Two of my earlier columns relating to Xplor 2001, the Global Electronic Document Systems Conference and Exhibit underway this week in Orlando, Florida, have addressed the issue of convergence of transactional/data center printing and promotional/graphic arts printing. As I expected before the conference began, this particular "flavor" of convergence has been one of the major themes of Xplor 2001. It’s not that every presentation at Xplor expressly addresses the topic of convergence. But, convergence is a pervasive and important background issue for most of the topics that Xplor speakers are discussing.

Convergence is a pervasive issue because it is a complex, multi-dimensional phenomenon. Convergence is occurring on several levels, and it extends far beyond the coming together of transactional and graphic arts printing. In fact, convergence is starting to touch almost all methods of human communications. Human communication is about transmitting information. That information may be emotional, persuasive or factual in character, but it is still information. At some point in its lifespan, most information is in digital form. And it is this pervasive digitization of information that enables (and, perhaps, even causes) convergence to occur in many dimensions.

The multi-faceted character of convergence was examined by a distinguished panel of experts at Wednesday morning’s keynote presentation at Xplor. Titled, "Converging Points of View," the session was moderated by Keith Davidson, the former founding president and CEO of Xplor International. It featured presentations by Frank Romano of the Rochester Institute of Technology, Elizabeth Bitsch-Christensen of CAP Ventures, and Carl Frappaolo of The Delphi Group.

Prior to the session Dr. Davidson took an expansive view of convergence, saying, "Convergence means that document-based communications strategies must focus beyond the devices that are used to communicate. Document systems professionals must focus on what is to be communicated, who are the senders and receivers of communications, and the values that will be engendered by the communications. Predicting the economic and cultural values will be just as important as understanding the scientific and technological outcomes. While there is support for the mobile telephone/computer/TV/pager/e-mail/Internet device as the ultimate information appliance, convergence is more than playing CD’s on your computer, more than publishing on the Internet instead of on paper. It is a fundamental trait of our scientific and economic future."

Dr. Romano addressed the topic of digital convergence and publishing and reminded the audience that books, magazines, catalogs, and, in fact, all printed documents are packages of information. Romano contended that printed documents will be challenged because of economics. It is not so much that print is the problem, Romano argued, distribution of printed material is the problem. "The most important distribution channel for printed material in the U.S. is the United States Postal Service," explained Romano. "But with the growing expense of mailing a magazine, I believe within three years Time-Life will offer a free e-book reader with each subscription."

Bitsch-Christensen addressed the issue of wireless communications. She noted that communications were once bound by underground wires, but that wireless devices not relieve us of that dependency. Bitsch-Christensen believes that wireless technologies will complement rather than replace other forms of communications. But, she contends that wireless communications can produce significant cost savings for business organizations that become comfortable with its use.

The final panelist, Carl Frappaolo, reminded the audience that content or information is at the heart of all communications and that content management becomes increasingly important when an organization needs to be prepared to communicate that content across a variety of communications devices and media. "Today, we think content is the physical format," said Frappaolo. "In the future we have to think about what content can do."