Tuesday, January 10, 2012

State of Print and the Cloud

Looking forward in 2012, there will be exciting developments in Cloud printing. We will assuredly see advances in all the topic areas and from all the technology companies we've covered here, including Apple, Google, HP, and the graphic arts industry suppliers.

Beyond the constantly forward-looking technology components, the business of print in general continues its transition. Business models are blurring. Managed Service Providers (MSPs) and commercial Print Service Providers (PSPs) are competing for the same work in many cases. MSPs want to gain share at the expense of PSPs, and vice versa. In speaking to many document owners in large corporations, even at companies that own their own production operations, I hear people looking for additional, better options.

I've said for some time that customers impatience is growing. This is manifested by their restlessness with the status quo of how printing operations do business. Digital media, and Web2.0 applications, have hurt how print is perceived. People expect the same sort of experience working with print manufacturing operations online that they get from everything else in their digital sphere. Instead, in many cases, doing business with printing companies is like going back to the 1970s, not in a fun and nostalgic way, but instead in a complicated, frustrated, primitive and time consuming way.

Another thing that has happened lately is that some what were "hottest" technologies for print have become obsolete without ever achieving critical mass. One big example that is becoming more apparent every day is 1:1 personalization in print, a technology and application that has struggled along for many years, now appears to be all but dead. Many things led to this death, for example, people realized that the worst time to sell something to someone is when they are reading a bill (causing the death of TransPromo). But the main things killing off 1:1 VDP are Google and Facebook. Print personalization never had access to platforms like these, rich with the data necessary to effectively target users with personalization-- and now never will. And even if we somehow obtain access now, the speed at which we can deliver the message is so slow, it's likely to be at worst completely irrelevant when it gets to its recipient, and at best, old news. Another example in "big iron" is the direct, on press imaging, or "DI" presses. There are just few applications for these niche technologies, you've got to ask yourself, is it worth it?

An example of how fast things are changing in the hardcopy world can be found in the everyday lives of those of who spend a lot of time on airplanes. One of the main drivers behind development of early Cloud Printing platforms, like EFI PrintMe was airline boarding passes. How ironic is it that at virtually the exact moment in time when most hotels now have free access to workstations and printers for you to print your boarding pass, you no longer need a physical boarding pass because you can use your smartphone.

We have a big year ahead of us. A series of upcoming events will shed great light on what our industry is going to look like in our near future. First, PODi, in January-- what will they talk about, now that 1:1 is dead? We shall see. I'm guessing "becoming a Marketing Service Provider (MSP)" will be a key topic. The Automated Solutions Network of the Printing Industries of America will feature a tour of Mimeo's Automated Document Factory in Memphis and a once-in-a-lifetime visit to the Fedex global hub, on January 31st. Automation needs to be a mantra in this industry, especially at a time when communicators in corporate America can go online and get their message out almost for free, in a split second. Vision 3 Summit, in February, where there is bound to much hand wringing regarding the number of business closures and "unforeseen" mergers going on in the business. I bet some deals will be done there! V3 will also no doubt see pundits telling the audience members to become Marketing Service Providers (MSPs)-- all you printers out there, let's cheer them on and while they are busy trying to compete with Facebook, Google and Groupon, we'll print all the stuff their customers used to print with them!

Moving on to more positive territory, the 64th Annual TAGA Conference will be held in Jacksonville in the middle of March, showcasing the industry's future through it's student competition, along with the industry's best and brightest scientists and academics. Immediately following that same week, DSCOOP7 will be held in Washington, DC, and is certain to be one of the most exciting events of the year. Drupa, the international trade fair in Germany, begins on May 3rd, and I think this year the most interesting stuff will be everything that is NOT a printing press(which is not to say there won't be exciting printing presses there.)

Then it's time to come home and execute on everything we've all learned. Stay tuned for more developments as these trends unfold.