Connect 2014, which EFI proclaimed was the largest in its history, attracted approximately 1,500 people to Las Vegas to learn, network and provide feedback to EFI. More than 200 breakout sessions, representatives from some of the industry’s most successful companies, a core group of sponsors and the largest media attendance ever marked the event.

Big Bets

The level of enthusiasm was high, as CEO Guy Gecht kicked off the event with—in the spirit of Las Vegas—five big bets on EFI’s radar and for the success of the industry.  As Gecht pointed out, “The only guaranteed way not to win is not to bet. Standing still is not an option.” Here they are:

  1. Automation.  Since its inception, EFI has been bringing automation solutions to the printing industry, and each year sees that portfolio broaden and strengthen, organically and through acquisition.  Gecht used the example of the Google automated car as an example of automation outside our industry and of the ultimate goal for print operations:  Zero touch, saying, “If we can take the accidents out of printing—including waste and labor—that will change the industry profoundly.”
  2. Big Data. We hear this term a lot, and many in the printing industry are not quite sure how it relates to them.  Amazon, sure. Google and mobile phone companies, right.  But Gecht simplified the concept by pointing out that regardless of company size, data is critical—whether you want to call it “big” or not.  This includes using data to continuously improve the accuracy of estimating, ensuring efficient and effective equipment utilization, and delivering relevant solutions and communications to customers, with the end result being improved profitability.
  3. The Imaging of Things. EFI has always been involved with imaging, beginning with the launch of the Fiery in the early 1990s.  Today, the company has upped its game with inkjet for labels and grand format, and even ceramic tiles with acquired Spanish company Cretaprint.  The variety of substrates which can be imaged by EFI products and technologies continues to grow and quality and efficiency continue to increase.
  4. Digital Printing Technology.  This, of course, is not a new bet for EFI or for the industry. And it is also related to Bet Number 3, including short-run and personalized documents, signage, packaging, and decorative ceramics.  Gecht stated, “When it comes to betting on digital printing, we’re all in,” pointing to industry analyst firm Caslon’s prediction that offset pages will continue to shrink by 11% in North America over the next 10 years, while digital pages will grow by 98.5% during the same period. And this doesn’t even count the digital transformation taking place in labels & packaging, signs & display graphics, textiles, interior and exterior décor and more. EFI is “all in,” both in terms of its own products and the support that it provides to a wide range of OEM partners, most of whom were present at the event.
  5. Building Strong, Long-Term Partnerships. Gecht took this opportunity to announce a surprise return visitor to the event—Benny Landa—and a partnership between the two companies that will result in EFI Fiery being used exclusively as the DFE for Landa Nanographic Printing Presses. While Landa had other alternatives, it was not that big of a surprise that the company chose EFI.  More on that later.

One thing you can count on with Guy’s presentations at events like this is that he will introduce humor and fun. With Benny Landa on the stage as well, attendees got a double dose along with the breaking news.

Future Point of View

To highlight even more EFI’s focus on a successful future, another featured speaker was futurist Vaughn Rachal of Houston-based Future Point of View. Rachal pointed out that 60% of business relationships are now starting online (still think you don’t need an e-commerce presence and an excellent and evolving website?). He also quoted a Boston Consulting Group study that found that 76% of mindshare of most business leaders is thinking about today, with only 3% of their time focused on the future. Cap Gemini recommends that leaders spend about 25% of their time looking into the future, 60% of the present, and 15% on the past.  Now there is a specific goal for you! And it is critically important that we all shift this mindset; according to Rachal, from 2010 to 2035 there will be more innovation across all spectrums that has happened in the last 100 years.  Again, standing still is not an option for any business.

Rachal said, “It comes down to leaving a legacy.  What legacy do you want to leave behind?  Do you want to be the guy that took it to the limit doing what you have always done, or the one that left your company in shape to take advantage of the future?”

Data Security

Another Connect tradition is a Fireside Chat between Gecht and another industry executive.  Last year it was Benny Landa; this year it was with Check Point CEO Gil Shwed.  On the surface, it was a puzzling choice, but the discussion was quite relevant to the world we live in today (think about recent data breaches at companies like Target and Adobe) and perhaps made some of the security issues printing businesses face a little more understandable.

Shwed was the inventor of the Internet firewall.  Today at Check Point, he says, “We secure the Internet, providing gateways that guard the network of the company; inspecting things that come in and out; identifying attacks, data linkages and malware hidden inside of files.  There is a complete architecture, securing an entire organization from mobile to PCs to the network.”

Scwed pointed out that printing companies are particularly vulnerable, saying, “You accept files every day; that’s what you do.  And it would be easy to inject malware into your system.” He indicated that in about six months’ time, Check Point will have a security solution specific to the printing industry, explaining, “Files would be sent to a cloud service and we watch what the file does.  A normal file to be printed does nothing, but one containing malware will try to change a file.  Every file gets process for 30 seconds to a minute, and you get a clean file or a warning.”

EFI also holds these types of Fireside Chats for the benefit of employees; most recently, Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, joined Gecht in EFI’s new Fremont CA headquarters for one of these chats.  Read more here.

Speaking of the Future …

Gilad TzoriFollowing Connect, I had an opportunity to speak with Benny Landa and Gilad Tzori, VP of Product Strategy for Landa, about the decision to enter into an exclusive arrangement with EFI to provide DFEs for Landa Nanographic presses, the first of which is still expected to be in the field by the end of 2014.

One can imagine that Landa’s team did its due diligence in making this important decision.  According to Tzori, some of the reasons for selecting EFI Fiery include “performance—their capacity for data processing is better than anyone in the market. With the amount of data that will be required to feed our presses, this was the best move we could make.  Secondly, EFI is a very professional team. It goes beyond data processing. The people know what they are doing—color management, proficiency, and last but not least, they are very passionate about the work and great to work with.  They are not afraid of challenges, not afraid of taking aim at a high target and ensuring that Fiery remains the fastest DFE in the industry.”

I wondered whether part of the decision revolved around the rest of EFI’s business, especially its software business, in terms of the almost built-in ability to integrate a Fiery-driven press with the rest of the business systems, especially those delivered by EFI and its partners, such as Kodak PRINERGY. Tzori and Landa both agreed that this played into the decision as well.

In terms of the state of the engine, Landa, as one might expect, had a few things to say:

  • Quality.  Quality gets better every day.  Early in the process it is easy to see improvements because defects are gross.  Each time you peel another layer and get rid of another defect, you can get finer and finer with future improvements. Once you get past a certain point, the changes are not crucial anymore; they are very subtle.  We are very happy with the quality.
  • Redesign.  In addition to the redesigned cockpit for the press that we announced at Print 13, there has been significant redesign of the interior of the press from the point of view of easy access for the operator and for service technicians. This makes the press friendlier on the inside; the cockpit makes it friendlier on the outside.
  • DFE Integration. The Landa DFE, based on the EFI Fiery platform, will be tightly integrated with the Landa press software, as opposed to being housed in a separate server, as some EFI partners have implemented. The new Fiery-based DFE will also have additional functionality for sheetfed and webfed Landa Nanographic Printing™ Presses. The DFE will be transparent to the press operator, who will change job properties via the GUI of the Landa Operator Cockpit. In the Prepress room, the DFE will be accessed through the production workflow system.
  • Other Partners.  “I cannot speak on behalf of Komori or other partners, but I would not be surprised if everyone goes with all of our choices.  We don’t make decisions in a vacuum.  They are well thought out and we take into consideration how our partners are thinking.”

By all accounts, Connect 2014 was a fun, exciting and educational event. One printing company CEO, Joe Straka, President of Indianapolis-based Priority Press went so far as to say that Connect was the one must-do industry conference—if he did nothing else, he would attend Connect every year because of the value he and his staff get out of the experience.

We were able to capture some great video interviews at Connect 2014, and I hope you will be watching for them as we roll them out over time.  Connect 2015 is scheduled for January 20-23, again at the Wynn.