By Noel Ward, Executive Editor, OnDemandJournal.com and Managing Editor of WTT's tradeshow coverage.
One of the unique things about Xplor is the large number of educational sessions taking place at any given moment and how this changes the casual observer's perspective of the show. The number of people sitting in these sessions is directly proportional to the number of people walking the show floor, so well-attended sessions can make the exhibition appear poorly attended. For example, I was in the three-part three hour-plus Service Bureau session Tuesday morning that grew in attendance throughout the morning, winding up with about 70 people. Next door, another session had 200 people and a third had about 100, so some 370 people were warming chairs and learning rather than stalking the aisles in the show. Multiply that by a up to a dozen concurrent sessions and you have what can kindly be called a slow show floor. Still, the vendors I've talked with are pleased with the people they are seeing. Several software companies in particular told me they had made numerous solid contacts and were very pleased with the level and quality of the people they have met. This would seem like the usual rationalization, but companies are writing deals and taking orders.
Hal Morrow, the new president for GMC Software in the Americas, was one of the software vendors pleased with the turnout at the show and the people coming to his booth. He told me that last year, at Xplor in Atlanta, they had fewer people than they had hoped but that the leads proved to be very good. This year, he said, there were more people than GMC expected and the quality of the leads is higher, making Hal a happy guy.
Morrow said GMC's products are seeing steady success in the market, especially among insurance companies, brokerage houses and retail banking. The company provides a line of tools for personalized document creation, business process automation and integrated customer communications. There are a number of tools out there that do this type of thing, but Morrow says the ease of use by non-programmers is a key attribute of GMC's products. The ability to quickly develop and deploy new documents based on pre-determined business rules helps new communications reach customers faster while maintaining the comfort level of non-technical (and non-programming) document creators. For example, a new series of templates for a direct mail campaign and associated collateral for a new insurance offering can be created easily by document designers--or even the insurance agents who will send it out.
For some customers, said Morrow, it goes beyond simple documents to span an enterprise and its various communications vehicles. He related how Scottish and Southern Energy, a UK energy company, has replaced its entire document creation process with GMC's PrintNet T software, which handles some 120,000 bills and up to 50,000 other items of correspondence each day. PrintNet T provides SSE with a single environment for layout creation, structured variable and fixed data processing and high-speed printing. Payback is coming fast: in the past 12 months, SSE has saved about $400,000 on mail sort discounts alone.
What makes this work, says Morrow, at SSE and other customers, is GMCs devotion to open standards that fosters better adoption by customers combined with cleaner integration with existing processes.
IBM & AFP
To get a better sense of the AFP Color Consortium announced by Keenie McDonald at the JTC session on Monday, I met with Reinhard Hohensee, a senior technical member of the team working on the pending AFP color architecture. The Consortium is comprised of numerous other industry-leading print engine vendors that include Kodak, Lexmark and Océ along with software developers such as COPI, DocuCorp, Elixir, Exstream, GMC, MPI, ISIS Papyrus, PrintSoft and Metavente. Their joint charter is to "develop, define and promote accurate and consistent output of device-independent color across different AFP color printers."
Hohnesee was quick to point to IBM's earlier color efforts using the Xeikon-engine Infocolor 130, but noted how using that machine for transactional print applications was restricted by it's 130 ppm top speed. "Customers are asking us for high-speed, full-color capabilities," noted Hohensee, "but are moving cautiously. There is no doubt that color will be required for a growing number of applications and customers want to continue using AFP--and to use it across different platforms."
Color management is crucial, he noted, especially for an effective full-color solution that will work at full-rated speed on IBM and other digital print engines. Implementing such a solution is decidedly non-trivial, and the Consortium will be addressing the many technical issues involved. He said the first high-speed color print engine from IBM is unlikely to run at the 1000 to 1200 impressions per minute of the present monochrome Infoprint 4100. While Hohensee would not specify a print speed for whatever device IBM puts forth, it is probably not unreasonable to expect an AFP color device from Big Blue capable of perhaps half that speed. And we could, he allowed, see such a machine sometime in 2005.
The Océ Educational Pavilion
While many attendees were in sessions around the convention center, others got some hands-on training on the show floor at the Océ Educational Pavilion. Although the five sessions offered were lightly attended, those who got their fingers on keyboards had the chance to get a better understanding of how some key issues may be affecting their companies and learn about several Océ PRISMA workflow solutions first hand. The sessions covered Check 21, the new legislation going into effect about the time you read this, along with ways of handling a variety of legacy documents and how some can become part of a revenue stream. Another sessions covered ways of automating transaction workflows, growing CRD workflows, and finally handling legacy DocuTech workflows. I sat in on the latter session and was impressed to see how easily documents originally intended for a DocuTech and managed using a DigiPath workflow can be routed to Océ print engines. With single-vendor environments now the exception rather than the rule, being able to send a job to any given print engine provides the type of flexibility more and more companies require.
More to Xplor
Even though this is a small show, there is still more coming from Dallas, including some details on the alliance of Xplor and Graphics of the Americas and what Xerox's Service Bureau guru, Shelley Sweeney, has to say about finding success. Those, along with some other items, are for next time.
WhatTheyThink is the global printing industry's leading independent media organization with both print and digital offerings, including WhatTheyThink.com, PrintingNews.com and WhatTheyThink magazine versioned with a Printing News and Wide-Format & Signage edition. Our mission is to provide cogent news and analysis about trends, technologies, operations, and events in all the markets that comprise today’s printing and sign industries including commercial, in-plant, mailing, finishing, sign, display, textile, industrial, finishing, labels, packaging, marketing technology, software and workflow.