Recognizing Print Innovation

Technological innovation is what makes the printing industry tick, aside from turning a profit, of course. And there’s no denying that technology is linked to improved productivity and fatter margins. From a self-education and awareness standpoint, we all are curious about what’s out there and what’s new. The Printing Industries of America (PIA) has helped printers weed through the breakthroughs and advancements, on an annual basis, for more than three decades. Since 1978, the techno-cream has risen to the top in the form of the PIA (formerly GATF) InterTech Technology Awards. That recognizable Lucite star trophy is the supplier version of the Premier Print “Benny” statuette for printers—and as such, is quite the prestigious honor.

Printing News wondered, what’s in it for the recipients? What kind of an impact does the InterTech accolade have on their businesses? Exposure and awareness are obvious takeaways, along with increased sales. Past "winners" not only have a major influence on the graphic communications industry for a five- to 10-year period, but PIA says that more than 80 percent have experienced commercial success in the marketplace. What else do they get for their $1,500 or $2,000 entry fee, time and effort?

Well, there’s the instant credibility factor, according to Jay Foster, president of SoftSolutions, which won an InterTech 18 months ago for the Flex-Production Control System (PCS) workflow engine. Its open application programming interface (API) allows for integration with many disparate systems in JDF and non-JDF environments “The recognition really does validate your work,” Foster says. “The industry panel review confirmed our [product’s] value in the marketplace. It’s like a filtering process, especially among potential partners, causing people to pause, consider and hopefully investigate.” (In a recent twist, SoftSolutions is providing its Flex-PCS software as a standard offering on the new Magnum FlexBook short-run, digital finishing solution. See related story.)

There also is the added benefit of a crystallized marketing message, says Gary Marron, CEO of Hiflex, whose MIS Factory was one of 10 technologies to earn an InterTech back in 2008—the first management information system (MIS) to win the award. That’s the other certainty: InterTech recognition has legs. We’ve all seen the familiar star logo posted on signs atop machines, proclaiming “InterTech Winner” at trade shows such as Graph Expo, Graphics of the Americas and OnDemand. Some winners from three or more years ago still promote their victory by reproducing that respected logo on their firm’s business cards, marketing literature and advertising—even at the bottom of email messages. There are ceremonial acceptance photos on their websites and links to article PDFs from trade publications like this one.

“While the announcement of the award in the press at the time is of some importance, we feel that the logo, applied to the product packaging and collateral, together with the plastic thing itself at trade shows, is a great indicator of quality and innovation and which lasts far longer than an ad or press release,” says Trevor Haworth, CEO of CGS Publishing Technologies. However, obtaining the rights to use that “star” in the first place is the difficult part. First of all, the field is tough: There were 20 candidates in 2010 and six winners; nine won in 2009. The judging is even tougher. “It’s a very independent process,” says Foster, who adds that he never could detect any influence, partly because it’s also so secretive. “They don’t tell you who the judges are," but between 15 and 20 are selected for each annual competition.

Tough Criteria, Too

Not just anyone enters the InterTech Awards. Each entry is judged against specific and rigorous criteria. First and foremost, the technology must be truly innovative, not merely an evolutionary improvement on an existing product. It also needs to be proven in industrial/commercial applications. Furthermore, it has to enable printers to operate more efficiently or to provide a new set of services and offer a clear return on investment (ROI). And finally, it must be commercially available in the marketplace—not beta/premarket—yet not have achieved market adoption. (Pre-release products are ineligible.)

In Marron’s mind, it has to be something that hasn’t been done before Hiflex even considers entering, which he admits is a tall order. “We have to feel like we have at least an 80 percent chance of winning,” he says, before investing in the time and labor resources. “It takes a lot of energy and effort to provide the application,” he adds. Behind the scenes, this reporter has seen some of what goes into the winning entries: the three-ring binders and presentation folders filled with product features, end-user benefits, data in the form of charts and graphs, graphic samples, customer referral letters and assorted testimonials.

“Our two awards—ORIS Color Tuner 2003 and ORIS Press Matcher 2009—had a significant impact on sales and have led to both products reaching market leadership in their respective segments,” praises CGS’s Haworth. But measuring an InterTech Award’s overall ROI is more intangible for most winners. “We don’t look at it as just an expense,” notes Marron. Hiflex views it as more of a contribution. “We’re participating in a leading industry association,” he says, with more than 12,000 member firms. Foster adds, “You can’t really put your finger on it, but we know it’s worth it in the larger scheme.” Fujifilm Graphic Systems, which won the InterTech in 2009 for its Taskero ColorPath technology, calls this effect the byproduct of “mind-share” marketing. “Although no sales can be directly linked to the award, it has added legitimacy to the product, especially with larger accounts,” says Patrick Donigain, solutions development manager.

Philip Beyer, founder and president of Beyer Printing and Ebiz Products, gives a frank assessment of the award’s effectiveness, explaining that even the InterTech’s bright spotlight couldn’t reflect away a dark economic cloud. “In September 2009 Printing Industries of America’s announcement of our being a recipient of the InterTech Technology Award—and our ability to share that good news—attracted a fair amount of attention to our technology System100 [software] over the ensuing months,” Beyer says.  “Business owners as far away as Australia contacted us then to learn more about our unique, browser-based ‘hosted’ business process management solution,” a “lean” product that can help printers to reduce excessive expense and waste.

“However, as the economy tightened most business owners’ belts across the country, the normally affordable subscription fee for our technology seemed more than many owners wanted to risk, given their already taut budgets,” Beyer points out. “Still, having been recognized by PIA with an InterTech Technology Award made many owners and managers more aware and generally confident of System100—we are most grateful for that!  Thanks, PIA!”  

Hiflex also entered in 2009 but did not receive the award. “It was deflating,” Marron recalls. But would he do it again? “Absolutely,” he exclaims without hesitating. His firm got its second win last year care of Webshop, an open-source, JDF-friendly web-to-print solution. With 30 percent to 40 percent of the firm’s gross sales reinvested into research and development, the CEO is confident that Hiflex will be back in the InterTech receiving line again, sooner rather than later. “We have stuff in the pipeline,” he says.

SoftSolutions’ Foster says there’s enough value in an InterTech Award for his firm to apply again, too, even though its paper-waste module got turned away in 2010. He sees value-added for Printing, with a capital P. “It’s great for the industry,” he says, “because it stirs innovation.” Many companies may have a tendency to get complacent, Foster adds, but a program like this “makes you take a hard look and challenges how hard you can push.”

Give It a Shot in 2011!

If you are a printer who has been exposed to a particularly innovative technology, or if you are a manufacturer or supplier who has developed one, consider nominating it for the PIA InterTech Technology Awards, now in their 33rd year. Go online to www.printing.org/InterTech for application details, or email Jim Workman at intertech@printing.org. You also can call 1-800-910-4283, ext. 710. Entry deadline is May 31.

For additional InterTech insights, listen to PN's podcast with Mark Bohan, PhD, PIA's VP technology and research, in the Media Center at www.MyPrintResource.com

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