The On Demand/AIIM Conference of 2003 should be remembered as having occurred during very difficult times—three years of a slow economy with no end in sight, the third week of the US war in Iraq, a recent outbreak of the SARS epidemic, and a blizzard the first day of the show. As Mark Weber, Executive Vice President, NexPress Solutions LLC, so aptly put it, “Well, we have war and pestilence, where are the locusts?” And yet, he was optimistic and I saw an upbeat tone in the show in general. Coincidentally (or no coincidence?) on the last day of the show, the TV monitors were showing the Iraqi people welcoming US troops into Baghdad.

In addition to NexPress, I had the opportunity to ask Xerox and Canon to comment on various aspects of the show. These are the responses.

Volume and quality of attendees

Weber, NexPress: “We are not looking so much to sell from the floor, but to identify quality prospects. We are pleased with what we are seeing.”

Dennis Amorosano and Sam Yoshida, Directors of Imaging Business Systems, Canon: “Even the first day with the snow, the Press Conference and the booth has been packed. The combination of AIIM and OnDemand has been very good because we have products in both areas of imaging/document management and production output.”

Robert Wagner, Vice President and General Manager, Graphic Arts Industry, Xerox: “The day started well attended with standing room only and lots of excitement, until the snow storm thinned the crowd. (Interest rebounded day 2—Author). Attendees are a mix of those actively engaged in consideration, those seeking information and current customers asking about marketing.”

Major point of interest

Weber, NexPress: “The newly announced inline Probinder is a big hit. So is the Digimaster 150i with the book factory. After years of showing this product, people are finally driving books on demand. It is a huge market. The Bertl report giving the DigiMaster series 5 stars exceeded our expectations, but it took time to buy the rights to reprint. We expect the report to have a big impact from here out.”

Amorosano, Yoshida, Canon: “We have very consistent interest in every station in the booth—production level devices, announced products the C3200 and Publishing Manager, specific applications—across the board.”

Wagner, Xerox: “The most interest is in workflow information and strategies. The iGen3 always has a great crowd. You can also find it in the Creo and EFI booths.”

Most common questions

Weber, NexPress: “They want to understand the workflow more than anything else. Buyers know that ripping speed is just as important as rated speed. How we will coexist with Docutechs—compatibility—is key. They want to know about solutions for improved workflow capabilities and how we converge. Data centers and print shops are coming together so we have to walk and chew gum—print on demand and transaction printing.”

Amorosano, Yoshida, Canon: “Customers have particular applications and specific workflows they are interested in. Production folks know what they are looking for; they know what they want and what their management capabilities are. They want to know how we can satisfy the requirements for their type of application.”

Wagner, Xerox: “Most discussions are around applications-- which ones are possible? They understand image quality is no longer an issue. They ask about variable information printing and the print on demand applications they could be using to grow their business.”

Most popular applications

Weber, NexPress: “Book publishing is big. Substrates are an important issue and prospects like our short, flat paper path. There is interest in color, but process, not a lot of spot. The Audi variable data piece is working well. (Inspired by a silver Audi in the booth, you could choose your options on a screen and the brochure printed to your specs.—Author.) These tangible examples are helping buyers to “get it” more easily, so companies can stop wasting money trying to sell lawnmowers to condo owners.”

Amorisano, Yoshida, Canon: “Applications are evenly mixed between the data center, the office and print on demand.”

Wagner, Xerox: “There are more questions about variable information now that they can see near offset quality at a low pricepoint.”

Customer Challenges

Weber, NexPress: “One challenge is the availability of leasing money. Although rates are low, lenders are cautious since Worldcom, Enron etc. Going through the paperwork can really slow things down. It is also difficult for the customer to make a decision with the world situation the way it is. “

Amorosano, Yoshida, Canon: “To grow revenue. In major corporate accounts there is activity to map out their document management long-term strategies. They are migrating from stand alone to network connected MFPS. Technologies are converging, but they still have disparate systems. IT investments and the office are not leveraged together. They want to tie them together and manage the workflows.”

Wagner, Xerox: “Printers are looking for ways to differentiate themselves and to stand out above the crowd. They want to know what they need to do to build their business beyond a commodity.”

Important Industry Trends

Weber, NexPress: “Workflow and variable data printing are important trends. Customers are also looking for more self-service such as doing their own operator replacement components. Finishing is important. I also see a trend back to centralization, based on the pendulum swing. Also, mergers and acquisitions may prompt companies to centralize.”

Amorosano, Yoshida, Canon: “Customers are looking for support to leverage their investments. Our products satisfy a bulk of requirements, but customers want to be more application specific. We are trying to educate customers on how to handle a legal application, or regulatory requirements in the financial markets, or books on demand. You will see more from us at our Digital Solutions Conference on meeting customized requirements.”

Wagner, Xerox: “In this contracting economy, advertising budgets are low and both agencies and printers are trying to become more full service. Digital printing and variable data fit well into this situation.”

Importance of Workflow

Weber, NexPress: “Worflow is huge. Our advantage is that, from the start, we worked with third parties such as T/R Systems and EFI. We are not a closed system and only want to do what we can add value to. We use our own development if there is a void. We have 290,000 active Heidelberg customers who love the company and need compatibility with offset.”

Amorosano, Yoshida, Canon: “Workflow was our slogan last year at the Digital Solutions Forum—Digital workflows that work. Workflow is critical and we want to add value that is central to the thinking process. It wasn’t too long ago that it was the dotcoms who were addressing workflows. Now buyers are smarter and are more conscious of getting a return when they are paying for something.”

Wagner, Xerox: “Xerox is committed to a workflow strategy. We believe that workflow is most important to customers at this time--it drives their business, moves their jobs through the value chain. We have made several major announcements and are helping with workflow by seamlessly integrating.”

Sales YTD

Weber, NexPress: “We had a strong March, it was very encouraging. In February the industry was weak. We are not expecting April to be gangbusters, but customers are still making decisions. Solving global issues may help.”

Amorosano, Yoshida, Canon: “In the first quarter business has been good -- better than the industry average and on track relative to targets. Although the economy is shaky, this hasn’t had a detrimental impact on our business.”

Wagner, Xerox: “I can’t comment but we are optimistic. Xerox ended the year profitably and will be announcing the first quarter on 4/23.”

Company's short term objectives

Weber, NexPress: “To make the right initiatives and have people respond. Let the competition figure how to fight back.”

Amorosano, Yoshida, Canon: “We have 5 core strategies for growth. They have been similar for the last several years and we are in a continued stage of implementing. One of them is to make color in the office available and affordable. That is being addressed by the new C3200—a revolutionary product, far ahead of the competition in specs, features and value.”

Wagner, Xerox: “To continue our road towards consistent profitability, grow revenue, and help customers succeed. By helping them to grow and do great work for their clients, we will grow.”