Historically our trade shows have been heavily skewed toward equipment - big iron, big iron and more big iron. It has been interesting to observe over the last few months in attending the various industry get-togethers that the emphasis has shifted away from big iron and more to the overall workflow that gets the work from the customer or creator to its final intended recipient - whether the ultimate delivery is in paper or electronic form. Nowhere was this more evident than at this year's On Demand Expo. Oh, there was big iron present, to be sure. Lots of paper was being imaged and finished. But across the show floor, people were talking about integrated workflow, JDF, linking MIS systems to creative and production systems - and the list goes on.

One company whose presence was dramatically different this year was IKON Office Solutions. Since IKON is not a manufacturer, there seems to be little reason for the company to drag heavy equipment onto the show floor. All of its partners were present and accounted for, and it is easy enough for the sales representative to escort a prospective customer to a partner's booth if speeds and feeds are the order of the day. Instead, IKON's booth was set up as an educational venue which they dubbed the Document Efficiency Center, with panel discussions, round tables and presentations from partners and customers, emphasizing the importance of conducting full process assessments as a precursor to defining a solution - in other words, a solution versus a box sale. Partners such as Objectif Lune, HP, Westbrook Technologies and RSA were present in kiosks within the booth and available for more in depth discussions and demonstrations. Document management, content management, variable data packages and other software technologies were well represented. As one IKON representative put it, Why drag an imageRUNNER 110 to the show when there are already several on the floor?

Canon, of course, is one of those partners and did display a full range of equipment, including the imageRUNNER 110 and two new products, the imageRUNNER C3100 and the imageRUNNER C6800, both of which are color-enabled black and white multifunctional devices - or Universal Copier/Printers, a term that was being bandied about the show (we'll talk more about that next week!). At a packed press event, though, held at the Good Morning America studios at the corner of 44th and Broadway, almost as much time was devoted to workflow elements as was devoted to talking about the boxes. The company's Ultra-Fast Rendering (UFR) and Multifunctional Embedded Application Platform (MEAP) caught the interest of media attendees as evidenced by the nature of the questions following the presentation.

UFR allows faster printing of office documents by offloading to the user's desktop much of the processing associated with the rendering of a print-ready file, taking advantage of excess processing capacity and minimizing the amount of work the print controller must do. This generally means faster throughput, since jobs are virtually ready to print when they reach the controller and do not clog the queue. According to Canon, users notice little, if any, degradation of performance at the desktop, and with UFR, files are transmitted in native device format rather than PostScript or PCL. It also means that the controller, or server, needs much less disk capacity and memory, and manufacturing costs can be dramatically reduced without sacrificing performance.

Canon has been talking about MEAP for quite some time as an architecture to embed more and more third party capability into Canon print devices. Canon's long-time partner eCopy is one of the first - if not the first - to take advantage of the architecture with its ShareScan OP offering launched at the show. (The OP stands for Open Platform.) eCopy ShareScan formerly sat on an external PC and was installed on a device-by-device basis. With OP, it can be installed internally to the device and managed from a centralized ShareScan server, increasing the overall integration, and decreasing costs to the customer.

IBM, who arguably coined the term big iron, had its share on the floor, including first time exhibition of its entire light production product portfolio, the Infoprint 2105, 2090, 2060 and 2075. Although the print engines are OEM'd from Ricoh, IBM is quick to point out that they feature 1200-dpi, rather than standard 600-dpi, image quality and other IBM specific enhancements. IBM's Bruce Otte, Worldwide Manager, Production Solutions Strategy, said, Our presence at the show is not about announcing technology, but rather, about announcing practical solutions that are available today and that the market is telling us they need. We believe that the market, not technology, drives the future. Successful offerings must improve productivity, drive cost out of the business, and achieve better profits for the customer. IBM announced a number of improvements and extensions to its workflow portfolio in the realm of content management and digital media management, enabled by its AFP workflow, which Otte was quick to point out is based on an open architecture that is published and accessible for free.

The show floor was teeming with other software solutions, and a representative few will be covered here and in our coverage next week.

Emtex was present, showcasing its expanded portfolio of output management and data stream transform solutions, including its recently acquired FlexServer and FlexPOD (formerly OPServer, developed by Fidelity). Emtex has not traditionally been a household word, having sold primarily through OEM channels such as Xerox and Océ. But with Tim Moylan, a 28-year industry veteran, taking the reins as President, the company has expanded its sales efforts to include direct as well as channel sales and will be a force to watch in the coming months. Moylan said, Our sole purpose in life has been to provide output management solutions implementing the concept of any to any printing.' While we can't necessarily take credit for coining the term, we certainly made it happen. Through its partners, Emtex has some 1,000 customers worldwide. Moylan indicated that one large customer, DST Output, produces about 9 billion pages of information a year, with 7.5 billion of those pages moving through Emtex workflow.

Enfocus continues to play a leadership role in PDF workflow, unveiling its Job Ticketing and JDF strategy. David van Driessche, Enfocus CEO, believes that while current industry focus is largely on handling PDF files once they enter the production workflow, receivers of those files - the print production professionals - have long been challenged in getting good quality PDF files from creators. As creators have become increasingly sophisticated, and with the potential of an automated JDF workflow looming on the horizon, what is missing in the process is the ability to transmit adequate metadata with the PDF file to ensure streamlined production. To alleviate that problem, Enfocus is introducing job ticketing support across its entire product line as an optional element that makes it easy for the creator to append needed metadata, meaning that job ticket support is embedded in all the Enfocus products and the creator can choose whether or not to take advantage of the feature. Job ticketing will be integrated with Enfocus' Certified PDF workflow, enabling preflighting of the job ticket as well as preflighting of the PDF itself. Enfocus will be announcing more exciting enhancements in the weeks leading up to drupa that will make it even easier for creators to deliver fully functional PDFs.

And finally, what would on demand printing be without paper? A number of paper vendors were present on the show floor, including Mohawk, long a proponent of the development of digital-specific papers, including its ColorCopy line launched at Graph Expo. Mohawk's Director of Business Development for Mohawk Digital Papers indicates that 2003 saw a full 25% of its production move to digital cut sheet products. In fact, the company has invested several million dollars in a specialty converting center at its Cohoes NY mill featuring a six-pocket Bielomatik, sheeter to create cut-sheet ream-wrapped paper, and added an Evtec sheeter to stay up with demand. Quite an accomplishment!

I will be back next week with more on the wonders of workflow from On Demand, as well as a discussion of the Value-Added Services special interest day and Frank Romano's Universal Copier/Printer keynote. Stay tuned!