Executives from the big digital print engine vendors all attend the various shows and conferences each year, but rarely seem to be in the same place at the same time. And in any case, their time is never their own due to meetings with customers and the many duties that come with their corner offices. When you talk with them, you find these seasoned pros have perspectives on the industry that are at once unique and strikingly similar. To hear these views on some key issues as we head into drupa, WTT gathered some of the leading digital print executives for a "Virtual Roundtable" discussion on some of the key issues facing the digital printing industry. Their answers begin today and will be running throughout WTT's drupa coverage in a series of articles.

Participants in the drupa "Virtual Roundtable" include:

Hewlett-Packard: Bill McGlynn, Vice President, Digital Publishing Solutions

IBM Printing Systems: Bruce Otte, Worldwide Manager, Production Solutions Strategy

Kodak Versamark: Kazem Samandari, Vice President of Global Marketing and Product Management

Nipson: Alfons Buts President of Nipson Digital Printing Systems BV

Océ North America: Wendell Wilson, Chief Marketing Officer

Xeikon/Punch International: Guido Dumarey, CEO of Xeikon and Punch International

Xerox: Tom Wetjen, Vice President/General Manager, Graphic Communications Industry Business

This drupa is being touted as the JDF drupa, with a major focus on workflow. So we begin, a few days before the doors open in Dusseldorf, with a question about how companies are addressing workflow as a differentiator.

WTT: Digital printing technology has matured substantially since drupa 2000. Many companies have pre-announced new products since the start of this year, which may mean there may be less of a "buzz" about new hardware at the show. Instead, workflow is being touted as a primary focus of drupa 04. What are some examples of how your company is differentiating itself with workflow capabilities?

HP (Bill McGlynn, Vice President, Digital Publishing Solutions): All the major manufacturers pre-announced new hardware before the show and we feel it has helped generate excitement about the new products we will be exhibiting at Drupa. This will be the first show that HP is showcasing its entire portfolio of digital publishing solutions for the graphics arts and print communities. Offering everything from high-end color digital presses to black and white multifunction printers, key new introductions will be displayed including the HP Indigo press 5000, the HP Indigo press 3050, the HP DesignJet 130, the HP Color LaserJet 9500, and the HP 9085mfp.

However, there is no doubt that there is a lot of hype about workflow leading up to the show, which further reinforces the momentum behind digital printing. People are looking for solutions that simplify and automate the workflow process to increase profitability and productivity. To really drive variable data printing mainstream, HP believes the key to success is creating an open-standards system. More specifically, HP Production Flow uses an open architecture based on industry standards, including JDF and PPML, that can print on an HP-Indigo press, HP Designjet or HP Laserjet printer without having to reformat any of the documents. This is a key differentiator for HP and what further sets HP apart is that our workflow solutions work across multiple sites and multiple press sites. The new HP-Indigo Press 5000 takes even more of the labor out of the job because it incorporates HP Press Production Manager into the press for high-speed, high-volume printing of complex variable print jobs.

IBM (Bruce Otte, Worldwide Manager, Production Solutions Strategy): Workflow has become a buzzword, in that it is used to talk about many different steps in the process of creating and delivering a completed document. This applies to both electronic and printed documents. For IBM, a true workflow implementation is one that addresses all steps of the production process to create the document, whether print, archive, or electronic presentation, including integration with others involved in the supply chain. The desire behind implementing a workflow process management solution is to automate manual processes, and have a solution flexible and scalable enough to be dynamic with your business. Additionally, one should want a solution that allows them to integrate with processes and procedures that may already be used.

Changes in the laws in many countries and the renewed focus on corporate governance for example have forced many companies to reassess their process management capabilities and control points for auditing and security. IBM has updated the Infoprint Workflow solution to reflect this, with new security and audit features, as well as a wealth of new features to continue to improve productivity and drive costs out of the print and output process.

New security features for Infoprint Workflow include print content verification, document authentication, and print quality monitoring, which help customers provide security in addition to managing transactional and on-demand printing. New print content verification tools allow customers to verify that printed information matches intended information--such as verifying an amount on a printed check matches the intended amount recorded in a database. Enhanced document authentication prints watermarks and other non-alterable markings, ensuring that a document is original and unaltered. Print-quality monitoring complements the new security features by examining a printed page and evaluating the clarity and quality of the print.

IBM has also added process automation capabilities to help customers save time and money by increasing production efficiency. Infoprint Workflow now enables direct integration of document factory systems with client applications. In addition, IBM has designed, built, tested and deployed complete document-factory systems consisting of printers, pre- and post-processing hardware, IBM and third party software, as well as integration, installation and training services.

Kodak Versamark (Kazem Samandari, Vice President, Global Marketing And Product Development): Indeed we agree with our colleagues in the industry that workflow is very important and will certainly gain additional importance in the future, but we believe that technology in other areas of our industry, be it in the field of printing, finishing, handling, ink chemistry, paper, etc., will be equally important for providing full solutions to the customers.

As to the specific question of workflow, we have a three-tier approach: certain developments are being made in-house at Kodak Versamark, others within the Kodak Commercial Printing Group and finally, perhaps the most significant one at the present, our partnerships with specialized vendors and solution providers. If you visit our stand at drupa, you will notice the presence of a number of our software and workflow partners besides EFI with whom we have developed what some industry observers are already calling the "ultimate" controller.

Océ North America (Wendell Wilson, Chief Marketing Officer): Océ is differentiating itself from other vendors in the workflow arena in several ways. First, Océ is the only vendor in the marketplace to offer a suite of workflow management software solutions that is established, complete and fully available today.

Océ PRISMA is an integrated family of adaptive workflow software that makes work flow faster and more efficiently across data center, office network, commercial printing and central reprographic environments, in concert with the systems and work processes that are already in place. Print operations using PRISMA can automate workflow and streamline processes with multi-vendor print serving, unified operations management and intelligent problem resolution.

Second, Océ is the only vendor in the market to offer comprehensive, integrated software solutions that solve the specific workflow challenges of major business environments. PRISMA is offered in four easy-to-implement solution sets that target Transactional Environments, On Demand Publishing, Document Production Centers, and Networked Office Environments. Each solution set includes combinations of software, servers, and implementation services designed to add efficiency and speed the flow of work using compatible and consistent interfaces, integrated design and advanced automation. All sets can be customized with other PRISMA modules to meet additional needs.

Océ also helps companies optimize workflow efficiency by combining workflow software with multi-function print engines that can handle multiple applications. This is not to be confused with multi-function devices. Multi-function engines means systems designed to bridge convergent requirements, such as the Océ VarioPrint 5000 cut-sheet systems, which can print black and white, highlight color, MICR, and tabs. Our VarioStream 9000 systems are black and color-capable, supporting cost-effective production of monochrome, highlight color and ultimately five colors in a single system. The VarioStream 7000 systems can vary resolution for transactional and graphic arts requirements.

Océ believes that when you combine multifunction print engines capable of supporting a multitude of requirements with flexible, scalable, customizable workflow software based on open standards like JDF, you truly have the best of all worlds for every business environment. And you have total solutions that maximize productivity and efficiency for a particular environment.

Nipson (Alfons Buts President of Nipson Digital Printing Systems BV): Maximizing the customer's workflow is a matter of providing the most flexible and effective hardware solution that operates seamlessly in their environment to produce the needed output. We spend a great deal of resources ensuring that our products work with the print creation and print management software solutions on the market. Furthermore, we have designed our products for maximum flexibility to ensure that users are not limited by the equipment.

For example, our VaryPress can integrate into traditional offset presses to form an efficient, continuous workflow. Another example is our MICReady toner, which does not need to be changed or modified in order to print MICR documents. On a pressroom floor, these types of hardware efficiencies can save a tremendous amount of time and money.

Our single engine duplex configuration version also broadens the user's capabilities to not only maximize the efficiency of their workflow, but enlarge its scope as well. When it comes to twin engine duplex printing, we offer the widest range of possible configurations to ensure that our products are compatible with the customer's physical space and workflow requirements.

In recent years we've seen a large amount of growth in the ability to track documents, such as in security applications and the ability to seamless integrate with pre- and post-processing equipment. Nipson has addressed these issues by continuing to create hardware that can integrate well into these processes. We also work closely with software manufacturers to ensure that Nipson presses are compatible with the latest technologies. Customers also provide valuable feedback to ensure that all our technology satisfies real-world expectations. 

Xeikon (Guido Dumarey, CEO of Xeikon and Punch International): Through the use of industry standards, Xeikon sees workflow integration and automation becoming more straightforward and seamless. This has driven our adoption of the key standards including PPML, PPML/VDX, ICC color profiles, XML based job tickets, SQL for accessing accounting information, JDF, and UP3i in the near future.

In February Xeikon announced its new generation digital front-end (DFE), called X-800, which has been specifically designed for heavy duty production workflows. We will be demonstrating it at drupa.

With the X-800, Xeikon has embraced an open, scalable and modular architecture. DFE's quickly become obsolete and are inflexible in that a DFE is a hardware box delivered by a vendor with all software installed on it. The X-800, on the other hand, has separately installable workflow modules for previewing, pre-flighting, PDF proofing and archiving, job editing, RIPing, accounting, global object management, etc. All these modules can be installed on any Windows-based PC platform. This architecture gives customers the widest choice in how they configure and deploy their digital printing workflow. The result is that the DFE doesn't dictate the digital printing workflow but adapts to any workflow customers want to set up. In addition, customers' DFE investment is better preserved since they can now select the RIP hardware, the size and type of disk storage (SCSI, SAN, NAS, etc.), archive and back-up strategy, network configuration, etc. This openness guarantees customers can easily change their workflow and won't have to buy a complete DFE when they just want to upgrade to newer and faster hardware.

Furthermore the X-800 is designed to control not just one digital color printer but to manage a complete digital printing environment where many color printers are installed and managed together. Other capabilities include easy page picking, post-RIP imposition and the power to run highly complex variable data jobs of more than 1 million records per job. We have taken workflow very seriously because productive workflows have a significant impact on the costs of a digital printing operation and are key in opening up more applications and attracting higher print volumes to digital color printing.

Xerox (Tom Wetjen, Vice President/General Manager, Graphic Communications Industry Business): Xerox stands out from the competition with its significant history in workflow. We currently have over 11,000 implementations of VDP software (VIPP), 13,000 implementations of DigiPath and 30,000 implementations of DocuSP. We are seeing escalating interest in our workflow tools and are continually adding new solutions to the Xerox FreeFlow Digital Workflow Collection.