Educating the Print Customer
Everyone seems to agree that the enterprise and agencies need to be educated about the concept and how-to of variable data printing. That was a main reason for the development of the Designing for Digital program. However, I question whether most printers will have the time and manpower it takes to educate the design world.

Heidelberg and Xerox are wrestling with this problem, and providing business development support to their printer customers while trying to get the word out to agencies. NexPress has hired marketing specialists to get the word out. Although IBM, Xerox and HP all have connections in the enterprise, only IBM and HP have the depth of consulting services. Therefore it is not surprising that both are choosing to use these talents, although in different ways. HP is working with the print customer directly and involving the necessary marketing and print companies. IBM, on the other hand, is selling their expertise to printers to help them build the services that the enterprise needs them to have.

This market is so much in need of lowering barriers that there is room for just about any approach.

HP's Enterprise Strategy for Building Page Volume
HP continues to make its differentiation very clear. In addition to being "the only Pantone-certified digital press," according to Ron Kukla, VP Sales, HP digital Publishing solutions, "the devices have up to 7 color capability, print with ink instead of toner and have the most substrate flexibility." About 75% of the presses sold are more than 4-color. Also differentiating HP is their strategy for advancing variable data printing.

The Indigo Division is focused on bringing together teams from three sectors--the enterprise, the "new age" agency and the printer--to "transform how companies do business." Kukla agrees that "you need three ready, willing and able groups" to accomplish these applications, and HP will work with a client's existing partnerships and/or recommend new ones. HP Indigo division has also created three internal teams of specialists for the agency, the enterprise and the printer, to facilitate working together. Clearly, this is not a strategy for the short term installation of printing equipment, but a longer term approach to "sustainable volume building."

This model resulted in "a volume increase of 30% this year," according to Kukla. HP will provide the links between each company in the triangle, often customizing their Production Workflow system to a client's requirements.

Although the concept seems great for advancing variable data printing, I have some questions about how it will play out. I see considerable overhead for HP, which leads me to believe that they will need to earn revenues in multiple places. One place is the many services for which printers might have been charging. And if an enterprise really gets into variable data volume building, wouldn't it make sense to bring the equipment in-house to lower costs? Just wondering.

IBM--New Kid on the Block with Commercial Printers
You may not have heard much about IBM in the graphic arts market, but they are here to stay and you will be hearing much more. "The growth in digital pages is gong to happen in the commercial print market," says Bruce Otte, Worldwide Manager of Production Solutions Strategy for IBM Printing Systems, "and this is absolutely a target market for IBM."

The company's market share has been growing, especially in book printing and direct mail, but they have started a campaign to build awareness of their capabilities with the traditional printer. Of all the vendors, it is no surprise that IBM has been in digital technology the longest. Few would dispute they are also experts in computers, variable data, infrastructure, databases, CRM and business reengineering. According to Otte, "As printers decide to redefine how they deliver output, and look for partners to help, choosing IBM as an output consultant makes sense."

IBM has already helped printers provide complex variable data applications; such as on demand manuals for an auto and truck manufacturer in 23 languages with the exact features of each vehicle. In addition to utilizing IBM digital equipment, this printer was able to add new services for the customer such as database management, content management and archiving, among others. IBM will bring all facets of their multi-level teams to bear, including specialists in IT, integration, software color and b/w print and Global Services, if need be.

The capability is surely there. The question in my mind is whether IBM understands the traditional printing culture and can demonstrate that they do. Technology is one thing, and trust and comfort level is another.