Graph Expo 2014 was a memorable one. The fire at O’Hare on Friday September 26th had many vendors and attendees scrambling to find their way to Chicago. There were countless stories of planes, trains and automobiles with many people having to find last minute modes of transportation to make it to McCormick. At the very least, people suffered through long delays waiting for planes to take their turn getting air space around Chicago. However, the logistical challenges weren’t the only thing that made Graph Expo 2014 memorable. The footprint of the show was noticeably smaller than in previous years.

Despite the fact that the show was a lot smaller, somehow it felt like it was a lot more concentrated. Attendees seemed very focused. Vendors were very willing to dive deep in to their products and were very prepared to answer the most technical of questions, they weren’t just running through the feature lists. The conversations in the booths were very strategic and in depth. Long gone were the days of just going from booth-to-booth picking up brochures and samples.

All of the printers I had the opportunity to speak to seemed to be focusing their time at the show on how to improve automation and integration in their facilities. It was all about getting to low-touch or no-touch and how to be as lean as possible in such a competitive world. It was astounding to see how many of the booths were focusing on software versus hardware. For sure there were still many opportunities to look at the great hardware available today – whether it was the digital printers or the finishing equipment, there was no shortage of amazing gear to see. However, the trend at the show was all about the software. It was also very apparent that there has been a dramatic leveling of the playing field. No longer do you have to be a large print company to have access to this technology. As the web-to-print and MIS applications are becoming more readily available in the cloud, it is letting small and medium size printers invest in ‘big’ software in a really cost effective way. The vendors are making it possible for everyone to have access to the same tools and all printers seem excited to play the game. Many printers of all sizes are eager to invest in these tools and reinvent themselves. Strategic innovation within companies is what will help secure successful futures.

Graph Expo gave everyone the opportunity to see what is possible. While everyone could have learned a lot from the comfort of their offices, you just don’t have the same opportunity as you do when so many vendors are under one roof with their products on full display. No matter how big or small Graph Expo is, the chance to catch up with peers and friends in a great city like Chicago is hard to pass up.