and digital media. He also created a "Boot" for beer, which employed temperature sensitive ink on the glass, and as the patron consumed more beer, it revealed new messages egging the drinker on, such as "You're really going to drink the whole thing, aren't you?"  The final message on the boot revealed a QR code that provided a free ride home via Uber.  

Greg Cottichia
Greg is a serial entrepreneur and a professor at the University of Pittsburgh's Katz School of Business. He spoke about B2B marketing, and how much it has changed in the last couple of years, and used his own experience launching his latest company, Malcovery Security, as the example.

The conventional wisdom about marketing, including or perhaps especially, on the web, has changed. Salespeople knocking on doors and developing the relationships is only a small part of the equation now. Instead, according to the Corporate Executive Board, at the point of the customer's first contact with a vendor today, 57% of the process to arrive at a purchasing decision has already been completed. Customers no longer need a salesperson to enlighten them to their needs.  When they finally contact your company, they expect you to take the order and actually can be very annoyed by old school sales tactics at this point in the cycle. 

So the bottom line point Greg made is, your entire organization is in sales and marketing today.  The business is no longer dependent on one individual any longer.  It is marketing’s task to influence the 57 percent of the sale that occurs before the sales contact.  Then, sales must do their job efficiently and align their efforts (and offers) with that marketing. In Greg's case, he worked with  a technology savvy student, Megan Skiff, to implement a new set of marketing strategies for Malcovery, notably Inbound, that paid off. Malcovery was one of the first customers of her new agency, MixyMarketing.

Improv
To keep things from getting too stuffy and serious, Mark brought in an Atlanta Improv troop to encourage even more interaction, and get people thinking creatively. The session, called "Improvising to Success", conducted by Atlanta's Village Comedy was incredibly fun.  Imagine a roomful of business people pretending to throw medieval axes at one another.

Don't Miss
Mark has written a book that is available now, called Egrets, Hockey Sticks & Roller Skates. I haven't had time to read it yet, but picked up my copy at the event and am looking forward to it.

"Egrets, Hockey Sticks & Roller Skates is a creative example of why stories work.  Mark Potter has shared some of his experiences and a bit of himself to help move a group of people.  We all can benefit from the moral to his stories."
- Daniel Pink, author of "To Sell Is Human"

Following in a traditional started by Jennifer Matt, President of Web-To-Print Experts, Inc., all proceeds from the book go directly to the Electronic Document Scholarship Foundation. Click here for more information on the book, and to obtain a copy.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Seeing the Azure Cloud from the Inside

I had the wonderful opportunity last week to visit one of Microsoft's data centers. Since I am bound by NDA, I won't say where it was, and I won't talk about anything that I can't find discussed in a press release or an article on the web about Microsoft Azure and MSFT's data center footprint.  That still leaves a tremendous amount to talk about, though. And frankly, reading about a place like this is one thing, but actually going and touring it is quite another.  I'll try to give you a feeling for that here.

The company describes the number of global facilities they maintain as "more than 10 and less than 100". You can get a feeling for the global footprint by looking at this Azure Regions site, and also by reading the Azure Wikipedia entry.  Keep in mind that Microsoft hosts over 200 of their own services in their data centers, including Bing, Outlook (formerly Hotmail), the new Office365, Skydrive, Xbox, their robust advertising network, and much more. Matthew Sorvaag's website has some info on where the DCs are, although I think this is a bit out of date.

If you are like one of my many elitist techie Microsoft bashing friends, you'll be sad to know that Apple's iCloud runs on Microsoft Azure, and has since 2011.  Recall that earlier that year, AAPL had a very embarassing outage, and other issues.  Less than a year later, reports from insiders confirmed the service was running at both AMZN and MSFT. Most know that AAPL has their own data centers, too, so what parts of these services are operating on any of these facilities is a bit hard to determine, what with Apple's great penchant for secrecy and the imprudence (and likely contractually limited) of talking about the relationship for either of the Cloud vendors.

Microsoft has produced a terrific video, Windows Azure Data Centers: the 'Long Tour', describing several of their data centers extremely well. The video is a couple of years old, but does justice to the scale and approach. In fact, at least one of the facilities in the video has been substantially upgraded since the video was shot (and the description in the movie is already impressive!)

The Microsoft Quincy, WA DC, is today even bigger than this photo and as described in the movie: it has three big buildings now (new one is in the lower left, where it looks like an open field in this foto. Foto from NYT Kyle Bair/Bair Aerial)

The company is employing state of the art technologies and processes in all areas.  The locations, construction, staffing, networking, server deployment and maintenance, as well as operations are all advanced and world class.  It's worth noting that the DCs described in the video are generation 3 and generation 4.  MSFT now has gen 5 centers, and is looking forward to a day when they occupy generation 6 facilities.  If you aren't familiar with all the lingo around data centers, don't confuse these generations with data center "tiers", which generally describe "redundancy".

  • Tier 1 = Non-redundant capacity components (single uplink and servers).
  • Tier 2 = Tier 1 + Redundant capacity components.
  • Tier 3 = Tier 1 + Tier 2 + Dual-powered equipments and multiple uplinks.
  • Tier 4 = Tier 1 + Tier 2 + Tier 3 + all components are fully fault-tolerant including uplinks, storage, chillers, HVAC systems, servers etc. Everything is dual-powered.
These MSFT facilities are all N+2, or in other words: whatever components in place are deemed to be mission critical, there are 2 backups in place.

Generation 4 in full operation now

ITPACs, which are being deployed in the newer MSFT data centers are purpose built, modular containers that resemble shipping containers, they are are power efficient and operationally better. Watch this great ITPAC video, which describes how they efficiently combine compute, power, cooling, and networking in self-contained modules. From an environmental perspective, the ITPACs are a great innovation. On cold days, a portion of the hot exhaust air from the servers is redirected internally through a mixing unit on top of the ITPAC where it mixes and warms the air to a temperature suitable for the servers.  I saw units with HP or Dell equipment installed, as well as storage and networking.  

One interesting statistic to note is that the many tens of thousands of servers in the facility together lose about 300 hard drives a week. In fact, this is one of the very limited number of tasks the operations personnel at the facility do-- replace hard drives.  There are several amazing magical elements to this:  first, no customer or service is impacted by the hard drive failures. Second, the techs perform the drive replacements without any knowledge of what data is stored on the servers. Finally, the hard drives are erased, and then crushed into teeny tiny little pieces.

Everyone who is anyone in the Internet has used F5 boxes at one point or another. These boxes are highly regarded. And those of you who know this, also know these devices are very expensive. I was only in one hall in this facility, and, along with many, many other of the usual suspects in Internetworking gear, I saw tens of millions of dollars in F5 gear ALONE.  Pretty impressive.

Another example is the number of generators in place at this facility, just astonishing.  I got to step inside one of the generator housings, and they aren't the cute little CATs shown in the movie above... instead they are monstrous 20 cylinder engines painted gray with fuel feed pipes as big as wide as a manhole cover.  While inside, I was praying to God that the generator didn't start because it would have been very, very scary and loud.

I was also in an electrical room with a similarly scary amount of electricity being fed through it.  This room was one of 6... remember that the facility is "larger than 10 football fields" in size. Let's face, when you've seen row after row of the same server and storage boxes, it sort of becomes mind numbing. So when you go visit the power distribution, it's a little exciting.  For example, the circuit breakers in the Siemens distribution equipment have their own cranes on the top of the rack, because they are so heavy, it takes more than one very strong person to pick them up.

Crazy giant Siemens Circuit Breaker that comes with its own little crane.

One debate I've had with many colleagues in both IT and in Printing over the years regards whether it is prudent to operate your own data center, or to outsource.  Cloud aside, when you visit a facility like this, you understand that an operation like this, with billions of dollars of investment, and run like a top secret military facility, you realize this is something that most companies cannot do.

When you then add in the economics of the Cloud, assuming you can determine that it makes sense for your business, it is hard not to come to the stark realization that you are getting capabilities that truly will provide an enormous competitive advantage for your company. There are numerous choices, and they need to be examined very thoroughly but it is pretty clear that these services are game changers. We must embrace them for as much of our IT infrastructure as we possibly can.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Dscoop9: Nothing Short of an Industry Watershed

It's been about a week since I got home from Dscoop9, this year's meeting of the HP Graphic Arts User Group. This was my fifth Dscoop, my first as a board member, and the best I've ever attended-- and, dare I say, the best one yet. There are so many things that make this the best event in the industry, too, it is hard to know where to begin. I guess the biggest thing is how much I bring back with me to Standard Register, plenty of new practical knowledge but more importantly many new ideas and new relationships.


Chris Petro, Dscoop Global Chairman, and Dion Weisler, EVP of HP’s Printing and Personal Systems organization, a $60 billion annual revenue business that includes personal computers, mobility devices, technical workstations, printers, graphics solutions, managed-print services and internet services.

The theme this year was "Break the Mold", which is quite appropriate.  This event surely does break the mold of the industry user group, typical conference, greatest trade show and any educational program--  all in one fell swoop.  And though it's become quite large, it remains an intimate gathering for unquestionably the most forward looking print service providers and their trusted partners-- those who are breaking the mold of what being a printer means every day.  With close to 2,500 print professionals and a solution showcase populated by more than 100 of those aforementioned partners, you almost need not attend any other annual event.  I would probably scratch GraphExpo off my calendar this year, were it not for Dscoop and EDSF activities in Chicago. 

This photo does not do justice to how big the room was, and how many people were in it!

Over 100 incredibly valuable conference sessions! I understand almost half of the companies represented this year were first time attendees!  I personally met a handful of prospective Indigo owners, which was really cool... each of them expressed how surprised they were with the size and quality, saying it was not what they expected.  As someone who is closely involved with the event, and I've been drinking the Koolaid since my first attendance, it's unbelievably thrilling to hear this sort of thing from a first timer. And while the organization has gone global, we've hosted events in Europe and APAC, more than 33 countries from around the world were represented in the audience here in North America. It's beyond impressive. 

Rod Key
Before I continue let me take a moment and mention Rod Key, who passed unexpectedly on Sunday, January 19, 2014. Rod was the founder of R and R Images, which was acquired by Shutterfly just last year. A special memorial was held on the Wednesday before Dscoop9; then, at the start of the opening session of the conference, Rod's wife Patti (with son Austin and other family members looking on) was honored with a special new Rod Key Excellence in Marketing Award, which was created in his name by the board. 

To say he will be missed is an understatement.
To quote Dscoop Global Board Chairman Chris Petro: "Our hearts, love and prayers go out to his wife Patti, son Austin and all of Rod’s family, friends and colleagues.  For those in our community who had the honor of meeting or working with Rod, you understand the sense of loss of our dear friend; it is extremely difficult to accept. His commitment to Dscoop was unending and his passion for our industry, our organization and our teams was unwavering. Part of the original Board of Dscoop, Rod previously served as North America Conference Chair, Marketing Chair and led countless other successful efforts in our industry. Rod's passion and love for the Dscoop community personifies the essence and strength of what Dscoop is all about. His loss leaves a hole in our community that we will never be able to fill." 

In honor of Rod, the Electronic Document Systems Foundation (EDSF) created the Rod Key Memorial Scholarship. Rod’s family has asked that all donations be made to the scholarship fund. 

Keynotes
Jason Jennings is a researcher and one of the most successful and prolific business and leadership authors in the world and his greatest thrill is helping lead individuals and companies to their full economic potential.

Jason Jennings, New York Times best selling author of The Reinventors – How Extraordinary Companies Pursue Radical Continuous Change shared some great advice.
He and his team studied more than 40,000 companies and identified the ten most productive companies in the world for his bestselling, Less Is More. The book revealed the secrets of the world's most productive companies. His work continues, and he shared insight on companies like Ikea and Starbucks, focusing on the leadership qualities they embrace that have made them outstanding among the best global companies. One notable takeaway: adding Oatmeal brought Starbucks an additional $500 million in revenue, virtually overnight!
Our second Dscoop9 keynoter was Scott Stratten. He is the President of Un-Marketing. He is an expert in Viral, Social, and Authentic Marketing which he calls Un-Marketing. Scott says it is all about positioning yourself as a trusted expert in front of your target market, so when they have the need, they choose you.

Scott Stratten shared some truly useful insight into social media marketing, and entertained the heck out of the standing room only Dscoop9 crowd

Stratten claims to have over 165,000 people following his daily rantings on Twitter and was named one of the top 5 social media influencers in the world on Forbes.com. When he was introduced at the event, it was characterized as "150 followers", which gave him fodder for some self-effacing jokes! "Me and my 150 followers".  He has written three best-selling business books, the newest being “QR Codes Kill Kittens” a picture book for fed-up business people. Extreme common sense.  I've been ranting for years now about what a waste of space QR codes are, but Stratten articulates in a funny and effective way that I never could, while at the same time offering plenty of very positive advice about how to use new digital technologies. Scott made this video before his appearance at Dscoop9.

Exciting Machines, Software, Real World Examples and Sessions
I've got to nerd-out on the Operations track sessions for at least a moment here.  My fellow board member Ed Wiegand is Executive Vice President at the Matlet group. Ed, a former VP from P&G, and a guy from an MIS vendor did an amazing live demo printing Olympic personalized Old Spice labels (28 different countries) on an HP 20000 across town from the event at Matlet's location, and boxes for the bottles down on the show floor, all through through an Esko workflow.  Very cool.

Randy Bice, long time Dscooper, hailing from RPI in Seattle, Washington brought us a wonderful track on Lean Manufacturing for Digital Printing Operations. I'll tell you what, you have to love companies in the industry who are not afraid to admit they print things.

Jennifer Matt from Web To Print Experts, Inc, did a nice job on a session on the applications of the same name (Web2Print).  Just don't mention that name to customers, because they won't know what you are talking about-- absolutely true, thanks Jenni!  She also hosted two other important sessions that mixed technology and business topics. HP has installed something close to 90 Indigo 10000s, the B2 format press that leads the Generation 4 line up and is the result of a couple of billion dollars in R&D spending.  So it was only appropriate that Jim Hamilton from Infotrends led a panel of users featuring Sandy Alexander and the UK's Precision Litho. The discussion included the market and applications, as well as practical examples. 

So many more sessions to name, not enough time to write about them here. Perhaps I will add some notes over time.


Boxes awaiting die cutting after being printed on the Indigo 30000

I hate to go down the "it was the inket drupa" kind of thought process, but there certainly were some leanings toward this being the "label and packaging dscoop".  HP has a new machine, the Indigo 30000 that makes boxes. It was shown operating in North America for the first time at the event. In the closing session, Indigo GM Alon Bar-Shany mentioned he was heading to Cincinnati to visit Innovative Label Solutions (another of my board member colleagues Jay Dollries' company), where were installing a new Indigo 20000 right after Dscoop. There was a TON of supporting finishing equipment, both connected inline and scattered around the Solutions Showcase. We don't like to call it a trade show, but it did look a bit like one. Only better!

I got an incredible education on the state of the art in wide format Latex printing from one of the HP guys.  I was just walking by, admiring the output, and he gave me a wonderful education-- brought me right up to speed on this awesome technology, as well as on the market. That's the magic of the event, so much knowledge in the house, just unparalleled.



Near the area I would call "Indigo Alley", pictured here before the opening of the event, there was a showcase of some of the incredibly cool products members have made with Indigos.  My crappy iPhone camera cannot do these items justice.

Introducing Dscoop University!
Dscoop University, debuting at Dscoop9 exclusively for Dscoop members, provides industry-leading, personalized education focused on supporting business strategies and accelerating growth. The curriculum is tailored for specific job functions within member companies: business owners, sales and marketing professionals and operations and production team members.

At Dscoop9, the new initiative started out with a bang by introducing several instructor-led courses on the opening days of the event:  three in sales, three in business management and two operations management focused.  These 3-hour interactive workshops were totally awesome, featuring subject matter experts for each session, ranging from university professors to HP experts. 

John Tenwinkel, the full-time Director of Dscoop University was recently interviewed by Whattheythink.  Dscoop University offers 24/7 access to training, on-demand content, live-streaming and downloadable resources, and in-person courses. Dscoop attendee members were given significant credits so they could try classes online for free!

Other Important Stuff
Dscoop and HP jointly announced the “Tell Your Story Sales Program.” It's clear that many people on the buy side are living in a "5 years ago" mindset, and this new program creates a beautiful frame work for print service providers to help them learn about the new capabilities and extremely high quality now possible with digital. It's chock full of sales ideas and tools, over 100 digital assets, as well as videos and PowerPoints. 

Next Year!
This year marks the end of my tenure as chairman of the Technical Operations committee, which has been a fantastic experience. But I will continue to contribute to Dscoop's newsletter.

More exciting is that I've been chosen as a member of the Conference Committee for Dscoop10.  This premier event has a track record of getting bigger and better every year, but I can tell you the 10th anniversary is going to be something extra special!!  Join us March 5-7, 2015 in Washington DC!

If you can't wait that long, Dscoop Asia 2014 will be held June 12-13 in Bali, Indonesia!

Look forward to seeing you at Dscoop!


Monday, December 23, 2013

Chuck's 2013 Top Ten List - the Industry's Most Innovative Companies

This has been an exciting year for me! I've been so busy working at my new job at Standard Register I haven't been able to post here as much as I would like.  The blog has become sort of a quarterly. Hopefully I can carve out more time next year.

Meanwhile, this post is the start of a new tradition. While there are a few lists in the industry, I haven't seen one that talks about innovation.  Most industry lists are about size, i.e., printing company revenue. While scale has never been more important, with the continuing consolidation we are seeing, it certainly is not the most important factor.  

The companies I've included on this list are completely based on my own very subjective opinions. I've been studying these companies, listening to their CEOs, employees and customers, reading their marketing materials and using their products (and in some cases working for them) for a long time. I know there are many differing opinions out there about who should be included on such a list, and I hope some of you will post your own choices and your rationale!  Let's make it interesting.

1. HP
Here is a company that pretty much changed everything about printing.  Look around you today-- the world is turning to Inkjet.  Many companies are on the bandwagon (now, that is). HP invented this in 1984, when they made a machine and sold an extremely large number of them.  The ThinkJet wasn't that great, but they kept making their machines better. Better hardware and software. HP Laserjet=Game Change. If it weren't for HP, there probably wouldn't be very many "consumers" with printers in their homes (although sometimes I think my kids are going to bankrupt me printing coloring pages.)

More to the point, though: Indigos, Inkjets and Super-wide format. Substrates. Workflow. VDP Software. Consumer Photo with SnapFish! Cloud Printing. Home Printing, SMB Printing, Enterprise Printing, Transactional Printing, MPS, Mobile Printing, Book Printing, Package Printing, Wallpaper-- Did I miss anything? Frankly, I'm sure I did.

For me, there will always be a special place in my heart for Indigo. When it first came out, it just made sense to me. It was clear right at the start that this machine changed the game forever.  Now, reports say HP has spent close to $2B on the new B machines (e.g., 10000). These machines will change the game again, perhaps just as much as the first machine. Great management in the Indigo business at HP:  Yishai Amir, Alon Bar-Shany,  David Leshem, Jan Reicher, all great people. Too many more to mention.  Meg Whitman still knows how to run a company apparently.

2. EFI
It's hard to believe it's been over 10 years since EFI acquired my former employer PrintCafe Systems, Inc., saving the company from potential destruction by Creo's hostile takeover.  Prior to the Printcafe acquisition, EFI had annual revenues of $416 million. According to EFI, the company is expecting approximately $720 million in revenues for 2013, an increase of more than 70% over the last decade. The unequaled success of the Fiery made it surprising to many that EFI would acquire PCAF, and then only a couple of years later they got into the Inkjet business with the purchase of Vutek and have continued to advance and expand that product family.

Fast forward to 2013, the company is now a global leader in several areas, serving a diverse set of customers with an incredibly robust set of applications. The thing that really sets EFI apart is the leadership.  The charismatic Guy Gecht at the helm is supported by Marc Olin, former CEO of PCAF, VP GM of the software business and now interrim CFO--  and the guy responsible for buying up the world's best technology in the productivity and workflow arena (most recent and very exciting acquisition, the incredibly well respected Metrix Software in October); then there is CTO Ghilad Dziesietnik traveling the world looking for "game changing" new technologies, like machines that print on ceramics (With some of the coolest industrial design I've seen, to boot), watch cool movie here.  

The thing that's going to make EFI's innovation continue for years to come is that with each new company they've bought, they've acquired more of the brightest minds in the industry.  And this, in turn, makes it easier to attract the best talent for their organically grown inventions.

I visited the Admiral's Club at Chicago O'Hare airport one night a couple of months ago, and there was a copy of a BASF magazine about Chemistry.  I was a little bit shocked to see Benny Landa's face on the cover. But I shouldn't have been-- the success of the Indigo was probably as much due to the ElectroInk as it was to the amazing engineering of the press. Similarly, the new Landa presses are going to live or die on the success of Benny's new NanoInk.  I will be betting on living myself.

Attending the drupa show in Germany last year, and seeing the incredibly dramatic introduction of this machine was something I would not have wanted to miss.  Despite this, or even perhaps because of it, some in the industry believe the new presses Landa is making are "smoke and mirrors".

Stay tuned, industry... this company knows how to make and sell products that change the world.

4. Komori
Speaking of Landa, their strategy of partnering with traditional offset press manufacturers is brilliant. I was thrilled when I saw the Komori announcement; I've been a fan of Komori for a long time. Then I became a little confused when announcements with MAN Roland and Heidelberg followed.  To be frank, I thought that those two announcements were only for PR purposes, and diluted the Komori announcement, which for some reason I viewed as more real.

In November, Landa and Komori issued a statement revealing that I had been correct to believe Komori was a better partner, if not for the reason I suspected.  According to the statement, Landa engineers have been evaluating proposals from the industry’s leading press vendors, both European and Asian, to supply sheetfed platforms for Landa Nanographic Printing Presses.

In making its assessment, Landa took into account caliber of engineering, robustness of design, automation, reliability and cost effectiveness. The vendor’s culture of innovation, technical resources, commercial success and financial stability were also important criteria. The analysis pointed to Komori as the clear partner of choice for Landa. Landa then placed orders with Komori for sheetfed platforms for Landa’s S10 Nanographic Printing Presses, which will start to be delivered to customers in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Komori also conducted due diligence between its and Landa's engineers and scientists and concluded that Nanography has the potential to deliver on its promise of matching the quality and speed of
offset printing at the lowest cost per page in the digital printing industry. Komori formalized its license agreement with Landa, cementing the long term strategic alliance between the companies. Simply amazing stuff. Act 2 of the Benny Landa story has only just begun!

Obviously other great stuff going on at Komori besides Inkjets, but it's thrilling to see them making this kind of move.

5. Esko
Maybe this should be Danaher Corporation, because the portfolio of important and leading edge products just keeps growing.  Prepress and workflow software, packaging CAD, industry leading automation software, color control (most angles covered, pun intended), cutting machines (LOVE that Kongsberg stuff), Esko has you covered.

Winner of a prestigious 2013 InterTech Award, Aleyant is a small Chicago area company creating industry-leading Web-to-Print and VDP solutions: Pressero and eDocBuilder, respectively.  These solutions compare very favorably to solutions from companies who have both been around longer, and also spend far more on marketing. Pressero has a huge number of features that older but better know systems don't have.

Aleyant’s eDocBuilder provides a simple authoring tool, making it easier and faster to get customer documents online for customization and ordering. Yet it is scalable and high performance. It is tightly integrated into the Pressero storefront, but also licensed for use standalone (in fact, other Web-to-Print systems, like Mimeo.com, use it as part of their solutions.)

A unique Interactive Designer allows the PSP’s customer to personalize print items: edit content; add additional text or images; change text font, size, color; re-position items, and more. Using HTML5, Interactive Designer templates are faster loading than competitor systems using Flash, and also unlike those solutions, runs beautifully on Smartphones and on the iPad.

Aleyant recognized early that many printers have significant technology investments, with accompanying investments in staff training and processes, that are costly to replace. So instead of suggesting replacement Pressero leverages those investments by providing the most flexible integration capabilities of any Web-to-Print system available today.


7. Scodix
You want some 3D printing?  This is 3D printing... the other stuff that is getting the hype is called "making".
Scodix brings a new look and tangible dimension to the graphic communications printed image, creating an eye-catching, memorable experience. The experience is made possible by breakthrough, patent-pending technology developed by Scodix. Some press manufactured have a "texture" option on their digital presses, but those enhancements are really child's play compared to Scodix.  The Israel company's hardware looks much like an Indigo, and is manufactured to the same sort of extremely high tolerances of quality.


8. CGS
It's clear that any software tool a printing company needs should be in the cloud.  Printers are usually IT experts out of necessity, rather than by inclination. CGS is a quiet industry company that has become the "gold standard" in the color management arena. Recently, ORIS Lynx, a cloud-based application deriving its special sauce from the same famed color management software lineage the company has been developing since the 1970s, garnered the prestigious 2013 InterTech Technology Award. ORIS Lynx, a groundbreaking development that represents the first true Cloud color management application, employing a web based user interface to allow the user to perform tasks like generating device links and/or ICC profiles without the need to install an on-site system.

9. NewPage
These days I'm generally more fascinating by non-paper substrates than by plain old ground up trees, but NewPage is both in my new home areacode, and focused on real (or should I say "true") market needs with the web offset compatible inket gloss paper, "TrueJet Hybrid", that lets the user personalize in-line with web offset or off-line in bindery applications. It's a a gloss coated paper that delivers high-quality print results in both inkjet and offset production.

Update, as of January 10, 2014: Verso Paper acquires NewPage for $1.4 Billion! Read Printing Impressions story.

10. Xerox
Intentionally last on this list, but never least... it struck me as a tiny bit disingenuous when Xerox CTO Sophie Vandebroek said in a blog post  recently that she told an MIT audience a few years back, "We no longer make copiers", and claimed "It’s literally true. Our copiers are now multi-function with the ability to fax, scan and print." Well, OK.  But even today, the company is basically selling lots and lots of copiers with little computers and scanners attached to them. It's copiers that have changed, not what Xerox is selling.

However, I must say that recent moves, especially the acquisition of French Inkjet press manufacturer Impika, have the makings of potentially exciting new products.  And, of course, XMPie remains awesome, and they appear to have regained some footing in the Xerox world this year, with prominence in the booth at the Chicago trade show.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Print13: Standard Register to acquire two HP Inkjet Web Presses

I had an action packed couple of days in Chicago at Print13 ealier this month.  Everywhere I went, I kept missing Joe Morgan, my uber boss and our fearless leader at Standard Register.  I was particularly unhappy that I missed him the HP booth, and then had prior commitments that made it impossible for me to attend the HP Press Conference featuring the announcement of our acquisition of two HP Color Inkjet Web Presses.

I've spent quite a few cycles in the last 3 years working on Inkjet-related business models and technology plans to support them, so I could not be more excited in general about this development. Fascinatingly, what we'll be using these machines for at Standard Register is sort of the polar opposite of what I'd been working on before.  I believe this speaks to the robustness of the technology, that there are a great many applications that can be run on these new machines. 


The T230 and a T400 Color Inkjet Web Presses will help us accelerate the transformation of the company and give us an outstanding platform for our increasing volume variable data printing applications.The presses offer outstandingly high-quality, four-color output, broad media compatibility, and lower overall costs. We all know the market is demanding ever faster turnaround times, color and personalization, and along with our unparalleled IT infrastructure, these presses deliver.

HP is a trusted vendor for us. Not only do we own HP Indigo digital presses, HP Scitex, HP Latex, and HP Designjet large-format printing solutions and HP Thermal Inkjet technology, we also make extensive use of HP computers and IT services across our footprint..
Some of my favorite people in the printing industryFrom left to right, David Murphy, Marketing Director, Americas Graphics Solutions Business, HP; Aurelio Maruggi, Vice President and General Manager, HP Indigo; Joe Morgan, President and CEO, Standard Register; Yishai Amir, vice president and general manager, Americas Indigo and Inkjet Business, HP.