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Tales from the Open Road: The Cult of Digital

XMPie and HP user groups attract growing memberships There are cults emerging among those who run digital presses,

By Noel Ward
Published: February 25, 2008

XMPie and HP user groups attract growing memberships

There are cults emerging among those who run digital presses, and like most cults they are very different than the old time religions practiced by the guys who've owned and run only offset presses. In fact, the cults are changing what print providers offer and how they think about their businesses. Think about this as you go to On Demand and other shows this year, and don't be afraid to drink some Kool-Aid and getting involved.

The church of offset has adhered to the commandments of long runs, honoring the talismans as blankets and plates, and the rituals of press wash downs. Meanwhile, converts to the new religion of digital printing saw a separate reality--and new opportunity. While followers of the ministers of offset learned to love delivery of documents days or even weeks into the future, followers of the priests of digital have sought ever shorter turnarounds, often expecting documents to be printed and in the mail in as little as a day. Now, as digital printing gains more strength and power, key cults are emerging that build strong bonds between their members, giving them advantages over other digital practitioners, and perhaps showing how all followers of digital --and even those of offset beliefs-- can find ways to work successfully and profitably in the brave new world of printing.

Lest you think this Tale is just another of my off-the-wall pontifications as an ardent believer in digital print, let me briefly relate what I saw at two user group conferences this month. In each case, the cults exhibited tremendous energy and the members were vocal advocates of the successes their beliefs were bringing to their businesses.

Now, I don't really like the term user group because it brings to mind a bunch of Coke-swilling, pizza-gobbling geeks of questionable personal habits, hunched over computers, hacking away and hurling complexities of code at one another in an orgy of unrestrained digital ecstasy.

Under the hood with XMPie
Then there's the 2nd Annual XMPie Users' Group, held February 7th and 8th at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. While there were definitely some geeks on hand, there were also plenty of business owners, marketers and designers. All were there to attend sessions encompassing virtually every way to maximize the use of XMPie's many modules and tools and leverage them with several new features and capabilities you'll see announced in the next few weeks and months. I hadn't had a really good look under the hood at XMPie's tools before, so it was fascinating to see just how deep the capabilities can go. Any print provider who takes the time to tap into what these products offer can seriously raise the bar on what they can offer their customers.

But there is far more to this Tale than packed sessions about software, technique and best practices. About 200 people came to Glitter Gulch, the city where the casinos and shows too often distract conference attendees from the real reasons for the trip. Not so at this event. Every session was well-packed, some even standing room only, and the dialogue was not limited to pitches and teachings from the XMPie trainers and engineers. It went on between attendees as they asked each other how they achieved different goals in design, database management and streamlining the processes of having campaigns work as seamlessly as possible.

The important part is that the companies attending --all potential, if not actual, competitors in today's printing environment-- were willingly sharing information, ideas, asking questions of each other and even looking for ways to network and find ways to help each other win more business by using XMPie's technology.

First time attendee Scott Hademier from St. Louis, Missouri was enthused by the energy present in Las Vegas. "All the conference modules have been great and we're excited about getting back to work and implement all the concepts and ideas we've learned here," he noted, adding that being able to hear about the experiences of other XMPie customers was an important element of the conference.

Dave Welner, CEO of Digital Color Imaqing in Akron, Ohio, brought some of his design and programming staff. "We're here to learn how to get the most we can out of the products," he explains. DCI offers offset, digital and wide format printing as well as well as fulfillment, and uses XMPie's technology for storefronts, fulfillment, and campaigns on the part of its customers. "Some of our biggest successes have been, not just with campaigns but with our digital storefronts," he relates. "We measure that by how they have improved our clients' businesses.

I left Vegas intrigued by the level of enthusiasm at the XMPie conference, thinking how our industry --often though of as stodgy-- needs more of this kind of energy. Two weeks later I found the level cranked several notches higher with another cult in a glass-walled Marriott in San Diego.

The Scoop at DSCOOP
DSCOOP, aka, Digital Solutions Cooperative, is the user group of HP digital press owners. Its members span owners of HP's wide, superwide and grand format inkjet printers along with all Indigo digital presses. This year's annual conference hosted sales and marketing folks, business owners, designers, and the IT types who help make the heavy lifting of sophisticated variable data easier to handle.

The conference has grown from about 300 attendees in 2006 to 700 in 2007 to nearly 1200 this year. The growth -- and DSCOOP members' demand for knowledge-- has driven the scope and depth of the sessions to include sales and marketing, data management, designing for print and cross-media, and perhaps most importantly, development of a marketing plan. I sat in on a session called "Marketing in a Digital World," that kept some 150 people in their chairs for four hours while they considered their business and financial goals, employee skills, equipment and software, and customer needs as they developed a marketing plan. When they left that session, they still had some work to do, but were locked and loaded to get a stronger return on their investment in digital printing technology.

Richard Way, who heads up the team of HP "business consultants" who delivered that session, says it is usually done in a one-on-one format with the execs of individual companies. "Our consultants work with a customer as he or she completes a comprehensive workbook. The customer comes out of the session knowing a lot more about how their business works, how to think about their marketing activities, and how to be much more successful as a digital printer."

Way says HP has been refining this particular program for 12 years and the folks doing the training are all seasoned, experienced printing professionals who have run print shops and understand the real world pressures of running a digital business and of making the transition from being a "printer" to becoming a marketing services firm.

Marketing in a Digital World is just one element of HP's Capture program, a rich suite of software tools and support services designed to give HP customers a ready to use toolbox of templates, programs and other materials to help bring in more business, whether they produce labels, marketing collateral, wide format or anything else.

"The Marketing in a Digital World session was an immediate hit," recounts Matt Bruns, who manages the Capture program at HP. "For DSCOOP, all the available seats were filled the first day of conference registration, showing that customers recognize the need for a solid digital marketing plan and the desire to combine it with other Capture tools to help make their businesses more successful."

As it turned out, the broader Capture program was a major focus of DSCOOP this year and helped emphasize the value of the organization. "The Capture tools are available to every HP digital press owner," says Eric Hawkinson, Executive Director of DSCOOP, "but DSCOOP members gain the value add of sharing knowledge and experiences, not only at the annual conferences but by networking and in online meetings and forums that take place all year long.

One of the most interesting parts of the conference was the Knowledge Center. A big room was set up like a town square with different areas where attendees could talk with a wide range of HP experts and other DSCOOP members about how to be successful with every aspect of digital printing. This, combined with the interactive nature of many sessions and presentations, brought out the tremendous sense of unity that underlies the DSCOOP organization. It brought in some 700 people the day before the full conference began.

"The best part of DSCOOP is the sense of belonging and community," notes Doyle Mortimer, VP of Operations at Alexander's Print Services in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a founding member of DSCOOP three years ago. Mortimer has seen DSCOOP grow from a small association of Indigo press owners to a broad alliance of print providers who recognize that a true community benefits all members. "We know we all become better and more successful by sharing ideas and knowledge."

Cults are a Good Thing
There's no doubt that digital printing is continuing to grow and may ultimately become the predominant form of putting information on pages, posters, labels, packaging and more. Yet because success with digital, especially as it mixes with electronic media, is so reliant on complex and advancing technology, it requires a broader mix of skills and knowledge than offset. This makes it vitally important that print providers look at new ways of thinking about how their businesses work and how to acquire the knowledge they need to use new and emerging technologies in ways that accelerate the time to money that is so critical with technology-driven business investments.

There are still  too many digital shops that treat the readily available technology they use as if mentioning it were a risk to national security. In contrast, the XMPie and DSCOOP conferences show that some of the most successful shops are those that adopt a cult-like approach founded on the belief that everyone has something to offer and that everyone wins by joining together to learn from each other.

Related Videos from DSCOOP

DSCOOP's Eric Hawkinson talks about the organization at their annual conference

HP's Matt Bruns talks about their Capture Program at DSCOOP Annual Conference



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