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Commentary & Analysis

Michael O'Hara; CEO of XMPie

by Noel Ward,

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: June 30, 2003

by Noel Ward, Executive Editor June 30, 2003 -- When I first met Michael O'Hara, CEO of XMPie, at the On Demand show in April, we quickly discovered several common interests and even a mutual friend in an entirely different industry. It is indeed a small world. We so enjoyed talking about our avocational interests it took a while to get to the business at hand, variable data printing, and how XMPie offers a compelling solution for a broad range of businesses. Since then, I sent Michael some questions about XMPie, so he could explain in his own words its strategy and place in the market. OnDemandJournal: Let's start with a 30,000-foot view of XMPie and PersonalEffect. Michael O'Hara: XMPie provides software products that allow users to create and execute highly effective, one-to-one marketing campaigns. We do this with our flagship software platform PersonalEffect™. PersonalEffect allows marketing departments, advertising and direct mail agencies, digital printing, and enterprises to effectively leverage CRM systems, customer, and prospect databases to create personalized one-to-one marketing campaigns. These campaigns can then be easily executed across multiple media including print, e-mail, web, and wireless channels. PersonalEffect bridges the gap between integrating customer information repositories (data), to creative control (design), and commercial-grade production capabilities. In addition, this single, collaborative platform acts as a "bond" that seamlessly links different disciplines together, forming a streamlined workflow common to the print, corporate, marketing or agency creative process. OnDemandJournal: There are a number of competitors going after much the same part of the market as XMPie. What niches in the market are you targeting with PersonalEffect? Michael O'Hara: We view the market a bit differently than our competitors. Too many companies view the market exactly as your questions states in that they address the needs of single markets without examining the entire communications process. One of our competitors claims they are the "only solution to bring the power of web personalization to printed direct marketing materials." Print is but one part of the entire communication process and if you are just focusing on one single component of the market, then these types of solutions will suffice. At XMPie, we see the entire communication process, not as one-dimension broken out in to singular market segments. Do you think a creative director sits down at his or her desk and just thinks about one process in a campaign? A creative director is responsible for creating the vision for an entire campaign from start to finish and in that process, print is but just one of the mediums available to him or her as a choice. A creative director is looking out onto a much broader worldwide campaign, which may include print, email, the web, and possibly wireless. XMPie understands this much broader global vision as it relates to the communication process. We realize that in order to be successful in the marketplace, all of the parties who are part of the creative process, from the client and advertising agency, all the way down to the printer, must have access to this technology in a way that allows everyone of them to participate in the process. Not only must they be part of the process there must be a way that allows each participant to continue working in the same manner they are accustomed to. As I said before, everyone involved in the process sees things through different eyes as it relates back to their roll in the communication process. With one-to-one marketing and VDP, there are many processes that must come together at various stages. OnDemandJournal: What capabilities do you feel best distinguish PersonalEffect from your key competitors? Michael O'Hara: We are platform agnostic. Our products function in all environments, which in many cases can be a combination of Macintosh, Wintel, and even UNIX. Once again every feature ties back in to our central theme that we must allow our customers the ability to work in their own environment with their own tools. A number of our competitor's products require that you change the way that you work, or change the process in which you work. Others require that the users adopt unfamiliar proprietary tools. PersonalEffect requires none of this and instead presents a workflow that is common to the process with the ability to use native software tools that most everyone is accustomed to. PersonalEffect, specifically the uPlan module allows the database professional to work directly with a customer database to specify and control the business logic (rules), Dynamic Objects, and database schema of a given campaign. Finally, databases can be changed without changing the plan or changes to a rule can be made without touching the designs. Finally, PersonalEffect provides a true cross-media development environment. Many of our competitors allow you to produce variable data-enhanced output, which could be repurposed other media. PersonalEffect was designed from the ground up to be a true cross media application and contains features that allow users to easily add and change "channels" or media at any stage of the campaign development cycle OnDemandJournal: You have alliances with a number of print engine vendors and digital printing manufacturers; they in turn have alliances with some of your competitors. Where do they see XMPie fitting into their offerings and how do you expect them to differentiate PersonalEffect for their various customer applications? Michael O'Hara: Taking Xerox as an example, Xerox will use XMPie as a means to enhance their digital printing presses, such as the new iGen product line. In turn, PersonalEffect will drive the use of digital printing consumables-paper and toner. In addition, the combination of PersonalEffect and iGen digital presses will allow Xerox customers to fully tap the capabilities of the iGen and to leverage their hardware investment. Perhaps the second part of your question would be better asked and answered by Xerox; however, I'll give you my thoughts on the matter. If a Xerox customer is looking for a variable data only solution, Xerox will be happy to provide a reference from a number of "partners" that Xerox has. However, if a Xerox customer is looking for a true cross-media campaign development platform that has been tested to provide the highest output capabilities with Xerox's digital presses, then XMPie's PersonalEffect is the only answer. OnDemandJournal: Michael, you are noted as being an Internet pioneer. Tell us how you see the Web and digital printing coming together to produce variable content. Michael O'Hara: Today, variable content has been limited to printed output and limited, cookie-based web personalization. Very soon, you will see the Web behaving more and more in a personal and one-to-one fashion, providing the visitor with a highly personalized experience, or "Web-on-demand" that requires very little interaction on the part of the user. This trend will lead to the Web becoming a driver for variable content digital printing, whereby a user's web behavior will feed variable data engines to produce highly-personalized digital printed content. PersonalEffect actually contains a feature called Web-on-Demand or Micro-Site that behaves much like what I've described above. The communication process is changing. We have entered a new world of communications where email will be accessible to wireless users in every corner in America over the next five years. Wireless printing will become the norm and the Web browser, most notably Internet Explorer will become the standard user interface for consumers. OnDemandJournal: Print providers are now coming around to the idea of variable data printing and beginning to offer it to customers. But we are still a long way from it becoming mainstream. What are the key factors do you see that needed to make VI printing a mainstream application? Michael O'Hara: I believe one of the main reasons we have not seen mainstream adoption of VI and one-to-one marketing is that the barriers for entry have been too high and a more simplified method for adoption of the technology is needed. History has shown that printing organizations are not the deliverers of technology. Postscript and desktop publishing only became mainstream when advertising agencies and design firms adopted the technology and drove it back down to the printing companies. I believe the business model for VI is the same today. Printing organizations should not be expected to bear the responsibility for the introduction of the technology into the industry since the greatest benefactors of this technology are corporations. Corporations will drive this technology down to their communication partners who will in turn drive it down to their vendors. This process has been in place for many years and will not change for quite some time. OnDemandJournal: How do you expect XMPie and PersonalEffect to make a difference? Michael O'Hara: XMPie is one of the few solutions that a customer can take of advantage that combines variable data text, color imagery, including rich graphics, photographs, tables, and any other elements that are normally part of a design layout. In addition, the users can extend the print layout, using native design tools, to include email, and web output. By providing customers with PersonalEffect's capabilities, a user can not only create personalized printing output, but the ability to extend their print campaigns to additional media. We believe we have the potential to become the dominate player because we believe our vision allows everyone involved with the process today to continue using the same tools they have grown accustomed to using. Not requiring users to change their habits will allow our clients to become empowered immediately. Customers can start seeing results right away with our solution and we believe that is unique. We also believe we will do for VI what Adobe did for desktop publishing. That is a bold statement but when you look at the similarities between our product and Adobe's line of desktop publishing tools there are many similarities. OnDemandJournal: Some digital printing hardware vendors, such as Xerox, have initiated market development programs to raise awareness of variable data printing. To what extent is XMPie participating in these? Is XMPie planning other market development activities? Michael O'Hara: Xerox believes that one-to-one marketing applications will contribute significantly to improved response rates for direct marketing campaigns. With this in mind, Xerox wants to offer PersonalEffect directly to their customers who can in turn drive larger volumes of printing through their production systems. We must of course work with our clients and for those that need help we must walk this long road with them and do everything we can to help educate their sales and technology teams on how to best take our products and services to their markets. We understand clearly that there is a lot of work to do to build this market and create this industry. We are very fortunate in that everyone we work with believes in the future of VI and the critical role it will play in our future.



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