To report that a crowd of 2,500 converged on yesterday's opening keynote at On Demand in New York City is both to describe the event and to encapsulate its theme. That number of people - an On Demand record - did indeed turn the main theatre at the Javits Center into an S.R.O. scene, and what the crowd heard from keynoters Anne Mulcahy and Charles Pesko was entirely about the convergence of technologies in the production and use of documents.

On Demand, originally a digital printing expo, has changed character since its producer, Advanstar, first co-located it with the AIIM conference for enterprise content and document management last year. Although digital output systems remain in the forefront, AIIM On Demand now aspires to be what Advanstar calls a highly focused mega-event for everything having to do with the creation, storage, and distribution of enterprise data in documents that take whatever form the enterprise says they must have. Mulcahy, chairman and CEO of Xerox, made it clear at the outset that this broad definition implies much more than what most printers of documents assume.

Smart document management goes way beyond printing, she said, noting that a document can reside as legitimately in a Blackberry communicator as in a printed page. There is a multitude of opportunities to smarten up documents wherever they exist, according to Mulcahy, who quipped, Maybe we ought to call it, No Document Left Behind.'

She linked most of her comments to what she described as the transformation of information technology (IT) science from the little i, big T model to the big I, little t concept that is starting to take hold now. IT of the Big I, little t kind, she said, de-emphasizes the technology per se in favor of creating documents that are containers in which information is presented for people like you and me. Without smart document management, however, the content in these containers remains mostly unstructured and fails to confer any sort of competitive advantage on the document owner.

The Autodidact Document

Mulcahy said that smart document management is a three-stage process in which the documents eventually smarten themselves. In the first stage, document creators turn not-smart documents into smart ones and, in the second stage, discover how to manage them better. Meanwhile, said Mulcahy, the grist grows smarter by the day, and learns how to manage the mill. By this third stage, she explained, the documents will have become astute enough to recognize when their content carries information pertinent to specific tasks, enabling them to react accordingly. In this state of heightened awareness, she said, the how, where, and why are handled by the smart document.

She asked the audience to envision the day when their electronically archived documents would function like stacks in a library, logically categorized with related documents on related subjects filed in relationship to one another. One application of smart-document technology like this in an enterprise, she said, might be an information-routing system capable of assuring that every document in your in-box is relevant to you.

Mulcahy said that Xerox is using the Six Sigma disciplinea data-driven methodology for eliminating defects in processes such as document productionto develop smart-document solutions for large enterprises in its worldwide client base. She said, for example, that Xerox was providing the European Patent Office with what she called the largest and most accurate database of patent information in the world in a smart system that can automatically relay patent applications to the most appropriate personnel in the bureau. Helping enterprises to master their document workloads in this way is the epitome of big I, little t in action, Mulcahy said.

The same story applies, or should apply, in production printing, she continued. However, she said, many traditional printers are still on the fence when it comes to deciding whether to remain production-focused or to embrace the opportunity to become information service providers. She urged printers to adopt a broad document management strategy that would enable them to add value in all stages of the process, not just the output.

Once Was Lost, But Now...

Printers stuck in the production-only mindset, she warned, face dire consequences from disruptive technologies that could sunder them from their customers. Xerox has been there, she said, recalling the controversy she stirred three years ago when she declared that the company was burdened with an unsustainable business model too heavily focused on copiers and clicks. We'd lost our way, she said, adding that printers now must do what Xerox did to regain its bearings.

Business survival for printers now demands more than just cutting costs, hiring more salespeople, and trying to pry market share from competitors doing the same things, according to Mulcahy. Rather, she said, printers should be cashing in on real growth opportunities in smart-document management, digital color, and variable-data output.

Mulcahy said that what printers are witnessing, and can profit from, is the convergence of enterprise content management and production printing in a massive shift away from old notions of IT to the end-user-centric big I, little t concept endorsed by Xerox. In this schema, she observed, technology is the commodityinformation is the competitive advantage and the creator of value.

She left printers with the thought that from now on, everything they do falls on the right side or on the wrong side of big I, little t, with commensurate rewards or otherwise.

Pesko, managing director CAPV, the research organization that develops the conference program for On Demand, didn't try to blunt Mulcahy's warnings about the risks of ignoring convergence's consequences for production printing.

He said that the industry, still struggling to recover from a triple battering of economic recession, competitive technologies, and generational issuesa worsening shortage of young people entering its management ranksfaced a future of negative price pressure, declining profit margins, and overcapacity in offset lithography. In fact, Pesko said, growth opportunities now will come mostly from the replacement of offset.

No Salvation in Press Speed

Printers will find growth neither in faster presses nor even in greater volume, according to Pesko, who professed to see a widening dichotomy between the industry's haves (printers with digital capability) and its have-nots (printers who continue to avoid digital). He warned the latter group that they need an entirely new business model that is not fixated upon manufacturing more print.

You must embrace digital color printing and other digital technologies that add value to the documents that your deliver to your customers, he advised the holdouts.

Digitally-driven convergence is changing the nature of customer relationships as well, said Pesko. Printers must provide a delightful customer experience based upon making it easy for customers to do business with them at every stage of the transaction. This means expanding the concept of customer service beyond just the marks on paper to the entire document life cycle.

Customers, especially enterprise customers, expect this kind of treatment and will reward it, according to Pesko. Corporate America is beginning to recognize the strategic importance of documents in their business, and they are looking to our industry for help.

What the customer wants, Pesko said, is not just the printing of documents, but complete end-use fulfillment. The customer, moreover, wants the process just to be a black box, and it gets done.

Pesko said printers must strive for process automation and super efficiency in order to qualify themselves as providers of these services.