Executive Q&A: Sumeer Chandra, Vice President of Marketing and Strategy, HP Graphic Solutions

Q: Tell me a little about your company, the segment of the market it serves, and what you consider to be your “core” users.

A: HP is the world’s leading IT company with revenues over $124B (FY10). Within HP, the Graphics Solutions Business (GSB) focuses on providing a range of printing solutions to the graphic arts industry. Our business segments include HP Indigo and Inkjet Web Presses, Designjet and Scitex wide-format solutions, and Specialty Printing Systems. Through these segments, HP provides the graphic arts market with one of the broadest and deepest solutions portfolios, covering applications such as marketing collateral, direct mail, labels, packaging, signage, publishing, photo, and technical design.

Given its diverse portfolio, HP serves customers across many markets, including general commercial printers, industrial print service providers (PSPs), commercial signage printers, copy shops, repro houses, architects, designers, and creative photo professionals.

Q: How did you get involved with the company? What is your background before that?

A: I joined the HP corporate strategy function in 2006 and was responsible for supporting strategic initiatives for HP’s top executives, known as the Executive Council. After that I moved to the Imaging and Printing Group, where I led the marketing and strategy team. Earlier this year I became VP of marketing and strategy for the Graphics Solutions Business. Prior to joining HP, I was a management consultant working with Fortune 500 companies and providing strategy advice to senior executives and decision-makers.

What makes my background applicable to the graphic arts industry is the customer-service nature of my prior work. As a consultant, I worked closely with my clients, advising them on how to grow their business. Today, I find that while we are a technology solution provider to our PSP customers, we also play an extremely important role in helping our customers grow their businesses, which requires business knowledge and strategic skills.

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement in this market to be?

A: I see HP’s greatest achievement as its ongoing commitment to innovation combined with its zeal and passion to solve customers’ business problems. When you put those two together, something amazing happens—namely, the creation of really breakthrough solutions for our PSP customers.

At HP, we have applied innovation to deliver value for our customers in three ways:

First, optimizing all the tasks a PSP must process to deliver a print job each time to save time, reduce complexity, or reduce cost.

Second, optimizing the industry value chains to increase efficiency and reduce waste. For example, printing on-demand and optimized workflow solutions from order taking to shipping and invoicing.

Third, creating new revenue models, such as Web-to-Print solutions, self-publishing, personalized products and custom wall art, that provide growth for our customers.

I see examples of this powerful combination throughout our business. HP’s high-speed Inkjet Web Press technology allows publishing companies to adapt to the highly dynamic book publishing environment and significantly reduce waste. HP’s innovation in inkjet technology has been applied to web presses delivering the quality and cost required by this industry. Meanwhile, HP’s Indigo presses allow PSPs to produce the highest quality prints with the flexibility of digital. You only print what you need with no waste in a broad range of direct mail, general commercial printing, and labels and packaging applications.

For the sign and display market, a more recent innovation is HP’s latex ink technology, which allows PSPs to move away from solvent-based technologies to gain more versatility and high quality while also reducing environmental impact. Finally, HP has launched an innovation that is about to transform the way architects work: Web-connected Designjet printers that allow them to manage printing and document sharing in a totally new way.

Q: If there was anything you could change, either about your career in regards to the print industry, your company, or the market as a whole, what would it be and why?

A: I would like to change and expand the industry’s view of digital printing capabilities, specifically to have advertising agencies and marketing directors be more aware of all that is possible with digital. It would help them to create more relevant campaigns to promote their products. Often people think of the analog-to-digital transformation only in terms of the virtual world, when in fact digital can bring the virtual and the tangible together, bridging the online and offline worlds.

Q: What do you consider the greatest challenge to be for the industry right now? Why?

A: The greatest challenge for the graphic arts industry is education and mentality change. While the printing industry is very mature and well organized, digital is perceived as disruptive. In fact, digital offers more possibilities but requires that print service providers adjust their businesses to take advantage of those possibilities. The same happened with the digitization of phone service, music, photos.

What we know is that if you change and adjust to the benefits provided by digital, you are in a better position to maintain growth. Customers equipped with analog and digital capabilities have been able to manage the financial crisis much better. The companies growing today are those that are integrating digital effectively.

Much of the industry is saddled with large analog capacity (offset, flexo, screen). These technologies deliver great quality, however, they are not flexible enough in dealing with the current market requirements driven by the brand owners. Printing on-demand, with shorter runs, no inventory, and personalization is more important than ever before, and PSPs need to adapt. Traditional printing technologies will remain for specific applications, and these applications are often under strong price pressure. As a result, PSPs that do not aggressively adopt digital printing solutions are facing tough profitability and/or growth challenges.

The key here is to make the paper that is being printed worth much more than the cost of putting ink on it. This can happen if PSPs are helping to optimize value chains and enabling new revenue growth for their customers. Digital printing technologies enable such a move. One of the biggest execution challenges lies in helping customers understand all the new possibilities they would have using digital printing and the value it can create. This is where education is important. PSPs that have done this are already reaping a lot of rewards.

Q: What do you consider the greatest asset to be for the industry right now? Why?

A: The greatest asset for the industry is very clearly the great spirit of entrepreneurship that exists within the PSP community. This, combined with creativity, leads to new growth opportunities for the industry. Also, I see a great sense of cooperation among PSPs. A good example of this is an organization called Dscoop (a cooperative of HP’s digital press and large-format customers). This is a 3,000+ strong community of PSPs in North America that has come together to help its members and advance the printing industry, leveraging the potential of digital printing solutions. Organizations like this play an extremely important role in sharing best practices and driving education of new technologies among the PSP community.

Q: In your opinion, what have been the biggest changes to the way we communicate with one another in the past few years? How would you recommend this industry take advantage of that?

A: The manner in which we communicate is changing very rapidly. The range of electronic communication options is increasing daily, and the amount of content (primarily digital) we are creating and consuming is exploding. There are clearly several benefits to this evolution. But there are also challenges—the biggest being that there is a lot of “noise” in the system. One only needs to look at the amount of email we get every day!! How can communicators (be it friends, family, marketers, or salespeople) stand out in such clutter and noise? That is a huge challenge.

I believe that print has a way to stand out. There is something about print that is still very captivating, personal, emotional, and convenient that strengthens the connection between the content and the reader. But for print to stand out, it has to be relevant, compelling, and striking. That is the challenge of today and what PSPs need to help solve for their customers. The other way to take advantage of this is to bring the physical and online worlds closer. What I mean is by bringing the same level of personalization, customization, and dynamism that exists in the online world, print can become an extension of our online activities. Cross-platform marketing campaigns are a good example of that trend. This is something only digital printing can enable.

Q: Looking ahead, what major innovations or technologies do you believe will shape the future of the industry? Why?

A: We will continue to see innovation on digital printing platforms. At the same time, I also think there will be a lot of innovation in the whole process—from job submission, to substrates, to finishing—that will drive growth of new applications. A higher degree of customization and personalization will continue to enable new types of documents that were not possible to get cost-effectively until now. At the same time, there will be greater emphasis on green and sustainable printing.

Q: What is the biggest piece of advice would you give to printers and others involved in this industry?

A: The biggest piece of advice I would give to PSPs is to constantly seek new ways in which they can create more value from print for their customers. That involves not just high-quality print output, but also looking at how printing can help PSPs deliver a greater ROI for their customers. This requires:

improving the overall cost structure—not just the printing, but the supply chain and process related to printing (e.g. lower inventory from shorter runs, reduced waste through printing on demand).

delivering higher revenue from the printed products that PSPs sell (e.g., PSPs’ customers getting better response rates from direct mail, growing sales based on POP/POS displays, creating new sources of revenue with personalized products).

As digital printing is a key enabler of this evolution, PSPs need to adapt to digital faster. But buying a digital printing solution is only the first step. The key is to understand end-user needs and design a solution that leverages the full power of digital printing. Driving awareness about the power of digital printing is also extremely important.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

A: The printing industry is going through a huge transformation. Printing is still very relevant and growing in many areas. The industry is consolidating and the analog over-capacity will force companies to rethink their business model.

To deal with this transformation and take advantage of potential growth, the print industry needs to find new ways to create value for its customers—i.e., do more with print, do it on-demand, combine the tangible with the virtual. PSPs and manufacturers like HP need to work together to understand the needs of the end customers and deliver print solutions that solve business problems. PN