By Guy Broadhurst
Every time a "drupa year" rolls around there's excitement and anticipation about what's to come and what all the new machinery and technology means for different types of print providers. But, with drupa taking place so late this year, decisions are being delayed and equipment vendors and print providers alike are effectively waiting for the next bottle of toner to drop.
On one hand, business owners are concerned about spending their limited dollars on the right solution for their company to expand revenue growth. On the other hand, the operations managers and their teams who spend their days in the trenches may be anxious to replace aging fleets so they can leverage new features, streamline operations, increase throughput, and reduce costs --now rather than later. And vendors need to help provide the right product to the right customers at the right price points.
The drupa caveat
No matter what is going to be shown at drupa, virtually all the big vendors have already shown their new innovations to their most important customers, and will finally roll them out to everyone else in Dusseldorf. Some machines, however, will not be available for a year or longer. And because at least a few customers will have already committed to buying the latest device as soon as it is available and others are already being primed to pull the trigger, some vendors may not be able to meet demand for up to a year beyond the announced delivery dates. This means that some products rolled out at drupa may not be readily available for two years! This potential lag between announcement and availability is hardly ideal in a rapidly changing market. In fact, it makes it increasingly harder for print providers to determine which product or printing system is best for a given set of applications.
One approach is taking smaller steps, closer together rather than bigger ones with longer separated time periods. For instance I look at the growing demand for cut-sheet full-color printers today and see several 60 to 70 PPM machines selling for well into six-figures while others, like OcÃ©'s CS650 Pro, provide much of the same functionality but with a much lower entry fee. This provides printers a lower cost of entry by taking a smaller step into the market for digital color printing. Then, as that part of their business expands, they can add more machines and still have a more productive and more cost-effective solution.
This approach also works for print providers who recognize the potential of full-color TransPromo documents but may not have convinced enough customers to make the leap. Here, an approach and a product solution, such as the OcÃ© VarioStream 9240 that can deliver job appropriate color --from black-only to full-color-- can handle a wide range of jobs while customers get ready to move ahead.
It's not about the product
Still, balancing today's economic concerns while deferring equipment purchase decisions may ultimately impact whether print providers can rely on technology investments to remain competitive. Some could effectively go backwards while waiting for new technology to become available. The remedy is not letting the product drive the decision process. Begin by identifying the applications you need to produce and what you think is required to produce them profitably. Next, rather than focusing on the products with the greatest visibility or most hype built up around them and trying to fit them to your requirements, look at the companies behind the machines and their approach to the marketplace and to doing business. It's very important to look for the vendors that invest continuously in their product lines and build products intended to support real (rather than imagined) market needs, and that can provide the support your applications require. As I noted last time, pick the company first. Then work with the company to identify which product will meet the needs you have today and that can be upgraded to meet your needs tomorrow. Which leads me back to drupa.
The very size of the show absolutely requires that you must know what you want to see before you go. But go with an open mind and an "application focus." Arrive in Duesseldorf seeking the most effective ways of addressing each of your key apps. Compile a list of the companies you want to consider before you go and prepare to spend time with them in multiple ways. You may wind up starting with a sales representative, but take advantage of the show to meet with product managers, technical people and executives. Meeting with the headquarters staff is the best way to cement the next steps for a future meeting and for testing of real world application files. Also make a point of meeting with a company's senior executives such as the president or CEO. Everyone you meet should be willing to dig into your applications and business needs to begin developing a plan to help you with your latest challenges.
There is a wide range of equipment and software becoming available that has the potential to transform your business. Basing your choice on the company that best understands your business and the applications you need to run will help you find the best products for your needs today and be able to adapt to those you encounter in the future. Good shopping!
Give your feedback to Guy. He can be reached at [email protected].