The first two days of the OnDemand/AIIM Conference and Expo had many of the usual, fine announcements that included faster, more enhanced, newer, lower cost, more powerful, more user friendly etc. But a theme I heard loud and clear at both conferences, is that this stuff has to start being integrated. This is true in the Data Center/enterprise and especially true in the print shop. Many speakers noted that hardware has arrived; now integration has to accomplish the next step in the productivity process. Add to this transition the infirm condition of print as presented in Charlie Pesko’s keynote, and it was reassuring to hear that at least two major manufacturers are trying to start on the road to recovery with workflow announcements.

Reminding us of Frank Romano’s famous quote, “Print isn’t dead it just looks that way because it doesn’t move,” Pesko nevertheless painted a picture of print in great need of intensive care. He reported that “2002 had the deepest decline in real print activity in 3 decades” and “from 1999 to 2001 over 21,000 presses, or 12%, dropped out of the market.” If print is no longer at the center of information delivery, which Pesko proposes, printers are being pushed to take action from many fronts. If you have any doubt that “the future belongs to the communications provider,” Pesko’s example of the $20,000 set of encyclopedias now selling for $45.95 on DVD should convince you. If not, add to that new price the ability to update and search easily. That’s the beauty of digital communications. And, of course, many of the great features of digital are available with print.

Pesko pointed to 3 growth opportunities for the printer— a super efficient organization, value-added services and on demand printing. We have known for a while that the printer needs process improvement. When business and production processes are not connected with each other and with suppliers and print customers, (not to mention the suppliers and partners of the print customer) productivity is limited. It suffers from manual intervention that is error-prone, redundant, wasteful and expensive-- hurting profitability. Pesko suggests “shared data repositories need to be open to everyone in the value chain, 24x7, with the web as a common business tool. This is beyond fast devices to real-time communication and integrating with customers’ and suppliers’ backend systems.” Although some applications exist, no vendor has the total solution today.

However, both Heidelberg and Xerox have started down the road with strong statements of new workflows. Wolfgang Pfizenmaier, president of Heidelberg’s Digital Print Solution Center, announced MetaDimension to enhance the PDF workflow and integrate digital and offset. “We have hung our hat on workflow,” Bill Blair, Senior Vice President, Heidelberg, told me. “It is most important to drive the time and costs out of the existing printing process. We are moving to CIM (Computer Integrated Manufacturing) which will reduce human error and promote knowledge sharing, resulting in a real increase in speed at lower costs.” When I asked Blair if Heidelberg has all the pieces needed for this integration, he explains, “When we don’t have the solutions we work with third party vendors. We want to be the partner of choice for customers who want a fully integrated solution.”

Meanwhile, calling its new workflow strategy “more important than any single product announcement,” Gil Hatch, president, Xerox Production Systems Group, announced the Xerox FreeFlow Digital Workflow Collection. “A good digital workflow,” according to Hatch, “means simplifying operations, reducing costs, supporting growth and adapting to change.” Robert G. Wagner, Vice President/General Manager, Creative Services Business, told me, “Xerox believes that workflow is the most important to customers at this time. Workflow drives the printer’s business, moves their jobs through the value chain and we can help by providing seamless integration.” The Xerox Workflow Framework further commits Xerox to a strategic direction of open systems.

As the Internet, electronic delivery and alternate media forms are drawing pages away from print, “offset has no place to get new pages,” according to Pesko. While digital printing can capture many of those pages and create new ones, such as customized applications, to be successful as a printer “must build value-added services other than print.” These can occur before the print run (such as design and digital photography), after the print run (such as fulfillment, mailing services, document management, CD services) or as overall enhancements (such as digital rights management, variable data, web services and facilities management.) Within variable data printing alone, a provider can engage in database creation, data management, data mining, target marketing list development, data cleansing, variable data design and consulting.

To help printers prepare themselves to embrace digital printing and added-value services, Heidelberg and Xerox are both providing business development services. According Blair, “Printers are asking how they can make money. We tell them we have a team in Business Development Services who will train them and their sales force, and help them look for markets, applications, value-added services and point them in the right direction.” How do they react? “Everyone is from Missouri,” says Bill, “they all want and need help. They finally are accepting that the field of dreams is over where you can just install and the customers will come.” Blair explains that printers now want to “develop the market before installation” and often use “hybrid printing as a bridge.” In addition to printer support, Heidelberg is trying to stimulate buyer demand with road shows to educate ad agencies and appearances at shows focused on direct mail and print buyers. A further step is the expansion of their Professional Services Offerings, a new initiative backed by a team of engineers, product development managers and business development experts, to help customers optimize workflow solutions and increase profitability.

As for Xerox, according to Robert Wagner, “Those who come to our booth have been looking for good pod applications and for ideas on how to market and to differentiate themselves from the crowd.” Several presentations in the booth are about services Xerox offers to support the printer. Wagner specializes in educating the advertising and design market and creating a pull for his digital printing customers. He considers this work a change in Xerox’ approach from years past when they simply gave tools to print customers. Today the goal is to “work with customers to help them succeed” while “reaching upstream and helping creatives seize the digital opportunity.” Wagner takes every opportunity to educate the design segment, such as partnering with the Parson School of Design to produce a book, attending shows and holding Designer’s Day breakfasts. Xerox’ use of SmartPress consultants to give technical, workflow and marketing support for the iGen3 customers, has met with a high level of success.

The third element of growth, according to Pesko, is embracing on demand printing. On several occasions customers who made the decision to sell digital printing a few years ago said it helped them survive the recent economic downturn. For instance, in talks with customers in the booth Wagner commented, “Vanguard customers who have been able to grow over the past 2 years say they would have been really hurt if they had remained with just traditional print.” This sentiment about early entry was seconded by Brian Boyajian, President of MicroPage in NYC at the Heidelberg Press Conference. Having purchased a QuickMaster DI in 1996, Boyajian said, “This allowed my company to create a loyal client base for quality digital printing that took us through the last 2 years.”