By Chuck Gehman At the VuePoint conference earlier this year, I had lunch with a long-time Indigo owner and the subject turned to VDP applications. I figured my friend, as an early adopter, would have some good insight on the market, applications, and HP’s acquisition of Indigo. He’d taken some “arrows” with the technology and his attempts to market it. But he was still optimistic about the prospects. As the subject turned to database applications for VDP, he asked me, “What database software do most people use for doing this?” I responded that there were many choices: FileMaker Pro for simple tasks in Macintosh-oriented shops, Microsoft’s Access and SQL server systems, and of course, IBM’s DB2 and Oracle’s namesake product, both suited for industrial strength, high-volume applications. He then responded, “Wow. I just use Excel.” Needless to say, I was somewhat surprised that he would use such a simple tool for such an important task. But the reason is obvious: it’s easy to use. The problem, though, is that not only are print service providers challenged by marketing their VDP solutions, they also tend to view the database aspect of producing such products as a peripheral concern. The ability to handle database tasks is becoming an increasingly important aspect of all printing businesses, and especially those that are involved in digital applications and VDP. Some printers have become quite adept at these technologies: a good example being book and journal printers, who are increasingly being called upon to work with XML and provide sophisticated indexing and content repurposing services. Another set of excellent examples are printers who offer fulfillment and mailing services—these folks necessarily understand the need for database technologies and the skills to support them. An integral part of producing VDP work is processing the data (i.e., slicing and dicing it), and then combining it with the input artwork (i.e., pages and images) to produce the target product. The input data may come from a client’s customer relationship management (CRM) system, a corporate ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system (i.e., SAP or JD Edwards), from a “flat file” database, or even from several different sources (possibly in disparate formats) within either the client organization, their agency or list providers. The ability for the printer to manipulate this data efficiently might be the key to a successful campaign, and it is certainly going to impact the turnaround time and, in turn, the profitability of the job for the printer. We’ve all heard about how VDP increases the response rates: it’s not about the cost per page, but rather the overall ROI of the campaign. Without the database capabilities, none of these benefits can come about. Looking at it another way, the customer may understand the overall ROI picture, but: if you don’t have the database skills, some other provider (i.e., a database marketing company or a mailer) will be the one who reaps the value-added profits, while the print service provider is once again relegated to competing for the commodity business of charging per impression.