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.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Lob is disrupting the Printing Industry- one Poster at a time!


In a world where even Print Service Providers sometimes question whether the printed piece has the compelling power it once did, a two month old Silicon Valley startup is achieving success by making (gasp!) paper-based, physical products-- albeit selling them via the most modern of programming techniques.

After graduating from the University of Michigan, and stints on Wall Street, and at Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, Leore Avidar and Harry Zhang founded their company Lob, and were accepted into the well-respected startup accelerator program at Y Combinator just a matter of weeks ago—and they are already generating revenue from their service at a fast pace of growth.

If you’ve read this blog before, you know that among my favorite topics are cloud printing, integration and automation, so as soon as I heard about Lob I needed to know more about the founders, their idea, and plans. Lob specifically refers to themselves as "Cloud Printing for Developers".  I love it. I sent Leore an email, and we spent a few minutes discussing the company and their approach. 

The concept and execution are both compelling. They created the service as a solution for software developers who want to include printing and distribution capabilities with their web/mobile applications. Without Lob, this is hard to do, and expensive.  With Lob, it’s easy and priced competitively.

In terms of startups who work with Y-Combinator, Lob is one of the youngest companies. Their idea was to expose printing to developers via an API (Application Programming Interface).  It took them a week to develop the initial alpha API, and then immediately got started working with customers.

The technical challenges were one thing, but getting familiar with printing industry jargon, paper and ink choices, etc. also presented challenges. Lob initially produced their products with their own desktop printers. Now, the company manufactures and distributes through a network of printing partners to whom they route the jobs.  Many of their print partners are good at printing and reliable delivering on time, but don’t understand how APIs work, and don’t have programmers.  For such partners, Lob translates the order instructions for the job and delivery into human readable form, or helps the printer develop the integration.

Their first printed product idea was transactional mail—financial statements, bills, etc.  Almost as soon as they engaged with customers, they started hearing new use cases. So they turned their attention to other printed items. Turns out, other products were more desirable. Because they are an agile Silicon Valley startup, and using their API, they can create new products of virtually any shape and size, from the ground up, quickly.

Brace yourself: according to Leore, physical mail is making a comeback: open rates are up.  Email open rates are down. His customers want to engage with users via physical mail… when they buy a product or reach a certain milestone. I almost fell off my chair—I thought to myself, “I know this… what’s wrong with all the naysayers in this industry?”

And as it turns out, there are a couple of things wrong with the printing process, from a customer standpoint, that Lob is addressing nicely.  Print automation and personalization are really hard for people outside this industry. When Harry worked at Microsoft, he had a project where he needed to send a large number of printed pieces, each personalized with information about products, and each to be delivered to a different address.  As many have found before him, when it came time to have them printed and mailed, there was no good way to do this… and service providers were expensive. Instead, Harry himself and colleagues spent untold hours printing, addressing, stuffing and mailing the envelopes. So the idea for Lob was born.

Other product ideas soon flowed. According to Leore, posters are “killing it.”  And this certainly shouldn’t be news to most Printers-- on demand posters, sold on a partner’s website, with no inventory required, shipped directly to the ordering customer… are a money maker.

As the startup culture requires, a prospective customers simply reads the documentation for the company’s REST API, at https://www.lob.com/docs, then signs up and orders an item sent to their self.  Almost immediately, most such customers start running batches of real work for their own customers. Not surprisingly at least for now, many of the company’s customers are other Silicon Valley startups—who begin with small quantities of print, then grow their business. LOB has grown with them. It’s a great market and Lob knows where startups hang out.

In their very short existence, Lob already has hundreds of customers and is generating revenue, the founders say.  With an innovative idea and a great technical approach, along with great energy and passion, it’s going to be very exciting to watch their evolution.  I can hardly wait to see what they are doing a few months from now—it’s bound to be a great story.


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Workflow Renaissance

Workflow has been an important topic in the Graphic Communications business since there has been "technology" involved. The modern definition of workflow kicked into high gear as desktop publishing came into commercial use.  Then it really became essential when Print Service Providers (PSPs) adopted Computer to Plate (CTP) in the late 1990s. 

So it's kind of fascinating that today, there is a workflow renaissance going on.  It's really interesting because it's primarily driven by print service provider needs that focus on making vendor equipment more efficient.  These demands have always been present, but because they didn't gate the hardware sale for the press maker, nor did satisfying them differentiate a particular vendor company from its competition, they were not top of mind for anyone. 

That has changed, for a number of reasons.  

First, Web-To-Print is maturing, and many more PSPs need super efficient workflows to handle the high volume of extremely short run work. Second, presses are bigger and faster, as well as more expensive.  So PSPs ramp up sales efforts to increase equipment utilization, to pay the press bills.  To make money, labor expenses (and as a result, craft), must be kept at a minimum and workflow software is the only answer.

The demands from PSPs are frankly greater than what most vendors are delivering. With some great exceptions, many of the workflow solutions in the market today can be considered "legacy software".
Two of the brightest exceptions today are HP SmartStream Production Center, and Enfocus' Switch line of products, which we aren't going to go into in detail here, but may in a future post.


Instead, for the moment, let's think about some of the things vendors need to address to take workflow to the next level, and satisfy the emerging requirements of PSPs for the next few years. I'm probably going to write some discrete posts on some of these topics in the future, too.

- Sell software standalone vs. bundling with hardware. 
- Make workflow software work well with other people's equipment, including competitor equipment.
- Package and describe workflow software in bite size pieces that directly address the MOST IMPORTANT customer/users needs directly. 
- Make the existing software modern with user interface enhancements.  Software that runs on Windows will soon benefit from the "Metro" interface.  Some of the interfaces of industry software just look horrible, and users have become accustomed to new, beautiful web interfaces they use in their life outside of work.
- Make workflow a sexy part of the print production story, with giant screens, visualization and data elements, ala Landa and HP Production Center.  
- One of the coolest things about the Landa launch was the Tablet device from which the operator could control 3 presses
- Appropriate parts of Workflow software should run in browsers, and even smartphones. Handheld devices are incredibly valuable for managing a large and busy production floor.  They are good for a small and busy production floor, too.
- Touchscreens everywhere appropriate. Command line interfaces are still important for the tech nerds, though. 
- Rule based automation should be defined either graphically, or by writing code, depending on how complex the rules, and how sophisticated the user.
- Run the workflow software in the Cloud, delivering it as a set of services at tiered monthly subscription fees. If Adobe can do it with Creative Suite, it can be done with workflow software, too.
- Larger customers today are far less concerned about whether something runs on a particular piece of hardware.  Smaller customers would also likely gravitate toward the subscription model. 
- Create better and more integration with MIS and Web-To-Print systems.
- Create better ways for customers to solve each other's problems and let customers enhance the software, ala Enfocus Crossroads-World community website. 
- Add "cross-media" or marketing services stuff, where it directly benefits the PSP strategy to drive pages and profits.
- Help PSPs show how print complements email--  which for a younger audience with money to spend today is important (i.e., not how email or "cross media" complements print-- that's a message from yesterday.)
- Increasingly, the assets customers use to create printed materials are stored in the cloud.  Workflow systems need to be able to reach into those systems (via APIs), and consume the assets to make print jobs.

In summary, we're talking about a whole new generation of print production workflow.  It takes into account the new environment PSPs are operating in. It makes it so employees (especially those new to the industry) will want to become or stay involved in print production.  It makes the company profitable, efficient and competitive. It remains to be seen whether this will be delivered by the existing vendors, or by the new vendors... but one thing is certain, it will happen!



Sunday, March 31, 2013

High Value Features: Increasing Importance

The clear trend in the industry for the last several years has been digital printing technologies overtaking traditional analog technologies.  And over the last few years, the sophistication of documents produced digitally has grown dramatically. You know, it wasn't that long ago that digital meant monochrome letter-sized printing!

Now we've reach a bit of a "tipping point", for lack of a better phrase, in terms of this sophistication. Everywhere you look now, you see digital products being produced with high value features. These features include, but are not limited to:

- Binding (Perfect, Case, Coils, etc.)
- Cutting (many different sizes)
- Folding (many different shapes)
- Coating (UV and others), Laminating
- Die Cutting (should probably be in quotes, because the lasers and other robotic devices are selling like hotcakes now)
- Inks: (additional imaging units have become common; Gold, Pearlescent, Neon Pink, White anyone)
- Dimensionality (i.e., Scodix, and native capabilities in HP Indigo and Nexpress)
- Papers (amazing, beautiful examples for all output technologies)
- Substrates (I spoke to someone who was printing on Hemp the other day, but plastic has become almost commonplace, and if you look at the GPA catalog, you will see a gigantic variety of versatile non-papers.)
- Foil (not done on the digital equipment, but applied to digital output)
- Special Effects (like Color Logic)

I've never seen so many example of amazing business cards since back in the early days of Printcafe... back in those days, a card that cost $3 was a demonstration of how well you could print, and all the things you could do.  PCAF had cards that were folded, scored, die cut, perforated, had at least 7 colors including a metallic and different coatings on both sides.  Those days are back, only it's digital not analog printing that is impressing.  Just take a look at Moo.com.  I bought some business cards from them, and they were insanely expensive-- so I expected the result would be for people to be impressed by them. I was not disappointed, everyone I gave them to (including many commercial printers) appreciated them.

Color Logic System Designer Swatch Book

It has been said for quite some time that anything that can go digital, will go digital.  In fact, I think Benny Landa himself has even said this. However, this is a double edged sword today.  Many things that were previously printed have gone digital in the form of not being printed at all-- rather delivered via the Internet. And many more will.  Some information simply makes more sense to be accessed via the web than via an relatively expensive piece of paper.

Other information, however, benefits greatly from the sophisticated treatments that can only be delivered by high-end commercial printing. When you understand that even the most basic printed piece is going to be more expensive to produce and deliver than something published on the web, you start to realize that the print service providers energy should be focused on producing printed materials for audiences who care about the quality of the piece. There are many examples of these categories of products and I may get into that in a future post.

Clearly, though the smartest operators in the industry have arrived at this conclusion, and are investing in capabilities that will allow them to offer all the advantages of digital printing coupled with beautiful, high-end features. They already have clients who see the value of this work, and they seek out more who fit the profile. This, to me, is the essence of the immediate future of the successful commercial printer.



Tuesday, January 22, 2013

EFI Connect 2013


I was very happy to get the opportunity to attend EFI Connect again this year.  I am pretty sure it was my 10th time around, out of 13 years, of this very special industry event that began life back in the Printcafe era. Wow, time flies.  The very substantial turnout of customers, partners and EFI employees continues to make it an impressive event. Only The HP Graphic Arts User Group meeting, Dscoop8 will have a larger customer turnout in the industry this year. 

January was unseasonably cold in Las Vegas, but inside the Wynn at Connect, it was hot! For me, as a former employee of EFI, it was like reunion.  I saw so many colleagues and friends, it was great to catch up and find out what's new with products I was involved with during my tenure, as well as learn about the systems and technologies my industry associates are using to run their businesses.  The striking thing this year-- it was almost "mind blowing"-- was see all the new EFI employees-- many of whom I know, but not from EFI-- like Mark McGowan, the CEO of Online Print Solutions (OPS), and Chris Woods, from Technique. Both very well respected technology companies were recently acquired by EFI, and were attending their first Connect event as part of the family.  EFI has been on a major global roll acquiring MIS vendors over the last year and a half-- including Metrics in South America and Alphagraph in Europe, not to mention venerable Prism, which was more or less a "tent stake" if not a tent pole for the new acquisitions and brought back Filip Buyse (prior to Prism, he was VP at Printcafe) as GM of the Web2Print products. At Connect this time around, Filip was so busy with customers, I only got to briefly say "hi" to him!

Guy Gecht is an amazing CEO, and he can also be quite amusing when he wants to be--  always a source of great knowledge and insight. His fireside chats with industry luminaries have become the stuff of legend at Connect.  I've been thrilled to hear them in the past, and this year's talk with Benny Landa was amazing. An industry legend and the founder of Indigo (acquired by HP a little over 10 years ago), and now CEO of several new ventures, including a new printing press and ink company, LandaCorp in Israel, Benny is like the Steve Jobs of the printing industry. He's been personally involved in over 1,000 patent applications in his career, and a large number were granted. He brings a beautiful vision and a contagious excitement to the printing industry like no other individual, or company for that matter... although EFI and HP are both close seconds in this area. I've seen Benny Landa speak 4 times starting with, and including at drupa last year. The coolest part is that I have learned something new about the man, and what he is doing, every single time.  That's pretty rare.

Benny spoke of his childhood, telling an amazing story about his father's tobacco store in which the man and his son, out of necessity to make a living for the family, built a passport photography machine. Among other unique features was that it made an image positive on glossy paper. He drew a direct line from this machine to Indigo, over the course of a few minutes of a spoken history that I'd never heard.  It was very moving.

One funny part of the Landa interview was when Guy asked Benny about the importance of workflow.  Guy was obviously fishing for an EFI endorsement, but Benny said flatly, "You're asking the wrong guy."  Guy pushed a little bit, and Benny retorted, "Why don't you ask Udi?"  At that point, much of the crowd erupted in laughter, because Udi Arielli is so well know, and another terrific feature of Connect was his Automated Workflow Experience (AWE), which is an animated, interactive, but live narrated movie that Udi's "british-academy award" winning daughter helped him produce, explaining the importance of CIM and automation, and how EFI's products enhance and streamline printing operations of any shape and size, from end-to-end. 

Benny Landa is also well known for never hiring people who have hobbies.  He wants people whose love is the work they are doing.  Clearly, he's found success hiring such people!  Guy grilled Benny on his hobbies... Music? No.  Books?  That's my wife's department.  Movies?  Benny says, "I saw a movie once in the seventies... it was called 'Debbie Does Dallas', I think."  This brought the extra-curricular activities line of questioning to a successful conclusion, and also brought the house down! Classic, outrageous, iconoclastic. Guy Gecht is as sharp as it gets, incredibly fast on his feet, and this proved that he and Benny are cut from the same cloth.

Of course, perhaps the biggest attraction of Connect is the training classes.  There were more than 150 classes at this year's event. At trade shows, there are a few interesting seminars delivered by consultants, unfortunately often leaving attendees with more questions than answers. At Connect, you can send your people to get deep-dive training, and actually save money versus having an EFI trainer come in-house. Plus, with features like the keynotes, other outside speakers, meals and receptions, not to mention unparalleled networking, it has all the good features of a trade show, too.  Many printing company owners find it to be an amazing value and use Connect as a perk for top-performing employees. There were even a number of third-party vendors in attendance, like Kodak, Xerox, MGI, Ricoh and Esko, just to name a few-- MGI even had a digital press on the floor of "The Lab", which is the central meeting space of the event. Along with the annual golf outing, and Andy Booth's newer tradition of a bike ride up Red Rock Canyon, people actually got to step outside the ritzy confines of the Wynn, too. 

If you are an EFI customer, and haven't made it to Connect, you owe it to yourself and the future of your company to attend next year.