By Noel Ward, Executive Editor March 29, 2004 -- Xplor, the international organization of document processing professionals has seen some bumps in the road over the past few years. Attendance at its annual conference and trade show had declined and rumors of the organization's demise were easy to find. To be honest, I've questioned the organization's viability, and wrote a column on WhatTheyThink.com after last year's show, citing changes I believed were needed for the show's survival. In writing that piece I spoke with several analysts and key vendors, all industry veterans familiar with Xplor and the dynamics of our changing industry. What struck me was the loyalty to Xplor expressed by each person I interviewed and the hope that the organization and the conference would continue. It has real value, they said, and without it there would be a gap that's not filled by On Demand in the spring, GraphExpo in the fall or any of the smaller conferences throughout the year. So how does a professional trade organization go about reinventing itself? At Xplor last October, I talked with Skip Henk, who had just been named Chairman of the Board of Xplor and we have stayed in frequent touch since then. Last week Skip was named President and CEO of Xplor International, a full-time role for the 25-year industry veteran who is well-known and respected throughout the industry. Through our conversations, I learned Skip has a real vision for reinventing Xplor and more importantly, has the passion and the focus to renew the organization's role as an important part of the document printing and processing industry. We talked again late last week to learn some of his plans as he takes on the lead role. Conference Format "We are changing the format of the conference," says Henk. " The JTC session, which dominated Sundays in recent years, is moving to Monday morning, in response to requests from members and JTC executives. The all-JTC format on Sunday was too long and we lost a lot of people during the sessions. Now Sunday will have a motivational speaker (like the old days), followed by awards. We'll also put some fun back in by having a nice cocktail reception for networking." The traditional, big Monday Night Event is moving to Wednesday (still vendor-sponsored) so members and vendors alike have an opportunity to network and attend vendor functions. Conference sessions will run throughout each day and an additional a half-day is being added on Thursday for specialized workshops and local tours. Educational Formats "The acceptance of color and getting it to take off, depend on people knowing how to get there. That's why in Dallas we are adding content that goes upstream to address the workflow aspects of printing in color." As Henk noted in an interview last week with Cary Sherburne on WTT.com, " I want Xplor to be known as the gatekeeper of education for digital documents." He sees training as the biggest need for many member companies and cites key areas where Xplor will be focusing. Henk's vendor-side industry experience shows in this strategy. He most recently was involved with selling high-speed ink jet printers for Kodak Versamark and understands the uncertainty (at all levels) in about how and where color could be implemented and is using that awareness to change the focus of the sessions to truly being educational. "Color is very important, but it's way beyond buying a color printer. It's not just putting color on the page. The elimination of pre-printed forms makes some sense, but the most important part is upstream. The 1:1 marketing, the CRM, the data, how you handle the resources, the archival, the retrieval. How you manage the files. That's why in Dallas we are adding content that goes upstream to address the workflow aspects of printing in color." "From selling color print engines at Kodak Versamark, I know that the acceptance of color and getting it to take off, depend on people knowing how to get there. How you maximize the data, content, how you use database programs, design and workflow. That's at one level." "We will also run high-level sessions aimed at executives so they can gain an understanding of the issues involved and see what's involved in developing an implementation strategy for their businesses." Henk says companies have "color committees" who talk about shifting to color and what the bill will look like, but they don't know how to get it to look that way or whether it will be effective. Booth Options The trade show part of Xplor has always been much like any other show, which has had somewhat of a negative effect in recent years when lean corporate coffers impacted attendance and vendor investment in the show. For Dallas, Xplor is offering three options that Henk says are meeting with excellent acceptance by vendors. "People can continue what they have done in the past with traditional booths. They can also take a hybrid approach which would include less hardware with additional application-based opportunities for on-the-floor-education of their products and services." The third option is based on the pavilion shared in Atlanta by Océ and IBM which was successful for both firms. "One of our largest vendor partners called the offerings, 'very refreshing and on target'." "We are also offering shared pavilions that allow vendors presence and provide opportunity for "on-the-floor education" of their products and services, again focusing on applications. These offerings are priced to accommodate both small and large vendors depending on the level of exposure they want and their budget." There's also no reason a vendor couldn't have a small booth to demonstrate one or two specific machines and also have a presence in an educational area. Henk says some of the major vendors are opting for traditional or hybrid booths and several are interested in the pavilion format. "In fact," he notes, "One of our largest vendor partners called the offerings, 'very refreshing and on target'." It all amounts to a new way of thinking about what a modern technology show needs to be. As Henk said to me in a call back in December, "I want Xplor to be the poster-child for technology conferences and trade shows." Venues Xplor has never been in the same place two years running, which had its good and bad points, especially for attendees from outside the U.S. Slotted for Dallas this year, future venues are planned for a Sunbelt city but beyond the 2005 venue of Orlando, locations are not yet determined. The goal is to ultimately use just one or two attractive Sunbelt cities. But this is also dependent, says Henk on whether Xplor partners with other conferences. Discussions are in process with other trade show and conference organizations to determine whether there is a good fit for vendors, attendees and parent organizations in combining efforts. What Xplor Needs As he takes over the lead job, Henk says Xplor must accomplish three things to be successful. "First, we need to do a good job conveying our strategy our members, vendor partners and the industry. We lost direction for awhile, there, and now it's time to convey the vision of what we are going to evolve into." "Second, we need to communicate what that evolution is going to be and how it's going to happen and what the timing and schedules are for the various changes. Tit's going to take two or three years, so we have to set out all our goals and expectations so that vendors and members can understand where we are going." "Third, we have to show the value our efforts provide to the community. We are going to focus on education, on being cutting edge on being the people that lead the charge. We have to set a roadmap." "And then we have to deliver it. We have to begin demonstrating all this in Dallas, and I think we will."