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Efi Connect

Commentary and Analysis by Cary Sherburne, well-known author, journalist and marketing consultant whose practice is focused on marketing communications strategies for the printing and publishing industries. 

(Published on May 6, 2011 and republished with kind permission from EFI.)

"I have had the pleasure of attending almost all of the EFI Connect sessions since they started allowing journalists to attend in 2000, right before the EFI acquisition of Printcafe was completed, and it has been interesting to watch the event grow and mature.

This year, there were about a thousand very enthusiastic users in attendance, and in fact, the conference was sold out a week or so before it commenced.  WhatTheyThink had the opportunity to speak to a number of attendees, both on and off camera, and the message was basically the same-they come to this event to learn, network with peers, and have one-on-one time with EFI executives, developers, product managers and partners. The conference included 150 educational sessions on a wide range of topics, and included customers from all of EFI's product lines. For the first time at Connect, EFI hosted a special three-day Fiery digital print server and solutions track, as well as first-time break-outs specific to EFI's Radius ERP/MIS for packaging and newly acquired PrintStream ERP/MIS software focused on mailing and fulfillment services.

Looking back at last year, the conference drew 500+ customers, making this year's conference nearly double in size, a sure sign that the economy is coming back and printing companies are looking for ways to make sure they are well positioned to meet today's new market realities.  In fact, CEO Guy Gecht's keynote on Thursday morning was entitled "Succeeding in the New Normal," and this was what the conference was focused on.

One highlight was Wednesday morning's Fireside Chat between Gecht and Adobe President & CEO Shantanu Narayen. These fireside chats have become somewhat of a Connect tradition, and this year's guest made it especially relevant since likely 100% of the audience, and an equal percent of the customers of the audience, use Adobe products. Narayen spoke about Adobe's vision for the future, including the importance the company still places on print as a communications medium. He said, "There is opportunity for print, but it is changing, with digital printing, with color, with packaging, with the ability to print from mobile devices.  When we talk to publishers, everything starts with our print offerings.  From there, people want to extend into new domains.  For example, they want to use PDF workflows, reducing waste.  These businesses at Adobe are not separate franchises; they leverage each other."

Gecht couldn't resist poking a little fun, asking Narayen what he had done to make Steve Jobs at Apple so angry, referring, of course, to the very public battle between the two companies over Apple's decision not to Flash-enable its devices. Narayen commented, "The decision about Flash has nothing to do with a technical issue.  It is more about the fact that if you build apps in Flash, you don't necessarily have to go through the app stores.  In mobile, you are seeing open ecosystems and some that are closed.  Apple prefers to keep its systems closed.  We have partnered with others who prefer an open approach, such as HP, Android and RIM."

Another highlight of the show was the debut of the new VUTEk GS3250LX UV curing digital inkjet printer, with "cool cure" LED technology and increased productivity for faster and more efficient job production.  Although the company has not had years of experience with LED curing, it appears that not only is this methodology more environmentally friendly (uses less electricity), but it is also cost effective, with longer-lasting LED bulbs that require less maintenance replacing convention UV drying technologies. It also expands the range of substrates that can be used because it is a cooler curing process. EFI plans to make the LED technology available as an upgrade to existing VUTEk printers in the near future. The company reports that it has shipped 135 GS3200 printers which have produced over 100 million square feet of output, with the GS3200LX expected to be even more productive.  EFI continues to report double-digit growth in ink sales, a sure sign that its customers are printing more.

We also had the opportunity to speak with Toby Weiss, Senior Vice President and Fiery GM. He was pleased that EFI and Kodak had been able to work together to integrate Kodak Prinergy with Fiery, another big announcement at the event.

Weiss also has responsibility for PrintMe. This mobile printing application, which has been on the market more than a decade-perhaps launched a bit before its time-is now coming into its own. PrintMe allows users to send print to any PrintMe enabled printer from their smartphones or tablet computers.  Once the file is sent, they receive a code which allows them to securely retrieve print from the target device.  There was a lot of joking about the fact that most tablets have no printing capability, and users are tired of having to place the tablet on the glass of a copier to get printed output, or email the file to their desktop computer, putting more tethering into mobile than needs to be there. It will be interesting to watch for future announcements regarding PrintMe as more and more tablets and smartphones come into the market. Weiss explained that PrintMe terminals can be purchased for almost any copier/printer and can also be embedded in Fiery controllers. Because it does not limit the printing capability to any particular brand, this cloud-based mobile print offering is also a good option for Managed Service Providers who are taking over multiple-vendor fleets, or enterprises that want to add this capability to their multiple vendor fleets.

EFI is already busy planning for Connect 13, scheduled for April 10-13, 2012, again at the Wynn, which is a delightful venue. WhatTheyThink plans to be there, bringing you news and coverage both on and off camera. It will be interesting to see whether 2012 as a drupa year has any impact, positive or negative, on attendance.  In 2008, as I recall, EFI was considering not holding Connect because of drupa, but its customers quickly vetoed the idea.  They appreciate this unique and very focused environment, as evidenced by the continued growth of the event."