Preview of the XDU Global Conference from Skip Henk, President & CEO, Xplor International

Xplor International has a long and exciting history; from its beginning as a Xerox user group to the global organization it has become today. While many of us remember the exhibitions of the past, it was the educational offerings that gave the events true value.

The first Xplor Global Conference I attended was probably in 1994, and I remember class sessions that ran from Monday through Friday – five straight days – from 8:00 AM until 6:00 PM every day. Well, it might not have been actually that early, but I do think it was that late!

It was as if one could get the equivalent of a graduate degree in just one week! As a conference attendee, it was the one place where I could choose from a vast offering and create my own “degree” program. I could drill down into the areas of most use to me.

Xplor is making it possible to “build your own” program through the XDU – or Xplor Document University – by combining 150 sessions at this year’s XDU Global Conference with online and on-demand classes across a broad range of business and technical subjects. The XDU is evolving to encompass not only new technologies as class subjects, but to use new technologies for information delivery.

Skip Henk, President and CEO of Xplor International, who is participating in his 26th Global Conference, has been steering the ship into the future. We chatted with Skip who talked about the past, present, and future of XDU and gave us a preview of the Conference coming up March 3-6 in Boston.

WTT: Skip, the co-location of the Xplor XDU Conference with the On Demand and AIIM Conferences brings together nearly 350 classes from three “universities,” you might call them, under one roof. How did this come about?

SH: It was just logical to join with these two existing and relevant events already one location! When you look at all the functions that are involved in the creation, production, and distribution of documents, they are represented by these three organizations. AIIM International targets practitioners in the content and information management fields, On Demand is for commercial printers, publishers, and in-plant printing professionals, and the XDU is specifically geared toward users of document composition and output systems.

Another way of looking at it is that AIIM focuses on content and On Demand on in-plant production and workflow. Xplor targets document composition and output – output and distribution that includes print, web, email, audio, and video. XDU is evolving to address multi-channel, multi-media, cross-media – what ever you want to call it – as means to develop two-way conversations with customers and prospects.

WTT: Today the document output gamut runs from AFP to XML – literally from A to Z – with lots of PDF thrown in there! Would you share with us how you’ve seen the focus of Xplor and the document “business” change over the years?

SH: The Conference is important and the educational opportunities within the Conference are important, but Xplor is much more; and we’ve changed our focus on information and methodologies.

Since I’ve been involved in these events for more than a quarter of a century and some of my peers are retiring, I want to remind the younger people in this business that this is “not your father’s Xplor!” We have evolved to incorporate new document formats, new communication methods and new modes of delivery. That’s the Xplor of the future.

Xplor has always been known for its Global Conference, the Expo, and all the regional and chapter meetings; however those are all fundamentally dependent on “in person” events. They are a big part of our heritage and still important.  There is no substitute for “in person” education, peer-to-peer interaction and exchanging of information, but the reality is we all have less time and fewer resources. The Xplor of the future is a global network of people in the business of creating customer communication that want to share information, establish a network, and stay at the forefront of technology, education, and trends.

We have begun building a structure that will bring together people with like interests into virtual groups that are fluid; forming, dissolving, and reforming around changing wants and needs. These groups will come together around common interests like security print, organic ink applications, transpromo, any number of topics.

Traditionally people had to travel to conferences and seminars to relate to others with the same interests and the information shared at these events was limited to its geographic reach. While the Global Conference tried to remove those constraints, speakers and attendees still had to come together to exchange information. The class focus we have in Boston is only one portion of the educational offering that Xplor has developed, but it leverages the Expo and the opportunity for attendees to actually see a range of output devices in action.

This year we offer about 150 classes broken down into 20 topical tracks across a wide range of special interest segments. There is a track for people who are new to the business – the Document Journey – that covers the fundamentals of document production. We have a wide range of AFP sessions, sessions to help make sound technology decisions, and sessions focusing on operations. For example, there is “Mail in the Middle” for people who are putting documents in the mail. At the same time we have the executive technology panels for the CEO or CIO.

This is probably the most well balanced program we’ve had for a number of years. Beyond that, it is truly a leading edge program with something for everyone.

WTT: XDU is offering classes and training across a variety of channels, from webcasts and podcasts to “live in-person” courses like those in Boston. Would you tell us about your plans to use cross-media for training and education?

SH: We’ve been experimenting with all kinds of media to delivery our classes; in fact nearly everything we’ve tried over the last three years has been an experiment of sorts. Last year we started dabbling in podcasting. During the XDU Online University last year, we recorded 35 webinar sessions that formed the basis for our XDU Online Archive. People can view slides and listen to the audio or simply listen to the audio anytime they choose. This year’s program is scheduled for May and we already have more than 250 people registered.

We intend to offer online, on-demand education, composed of content that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our next step is to bring in career and professional development online videos. To do that we are partnering with Specialized Solutions, a leader in multimedia training programs, and we will be able to give substantial discounts on more than 175 courses that range from Microsoft certification preparation to writing skills.

Xplor is evolving into a destination – a “go to portal” – and distribution channel. We don’t want to create the content ourselves but we do want to be a distribution channel for our members and the industry. For instance, we are already providing links to industry webinars; we post the links and make sure that the events are announced to our members. We will become an aggregator of information already out there.

In March we will be adding a “Stats and Facts” element where people can find all kinds of market and industry statistics from a variety of sources.

The Xplor of the future will evolve as new transactional communication technology evolves. You’re also going to see us experimenting with alternative communication through text messaging, Facebook, MySpace, and other technology. My son is 19; in few years he will be in a position to communicate with his peers in business either as a decision-maker or a buyer. Companies will have to know how to speak to him and his peers using the tools with which they want to communicate. His preferred medium now is text messaging – 3000 a month! Are businesses going to be prepared to reach him? It won’t be through the mail or with print ads and it won’t be over the phone.

WTT: Xplor has long offered EDP Certification; which is “awarded to those who have demonstrated broad knowledge of and experience in digital communication – whether in print, over internal networks, or online – from document creation to distribution.” How do you see your certification initiatives evolving in the future?

SH: We want to expand our educational and certification initiatives, so that EDP certification indicates someone with a certain stature in the industry, something similar to “Microsoft Certified.”

I’m working with the EDP certification committee to revise the EDP program. The certification currently is predicated on continuing education and industry involvement. Both of these have always required the applicant to attend chapter meetings, the Global Conference, or events like On Demand, to accrue points for participation.

That no longer works; the industry has changed and people no longer attend 3 or 4 events a year. We’re structuring our programs now so that when someone takes an online class they will get “participation points” that can be converted to points for EDP certification or recertification. On the other hand, those people who prepare and deliver the presentations – that’s industry participation too. They will get participation points as well.

We are expanding and revamping our program so participants are not required to spend money to go to a physical event. An online conference is really no different from an “in person” conference. The content is generally the same; it’s just delivered over a longer period of time.

This year, in a first for Xplor, we will have two courses in Boston where we’re awarding CEUs. For the last 18 months we’ve researched and put together the infrastructure to qualify Xplor as an institution that can issue CEU credits for different courses. It meant a lot of paperwork, a review process, and testing. However, many of our members work for companies that recognize the value of CEUs, and we want to be able to award them as part of our training programs.

We are offering two classes in Boston – The Fundamentals of Print and AFP 101: A Functional Perspective – that qualify for CEUs. The will also be offered online after the conference.

There is much more to come.

WTT: Thanks, Skip. We’ll see you in Boston in March!