When installing and using print technology, you have a lot of resources to rely on: the vendor, your internal team, the internet, user manuals, consultants and so on. However, often the most untapped resource pool is the user community to which you belong. This user community is perhaps blindly unaware you even exist. It is a community to which you have to invite yourself in to and make your presence known. You have to be nosey in the best way possible and seek out companies and individuals that have gone before you in their adoption or use of technology. If you have been using the technology for 'years and years' it can be just as valuable for you to seek out the new members in the space to find out how they are innovating and using the technology that you may have become 'stale' with.
If you are not sure where to start, some of the best ways to seek out users in the community include:
User Groups - many of the software offerings in the print industry have started independent user groups (ie not driven by the vendor) that you can join. These are GREAT ways of meeting fellow users and finding out what is happening in the 'real-world' with the software. Usually there is a fee to join but the nominal cost is such a valuable investment for what you get in return
LinkedIn - often you can find groups for your software application on LinkedIn that become active discussion boards. Joining these groups will let you keep an eye on what the user community is talking about and help to keep you informed.
Vendor Forums - most vendors will host forums or discussions related to their software. While vendor driven, you can usually participate in discussions/threads that will get you in to the user community and give you access to users.
User Conferences - while vendor driven, these conferences are valuable and I can't stress enough their importance. I know a lot of complaints about user conferences are generally along the lines of 'that session was just listing features' or 'I could have got that information in a WebEx session'. While that may be true, what you cannot get from the comfort of your office is the networking, round table discussions and conversations over lunch that can give you great insight in to the challenges your peers also face.
Trade Shows - the trade show market has taken a big hit the last few years. The footprints are shrinking and most printers don't feel the need to attend a lot of the time. However, like user conferences, the networking that happens on the trade show floor and over coffee is big. It is a great opportunity to keep you up-to-speed on what is happening in the industry and reconnect with your vendors in person.
As many of you are still on the fence about whether to book a flight to Chicago for Graph Expo at the end of the month, think about the opportunity to connect with some old industry friends or make new ones - as the old cliché goes, it’s not just about what you know but who you know.