By Noel Ward, Executive Editor June 21, 2004 -- When I heard that Kemal Carr, president of Madison Advisors, had been appointed to the board of Xplor International I called him to see what he had to say. I'd spent some time with Carr at drupa, wandering around and talking about various aspects of the industry and was pleased to see him being recognized as someone who could help Xplor reinvent itself. Xplor, like many trade associations, has experienced some hard times lately in an increasingly competitive environment. Still, the organization has the advantage of having a loyal and active membership base that wants to continue supporting an association that has helped them through many changes in technology over the years. The importance of this support is not lost on president and CEO Skip Henk and the board of directors. Carr, for example, has been an active member of Xplor since 1996 and brings a first-hand, grassroots awareness of the needs of members--he understands where their pain points are. Combine this with an MIS background at Fidelity Investments, consulting experience at DocuLabs and his own firm, and Carr has the broad perspective Xplor needs to help develop the proactive strategies necessary to keep the organization relevant to members and the vendor community. This relevancy was on my mind when I got Carr on the phone to talk about his appointment and how he sees Xplor responding to the needs of members and the vendor community. And here's what he said. ODJ: Kemal, you come to the board of Xplor as a long-time Xplor member and a veteran with experience in different areas of the industry. You've been very active in regional Xplor chapters and on various committees since 1996. How have the needs of members changed and what can Xplor do-- outside of the trade show --to continue meeting these needs? KC: Members continue asking for a wide range of informational support, from specific operational issue resolution to future trends in particular emerging technologies. The regional and chapter meetings can support those needs in a more personal manner, but the Xplor website, and the internet in general, seems to be the default first step in all informational research needs. Providing that first level of informational needs, most likely via the Xplor website, is the best first step in meeting the broad range of membership needs. Information dissemination and collaboration are the keys. ODJ: The trade show aspect of Xplor has come under criticism in recent years from vendors, Xplor members and various analysts. Skip Henk's vision of making the annual conference a more educational event than other trade shows has a lot of merit. Two questions: 1. How can vendors best take advantage of this new format to promote their products and services? KC: Attendees tell us the main benefits from attending the Global Conference is first the sessions and the educational content, followed closely by the opportunity to see vendors' equipment and converse with them in person. Vendors would be wise to use Global to educate customers and prospects on new offerings and upcoming products. Methods for this can be general sessions, special educational meetings, and more recently, educational pavilions. Members say vendor-specific education is of high value to the membership. 2. How can members and show attendees best take advantage to bring back real value from the conference? KC: I believe being prepared and doing a little homework prior to arriving at Global will help them make the most of their conference investment. Contacting the exhibitors prior to arrival to schedule meetings, build discussion agendas, and coordinate educational opportunities will assist attendees in maximizing their conference value. Vendors are always happy to meet with customers and the best value comes when this can be planned in advance. Speakers and panelists in the different sessions are invariably pleased to meet attendees and engage in offline discussions. It's really a matter of planning what you expect to accomplish and who you need to see to make your investment worthwhile. ODJ: At drupa there was a lot of talk about workflow across the general printing industry. What similarly important issues do you expect to see emphasized in the electronic document systems industry at the Global Conference and over the next year in regional meetings? KC: Process management and color introduction seem to be the two that everyone is discussing. Process management is in direct response to higher awareness of privacy issues, some driven by recent legislation, others by recent process incidents. Color introduction is an ongoing topic as organizations look to leverage this new offering in the traditional monochrome environments. Both are very timely and relevant. ODJ: What are the key changes you see in the document industry and how do you see them affecting print-oriented trade shows, especially Xplor? KC: Lines of distinction will continue to blur as application convergence evolves, which creates both a challenge for the existing vendors, as well as opportunities to cross over into new markets and grab share. My drupa visit confirmed that the US lags the rest of the world markets in color adoption and innovative use of new technologies, mainly due to existing cost pressures, perceived decline in hardcopy correspondence demand (incorrectly, I might add) and a risk adverse market. That said, there are more offerings, alternatives, and solutions today than ever before and customers need assistance in strategic, as well as tactical, technology acquisition decisions. I believe that Xplor can meet those needs better than anyone else.