EFI Connect, one of the largest user groups in the industry, kicked off its 8th annual event—and the 4th since EFI has been involved—at the beautiful $2.7 billion Wynn Hotel & Resort in Las Vegas with its biggest attendance ever.  Nearly 1,500 people came to partake in networking activities, stimulating and informative keynotes, and to choose from 160 different educational sessions running the gamut from EFI’s MIS systems and web-to-print offerings, to Fiery, VUTEk superwide format and Jetrion inkjet printing. In his opening keynote, CEO Guy Gecht pointed out that at his first Connect four years ago, when EFI was in the process of acquiring PrintCafe, there were only 100 sessions—and as I recall, about 700 attendees.  Admittedly, there were 250 EFI employees there this year among the 1,500 attendees, along with a number of partner sponsors and a sprinkling of press, but the vast majority of attendees were users of various EFI products.  Many have been coming for years, and for quite a few, this was their first Connect.

In his opening keynote, Gecht reinforced EFI’s position in and dedication to the graphic arts industry, saying, “Print is our business, not a business unit.”  The theme this year was “Discover. Innovate. Integrate.”  And there was significant emphasis on the innovation theme.

Gecht used the concept of the African safari “Big 5” to characterize the state of the industry, saying, “If you go on an African safari, seeing the Big 5—lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and cheetah—defines the success of your safari.” The “Big 5” trends that will shape the printing industry and define its future success, according to Gecht, include:

  1. Consolidation—fewer players providing more services
  2. The power of information and the Internet—companies need to have access to the right information and the right time to make the right business decisions; they need to automate and they need to connect bidirectionally with customers.  They also can take advantage of the Internet to expand geographic reach.
  3. Digital printing—allowing service providers to leverage demand for shorter runs, faster turn times and one-to-one communications
  4. Industrial printing—taking digital printing to the next level with out-of-home advertising, packaging, labels & tags and textiles
  5. Going Green—not an option anymore, but a necessity.

Of course, EFI offers products and services that play to all five areas, but Gecht’s concise characterization of key trends effectively set the stage for attendees and framed the information they would be gaining from the conference.

Mark Olin delivered his usual update keynote Monday morning, providing attendees with a summary of what was delivered since last Connect, and a look into next year.  As EFI has grown, both organically and by acquisition, this list gets longer and longer—some 152 slides this time!  But the progress that the presentation demonstrated is significant, and Olin’s message was well received by the audience. As it continues to enhance products, according to Olin, EFI is focusing specifically on delivering solutions and capabilities that:

  • Streamline estimating/order entry
  • Manage transaction volume
  • Integrate management and content workflow—a single integrated work environment that drives content to output device as well as MIS
  • Enhance user interfaces and infrastructure
  • Implement market-driven workflows by looking at different market segments that are growing and driving new business, and understanding how EFI systems and solutions can help drive business into new markets.

The details are too lengthy to go into here.  Suffice it to say that EFI appears to be delivering on all of these objectives, and as I spoke to customers throughout the event, most seemed quite pleased with the results.  EFI continues to build common components that can be used across multiple products to improve overall quality and functionality and to optimize development efforts and time to market.  Progress toward this goal was evident as Olin talked about the various released and planned product enhancements, especially on the MIS and web-to-print front. Integration of both XMPie and Printable’s FusionPro into many of the applications was one major step that offers users a range of options for easily entering the lucrative one-to-one and cross-media markets. And the significant improvements in Digital Storefront make it even easier for printers to add e-commerce to the mix. Many applications are also moving to a browser-based interface, making them more portable and easier to use.

EIS is finally in general release.  This customizable management dashboard that was announced a couple years back now has 50 to 100 installs with PSI MIS customers and is in beta with Hagen and Logic.  Its functionality hits most of the objectives Olin outlined, and it would be encouraging to see faster adoption of this important business tool among the EFI customer base.

The Other Guy

For me, a real highlight of Connect this year was the keynote by Apple Fellow and well-known innovator Guy Kawasaki, who spoke on The Art of Innovation. Being a Silicon Valley history junkie, I have long been aware of Kawasaki and his contributions but have never had the opportunity to hear him speak.  Although Olin got through his 152 slides gracefully and painlessly in the hour he was allotted to speak, Kawasaki took a different approach with the 10/20/30 rule of presentations: 

10 slides, which he characterized as the human limit, presented in 20 minutes, using a 30-point font (although the presentation was closer to an hour, he did stick more or less to the 10 slides!)

His talk was entertaining, inspirational and educational, and his ten lessons of innovation, derived from his past successes and failures, are worth repeating here (in abbreviated form):

  1. Make meaning: change the world by perpetuating or creating good things and ending bad things.  The basis for all innovation is the desire to make meaning in life.
  2. Make a mantra: define your innovation with a two- to three-word mantra, like Nike’s Authentic Athletic Performance, FedEx’s Peace of Mind, eBay’s Democratize Commerce.
  3. Jump to the next curve.  Don’t settle for doing things 10% better, do it 10X better. 
  4. Roll the DICEE.  Make products that are Deep (example: Fanning Sandals), Intelligent (example: Panasonic BF-104 Flashlight), Complete (example: Lexus), Elegant (example: iPOD Nano) and Emotive (example: Harley Davidson). If you are not familiar with some of these products, look them up! 
  5. Don’t worry, be crappy.  If you have jumped a curve and produced something that is 10X better, it is okay to ship your product with elements of crappiness to it.  It doesn’t have to be perfect at launch.
  6. Polarize people. Create a product that some people love and many people hate.  Don’t try to create a product that is good for everyone.
  7. Let a hundred flowers blossom.  Embrace the unexpected uses to which customers put your products and leverage that to grow your offerings.
  8. Churn, baby, churn.  Ignore the bozos and naysayers.  Once you have jumped the curve, once you ship that revolution with elements of crappiness, you need to churn it, to the next innovation.  Switch from being in denial to being in a mode of listening to customers.
  9. Niche thyself.  Offer a unique product/service of great value to the customer.  Envisioning the typical “consultant quadrant” chart, place yourself high and to the right on the axes of value and uniqueness. This is where meaning, margin and history are made. 
  10. Follow the 10/20/30 rule of presentations. 

And as a bonus, he threw in an 11th lesson:

  1. Don’t let the bozos grind you down.

Kudos to EFI for bringing in this great speaker!

EFI By the Numbers

A good perspective on the overall state of EFI is reflected in this EFI “by the numbers” data shared with the media during Connect:

17 years of technology innovation
2006 revenues of $564 million
23 offices
7 acquisitions in the last 5 years
25% of revenue invested in R&D
#1 market share in all categories
1.4 million Fierys installed
2000 VUTEk printers installed
10,000 MIS customers

Next Year:  To Connect or Not to Connect

As of this writing, EFI is pondering what to do about next year in light of it being a drupa year. It is likely the company will survey its customers as part of the decision process. Stay tuned for details.