By Chuck Surprise, for PrintOnDemand.com and WhatTheyThink.com November 1, 2002 -- Xplor is set apart from other major conferences I’ve attended by the size, quality and diversity of its membership. The organization is an eclectic mix of large and small end users, greater and lesser developers and manufacturers, and a broad spectrum of service providers. Given the proper catalyst, as it was in the majority of the seven seminars I was able to attend, this mix of people, personalities and perspectives can produce a great deal of relevant information and stimulate hours of post-seminar brainstorming. In my view, nothing better captures the essence of Xplor than the Joint Technology Council - JTC. My initial disappointment with Sunday’s JTC presentation to the mass audience was quickly replaced by tremendous respect for the JTC concept and function during the detailed Tuesday session which revealed the breadth and depth of the symbiotic relationship between Xplor’s JTC members and their participating partner companies: Adobe Systems, Inc., Heidelberg Digital/NexPress, Hewlett-Packard, IBM Printing Systems, Nipson (ex-Xeikon), Oce, Scitex Digital Printing and Xerox Corporation. Panelists for the Tuesday morning discussion were Terry Johnson, EDP, Vestcom International, Inc., moderator; Skip Henk, EDP, Scitex Digital Printing, Inc.; Scott Kelly, EDP, US Lynx Inc., and Stephen Lutz, EDP, Landmark Document Services. Typically, the vendor partners look for a mix of disciplines within their respective JTC groups -- production, marketing, IT, color management, design, and so forth - to provide a balanced view for their engineering and marketing teams. “And,” emphasized Terry Johnson, who opened the JTC presentation, “the sponsors actually listen!” Describing the conversational cycle of a typical session between sponsors and JTC members, Johnson said it goes something like this: 1. I tell you stuff. 2. You listen to me. 3. You question why you are here. 4. You realize that knowledge is power. 5. You question why I am here. 6. You realize the doors are locked. 7. So, you relax and resign yourself to the fact that listening to me is a necessity. 8. The whole cycle starts over again! JTC members are volunteers from the Xplor family who select the companies they’d like to advise, and apply for inclusion in one of the chosen groups. Sponsors make the selections and pick up the tab for meeting expenses (significant $$$). As Johnson pointed out, “By sharing your thoughts and ideas, you will have the opportunity to influence the strategic direction of the vendor’s products and services.” And the vendors, of course, are able to develop better and more saleable products. Council members need not be, and often are not, users of the products on which they are chosen to advise. The vendors‚ goal is to build better mousetraps, not to convince the JTC team members to buy current offerings. The session also delved into the recruitment of Xplorers for service with the JTC group on sponsor teams. Membership requires commitment, knowledge, communication skills, and the support of the counselors’ companies for several days of absence from normal duties. Skip Henk of Scitex gave the audience a view of JTC from the manufacturer’s perspective. Skip, a long-time member of Xplor predating his days at Scitex, noted that the advisory group figured prominently in his company’s strategic planning. “Power is the ability to affect change. And JTC has power!” Scott Kelly, of US Lynx, who chairs the IBM JTC group, noted that he has yet to purchase any of the sponsor’s printers, but deeply values his association with the company. IBM hosts its council members in Boulder, Colorado and typically involves members of its top management team in the exchanges. The JTC participants break up into small discussion groups, each group agrees upon a set of recommendations, and the newest member of the group presents its findings to IBM. The overall goal is to try to give the sponsor company a view of where its products should be in three to five years. And, perhaps, to work in a bit of skiing during “recess” breaks. Steve Lutz, a JTC member since 1996, originally served on the Kodak council and is now with the Heidelberg advisors. Heidelberg has taken over the development of digital printers for the partnership. Steve feels that the evolution of the Digimaster 9110 and 9150 products has been strongly influenced by his group’s close relationship with the developers. Kodak, “floundering in its printer development efforts,” came to JTC with a great attitude and was very responsive to the council’s input. Heidelberg has been equally receptive in its NexPress planning. Steve closed with a quote from David Dunn, marketing director of Nipson. “For us, our Joint Technology Council provides a vital link with the industry that advances our understanding of the market’s needs and helps us focus our efforts to respond efficiently.There is, quite simply, no substitute for the input we get from the experienced industry professionals on our council on a broad range of current issues.” The JTC/vendor connection also appears to pay off for the Xplor organization. All of the sponsoring companies were much in evidence at the Anaheim show, with major exhibit space and significant program participation. Obviously, the JTC is a major strength of the Xplor organization in increasing its value to its industry and in helping sponsors and the JTCers’ own companies to learn and grow.