Day One at EFI Connect and Already I’ve Learned Something

I’ve only been in Vegas a few hours and have already picked up three topics of interest at EFI Connect – starting with the big announcement Guy Gecht and Benny Landa made while sharing the stage at the keynote address.

Benny Landa, Chairman and CEO of Landa Corporation “snuck” onto the stage while Guy Gecht, CEO of EFI was delivering his opening remarks. It was a scripted, but well performed, way to announce the news that EFI and Landa Corporation are entering a strategic partnership where EFI will develop a digital front end (DFE) as part of Landa’s end-to-end Nanographic Printing solution. Benny shared that his echnology is now producing print quality acceptable to his customer test group and that, given the high data rate required to deliver such high quality, 4-8 color printing, in B1 format, at high speed, he is partnering with EFI to develop a specially designed DFE. The DFE will support last-minute job changes and proofs with the ability to RIP static and variable data jobs. In addition, it will collect production feedback from the presses and support closed-loop color control and inspection.

This is big news, largely because it indicates that this new technology is proving viable and preparing to move out of the lab and into the press room. The road to market is very long for products like this – both the engine and the DFE. It is a welcome sign that work is beginning in earnest on the front end side of the equation as well and that EFI has been selected as a partner.

The rest of Guy’s presentation was also interesting in that he spent a fair amount of time covering the “five things he’s betting on.” I came here wanting to better understand the strategic direction of EFI and I think this provides a glimpse. His five “bets” are:

  • Automation: He believes that automation is no longer an option but a necessity. Whether or not it is achievable, the goal needs to be zero touch operations.
  • Big Data: Now, he doesn’t define “big data” quite the same as me. He describes it as making intelligent decisions based upon trends. From the EFI perspective, however, this means collecting and analyzing data on utilization, customer information, accurate estimating, and profitability.
  • The Internet of Things: This is another buzz-phrase that he is using to mean something else. He really means “the imaging on things.” In other words, he’s betting on inkjet technology that can print on materials like ceramics, fabric and other non-traditional substrates without touching them.
  • Digital Printing: A quick survey of the audience showed that a majority believe that most of their business will still be offset in 3 years. EFI believes that the future will be digital.
  • Building Strong Long Term Partnerships: Guy is adamant about building strong partnerships with other vendors as well as with their customers that cross CEO appointments and, in the case of print service providers, that transcend generations.

I find that his choice of these five points help me better understand EFI’s ongoing acquisitions and product enhancements.

The third set of information that I gained on my first day has to do with TGO (Theory of Global Optimization) and AIW (Automated Intelligent Workflow) from a session by Udi Arieli, Sr. Director of Product Management for Digital Workflows. Udi has been working on TGO for several years and the core concept is that the benefits of removing constraints in an overall system are far greater than improving individual components.

Udi describes it this way: “Global optimization is more important than individual processes and techniques. A manufacturing operation is a chain of interdependent links, and only a few constraints control the throughput, on-time delivery, and cost of the entire printing operation. Remove the constraints and you increase throughput and profits.”

This sounds logical, but is actually the reverse of what is typically done. We typically components like an estimating system, or an accounting system, or a faster press, or a web portal as separate, independent elements. Udi’s view is that if you hope to become as automated as possible, you need to look beyond database management to workflow tools and systems that manage the big picture by utilizing rules-based logic and smart software that integrate at multiple levels throughout the company. The objective is to catch, analyze and process thousands of pieces of data immediately to eliminate weak links and handle on-the-fly changes. This is very different than the typical approach of collecting data and analyzing it at the end of the month.

It’s a great theory and Udi claims there are companies successfully doing it. Personally, I suspect that these are highly custom implementations and that we are years from bringing this vision into mainstream print shops. Like the EFI/Landa announcement, though, it shows me that EFI is working on the right things to move the industry in a good direction.

When I listen to these ideas and look at the vendors here like Canon, Kodak, Ricoh and Xerox, I’m struck by how much this conference resonates with what we’re planning for AppForum in 2 months. The players and the messages are very aligned, although the specific content and delivery are unique enough that both conferences will add different dimensions and value. It sure is nice to see everyone rowing in a similar direction. I expect I’ll learn more on day two at this conference with over 1,000 customer attendees and a very full agenda.

Greg Cholmondeley is Director of the Caslon/PODi Workflow Practice. PODi (www.podi.org) is a global, vendor-neutral, not-for-profit organization with hundreds of printing industry members. It drives demand for marketing, print-on-demand & packaging applications powered by digital print, promotes understanding and adoption of efficient production workflows, and helps members build successful print-related businesses. It achieves this through webinars, blog articles, innovative sales training techniques, an annual AppForum (www.appform.org) thought leadership conference, and an evergreen library of over 500 worldwide digital printing & marketing case studies, research reports, and workflow product briefings.

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