An executive interview with Chris Wood, VP Sales and Marketing for DiMS! organizing print, a supplier of Management Information Solutions for the printing and packaging industry.

WTT: Since everyone is talking drupa these days, let's talk about your experiences at the exposition. This is certainly not your first drupa; how about a little background on what you demonstrated at drupa 2000?

CW: drupa 2000 was the first time we showed a 100% web-enabled XML production workflow product. It was brand new at that point - pretty much unsold and untested. And very much cutting edge! The Internet then really meant dot coms. No one dreamed of running a complete production system for a large manufacturing plant on the Internet. We were already passing XML transactions across the Internet with a workflow system called iDiMS Today.

WTT: What were you seeing at drupa 2000?

CW: Four years ago there were a number of genuinely new technologies, now they're just about all mainstream. Actually, when you think about it, four years is a pretty fast adoption rate!

CtP was huge, but I don't think the term work flow was used much. Certainly production workflow was a foreign term. If you had mentioned XML, most people would have asked what's that?

Digital presses were exciting, but a bit edgy. They were expensive, and not nearly as reliable as they are today. Digital presses are now proven, they're affordable. Nobody's asking if they have a place in the market place, they're here to stay.

I have to say with a smile that we are seeing validation of our Internet approach. Just four years later, people are demanding 100% web-enabled systems.

WTT: Is this the JDF drupa? The Integration drupa? The Digital drupa?

CW: Maybe what we're talking about is the Incremental drupa. The CtP folks were here four years ago, digital presses were here four years ago, the Internet was here four years ago  we don't have something brand new, something truly revolutionary this year.

In 2000, if you had told people they would be able to search the Internet on their cell phones they would have said, why would I want to do that? Now the concept of linking your cell phone or PDA to your production management system makes sense.

For example, our system can call an operations manager's cell phone to say that something has gone wrong with the press. People find that interesting, but they're not particularly shocked. It seems like a reasonable thing to do. After all, everybody has a cell phone or a Blackberry.

And our system talks to both of them in real time wherever you are in the world. People like it, it is clever, but no one doubts that it can be done. These are accepted technologies.

As for JDF what's JDF? It's simply the formalization of the integration language. We were using XML four years ago, and now with JDF we don't have to develop a separate interface to Creo, Agfa, and all the other prepress vendors. We can all agree on the transaction language and it works.

So getting back to your question, I think JDF is one of the many exciting incremental improvements to see at Drupa, but certainly not the only reason to attend.

WTT: What is the real value of JDF?

CW: At DiMS! we don't adopt new technology if there is no benefit to the customer. Yes, we pass JDF transactions to other vendors, but all of our projects are sponsored by a customer. They are the ones in the business of print; they know what benefits they will get. There is no doubt that there are huge cost savings from passing data between production islands. We're letting our customers identify the ROI because they are the ones who can justify the transaction.

As it happens, we've just signed Brown Printing Company - the fourth largest magazine printer in the US - and we are integrating DiMS! with a number of their existing systems. On one level, a company like Brown Printing doesn't care if we use JDF or not; it's not the communication standard that's interesting to them, it's the integration of two systems.

But they DO care on a higher level, because JDF is a clearly defined standard for communication between two pieces of technology; and it will be maintained and supported for the long term. When two vendors develop proprietary interfaces both companies have to watch out for changes in their own and the other application. There are all kinds of proprietary issues that need to be handled, like unique documentation. Now we don't need to do that.

We do have to be careful that people don't think JDF can do everything. I fear that, after drupa, the answer to all known questions will be just get a JDF system! I'm concerned that it is being oversold at the moment.

JDF is a standard, and very helpful for vendors and customers; however if your application uses a 27-character numeric customer ID and the application you want to connect to has an 8-character alpha customer ID, you're not going to be able to exchange information. It's as if a person who only speaks French leaves a voice mail message for someone who only speaks German. Yes, the technology is there to leave a voice mail, but they're still not going to be understood.

WTT: Your company was pretty visionary four years ago. So what do you see four years from now?

CW: That's a tough one. I believe that by 2008, JDF will just be one of those things on your spec sheet; it won't be a differentiator. In the next couple of years, it will be just another accepted communication standard which will be good for everyone.

I can't speak to the migration of print as part of multi-channel communication, that's out of my area of expertise. But I can say that the printers that are most exciting to be around right now are those which recognize that putting ink on paper is just one small part of the process. If you're a printer and all you do is sell jobs that just put ink on paper, you're leaving yourself wide open to getting beaten up on price.

We've got a lot of customers who are moving into fulfillment or managing data and finding other ways to provide more services to their customers, and print work is not their total focus any more. Even magazine printers are taking over publication web sites. They've already got the data, the images and the content. Why wouldn't they manage and host the web site? Why not manage the response cards for the publisher?

Look at the big forms companies; you'll find many that in many of them less than half of their sales are from print; most of it is from fulfillment, data management, forms management, variable data printing, online forms design, and websites. That's all related to the management of information. While printing may be at the core of their business, it is not the entire business.

At some point, you could actually even stop printing and let someone else do it, or let the user print it for himself/herself. Traditional printers can buy into the concept of print management or print distribution. Then the printing is not the end-all be-all it's the core but not the only part of their business.

We've seen that in the labeling industry. For example, a pharmaceutical company can put a digital press in line with drug production line. The label is produced at the point of packaging the pills. No inventory, no buying ahead, no need to order labels in advance, no scrap; and when the last bottle comes off, the last label is applied and the printing stops.

The label company can still be a part of that process because they understand printing, color management, the artwork, and the data. It's just that the press is somewhere outside their own plant. They do all the things they did before, but the press could be 1000 miles away.

I'm sure there are lots of applications just like this outside of packaging, in commercial print too.

WTT: We last talked in depth in December 2002. What's been happening to DiMS! since then?

CW: In that time, the technology we introduced at drupa 2000 gained traction. People finally accepted and understood DiMS! differentiation. In 2000, people said it looked interesting, but I don't think they got it yet. It may have been a little edgy, with the web and XML.

We're no longer a little Dutch company. This year alone we've made sales in South Africa, Europe, Central America, and the US. We have offices in France, Germany and the US, besides the Netherlands. Last year our biggest sales were in the US, and this year, so far, our biggest sales are again in the US.

It is still a competitive market. There has been consolidation among the MIS/Production Workflow/Plant Management system providers; some of our competitors have gone away. Four years ago, frankly, people didn't know whether our sale to RR Donnelley was a one-off sale. Could DiMS! do it again? We are doing it again! We're repeating that kind of sale. Nobody is really questioning our position in the market now. We're making sales with the bigger printers, printers like Brown Printing and Lithotech, the largest producer of continuous and cut-sheet business forms in South Africa.

We're getting smarter at implementing our applications faster. Each release of our product gets easier to deliver. For that reason, we believe in four years our potential market will be much larger than it is now.

Another thing we're projecting is the willingness of customers to adopt the ASP model. After all, since we're providing a service, so why wouldn't they just log on and use the service?

We can deliver an ASP solution any time; in fact, in most of our projects today, the customer starts using our applications from our server in the Netherlands regardless of the customer's location. Whether they are in South Africa or North America or France! It's a quick way to start off the project.

At some point in the integration, we move a server with the software to their site, but by starting off with our server, their equipment investments are postponed for three or four months. What we'll do in the future is stop delivering the software to the customer's server, they will just continue to log on and use it.

All of our customers in the US, and most of them around the world, are multi-plant companies. So for nine out of ten plants there's no server on site anyway; they're working with a corporate network. In the future, for the tenth plant the server will just be in a secure building somewhere other than inside their company. And the end user won't be able to tell anyway  all networks look the same.

It doesn't matter to us if our customers want to own the server or if they want us to host the application for them. We're providing a service and we will simply offer different ways to deliver that service.

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