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.

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
The Far east--mainly China and Japan--may be the most creative and most frequent users of variable data printing.

One of the most interesting aspects of drupa for Americans is that it becomes obvious that the U.S. is not the only place on the planet that digital printing is done. In fact, many of the more innovative applications are being done in other countries. All the major players--some of which are European firms--are quick to point to major successful applications in Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific markets. At the same time, they see the differences and have separate strategies for each market. Which leads us to the question for this installment of the series:

Taking a global, rather than North American focus, which markets do you see as having the greatest potential for digital printing? In what ways do they differ from North American markets (volumes, applications, use of variable data, etc)?

Bill McGlynn: This is an interesting topic to discuss because in some cases we see a greater degree of similarity. However, there are certainly some differences in the initial reasons they adopt the technology. In North America, a lot of companies use digital printing for its on demand capabilities with more and more using it for variable data printing and high-end 1:1 direct mail and marketing programs. The Far east--mainly China and Japan--may be the most creative and most frequent users of variable data printing. In Europe, versioning is a critical business application as companies must produce its marketing materials and information in multiple languages and support multiple product lines. We also are seeing them produce specific documents  like car manuals  for certain products or models. For example, one of our large European customers produces car manuals based on the car and its features using the HP Indigo press w3200.

However, I think it's also important to address how digital printing is helping companies market on a global basis. We have many global enterprise customers who are using HP and HP-partner online collateral management tools and leveraging our global print network to produce collateral and point of purchase materials. Subway Restaurants is a good example of this. Ultimately, their international and domestic franchisees will be able to access, create and customize marketing pieces in a variety of formats with multiple HP imaging and printing solutions. Standards, like JDF, are making this possible.

Bruce Otte: At no time have we seen all of the major geographies around the world running on all cylinders at the same time. For this reason, IBM as a global company has been able to weather the economic ups and downs of a particular geography, while at the same time continuing to grow and develop new offerings and provide new solutions for both existing and emerging markets.

the key differences between markets are their maturity in implementing output solutions.

From a geography-based perspective, the key differences between markets are their maturity in implementing output solutions. Emerging markets tend to lag behind the established markets of North America, Western Europe and Japan, in the level of sophistication of the offerings being delivered. Yet the emerging markets also tend to have a sharper increase in growth in pages printing than the more established markets.

From an applications focus, I would say the key future markets are personalized printing (i.e. using variable data) and utilizing production digital printers to replace offset presses as a way of improving productivity, time to market, and timeliness of information  for example the digital printing of books.  In the office marketplace, end user output will continue to grow and companies will replace single-purpose devices with more economical multi-function devices that can support the convergence of hardcopy and electronic documents occurring in that environment. While from an implementation standpoint the electronic delivery of a document will continue to increase to drive cost out of the delivering of information across the enterprise.

Kazem Samandari: Kodak Versamark has experienced a phenomenal growth in Europe in 2003 and the trend is continuing. Asia Pacific and Japan have had a great start this year and watch out for exciting announcements during drupa. Both these regions have been very open to innovation and have successfully experimented and implemented full-color digital printing solutions to the great delight of their customers. Transactional printing combined with one-to-one marketing messages, CRM, highly personalized couponing and direct mail as well a host of innovative applications are just a few of the applications which are gaining momentum. It still is not clear why European and Asian markets have adopted digital printing so much more quickly than North America, but that is changing as American print providers and their customers come to realize the value of economical, high-speed color printing for transactional and direct mail applications.

Alfons Buts: We've seen large growth in the Asia Pacific region. Much of this is in the billing and transactional markets and follow overall economic trends in the region.

One interesting difference between North American and European markets is in the use of short run, digital production print.

One interesting difference we've seen between North American and European markets is in the use of short run, digital production print. For instance, in North America, we have book-on-demand applications that are used largely to control inventory. In Europe, however, the language differences mean that books are created in dozens of languages. At drupa we're announcing an application from our customer in Luxembourg, Lettershop, which is producing booklets in over 20 languages for the EU. Compare this to R. R. Donnelley in the U.S. who has a fully operational short-run book production system using our VaryPresses, producing over 500 books an hour as an Inventory Management Solution. The technology is essentially the same, but the use is different in different regions.

Wendell Wilson: Throughout the world, companies large and small are being driven to do more with less and to achieve greater and greater productivity. With the growing trend toward market, environment, application and data stream convergence, companies in all regions of the world are looking for ways to maximize the efficiency and productivity of their operations. And of course, they're looking for ways to produce transactional applications, print-on-demand applications, networked office, and CRD applications. Because corporate environments everywhere are looking to insource document production, the commercial print arena is the one that offers the greatest potential for digital printing worldwide.

Companies that can easily accommodate commercial print applications and produce, as CAP Ventures states super-efficient workflows will be the global winners in today's competitive market.

The key, however, is that these companies need to integrate flexible, reliable, robust digital platforms that are expandable in order to accommodate the changes in application types and the use of variable data, color, and black and white applications, as well as cut sheet and the highest speed production capabilities.

Guido DumareyD: There are definite commonalities among all geographic markets that Xeikon participates in  and that is the need for companies to enhance the return on investment for marketing communication. Digital printing allows shorter runs, more customization and personalization that increases revenue and/or reduces costs. This influences the growth in the need for on-demand marketing collateral fulfillment market, point-of-purchase and display markets and, of course, direct marketing. These markets all have robust growth worldwide.

The direct marketing segment has particularly large potential in North America as the direct mail industry in the US and Canada is already much larger than Europe. Naturally, this is an area that is almost entirely driven by variable data. Some applications use simple text variable data  while an increasing number are using targeted campaigns that use different graphic elements and messages to suit individual buyers.

Europe has the unique characteristic of having smaller regional markets with individual language and regulatory requirements. In addition to enabling shorter run lengths by printing digitally, this technology is allowing multinational organizations fulfill cross-border printing communication needs at a centralized location. Through internet order placement, companies can print on-demand marketing materials with country-specific content on-demand.

Tom Wetjen: The biggest difference between North America and Europe are simply in volume, with the U.S. and Canada producing more pages. The applications, though, are identical. Print providers everywhere are focused on generating revenue around print and growing their businesses. They are looking for new ways to add value to print jobs, which is especially important as run lengths continue to shrink. That's one of the reasons Xerox is focusing so much on workflow, because it can help reduce costs, make jobs run more efficiently and provide ways for printers to add value. But as printers look for new business, some are taking a different approach to sales. For example, one of our customers here in Europe is a large digital printer who doesn't have any sales people. Instead, he has "project managers" who manage all the print jobs going through his plant. These people are paid a salary but also get a commission when they bring in new business. This strategy has resulted in a 30 percent growth in monochrome printing--which is not always the place you really expect to grow by that amount. But they look at the applications and see what else a customer can do--then show them how to do more and where the value lies.