By Pat Taylor, Proactive Technologies August 19, 2005 -- I was standing in the booth at Print '05 this month watching people walk the floor. As any regular attendee knows, you see a lot of the same faces year after year. This year, the first day of the show fell on a Friday and the only real traffic was vendor traffic; salesmen walking from booth to booth meeting old friends and glad-handing the rest. Some talked about their new employer (or the one that just let them go) and many touted new products, but it's the same people playing the same old game. More often than not, you hear them complaining about the 'state of the industry' and pining for the Good Ol' Days. Personally, I love this industry and embrace the challenges we face; it's all part of the growth process. We are -- by definition -- creative people, so let's get creative and find new ways to do business. I'll share with you one example; it is something most of us only discuss in the hallways of our office buildings. It was not a topic addressed in any seminar at Print '05. We need the channel. We need the product neutrality they historically represent Back in the day It used to be that graphic arts suppliers represented products from various manufacturers, and their value-add was to recommend the right combination of products required by the customer to create the desired printing environment. Nowadays, manufacturers are buying up the channel and, in effect, creating a direct sales force. This is a problem for the end-user because the "graphic arts supplier" no longer features a portfolio of competing products; he carries what the Mother Company manufacturers, and that dilutes his value-add. We need the channel. We need the product neutrality they historically represent, and that solution-agnostic position is important to the end-user; he has no time to research and integrate all the product components he needs to create the "right solution for this business". But the times have changed and the past is History. Enovation is not going to regurgitate the graphic arts dealers it acquired with its master stroke in 2001. Despite a gloomy week on Wall Street, Kodak is not going to divest itself of Creo any time soon. So it is up to the channel to determine its future, and we should support their efforts to reinvent themselves. It is up to the channel to determine its future, and we should support their efforts to reinvent themselves. What can the channel provide that is of value to your business? The dealers will continue to sell products, and the best of them will continue to serve you as business consultants. They will help you make more money by recommending technologies you need to become more efficient. But the untapped opportunity I see in front of the channel is in providing more than business consulting; they can become a business support mechanism. Who is in better position to support your company's technology? From the Macs on the desktop through the digital infrastructure to the output devices, graphic arts dealers have expertise on staff to support your business. Most of us cannot afford to professionally address these disciplines in-house; few of us even have IT Directors. By providing the necessary services, the channel can help printers increase profitability and reestablish its value proposition. By providing the necessary services, the channel can help printers increase profitability and reestablish its value proposition. Like many other industries, printing will begin to outsource some of its responsibilities and focus on core competencies. IT services are a prime candidate for outsourcing (as long as the company responsible for providing service is within two or three time zones and the only accent you hear is 'Eastern' or 'Southern'). Initially, Managed Services will be limited to machines and applications. In time, it will grow to include Internetworking, Color Management, and Production Monitoring. Usually, services are delivered in exchange for a monthly fee. If the monthly fee is less than or equal to the cost of a new employee and the services provided exceed those delivered by a single employee, then the value proposition is worth consideration. Do not expect to receive these services free-of-charge, or to backload your consumables contract with the Managed Service fee. That is not a sustainable business model; just more of the "same old game". If you want something of value, you must be willing to pay for it. And if you see value in this proposition, share the idea with your dealers. They need some good news.