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Commentary & Analysis

Exclusive Xplor Interview: Keenie MacDonald, IBM Printing Systems Division

By Noel Ward,

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: October 25, 2004

By Noel Ward, Executive Editor October 25, 2004 -- With the 25th annual Xplor Conference going on this week in Dallas it seems appropriate to do some interviews with execs from some industry leading firms we don’t always see at more mainstream print shows like drupa or Graph Expo. One of these is IBM Printing Systems division, a company that retains its focus on the transactional print space and related enterprise information management areas--places where it is established and respected. To get Big Blue's current take on the market, we connected with Kathleen "Keenie" MacDonald, general manager of IBM's Printing Systems in Boulder, Colorado. We first talked with Keenie at the On Demand Show in New York in March of this year, just after she had taken over the GM role. Now, half a year later, we caught up with her via email on the eve of Xplor to discuss standards, outsourcing, workflow, color, and more. ODJ: “Open” is the big buzzword across the entire technology landscape. Specifically related to the printing industry, what are the most important implications or benefits from open standards? What are some examples of how open standards have been incorporated into IBM Printing Systems' products? KMc: Standards in the print industry are critical. As run lengths increase and turnaround times decrease, print processes must become more automated and efficient to allow printing companies to profitably grow their businesses. Standards are a key enabler to achieve efficiencies. IBM's on demand strategy is built around open, industry standards that offer customers printing solutions with unmatched flexibility, longevity and security. An automated process control system can improve productivity, reduce errors, increase security and auditability, enhance privacy control, and significantly reduce costs when compared to more manual processing. IBM has been a leader in developing and supporting printing standards for more than two decades. All IBM products, from low-end workgroup printers to our fastest production printers, incorporate industry based standards. In the early 1980s we developed the AFP architecture to enable transaction applications and production printers to work together seamlessly. Prior to that there were multiple vendor and device-specific architectures and little compatibility. Although AFP was not a formal standard, it has become the foundation of most variable data production printing solutions as a result of wide industry adoption, and IBM’s commitment to keeping AFP published and open. It continues being enhanced with new capabilities such as controlled document distribution, electronic viewing, Unicode for global implementation and full-color support. ODJ: Document workflow has been a recurrent theme through the year and is a key focus for Xplor 2004. Both Océ and Xerox have put a lot of effort lately into promoting their workflow products, PRISMA and FreeFlow, respectively. The market has heard relatively little lately about Infoprint Manager. Do you see Infoprint Manager as a mature product that adequately serves customer needs or is it still evolving? How? How does IBM differentiate itself from the competition with regard to workflow capabilities? KMc: We need to differentiate between "document workflow", "process workflow", and "print and output management." FreeFlow from Xerox is a collection of pre-printing software products from other vendors that manage the compositioning and modifying of a document prior to printing. This is very different from software that manages the printing and output of the document itself, or the process that tracks each and every page. IBM currently relies on and interfaces with third party products, including what the customer may already have on hand. Taking costs out of the “desktop” environment is a ripe opportunity for cost removal in the enterprise. PRISMA from Océ and Infoprint Manager fall into this second category - "print and output management." Infoprint Manager continues to be enhanced to take advantage of technology innovations and enable our customers to do more with less. Any software product must continually "evolve" to meet the needs of a customer’s current environment, keep up with technology changes, and continue to advance function and capability. IBM has invested considerably in Infoprint Manager, and we continue to do so. We believe it is the leading print management software on the market for managing high volume and business critical print and presentation Customers rely on Infoprint Manager to manage a heterogeneous environment. No other print management software today can manage as many data streams or as many different vendors’ printers, including native Xerox metacode, nor is as scalable. With Infoprint Manager for AIX/Windows, one software solution is scalable to manage from one up to 40 high speed production printers, and is scalable to run with one view across multiple servers. The reliability, scalability, flexibility and power of Infoprint Manager set it apart from the competition. We need to differentiate between "document workflow", "process workflow", and "print and output management." And then to your last question on Workflow. When it comes to composing or managing the appearance of a document, we will continue to leverage the strong relationship we have with several third-party vendors. IBM will continue to focus its investment in "workflow" to be the investment in process management control systems. An automated process control system can improve productivity, reduce errors, increase security and auditability, enhance privacy control, and significantly reduce costs when compared to more manual processing. Infoprint Workflow is the leading process management solution available today, and IBM is continuing to invest and improve the capabilities and ease of implementation of the system. ODJ: Another topic these days is outsourcing. Where does IBM Printing Systems see the greatest opportunity in providing outsourcing and facilities management services for document production? What other service areas do you see as key opportunities? KMc: IBM has a broad portfolio of enterprise output solutions for both production and general office printing. We offer the widest range of print hardware and software as well as design, implementation and outsourcing services for general enterprise and office printing. The print engine is such a small aspect of managing the overall TCOP when including the operational costs. Output management is a key component to improving the bottom line. In 2005, we will continue to focus on IBM’s Workplace-on-Demand offering, the industry’s first comprehensive solution to deliver and manage hardware for the front-end technology environment (including desktops, laptops, printers and MFPs, mobile and output devices). This service offering provides customers with a flexible, on demand computing solution that lowers the total cost of ownership and reduces the upfront investment needed to provide an effective and innovative workplace for their employees. Taking costs out of the “desktop” environment is a ripe opportunity for cost removal in the enterprise. However, IBM will continue to work with our service bureau partners to deliver “outsourced print.” Today IBM is the leading print solution provider for the service bureau industry. Why? Because of our ability to help them manage the data, networks, and meet their SLA’s to deliver the right pages at the right time. This is right for the customer, right for IBM, and right for the service bureaus – as they don’t have to worry about their vendor ODJ: Many print engines have technologies that could "wow" any customer, but customers are often struggling to understand how they can embrace these new innovations for business benefit. What is IBM doing to help customers use digital print technology to decrease the Total Cost of Print (TCOP) and improve their bottom line? KMc: Over the past three years, we have implemented significant innovations to help customers lower the total cost of print through enhanced ease of use, increased productivity and improved supplies usage for better print quality. For example, customers needed an easier way to switch to color or MICR toners. IBM introduced the Customer Changeable Developer station that allows this switchover to take place in 3 to 4 minutes. IBM also heard from customers the need to easily switch between pin-fed and pin-less paper, BUT, they needed to make sure it was tractor-driven when in pin-fed mode. IBM listened, and provided a solution that can switch the printer between pin-fed and pin-less in less than two minutes, with pin-fed being native tractor-driven for greater control, fewer errors, and reduced waste. Most recently, we introduced IBM Productivity Tracker to help customers avoid the bottlenecks that minimize productivity and increase production costs. This feature enhances operational productivity by monitoring printer performance, operator activities and print job statistics to the ultimately help reduce the cost of operations. Just because production color print engines exist in the market today, doesn’t mean an organization can easily and efficiently jump on the production color bandwagon. Our customers need a clear understanding of how to measure ROI for implementing color. However, the print engine is such a small aspect of managing the overall TCOP when including the operational costs. Output management is a key component to improving the bottom line. IBM’s process and print management technology combined with enhanced file management and spooling capabilities help customers save time and money by controlling enterprise output process from the raw data to final delivery to maximize resource utilization, minimize waste, and deliver on time. To ensure efforts are current and relevant to our customers' needs, we recently launched two efforts to provide a forum for collaborative customer training -- the Infoprint Workflow Customer Advisory Council (ICAC) and the Infoprint Manager Roundup. These exchanges help us to identify areas where an opportunity exists to improve productivity, increase security, and reduce costs, all to the benefit of our customer and theirs. ADP in Dallas will tell you that with the implementation of an automated process management system, Infoprint Workflow, their productivity is twice the industry standard. That delivers real value to the bottom line. ODJ: Your competitors continue to roll-out very visible spot and full-color printing solutions for transactional applications. As I talk to transactional print providers--a key market for IBM--I find them looking for high-speed color solutions--both spot and full color--often finding them among your competitors. Why does IBM seem to ignore the growing demand for color technology? KMc: Well, let me begin by challenging--friendly of course--your assertion that IBM is “ignoring” the growing demand for color. IBM was the first company in the world to introduce a full color AFP variable data printing solution. But, as our customers began to really look at implementing a full-color solution, many other enterprise challenges came to light. At first blush it may appear that production color variable-data printing technology is ready for prime time; however, companies tell us that implementing color in transaction processing is not as simple as it looks. The market for production digital color today is strongest in commercial graphics arts and commercial reprographics printing environments, markets that do not require the data management and high speed processing systems--places where IBM is the leader. Our focus and specialization, however, is, primarily full-page variable data printing, a segment that is not yet migrating to color for reasons that go far beyond the print engine. It’s important to understand that just because production color print engines exist in the market today, doesn’t mean an organization can easily and efficiently jump on the production color bandwagon. Our customers need a clear understanding of how to measure ROI for implementing color. IBM Printing Systems’ strategy is to provide a platform that supports seamless transition of variable-data production applications, primarily transactional print, from monochrome to color output, as the industry moves towards color. Color management is a complex function that affects all parts of a presentation system--applications, clients, servers, transforms, controllers, and print engines. Automated and consistent color management is necessary when dealing with corporate colors that are strong identifiers for a company. IBM is heeding this need through the AFP Color Consortium. We have invited the top AFP application providers and AFP print developers in the industry to join us in developing the color management architecture within AFP. The goal of the AFP Color Consortium is to finalize a formal extension to the AFP architecture from which the entire production print industry can implement and benefit. Consequently, IBM Printing Systems’ strategy is to provide a platform that supports seamless transition of variable-data production applications, primarily transactional print, from monochrome to color output, as the industry moves towards color. This means addressing ALL of the costs and business impacts of printing in color, beyond just toner costs. In addition, we will develop AFP as the standard for high-speed, variable-data, production color print. Additionally, monochrome is not going away. Therefore, companies want to implement a solution that can manage one data stream for printing in color or black and white, all managed by the same print and process solution. IBM is the right partner to deliver just that. ODJ: IBM has a big focus on its On Demand Business initiative (great TV ads!). What does this initiative mean to IBM Printing Systems and to what extent it being incorporated into the products and services you provide your customers? How? KMc: Today, our on demand business initiative is helping companies around the world become more adaptable to its customers changing demands. As I stated earlier, being an on demand business requires an open architecture that can control a complex printing environment and meet the flexibility requirements to keep up with new challenges--especially for our friends in the service bureau and direct mail industries. Customers need to efficiently operate in a multi-vendor environment. IBM print solutions help them do so by managing their output without changing existing applications. For example, we’ve created an Infoprint Workflow solution for one of the largest financial firms in the U.S that has reduced print sites by half and enabled them to increase their production capacity by 65%. Now, they leverage existing investments to operate in a heterogeneous environment for increased productivity levels that surpass industry standards. Being an on demand business requires an open architecture that can control a complex printing environment and meet the flexibility requirements to keep up with new challenges--especially for our friends in the service bureau and direct mail industries. Additionally, being an on demand business means being responsive to your customers’ demand. Our customers must have the ability to interface with their own customers, suppliers, and even other print shops. To network efficiently, they need operating systems that enable them to print any datastream, on any media, on time and on budget. A great example of an on demand business being responsive to their customers in Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC). HCSC leveraged IBM to help them with a very important initiative to protect their customers privacy and comply with new Federal regulations under the HIPAA act. We’ve provided them with a solution that assures customer privacy and the ability to automate their audit processes and prepare for regulatory audits at a moment’s notice. An added bonus for them was that IBM Workflow has enabled HCSC to increase print response time, shorten turnaround times and improve overall customer satisfaction by eliminating previously undetected errors. ODJ: Your competitors make a point of keeping industry analysts informed about their corporate, product and go-to-market strategies. By comparison, IBM tells analysts and industry influencers very little about its thinking and plans. In what ways do you think this secretiveness places IBM at a disadvantage in an increasingly competitive marketplace? Being an on demand business means being responsive to your customers’ demand. Our customers must have the ability to interface with their own customers, suppliers, and even other print shops. We believe the analyst community is an important audience and a great resource for the industry as a whole and by no means do we overlook their influence on the market. Our focus is on our customers and in delivering products and solutions that provide unmatched value and competitive advantage. We communicate regularly with our customers to keep them informed. We also share this information with industry analysts and maintain an ongoing and open dialog to ensure we are leveraging their industry expertise. In fact, we have done blind surveys among industry analysts in the past on our performance and our score has increased year over year. We are an official sponsor of the Gartner Office Document Management Program at Xplor 2004, working alongside Gartner analysts to provide attendees with the knowledge and best practices know-how to realize their business goals. Maximizing return on investment, including lowering the total cost of print, is a critical focus for every organization. We're helping companies get the most out of their print and document management functions. IBM is a leader in delivering solutions that meet the market requirements, and analysts are an invaluable source in making sure we are on track. We work with analysts to both help us identify trends, as well as making sure our implementations have indeed hit the mark.

 

 

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