Commentary & Analysis
Red States/Blue States: Where Is the Convergence?
My initial perceptions of the On Demand show may have been unduly influenced by all of the election coverage on CNN,
By Cary Sherburne
Published: March 13, 2008
My initial perceptions of the On Demand show may have been unduly influenced by all of the election coverage on CNN, but my first thought when walking onto the show floor was that we had a Red State/Blue State thing going on here. As most of you are aware, AIIM and On Demand shared the show floor. The AIIM side of the show had blue carpet and the On Demand side had a red carpet. There was a distinct line down the middle in more ways than one.
As much as we talk about convergence in our industry, the show still reflects a distinct demarcation. There were many suppliers on the floor who could have exhibited on either side of the show. One interesting example I came across in the On Demand side was Anchor Software’s Transaction Designer targeted at mid-sized ($10 million plus) firms wishing to enter the TransPromo market. Another on the Blue (AIIM) side was Bluebeam, which offers a PDF solution that allows users to create and annotate PDFs from the desktop starting at $149 for the office version, with specific features built in to serve the legal, financial and office markets, and a slightly pricier version at $199 that allows the generation of PDFs from CAD programs for the architectural/engineering and construction markets.
And more importantly, the customers who were there looking for solutions were often challenged with combing both floors to find them. Or worse, they focused on one side to the exclusion of the other and missed some interesting integration opportunities. Perhaps Questex can find a way to foster a non-partisan approach that is designed to reflect how these two worlds are merging. Bringing the two shows together was the first step, and Questex should be applauded for doing so. Next year in Philadelphia, perhaps we will see even more integration. Jon Liebowitz, a Vice President at Questex, indicated this was on their minds as they plan for next year, migrating from a digital print to a broader digital publishing focus.
As usual, I focused on the “softer” side of the print and publishing workflow. Largely because of the proximity of drupa 2008, there were not a huge number of stunning new announcements, but there were some important highlights nonetheless. And many of them focused on improved automation across the entire workflow, from customer engagement through delivery and invoicing.
Avanti Systems and Pageflex announced a partnership that will integrate Pageflex Storefront with Avanti’s Print MIS solution
For example, Avanti Systems and Pageflex announced a partnership that will integrate Pageflex Storefront with Avanti’s Print MIS solution. Avanti’s eAccess has been available for some time as a fully integrated entry-level storefront for its customers. With Pageflex integration, customers will have an additional choice available to them. Avanti’s President & CEO Patrick Bolan points out that there is little difference between the average printer and profit leaders in terms of sales per employee—$147,000 compared to $156,000 according to PIA/GATF. But the profit margins tell a different story, with the average printing firm showing a profit margin of 3.4% and the profit leaders weighing in at 10.1%. This boils down to offering the same or more services with less staff and overhead, and implementing a Print MIS solution that includes full customer-facing integration with a storefront is one sure way to start down that path.
Along the same lines, EFI’s Digital StoreFront is now integrated with PrintSmith, its entry level MIS, bringing this important workflow integration to even the smallest printers at an affordable price.
Apago was showing OneTicket, allowing a job ticket to be created as part of a PDF file that travels with the PDF for accurate and automated printing on a wide range of printers from multiple suppliers, including IKON, Océ, Konica Minolta, Xerox, Kodak, Canon, Ricoh and Toshiba
In another integration move, Apago was showing OneTicket, allowing a job ticket to be created as part of a PDF file that travels with the PDF for accurate and automated printing on a wide range of printers from multiple suppliers, including IKON, Océ, Konica Minolta, Xerox, Kodak, Canon, Ricoh and Toshiba. This makes it easier than ever before to determine where a document should be printed at the very last minute, as well as to easily distribute print across multiple facilities that may not be standardized on a single print platform. The State of Oregon is using this solution to do just that, covering its 13 facilities statewide.
The equipment manufacturers also continued to enhance their workflow offerings. Screen’s TrueFlow is now available as part of Canon’s imagePRESS Workflow Solutions Program, helping users to unify hybrid offset/digital workflows, better leverage their investment in Screen technology and seamlessly integrate the imagePRESS digital press into their existing digital and offset production processes.
Presstek announced a partnership with Press-sense that will integrate Press-sense iWay with its DI presses in a workflow that makes ordering, submission, preflight and production even more efficient. Presstek’s President & CEO Jeff Jacobson commented that while fast makeready has always been a hallmark of DI presses, extending the makeready cycle all the way back to the customer, cutting time and steps out of the process from the beginning, will be a key objective of this partnership.
As reported earlier, Kodak is placing even more emphasis on workflow, with Prinergy, Insite, Insite Storefront and a range of variable data solutions. In fact, Kodak had no equipment in its booth other than scanners, choosing to demonstrate equipment virtually while emphasizing its Kodak Unified Workflow with visitors to the booth. The company’s acquisition of Design2Launch, announced at the show, extends its collaborative workflow deeper into the marketing and creative worlds. Listen to our video interviews on the subject.
Xerox continues to enhance its FreeFlow Digital Workflow Collection, with both Xerox-developed and partner solutions. Most notably at the show, Xerox showed FreeFlow VIPP Pro Publisher. A plug-in to Adobe InDesign, FreeFlow VIPP Pro Publisher enables variable page production without pre-composition, saving network bandwidth by dynamically composing pages at the printer. Deb Cantabene from Xerox explains more in a video interview. While it wasn’t specifically announced at the show, Xerox is implementing CGS Publishing’s ORIS Press Matcher in the FreeFlow Suite to bring more accurate color reproduction across its line as well as a better match to offset and GRACoL. Xerox also set up application-specific conversation stations in its booth, encouraging visitors to sit down and talk with experts about application issues, independent of any specific equipment discussion. This is a theme the company started at Graph Expo and plans to carry to shows in the future, including drupa.
At the show, FujiFilm tied together solutions from partners Xerox, EFI, DesignMerge and Book Production Systems to help printers customize their digital printing solutions. InfoPrint Solutions launched a TransPromo suite, combined with the announcement of the InfoPrint TransPromo Consulting Practice to help customers more easily move into this lucrative space.
And speaking of TransPromo, one other important trend I noticed at On Demand is an increasing focus by suppliers to the industry on scaling solutions to make it easier than ever before for printers of any size to add new digital services
And speaking of TransPromo, one other important trend I noticed at On Demand is an increasing focus by suppliers to the industry on scaling solutions to make it easier than ever before for printers of any size to add new digital services. While there has certainly been a great deal of buzz around TransPromo, the examples cited are generally large companies like DST Output, Ford Motor Company and credit card companies who print millions of statements each month. The vast majority of printing establishments are likely scratching their heads and asking, “What does this have to do with me? My customers print a few hundred or a few thousand statements each month.”
Of course, there have been low end digital solutions of all types on the market for a long time. But in many cases, once a service provider outgrows the solution, an entirely new one must be purchased and implemented. The trend today is to establish both an ease-of-entry approach and a clear migration path for solutions that truly grow with the business.
With this approach, even the smallest business can take advantage of TransPromo, the emerging trend to replace inserts with relevant “onserts” printed in full color on transactional documents and designed to increase response rates and ROI. For example, Elixir showed a small to medium business (SMB) version of its Opus composition solution that sells for $25,000. Combine that with RISO’s 120 ppm HC5500 inkjet printer, at $45,000 or about $1,000 per month on lease, and TransPromo suddenly becomes very affordable. Elixir also offers online training, eliminating the cost of travel and the hassle of being away from the business for extended periods of time.
RSA’s WebCRD now comes in a Base model including modules previously sold separately, repackaged at a lower price, making WebCRD easier to afford. WebCRD won a best of show award for this offering. Migration to the Pro and Enterprise levels is easy and affordable. Press-sense and Printable have used this approach for some time, with Press-sense also adding to the mix the ability to buy software outright, or choose a hosted model for an even easier entry path. Printable continues to extend the workflow farther back into the design and creative worlds, with FusionPro’s campaign-centric workflow for creating a customized online response experience using personalized URLs and microsites for variable data publishing (VDP) marketing campaigns. Printable announced an Intelligent Forms feature in FusionPro Web at the show, allowing users to further customize the types of data entry forms they create for web-based ordering of simple to complex collateral, as well as versioned and variable data.
XMPie is taking a similar scaled approach in the world of cross-media. Along with its refreshed branding launched at the show, XMPie reconfigured its cross-media suite to meet a broader range of needs across the marketplace. uDirect now comes in Classic, Studio and Premier versions, starting at a few thousand dollars. The company also showed new groupings of its XMPie PersonalEffect server-based line that are better tailored for both small-to-medium sized businesses and large enterprises. PersonalEffect was recognized with a Best of Show award at On Demand.
PrintSoft’s latest version of Web Direct brings another interesting approach for printers to differentiate themselves. This solution automates many office printing functions, allowing general office printing to be batched to production centers for lower cost production. Not only can users then take advantage of the lower cost per copy on production machines and even postal discounts when mailings are aggregated, but it makes office workers more efficient. They are no longer creating one-off letters from scratch and printing, folding and stuffing them individually, putting them in the mail stream at full cost. They simply choose a template, which can be prepopulated based on rules, and do minimal customization as needed. Meanwhile, the print is batched to the print service provider in a way that can make it profitable business for the printer. With the new version, users can be even more self-sufficient, editing rules and other criteria right from the desktop.
In order to ensure that all of this new work starts flowing into the business, printers must do a good job of marketing themselves. I met the folks at Great Reach at the show, and they offer an affordable marketing package that can help printers get started, with a quarterly program that includes a customizable, professionally designed newsletters (print and/or email), trifold brochures and postcards. Pieces can be customized and prepared for distribution in as little as 15 minutes, according to the company, and the program is area exclusive—no other printers within a 25-mile radius will be able to subscribe. The subscription plan runs $395 per month, and is structured to give you regular monthly contact with customers. This is just one way to get that marketing engine kick-started. Most of the digital press vendors offer significant resources as well, including Kodak’s Market Mover and Xerox Profit Accelerator programs. HP is also aggressively providing these types of tools. Most of these suppliers also offer a wide range of professional services to help get applications and markets moving. In another show announcement, Océ announced that customer communications management software and services expert NEPS is joining its suite of Océ TransPromo Application Development Services as part of Oce’s Professional Services offering.
There was much more going on at the show that space prevents us from covering here. I encourage you to look through the news announcements on WhatTheyThink’s On Demand coverage site for a good overview. It will only take a few moments and will be well worth your time. The bottom line is that suppliers to the industry are rallying to make it easier and more affordable than ever for print service providers to offer advanced digital services as they work to differentiate their businesses and capitalize on the higher margin opportunities and customer stickiness these services bring. The convergence continues, and the leading vendors are offering a clear migration path that allows increase customization of offerings, and entry almost anywhere along the continuum of volume and sophistication.
We will be reporting about even more progress along these lines at drupa just a short two months from now. Stay tuned!