This year’s ON DEMAND/ AIIM-2003 Expo seemed to be filled with shoppers who understood what they were looking for. According to John Kriho, Director of Publishing Solutions for Banta Integrated Media, “Most people are about to make a printer decision and are looking for Variable Information Printing (VIP) software. They’re asking really good questions. Common questions include asking me to tell them how DesignMerge 5.0 works with a Creo RIP, or asking how our PPML driver works. They are asking really detailed, drill-down questions like does it cache images—they are asking about detailed DesignMerge functionality.” According to John, this year’s show prospects have done their homework and are looking for solutions to meet their workflow and technology needs.

“DesignMerge 5.0’s new conditional logic really rounds out the product”, says John. “Conditional formatting has been added to DM 5.0. for Quark 4 and 5. We can now attach a rules link to the Quark document for bracketed, conditions with an unlimited number of fields and actions which can be triggered from certain rules—offering unlimited control. We have added two kinds of rules: box and page. A user can attach a rule to a box or a page. A box will also launch an external script, perform an action and then return to DesignMerge. In addition DM 5.0 does automatic gender-based addressing, forms caching on the RIP and data driven graphics. It’s all very nice and sophisticated.”

Kriho says, “The biggest challenge customers are facing is a zero spend mentality. If they’re not buying presses, they’re not buying our software. However, current sales compared to last year are about the same. Direct sales are pretty strong compared to OEM sales—we sell DesignMerge direct. The market is definitely out there. We are getting great hits and DesignMerge downloads on our web site.”

“Price is not an issue, it’s their last question; prospects are technology focused, not price conscious,” (priced at $2,995 for a single user license, version 5.0 will be shipping in 2Q03) says Kriho. They are looking for Web-based, out-of-the-box VIP applications that allow them to make instant return on investment. Examples of solutions on their wish list include auto dealers’ service postcards and various real estate applications. “They want web based applications where they can log-on via the Internet and fill in a template. Prospects are looking for a packaged application. Although DesignMerge doesn’t do this, our Cambridge group has a product called Designers Web. This is an ASP model that Cambridge will customize for the user. Web based variable data applications are an obvious trend—this is where customers can make money,” says Kriho.

In addition to Banta, Xeikon executives I talked with at this year’s ON DEMAND/ AIIM exhibit, also confirmed that show-goers are interested in self-contained VIP applications. Of course, this makes perfect sense to me. It reminds me of the early days when PCs first came onto the retail scene. I once asked a DEC retail store, sales clerk why I would want to buy one of their Rainbow computers. The store geek replied “To write your own applications”! Now, why in the world would anybody want to do that? Although I did learn to write programs, I always thought off-the-shelf applications made more sense. And, so it seems, today's vendors and users seem to share this opinion.

One such packaged solution is AdBuilderPro (ABP), from Graphic Arts Resource Center (GARTS), an Internet solution for co-op advertising. I first saw the ABP product at last year’s ON DEMAND show. At that time, I was most impressed by the list of customers already using ABP—especially since this product was not scheduled to launch until last Fall’s Seybold Show. While many companies announce products before they are ready to be hammered-on by paying customers, it was refreshing to see that ABP had the stamina to hold up to the demands of Toro, Porter Cable and others for creating personalized ads—prior to being “officially” available. Companies and dealers have had long standing problems with ad creation and tracking for cooperative ads run in local markets. With AdBuilderPro, this problem is solved through a browser based access to corporate images, pre approved ad copy and templates of various formats for diverse print media.

This year, there were a number of new products on tap in the GARTS booth. In fact, products on display at this stand reflect what show-goers seem to be searching for, according to the Banta and Xeikon executives that I talked with. MarketBuilderPro, for example—GARTS latest product—is specifically designed to assist companies manage all assets associated with product marketing. This includes training and personalized, B2B communications for total market building and support. It contains all of the asset management tools a company needs to manage images, logos, state and local regulations, usage rights, printed materials and communications required for building and maintaining total corporate marketing, branding, promotion and sales assets.

Included in MarketBuilderPro’s capabilities are online availability of PowerPoint presentations, training materials, catalog sheets, ad creation, storage and retrieval of digital assets; tools for ordering collateral materials online; tools for broadcast e-mailing to dealers by market or product segment; tools for distance learning and grading; and output modules to allow materials to be printed at the requester's own site. Although not solely designed for one-to-one B2B communications, MarketBuilderPro definitely answers the need for an end-to-end application, accessible from a desktop browser.