In his kickoff to the 42nd annual IPA Technical Conference, IPA Executive Director Steve Bonoff told the crowd of over 300 attendees that the IPA Board was well on its way to developing a model for the breakthrough graphic solutions provider of the future - its structure, who its customers and employees will be and what technologies and services were likely to comprise the business. For an industry that has had to reinvent itself numerous times since the first technical conference was held in 1965 - and even before that - this proactive, forward-looking initiative was one of the more important announcements at the event, although it met with little fanfare. Many of the attendees I spoke with were at the conference seeking guidance on the future of their businesses as the sands continue to shift around them, and it will be interesting to see the outcome of the Board’s work - how forward looking it is and how they see the “breakthrough” firm of the future. Although the work is not yet complete, Bonoff provided some insight into the blend of emerging services firms should be thinking about beyond those offered today by many member firms (traditional premedia, color, content management, print, distribution, finishing, fulfillment, creative services, and photography, to name a few). Some of these emerging services might include workflow management, business and marketing consulting, web portals, broadcast, marketing campaign management, and data mining for ROI analysis.
IPA Executive Director Steve Bonoff told the crowd of over 300 attendees that the IPA Board was well on its way to developing a model for the breakthrough graphic solutions provider of the future
Another highlight of the conference was Frank Romano’s opening keynote, whose topic was The Future of Workflow. Romano started by defining workflow - since there are so many different definitions floating around - as all of the steps necessary to get a printed product from origination to termination, stating that a workflow must reach all the way back to the creative, or document originator. Romano pointed that that there are 40,000 baccalaureate graphic designers graduated in the U.S. every year, and they have no idea how a job prints. With his usual bluntness, he said, “Workflow is a mess.” As an example, he says, “RGB workflows are the future, and CMYK should only enter into the equation at the end of the process. Today, every file is born digitally and the only time we have to worry about getting the image right is when it goes to some sort of output.”
Of course, no Romano keynote would be complete without a prediction, and he had several, including this one: “At drupa 2008, we will enter the inkjet age, with high speed inkjet systems at the quality of offset lithography that can print both the proof and the final job, and proofing will change completely when that happens.”
Romano opined that toner had looked like it could dominate the printing market, but it has limitations, mostly around sheet size and speed. He added, “Inkjet looks to have much broader application.” And with his equal opportunity approach to annoying everyone, he turned his attention to offset presses, saying, “Presses are selling because printers can replace two to three old ones with one new one. But over the next few years, this will go away. For many companies, including newspapers, the presses they are buying today are the last presses they will ever buy. After that it will be digital.”
WhatTheyThink’s President, Randy Davidson, and COO Eric Vessels joined yours truly at the event, and we were able to do nearly 40 video interviews on topics ranging from the conference, to what to expect at drupa, and other views on the future of workflow, so watch for those over the next few weeks.
Romano pointed that that there are 40,000 baccalaureate graphic designers graduated in the U.S. every year, and they have no idea how a job prints.
This year, IPA added a hands-on learning lab that was a big hit. Although it was a third parallel track and meant that attendees could not attend all the sessions they might have wanted to attend, the labs were a big hit and were packed throughout the conference. And both the management and technical tracks had a heavy workflow emphasis with lots of thought-provoking commentary.
One session that many of us felt was probably the most important session at the conference, was the New Media Round Table held Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, the session was not well attended, since it was competing with the lure of a night on the town in Chicago. Our own Dr. Joe Webb joined the session by web cam from his Rhode Island office and spoke about why it is important for industry executives to immerse themselves in the world of new media - or at least dip in their big toe. Then Andrew Gregory, Director of National Sales for Onstream Media, talked about print and video workflows, sharing some interesting insight about the similarities in workflow between the two. He pointed out that the video business is about eight years behind us in terms of automating workflow and has a lot to learn from us - and provides business expansion opportunities for firms in our industry. And finally, consultant Mark Atchley gave attendees some of the how-to’s - how today’s composition, creative and publishing tools are increasingly designed to manage the full gamut of media that our customers are taking advantage of today, and that can become new revenue streams for our businesses. It was a very informative and interactive session and I hope IPA will continue to build on this topic, perhaps including it in general sessions at future conferences and in its popular webinar series.
In its fifth year, the Proofing RoundUP continues to evolve. This year, there were 26 proofing solutions from 14 suppliers that were subjected to 6 different tests, including the ability to use JDF to automate the imposition-to-RIP portion of the workflow. In another variation from previous years, IPA solicited proofs from end users. According to Ryerson’s Dr Abhay Sharma, who has coordinated the RoundUP over the years, “We have proven that the vendors can deliver systems that allow us to proof by the numbers. We wanted to understand how well that translates to actual production in the field.” Nearly 70 user proofs were submitted and tested. When asked whether the results might be skewed because participants would measure their own proofs and only submit the best ones, he said, “Interestingly, most of the users said, ‘We are not really sure how we are doing. We would like you to tell us how we are doing. Help us and give us some feedback.’”
Also in a departure from past RoundUPs, vendor results were shown only as pass/fail in each of the categories, and individual performances were anonymous. This created consternation on the part of some of the vendor participants. As one vendor told me, “We invest significant time and money in participating in this event, and part of our ROI has been our ability to publicize our positive results. We did not know going into this year that results would be anonymous.” And it would seem that users in the market for a proofing system would want vendor-specific results as well.
Also in a departure from past RoundUPs, vendor results were shown only as pass/fail in each of the categories, and individual performances were anonymous. This created consternation on the part of some of the vendor participants.
IPA will be making the Proofing RoundUP results available, as usual, in a PowerPoint presentation, a free webinar scheduled for June 27th, and a white paper. Suffice it to say that in most cases, there was little significant variation among the vendor results, again proving that it is possible to proof by the numbers. Vendor submissions had an average Delta E of 1.07. Users delivered an average Delta E of 2.23, much better performance than anyone expected. Many users actually delivered better results that some of the vendors!
There is much more to be learned from this year’s RoundUP, but unfortunately space does not permit covering it here. Watch for details about the IPA webinar on June 27th. And next year? Sharma looks forward to including digital printing and more workflow elements, and is looking for feedback about other ways the RoundUP can be improved and evolved.
Sharma always involves a student team in the Proofing RoundUP process, providing a terrific experience for these bright individuals, who spend many hours testing, entering data and helping to prepare the results. This year, Ryerson students Cayleigh Nichols and Diana Brown added a new dimension to the conference with a well-done and entertaining video summary of the event. In addition to the long hours and late nights working on the Proofing RoundUP, they were up till 3 AM the last night of the conference putting the video together. Nice job, ladies! A great way to wrap up the conference.
Overall, it seems that attendees were very happy with this year’s conference. The sessions were well thought out, had enough depth to be meaningful, and speakers were well qualified. If you are interested in hearing conference sessions, IPA is making the audio available. More information can be found at www.ipa.org.