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Jul 1, 2007 12:00 AM
EFI Connect is in a class by itself. Having outgrown its origins as a joint meeting of the former Printcafé MIS user groups, this users group meeting has blossomed into an event that's almost on par with a major trade show.
The eighth annual EFI Connect was held at the Wynn Las Vegas last month (June 10-13). About 1,300 registrants attended 160 conference sessions, along with trade press editors and industry analysts. Given that most companies have reduced travel and education budgets, what's the attraction for EFI Connect attendees, some of whom paid as much as $990 in conference fees?
“It's an investment that pays back pretty well,” says Jim Rosenthal, COO of Digital Color Graphics (Southampton, PA), who explains that he always comes away with ideas to streamline his operation as well as to acquire new business.
He also appreciates the previews of EFI products as well as direct interaction with EFI's leadership. Rosenthal traces several product improvements to conversations with EFI personnel at Connect.
Attending her sixth Connect, Sheila Morgan, GM of Lipps Printing (Kenner, LA), came to expand her PrintSmith skills as well as to explore subjects she felt she needed to learn more about, such as JDF. Like Rosenthal, she said she could measure the benefit of paying for a program that teaches her how to achieve greater savings in production time and cost: “I make the money back.”
Educational sessions were organized into tracks covering workflow, integrated digital printing, variable-data printing, JDF, Web-to-print, proofing and superwide-format inkjet. Many of the sessions were dedicated to the general usage and the fine points of EFI's signature MIS products: Logic SQL, Hagen OA, PrintFlow, PSI, Prograph, PrintSmith and Auto-Count. Breakout meetings and demonstrations in a dedicated computer lab enhanced the learning experience, as did presentations by EFI partners in the exhibit hall.
The topics of the educational sessions ranged from the typically broad (“Myths of the Printing Industry”) to the highly specialized (“SQL Server 2000 and PSI Reporting”) to the seemingly whimsical (“Conjunction Junction — What's That Function?”, for Hagen OA). Given the scope of the program, even EFI customers that sent groups of employees to Connect faced something of a scheduling challenge in covering all of the offered sessions.
EFI Connect also enables executive management to share EFI's strategic outlook, launch or preview new products, and talk to journalists and analysts about what synergizes the company's capabilities in MIS for production management; color print production servers; superwide-format inkjet output; proofing; Web-to-print workflows; corporate document management and printing tools; label and packaging systems; and ink. Technology partners — 19 of them exhibiting at this year's event — augment the proceedings with demonstrations of how their products can be integrated with EFI's RIPs, MIS products and more.
EFI deployed about 250 product managers, marketing specialists, technicians and sales representatives to lead the educational sessions and to interface with attendees — an up-close-and-personal effort bearing out EFI president Fred Rosenzweig's claim, “Customer intimacy is one of our major missions in life. It's part of our DNA.”
According to Rosenzweig, EFI is determined to be a “printing-centric company” focused on making its solutions more productive and easier to use so that customers can enjoy a better return on their investments. That was consistent with the event's theme: “Discover. Innovate. Integrate.”
Rosenzweig said that of all the technology areas in which EFI is involved, the fastest growing are those related to inkjet. Noting the out-of-home advertising market's expansion is second only to that of Google-driven online ads, Rosenzweig said that the production of wide-format items like banners, aisle and shelf displays, and floor graphics is “exploding.” Right behind those opportunities for VUTEk, EFI foresees another explosion in digitally produced labels and packaging — applications Jetrion stands ready to supply with solutions in industrial inkjet systems and inks.
And while many of EFI's products are aimed at non-impact printing, Rosenzweig emphasized that the company offers much that can make conventional offset and flexo printers more competitive. He said that because traditional printers are facing many challenges, it's essential for them to employ MIS solutions that let them sift their operational data in ways that improve performance. Traditional shops also can broaden their productive horizons with wide-format output equipment from VUTEk. Conventional printers who install VUTEk devices, he said, don't have to rely on outside suppliers when they are called upon to provide wide-format work. It's better, he advised those without wide-format capability, to “expand your portfolio so that you can capture more work from your existing customers.”
About 30 journalists and analysts were given a strategic and technical overview in a parallel series of briefings by Guy Gecht, CEO; Marc Olin, senior vice president and GM of the APPS group; Andy Schaer, senior director of corporate communications; and various product managers. Some of the commentary illustrated what Olin described as a “new functionality focus” for EFI: “[There is] a lot more focus on the user interface of the MIS systems than we've had in the past.” Other speakers dealt with specific improvements to solutions and products, describing updates that are now or soon will be commercially available.
Items of interest from the media/analyst sessions included the following:
Gecht said the “big five” forces transforming the industry are the loss of commercial printing plants to consolidation; the imperative to leverage the power of information without being overwhelmed by it; the growth of short-run digital color printing; the rise of “industrial printing,” by which he meant wide-format inkjet as well as digital packaging and label applications; and pressure for “green” printing solutions, which, Gecht said, “won't be an option, but will be a requirement presented to you by your customers.”
Olin said elements of the “new functionality focus” of EFI's MIS products would include streamlined estimating and order entry; improved management of higher transaction volumes; integration of management and content workflows; enhanced user interface; and the implementation of market-driven workflows.
According to Schaer, the fact that most pages still are produced conventionally reflects the lack of a digital infrastructure and of integrated processes to support digital workflows. The business of EFI, he said, is to supply the infrastructure and the processes that will break down the “analog silos” and channel more pages to digital output.
Olin reported that EFI has set up a “user interface team” to drive improvements of this kind for all of its software products. It also has created “market focus teams” that will help customers pinpoint opportunities in narrow-web flexo; direct mail; “closed-door” (i.e., non-print-for-pay) digital production; publications; superwide-format output; and warehouse management and fulfillment.
According to Dr. Kenneth Stack, president of Jetrion, proof that run lengths are growing shorter is seen in the fact that some of Jetrion's flexo customers (for whom Jetrion manufactures inline digital inkjet systems for variable imprinting) report uptime on their presses currently averages about 35 percent. The rest of the time is spent in makeready for increasingly high volumes of short-run jobs.
Stack also called UV ink “the future of indoor and outdoor industrial printing” and predicted that in packaging, the next digital breakthrough would be in direct-to-product printing: printing directly on the container instead of on a label to be affixed to the container. Here, said Stack, “The future is no labels,” because eliminating the cost of labels is what pays for printing on the package. He added that Jetrion has developed a prototype direct-to-product printing system for Crown Holdings, the world's largest producer of metal containers for foods.
Gecht noted EFI remains open to further acquisitions as one strategy for growth, in part because, “It's easier to write checks than software.”
EFI's product announcements included the following:
Currently shipping, PrintSmith 8.0 for print and copy shops now can help to manage roll-fed presses as well as wide-format and superwide-format printers. Users can define each device within the system by entering machine costs, speed capabilities, roll widths, and other parameters. The software also supports finishing capabilities for these processes.
EFI previewed the upcoming version of its Hagen OA MIS suite, which combines an accounting package with applications for estimating, job management, scheduling, purchasing, inventory and fulfillment. Enhancements will include better support in the mailing module for postage deposit workflows, new estimating standards for wide-format finishing, and a new finished-goods order import utility. EFI says the future version will better support digital devices through compliance with JDF for price list estimating and production processes. The release also includes tighter integration to Manhattan Associates' Integrated Logistics Solutions (ILS) for warehouse management and inventory control. Also improved is Hagen OA's integration to PrinterSite Exchange, EFI's Web-to-print solution for file submission and job ordering by customers.
EFI unveiled the upcoming version of its Logic SQL print management software, a set of data collection tools for estimating, billing, order entry, shipping, purchasing, inventory control, finished goods and accounting. A component for handling superwide-format estimates has been added. The future release also will include phase-one integration with Manhattan Associates' ILS warehouse and fulfillment solutions, expanding Logic's ability to streamline the management of finished goods inventories. The future version also provides an automated link between the management system and the Fiery production engine.
Also previewed was the next version of EFI's PSI print management software for commercial printers, which provides modules for estimating, quoting, job management, shop-floor data collection, inventory and purchasing. Featuring 26 customer-requested enhancements, the upcoming version has stronger integration to a pair of Web-based, customer-facing solutions from EFI, PrinterSite Internal and PrinterSite Fulfillment. Another highlight is integration to EFI Auto-Count Lite, a foundation version of the full Auto-Count DMI shop-floor data collection solution. Now, says EFI, information from Auto-Count Lite will flow seamlessly into PSI, reducing data re-entry and improving reporting capabilities.
EFI announced plans to integrate Adobe's PDF Print Engine into the next generation of its Fiery system software. Built into printing systems from Adobe partners like EFI, Adobe PDF Print Engine enables PDF files to be rendered natively throughout the workflow. EFI says that when integration is complete, Fiery customers will be able to output PDF files faster, more accurately, and in greater consistency with Adobe desktop applications. Compatibility between Adobe Acrobat and Fiery RIP capabilities also will be improved. EFI says that because the integration will enable PDF print jobs to stay device-independent across the workflow, users will enjoy easy late-stage content corrections, job repurposing for output on different printing systems, and Fiery-driven high-resolution previews.
Patrick Henry is the director of Liberty or Death Communications. Contact him via www.libordeath.com.
EFI is a 17-year-old, publicly traded company that took in $564 million in revenue last year, has made seven major acquisitions over the last five years, and regularly invests 20 to 25 percent of revenues in R&D. EFI has three core groups: Fiery, encompassing its mainstay business of production controllers and related solutions; VUTEk, for superwide digital inkjet printers and inks; and APPS (Advanced Professional Print Software), which includes EFI's panoply of applications for MIS, production and business management, proofing, Web-to-print workflows, shop-floor data collection, computer integrated manufacturing (CIM), and enterprise information systems (EIS). Jetrion, a producer of inkjet printers, inks and printing systems acquired by EFI from Flint Ink last year, is a standalone business unit.
Avanti Computer Systems Ltd. (Toronto) serves a diverse customer base of more than 400 users at offset, digital, hybrid, large-format specialty graphics and in-plant operations. Its MIS customers include a couple of Donnelley plants, Panaprint (Macon, GA), label specialists Hammer Packaging (Rochester, NY) and NCL Graphics (Waukesha, WI), as well as wide-format printers like Eclipse Colour and Imaging (Burlington, Ontario). On the in-plant side, Avanti's information solutions can be found at the U.S. Senate, Government Printing Office, World Bank and National Monetary Fund printing operations.
“Our toughest competitor is indecision,” explains Patrick Bolan, president of the 23-year-old company. “It's an owner that might have bought a million-dollar press but struggles with understanding the need for management information software.”
To win over skeptics, the MIS company reviews the potential customer's workflow and identifies all points at which data currently is being rekeyed as well as any islands of automation.
Bolan offers this example: “An RFQ might come in via e-mail. Estimating might be done via Excel, while the sales department uses Word to produce a quote letter. Ultimately the job is put in FileMaker Pro. But, none of these systems are talking to each other. When you put real numbers on all of this, the savings are enormous.”
Some also are finding Web-based services are best managed with an MIS. Bolan says, “They either want us to provide a complete end-to-end solution or they want us to integrate our MIS software to an existing Web-to-print system via our XML Loader module.”
Avanti's comprehensive Web-to-print package, eAccess, can handle everything from job submission to fulfillment to job query to CRM.
At the 2007 On Demand Conference, Avanti won both “Best of Show” awards in the Print MIS/ERP category. Avanti's Customer Relationship Management (CRM) module and its JDF framework received first and second place, respectively.
“Printers are starting to realize that CRM is more than just contact management and shouldn't be a standalone application only used by the sales team,” says Bolan. “Avanti CRM is completely integrated with all the other Avanti modules, giving our customers the competitive advantage of one integrated system that brings together their job-centric shop with the customer-centric world that their sales reps and CSRs live in.”
According to Bolan, the CRM module was released about 17 months ago. “Rather than bolting a third-party solution onto our system, we wrote our own,” he says. “Previously, CRM was a standalone [program], you couldn't exchange that data [with your other information systems]. Nobody had a total view of the customer. Avanti integrates CRM information with print production data.”
An Avanti user with the CRM module installed can see virtually all customer information on a single screen, such as all prior and current estimates, jobs, invoices and buying history as well as notes and contact information.
Avanti's CRM module lets users quickly access job-specific information. For example, a special filter can zip through hundreds of notes entered for a particular customer and zero in on only those that pertain to the job or estimate at hand.
The company's JDF framework offers users a cost-effective way to seamlessly link their MIS software with prepress, production and bindery equipment. Bolan explains the company initially was going to develop separate solutions for individual vendors' presses and workflow packages, but, “We quickly realized that this [approach] was too expensive for the average commercial printer. Because we have the framework — the basis for development — we can quickly integrate with [the user's specific workflow and press combination]. We were able to offer our JDF [integration] for a standard price, because the framework was already developed.” See www.avantisystems.com.
Heidelberg demonstrated the links it has engineered between components of its Prinect workflow software and EFI's Hagen OA. The Prinect suite includes Prinance, a package of modules for estimating, order entry, invoicing, inventory management and other functions Hagen OA addresses.
According to Jim Mauro, Prinect product manager, Heidelberg has been working to align Prinect with EFI's MIS solutions for the last three years, with the Hagen cooperation representing the tightest integration achieved so far. He added that having in-person access to EFI's developers and programmers at Connect was one benefit of exhibiting as a partner.
Komori showcased tighter integration with its Komori Management System (KMS) and EFI's Auto-Count. Auto-Count now can be embedded into KMS. Komori expects to announce a KMS/Auto-Count/Logi beta site shortly before Graph Expo.
Other EFI partners with a presence at Connect were:
Ramsey Press (Mahwah, NJ) has successfully implemented HIFLEX's MIS. “[HIFLEX] is helping us with our current and immediate business needs and also is preparing us for automation through JDF connectivity that we know we need for the future,” says Patrick Pagani, managing partner. After evaluating 20 MIS packages, Master Packaging chose Radius Solutions Ltd.'s PECAS Vision software. “Radius has far more experience in the packaging space than any other ERP provider we met with,” said Ryan Madigan, CEO of Master Packaging. CRC Information Systems, Inc. (CRC) announced that Royal Business Forms & Printing (Brooklyn Park, MN) has signed an agreement to implement THE System. Estimator Corp. offers a 60-day free trial of its program for sheetfed, web, digital, flexo and wide-format operations. See www.EstimatorCorp.com.