By Pat Taylor, Proactive Technologies There was nothing proprietary in their application of technology; just a relentless pursuit of "a better way of doing things" September 13, 2004 -- At the end of August, I spent three days at the PIA/GATF Digital Workflow Conference in Pittsburgh. The event was publicized as the first of its kind, and I sincerely hope that it will continue to grow in importance and attendance. Representatives from all the major players in our industry were there including Heidelberg, Kodak Polychrome Graphics and EFI to the newly organized Network Graphic Production initiative The future of the digital printing industry was reflected in lectures, case studies, and roundtable sessions on subjects including: Is CIM/JDF a Reality or Fantasy? Basic & Advanced Infrastructure Issues for Rock Solid Workflow Performance Extending the Value Map of Digital Workflow into MIS and Beyond Standards -- Are There Any, and (if so) Who is Leading the Charge? The Survivors Unfortunately, one of the most memorable aspects of the conference was the noticeable lack of printers at the event. I have no hard numbers with which to back up this estimate, but vendors and luminaries outnumbered printers on the order of at least five to one. Whatever the actual tally, it was obvious enough to become a topic of conversation at meals and evening get-togethers. "Where have all the printers gone?" wondered one vendor, clearly disappointed at the lack of people with whom to share his remote proofing product. "They've gone the way of the dinosaur", replied a man of many years. "What you see here are The Survivors." I wasn't sitting at that particular table, but the comment caught my attention and rang profoundly true. With everyone in the industry complaining about customers demanding better color, quicker turnarounds and lower pricing, one might expect more interest in the business practices and technologies that not only minimize the impact of those realities, but also offer road maps to success in this environment. Workflow Migrations The good news is that there is measurable progress being made in the recognition of and demand for Standards For example, David Motheral of Motheral Printing (a third generation printing company in Ft. Worth, Texas) provided a detailed description of his company's migration from traditional to digital workflow. He was joined by the customer with whom he worked to develop several digital processes that streamlined their efforts, improved quality, and increased profitability for both entities. This man actually increased his [production] capacity while decreasing the physical size of his plant. It was a marvelous case study for those in attendance and, in itself, worth the price of admission. There was nothing proprietary in their application of technology; just a relentless pursuit of "a better way of doing things". The most encouraging aspect of their success is in the fact that Motheral is a third generation operation - steeped in the craft of printing - and not a group of young up-and-coming geeks to whom the use of Technology is assumed and instinctive. PIA/GATF offered so much to learn from those who have "been there", but too few printers made the investment to learn from these pioneers' experiences. It was like a preacher preaching to the deacons of his church; the congregation--those most in need of guidance--was 'out to lunch'. All the equipment at drupa or Graph Expo is of little use to the company that doesn't understand why they need it or how to use it. The good news is that there is measurable progress being made in the recognition of and demand for Standards in an industry that sorely needs (and has paid dearly for the lack of) them. Standards to improve interoperability, efficiency, and quality of output are taken for granted in our day-to-day lives, but remain difficult to identify in the printing world. Now that we are organizing for the inevitable transition, I would expect to find my peers hungry for the knowledge that will lead them out of the Dark Ages and into a brighter future. There were printers at the first Digital Workflow Conference, but far too many stayed home. Maybe it was because they but recently returned from drupa, or because Graph Expo was only a few weeks away Did they stay home to save money, take some vacation time or because of other pressing business needs? I left the conference feeling that those in need of a better understanding of workflow missed a great opportunity for some higher education. All the equipment at drupa or Graph Expo is of little use to the company that doesn't understand why they need it or how to use it. Events like the PIA/GATF Digital Workflow Conference -- sponsored by the industry for the industry -- are of great value to companies that intend to survive and thrive in our industry's transition from craft to science. If you missed this one, don't miss the next.