"We are pushing forward with our vendor-agnostic approach," says President Jacob Aizikowitz

By Cary Sherburne

It has been almost a year now since the Xerox acquisition of XMPie closed in November of 2006.  Xerox stated that XMPie would be operated as a standalone business unit in order to facilitate its continued relationship with the market at large, including Xerox competitors such as HP , Kodak, or Canon.  WhatTheyThink checked in with XMPie President Jacob Aizikowitz to find out how things are going post-acquisition and what we can expect to see from XMPie at Graph Expo and beyond.

WTT:  Jacob, there was initially some concern expressed by industry players relative to XMPie’s acquisition by Xerox.  Now that you are about a year into it, are those concerns justified?  Can you give us some insight into how things are going?

JA:  As promised, XMPie is operating as an independent unit.  We are continuing with the energy, innovation and independence that have been our hallmark since we were founded.  One benefit of being part of Xerox has been the increased access we have to larger accounts and we are leveraging Xerox backing, brand recognition and financial stability in those types of discussions.  But we are also still working closely with HP, Kodak and others as we did before the acquisition.

WTT:  Do you find yourselves working more closely inside Xerox as well?

JA:  Yes, of course.  Even though we are independent, being part of the company gives us a different level of access, and we are working with quite a few entities within Xerox, collaborating and exploring a lot of different things.  We continue to work with the Production Systems Group, of course, and now we are also working with Xerox Global Services and the Office Products Group on some very interesting initiatives.

As promised, XMPie is operating as an independent unit.  We are continuing with the energy, innovation and independence that have been our hallmark since we were founded. 

WTT:  Can you tell us a little about those?

JA:  They are still in the early stages, so it would be premature at this point.  But you can imagine, especially in the office environment, that we might be working to deploy some point solutions targeted at that space.  It gives us the opportunity to work toward building a continuum of solutions from the office right through services and production.

WTT:  How are your relationships with HP and Kodak?

JA:  Fundamentally, HP and Kodak are competitors of Xerox, as you point out.  But we continue to work well with them, collaborating and engaging customers.  There were always questions about how we would behave in the marketplace post-acquisition, but people see that we are pushing forward with a vendor-agnostic approach.

WTT:  What new partnerships has XMPie formed in the last year?

JA:  We are working on a number of major alliances that we can’t discuss yet.  One that we can talk about is Emtex.  We are collaborating with them in a very successful situation in the UK that has very powerful capabilities for marketing-oriented documents and workflow, combined with the control and security needed in the production of transactional documents.

WTT:  As you look at the printing industry today, what do you see as the biggest challenges facing print services providers?

JA:  Print service providers in today’s marketplace are bombarded with the need to be something that they inherently are not, and that is providers of marketing services.  As print service providers have expanded their services in response to industry consolidation, sluggish growth and the dizzying pace of technological change, more have added variable data printing, and some are now expanding into cross-media publishing. The next level is to become providers of marketing services. But for many, they are not sure exactly what this means, and what tools and technology they need to bring it all together.  Add to that all the talk about the necessity of understanding the needs of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), and it becomes a little overwhelming.

There were always questions about how we would behave in the marketplace post-acquisition, but people see that we are pushing forward with a vendor-agnostic approach.

WTT:  So what should these businesses be looking for in the marketplace, especially as they prepare to attend Graph Expo?

JA:  There is a need for better solutions and more solutions that can expand their services outside of print or simple variable data printing.  I think that many people viewed cross-media as sort of a luxury in the past, but now we are at the point where it is becoming a necessity.  Marketers are being pushed to show an ROI on their marketing spend, and to do that, they need to be able to measure the results of their efforts more scientifically.  And by blending print with email and web, using personalized URLs as part of the picture—or as we refer to them, response URLs (RURLs)—marketers can do a lot more measurement much faster and more accurately than ever before.  But the other thing you quickly realize when you look at some of the implementations out there is that they are comprised of point solutions and it is a lot of work to integrate it all.  So the challenge, really, for print service providers as they migrate to marketing services providers is to be able to offer a holistic set of integrated marketing services, of which print is an element, that are integrated in such a way that it will be meaningful from the viewpoint of the marketing executive.  At XMPie, we are working to deliver those types of solutions.

WTT:  Do you still consider print service providers as your core market?

JA:  We are very strong in the print service provider market.  And we have a lot of successful customers who have expanded their horizons into the marketing services provider space.  When we started, that was a rare occurrence, but it is becoming more common today.  We also have several enterprise accounts, large companies in the Fortune 500, or even the Fortune 100.  And this is very encouraging and exciting, because it validates the message we have been delivering to the marketplace since the beginning.  Also, as enterprise accounts begin to implement more and more cross-media programs, these "customers of our customers" will be driving more business into the printing services or marketing services arena.  The fact that we are owned by Xerox, and their size and stability, is really helping us expand our own horizons by allowing us to enter much bigger markets.

I think that many people viewed cross-media as sort of a luxury in the past, but now we are at the point where it is becoming a necessity. 

WTT:  Do you see changes in the design and creative communities that are relevant to this discussion?

JA:  That area of the business is not fundamentally different, but when companies like Adobe bring out fully integrated cross-media tools like CS3, that encourages a lot of collaboration between what were once basically silos in the design and creative communities so that they are really working in a cross-media world.  That is probably the biggest change.

WTT:  Can you explain what you mean by that?

JA:  There was a lot of focus on templates in the past for development of variable data campaigns and there continues to be.  But the more important issue is how you integrate a variety of different media into an overall program, and that is where XMPie is strong.  We consider this integration to be very important to the future success of cross media.  And people are starting to realize that with solutions like CS3 and the XMPie solutions, they can work interactively across a broad array of creative tools, from PhotoShop to Illustrator to Flash and InDesign, augmented by the XMPie software, to create very powerful integrated dynamic cross-media campaigns.  When you combine all of that with the single view of the campaign—the command center, if you will—represented by XMPie, it is driving huge change into the marketplace.  I know this is happening, because as I talk to the creative and marketing communities, I am beginning to hear about these things from them.  We are not spending as much time educating them on the possibilities. 

WTT:  If you look at what has been added to the XMPie solution set over the last year, what would you consider to be some of the most important additions?

JA:  We see a lot more customers using Interactive Content Ports and our APIs to create very complex multichannel campaigns.  Interactive Content Ports, or ICPs, enable real-time bidirectional read/write communication between a cross-media campaign and one or more databases. By configuring an Interactive Content Port, or ICP, with a connection to a specific campaign in uProduce, a bidirectional communication channel is set up between XMPie software and the dynamic web site composition engine. ICPs, in effect, present the XMPie campaign as a simple data source of campaign variables to the composition tools that are commonly used for creating web, email, SMS and other electronic media campaigns. Another powerful capability of ICPs is the ability to write updates back to the database on a real-time basis, so that you are always working with the most current data.  For example, if a recipient of a campaign visits a personalized web microsite, and they update their title, for example, that update is communicated back to the database in real time.  In fact, when they move to the next page of the microsite, they will already see the update.  This is important, because people in today’s world expect that kind of instantaneous response. And while web tools can accomplish this, they generally will not be able to make this new data instantly available to the print aspect of the campaign.

WTT:  Can you explain that a little further?

JA:  A major advantage of ICPs is that they enable creating cross-media campaigns that synchronize print and web or e-mail without demanding a change in the workflow used to create the web designs, web site, HTML pages etc. Instead of the applications connecting to a database as the datatsource – a built-in and well understood capability of all tools that support dynamic web design etc. – these applications are able to connect to an ICP port that appears to the creative professional as a database but has the advantage of being able to coordinate multiple databases simply and easily. And with the ability ICPs allow to write new information back to the database, it integrates print and web under one umbrella, ensuring that web and print are always synchronized rather than working in individual silos.

WTT:  And what are some of the other new developments you are seeing in the way your customers are deploying these campaigns?

JA:  The other thing we are seeing is more creative uses of uStore, including some very large scale campaigns that combine a lot of special programming and integration work.  We see cases where people use the XMPie solutions right out of the box to create the design, templates, plan, logic and rules, and connections to the data for cross-media campaigns.  But we are also seeing more complex deployments using APIs, ICPs and building custom integration on top of uStore to connect multiple enterprise systems in a truly integrated application.  We are just at the very beginning of this tremendous expanded opportunity to allow the deployment of integrated enterprise solutions, and it is very, very exciting.

WTT:  Can you give us a quick example?

JA:  Reynolds DeWalt in Massachusetts is one example.  The company would tell you that it is migrating from a printing company to an integrated marketing services company, and views ICPs as a true market differentiator for XMPie, and thus for itself.  Reynolds DeWalt uses ICPs to not only update databases real time from recipient responses on web forms, but to also reflect those changes in additional dynamic pages generated during the same session. Additionally, the real-time bidirectional database updates allow the system to send background emails to sales and customer support resources that reflect entries made by the visitor during the web session.  This means that meaningful follow-up contact can be initiated within moments of the site visit, taking into account all new information the visitor has provided.

WTT:  That’s pretty powerful.  I am sure XMPie will be doing case studies on some of these applications to help get the word out about what is possible.

JA:  Yes, we certainly will.

WTT:  What can we expect to see from XMPie at Graph Expo, then, to move this concept forward?

JA:  You will see XMPie beginning to introduce a more explicit marketing flavor to the whole XMPie experience.  What I mean by that is that we will be taking our solutions into the more classical marketing space, including a stronger ability to track and analyze results to refine the next phases of a campaign so it can be more powerful and relevant,.  You can think of it like a marketing dashboard that the marketer can use to look across all media in a campaign, or even across campaigns, in an integrated manner.  You can do this today, of course, but it requires a lot of custom development and/or very expensive and complex third party software.  What we aim to do is to bring this kind of capability to the market virtually out of the box, as we have done in the past with variable data and cross media.  From that out-of-the-box state, you should be able to take the solutions to as complex a level as you want with things like ICPs and our APIs, but we want to put the basic functionality—the integrated marketing dashboard, if you will—at the fingertips of the print services provider, marketing services provider and marketing executive, literally out of the box.  So you will see some of that at Graph Expo.   

We believe that these advances can revolutionize the way people do marketing, and they will enable new levels of integration and collaboration between print services providers and their customers, based on a much more holistic set of services to their customers.

WTT:  Jacob, thanks for spending time with us on this exciting subject.  We will look forward to learning more about these announcements at Graph Expo.