The big dogs were all lined up at the front door.

Kodak, Océ and Xerox were ready for all comers at the entry to the On Demand Show in Philly yesterday, colorful banners hoisted high above the floor and their stands defined by walls of equipment, displays of printed documents, and signage touting the latest and greatest wares available within.

Océ kicked off the day with a breakfast press conference that rolled out the theme of Innovation at Work, exemplified by the VarioPrint 6250, shown for the first time in North America, along with the VarioStream 9230, the 3-color iteration of the black and color-capable device. Both are key introductions for Océ and exemplify the traditionally different approach the company has taken in its approach to the digital print market.

For those who have missed it, the VP6250 prints both sides of a page simultaneously, and although the number of sheets moving through the machine are a modest 125 sheets-per-minute, the box actually pumps out 250 letter-size duplex prints per minute (15,000 per hour), some 70 percent more than any other black-and-white digital machine on the market. This translates into a substantial boost in productivity for firms that rely on duplex printing to meet customer demand. Océ's own research, both in the States and in Europe, indicate that 75 to 80 percent of monochrome documents require duplex printing, stats driving the decision to offer a machine built to duplex as its primary, rather than secondary, function. For such firms, noted Mal Baboyian, president of Océ Digital Document Systems, productivity translates into substantially more production per shift--an important metric for value and a prime component of return on investment. Orders are being taken now for the VP6250 with the first deliveries taking place in Q4 2006 and in Q1 2007.

Turing to color, Baboyian said, "We are reinventing paradigms. No one wants to pay more than they have to for anything," said Baboyian. "It's human nature. So why should you have to pay for full-color printing when spot color would be equally effective at a much lower cost?"

The VS9230 is cost-competitive with other monochrome machines for black-only printing. But the cost for adding color is based on how much color is required. Even when printing full process color (available in about a year or so), the VS9230 is expected to print for less other production color machines The big box can currently prints black plus two colors, and while those demonstrated here in Philly are cyan- and magenta-like shades, they can be mixed to expand the palette, or even be replaced by a wide number of Océ's CustomTone colors. These can be formulated to match a wide range of spot colors, providing the specific hues needed to match corporate logos and identity materials.

While these technologies were the highlight of the press conference, many of the questions over the bagels and coffee were about the acquisition of Imagistics late last year. Imagistics had been a substantial force in the office copier, printer and MFP market, with some 160 operations across the U.S. "The new venture immediately gave Océ a new sales force and a ready entrée into the Fortune 1000 market," noted Joe Skrzypczak, president of Océ Imagistics. This has already resulted in new business for Océ Business Services while adding the robust line of VarioPrint office and workgroup printers and copiers to the Imagistics line-up. "It was a marriage made in heaven," said Skrzypczak, who pointed to additional benefits coming in the future.

How this plays out this year will be interesting to watch. Océ is coming off a first quarter that saw revenue increase by 21 percent and operating income rise by 69 percent. The company expects a further lift as the new machines reach the market. Innovation and thinking differently often pay big dividends. As Océ seeks to carve out a spot among the top three digital print engine vendors, Océ Imagistics may well be one of the keys to success and further growth.

The Importance of Customer Involvement

Next on today's agenda was the keynote from Bruce Chizen, CEO of Adobe Systems. While subtly mentioning Adobe technology, Chizen led a SRO audience through a series of examples of how digital technology is transforming the customer experience for many companies--and their customers.

"Focusing on the customer experience equates to increased productivity," said Chizen, "especially when you communicate with them the way the customer prefers."

This experience has to be put in the context of people's lives. The content, however, will only be welcome--and valued--if it enhances their daily lives. Why? "Because," says Chizen, "customers want to be involved."

He points to a wonderfully interactive and graphically rich website for Jaguar cars at which people can view, customize and have just about every experience related to buying a Jag short of the smell of leather and the thrill of a fast test drive. It provides a consistent and highly immersive experience over the web, one that is backed up by personalized printed brochures that arrive just a couple of days after visiting the Jaguar site. Similar sites are out there from Nike and BMW. Even if you

What these sites do, along with others like them, is develop a conversation with customers. This is a substantial departure from the typical top-down marketing messaging used for most products, online or in print. And that conversation is a key way to gain a competitive advantage with customers.

Chizen gave the example of an online mortgage application that provided a highly personalized and interactive stream of communications with applicants that, based on their preferences, reached out to them via mail, email and to graphics-capable cell phones. The result is increased customer satisfaction and stronger relationships.

A key part of involvement is to engage the customer, noted Chizen. And that empowers the customer. Adobe's new Engagement Platform is designed to support collaborative, interactive, multi-media customer communications. For instance, a family can remotely plan a vacation, collaborating on a travel website via email, and instant messaging. Itineraries can be printed just as easily as they can be downloaded to PDAs and cell phones-- depending on the choices of the individual customer. Changes can be made on-the-fly, even when not connected to the travel web site, and then updated automatically as soon as a phone or computer can connect to the site. This highly engaging application empowers customers through best-in-breed communications, while catering to serving them better and meeting their needs.

This was one incredibly cool example of technology that tightens and condenses the ways companies can--and will--communicate with customers. Some of it is purely virtual. Other elements involve print--which, noted Chizen--is not going away, but will become ever-more personalized, and be just one of several media customers specify.

Busy, Busy Busy

Even at the end of the day, the show floor remained packed. The three big dogs had crowds all the way to the end-of-day announcement and even well back in the hall the booths were still busy. I have no idea of the attendance numbers, but my sense is that this may well be the best attended On Demand Show in some time. We'll know more in a day or so.

And there is of course much more to come. I'll be back.