by Guy Broadhurst

Over the past few weeks I have had the pleasure of attending  the annual conferences of associations that focus on specific areas of interest. There was the Book Manufacturers Institute (BMI) annual meeting in Tampa, then the Imaging Network Group conference in Albuquerque, followed by Mailcom in Atlantic City. Each has a vigorous, robust membership comprised of people who possess a deep interest in the details of their particular segments of the industry.

The BMI members, for example, are witnessing a transformation of not only the book manufacturing business as it shifts to a growing volume of digitally printed books, but are realizing that they have an opportunity to change their own business models to better fit the evolving needs of the publishing industry.  But they have to do it right.

The Imaging Network Group is primarily comprised of transactional and direct mail printers who are  now seeking the best ways to help their customers take advantage of trans-promo documents. This market is still developing, but the potential is enormous and these print providers are not only working with their customers to build effective trans-promo documents but looking for the tools they'll need to create product and service offerings that can help bring in new customers. For them, the shift from commoditized print and mail offerings to trans-promo programs that can build a customer's business presents a clear growth opportunity--if they do the right things.

Mailcom attendees were interested in how the new postal regulations will impact their operations and how it changes how they work with their customers' mail. They came looking for the details, to discuss the opportunities presented by the new rates and what can be done using mail that fits the shape-based category. As with books and transactional printing, the changes bring forth the potential to add value for customers--but again,  it needs to be done right.

Doing it right

For members of each organization, "doing it right" is based on planning focused on gathering all the knowledge and insights available and applying that knowledge to new opportunities. This is where these small conferences shine.

 The topics of conversation at these events covered a tremendous amount of ground.  Many of the presentations were made by members of these organizations, addressing core issues from the perspective of their respective companies. These speakers were truly  industry experts of the most practical type: everything they talked about was focused on the business and operational elements of the equation along with the impact of  changing market dynamics, advancing technology and governmental regulations. As I listened to these experts--and my potential customers--I realized once again that we as vendors always have a lot to learn from them, not only about the industry itself but also our customers' environments.

Even though we spend a tremendous amount of time in our customers' operations and discussing their challenges, we learn still more when several of them gather together to discuss the day-to-day issues they face. Sometimes, the operational and financial challenges they face, combined with evermore demanding customer SLAs are absolutely astonishing!  Yet each has his or her own approach to their challenges and willingly share these with their peers. As they do so, I've heard them ask each other, "That really works?" "Wow, how did you do that?" or "Gee, I never thought of that." Their approaches are often creative and as I always learn from these experts.

This is something of a bonus to me.  Since I usually wind up making a presentation at these events the people I learn from are in turn learning from me. I'll talk about new technology, different ways to address specific applications such as book production or trans-promo printing, helping the audience understand how the right tools--be it equipment or software--can also be part of a solution that can feed the success of their business or enhance an in-plant's efficiency. It might be showing how a cut-sheet press that is designed to duplex is a more productive system for book manufacturing than one that duplexes only as an afterthought. It might be talking about how the right workflow software options can help build an end-to-end digital workflow for trans-promo documents, or how  post-processing and mailing equipment can streamline print-and-mail operations. And in every case, it is the questions attendees ask, both on and offline, that tell me still more about what is on their minds.

In talking with attendees of these small conferences, I find that this two-way interchange of knowledge is important to everyone there. They look to vendors like Océ to share ideas and experiences just as I gain new insights into how print providers are thinking and how they handle the common challenges of business today.  We all go away with more than we came with and we all look forward to the opportunity to meet again for the next round of information sharing.

If you belong to one of the many smaller trade associations I'm sure you've had the same experiences. And if you don’t belong, I encourage you to take a look at joining one--or maybe more than one--that will give you the opportunity to learn from your peers and technology vendors alike. There's nothing like it, and you can't put a price on the value received. I can't wait for the next one.

Give your feedback to Guy. He can be reached at [email protected].