The current state of the Printing and Graphics Arts industry has been described in many ways. Some consider it to be stagnant; others think that it is revolutionary. Still others believe that it is making the transformation to marketing services and a digital economy. In the middle of all this, commercial printers—the bedrock of the industry—are fighting to survive. This year, more than any other, Graph Expo represents an opportunity re-evaluate and re-assess your business. While this year's event will certainly feature exciting equipment upgrades, enhancements, and new digital and traditional devices, my simple recommendation for service providers this year is to reflect on the solutions that your customers are seeking and the solutions that will have a profitable impact on your business.

A Focus on Solutions

The solution-focused print service provider (PSP) should be exploring options and alternatives that link to business change. Most providers don't want 2011 to be a repeat of 2009 or 2010. They are focused on change. The desire for change is driven by two specific objectives:

  1. There is something negative (a problem) that you want to get rid of. In the case of print service providers, this typically links to a need to reduce operating costs.
  2. There is something positive (an unfulfilled aspiration) that you want more of. This links to new opportunities to grow business.

As you roam the floor of Graph Expo, you will see a number of options that can deliver on the promise of change. Rather than being embedded in physical pieces of equipment, these solutions will come in the form of software tools, emerging applications, and new markets.

Based on this year's pre-show announcements, vendors understand the need to deliver more than equipment. There is a focus on helping PSPs to enhance operational efficiencies (reduce costs) and identify new markets (grow business).

Reducing Costs by Improving Efficiency

Graph Expo 2010 will highlight a number of tools that further automate the print production workflow and offer the promise of increased productivity and a tighter operation. These solutions enable PSPs to improve the automation of many prepress steps, promoting higher job throughput and less human interaction. Print production workflow solutions are becoming increasingly important due to significantly reduced turnaround times and shorter print runs. Additionally, solutions that improve estimating, invoicing, workflow monitoring, and data capture will be unveiled to enable further process improvements.

This year's pre-show announcements include a little bit of everything. Here are just a few examples:

  • Soft Solutions will be showcasing its Flex 5.0 software at Graph Expo 2010. Flex 5.0 enables users to access their production data on iPhones, iPads, Blackberries, Droids, or home PCs.
  • For the transactional environment, Crawford Technologies is announcing its PRO Production Manager. This solution offers end-to-end workflow management and reporting within a transactional or POD document production environment, including full proof-of-process reporting.
  • SpotOn! announced the release of SpotOn! Spot, a new software tool for tracking Pantone and custom spot colors in print production. SpotOn! Spot provides an on-screen comparison to customer reference colors and displays deviation of the printed color from the pre-defined reference points.
  • Standard Finishing Systems will feature live demonstrations of a broad range of intelligently automated postpress, paper handling, and inserting solutions. The company is using the theme "Intelligent Automation" to emphasize Horizon's commitment to using advanced automation and touchscreen control for efficient set-ups, lower operating costs, and quality for short-run finishing.
  • Traditional press vendors as well as digital equipment providers will be demonstrating solutions developed internally and in conjunction with partners to provide end-to-end connectivity and automation.

Growing Business by Identifying New Markets

Graph Expo 2010 will also be a source of information about solutions that add value to existing client relationships while also evaluating new markets and applications. Vendors will be showcasing applications that are linked to double-digit growth opportunities for the printing industry, including photo merchandise, large format signage, digital packaging, and "on demand books." Vendors will be combining these applications with business development tools to support the implementation, marketing, and sales activities associated with expanding into new markets.

Marketers and customers alike are seeking integrated communications. The concept of blending print, mobile, online, and social media will be pervasive in a number of new solutions demonstrated across the show floor. Visitors to Graph Expo will see examples of 1:1 variable data, QR codes, short message codes, and augmented reality that truly make print an integral part of an interactive consumer dialogue.

In addition, new substrates will make the "offset to digital" opportunity a reality for driving new inkjet opportunities. 2010 will likely mark the emergence of economical coated stocks. This means that the inkjet application set will grow to include higher-quality documents such as promotional pieces, color books, catalogs, custom publications, and magazines.

A sampling of pre-show announcements designed to support new market opportunities include:

  • Pitney Bowes will be demonstrating its Connect+ Series. This system eliminates pre-printed envelopes and transforms white envelopes into highly personalized, effective, and relevant mail pieces.
  • GMC Software Technology will highlight new product features that enable print service providers and enterprise customers to engage in highly personalized multi-channel communications including print, e-mail, and mobile messaging.
  • RISO, Inc. will showcase a single-pass, full-color transpromotional print application with integrated MICR check printing and embedded digital void pantograph security. Working in conjunction with partners GMC Software Technology, Arcis Digital Security, Kirk-Rudy, and the Solutions Group, RISO will utilize the ComColor high-speed inkjet printing system to produce secure, full-color customer communications at 120 ppm while eliminating the need for pre-printed security check paper stocks.
  • Xerox Corporation is introducing its Espresso Book Machine, which prints, binds, and trims bookstore-quality paperbacks with color covers in minutes. Xerox will now market, sell/lease, and service the solution, giving book retailers new ways to drive revenues in the store. The Espresso Book Machine's print-at-retail model, which includes the EspressNet software system developed by On Demand Books, connects machines to a vast repository of content. This enables consumers to access millions of copyrighted, public-domain, and self-published books in a matter of minutes.

Seek the Right Solutions for You and Your Customers

As PSPs walk down the aisles at this year's Graph Expo event, they should be seeking the right solutions that add value to their businesses as well as their customers' businesses. The emphasis should be on identifying the tools that support the streamlining of operations to enable low-cost production. At the same time, however, operational excellence is not enough. This year, service providers must consider their unfulfilled aspirations and explore new opportunities for growth. Let the show begin!