Adobe’s Call to Action

Jim Hamilton
Sep 29, 2009

I recently attended Canon’s Integrated Solutions Showcase in Las Vegas. The Tuesday keynote at that event was presented by Dr. Naresh Gupta of Adobe. Dr. Gupta is a Senior Vice President in Adobe’s Print and Publishing Business Unit and is the Managing Director of Adobe’s Research and Development group in India. Gupta’s message to the crowd of Canon customers, dealers, and employees was a sobering one and was built around dropping print/copy volumes and the move to electronic and mobile communications. His presentation, entitled “Imaging for Today’s Enterprise,” was a real call to action for solutions that provide additional value beyond print.

Dr. Gupta began by talking about four phases of Adobe’s development. The first phase was around the PostScript page description language and was centered on automating prepress and creating the desktop publishing revolution. The second phase was the development of the PDF platform and how it enabled sharing of formatted documents. Adobe’s third phase was built around the Flash platform for providing rich, animated, and interactive content. As it moves into a fourth phase Adobe is working to optimize distribution of information over mobile devices.

Gupta provides his own “State of the Print Union;” and noted how the key value of print on paper is in archival and distribution. He noted that a few thousand years back distribution was by word of mouth. Script writing allowed distribution to move it to plant leaves or stone or clay tablets. The evolution of paper provided an ideal medium for manufacturing, delivering, and preserving information. By the mid 1800s, printing presses automated the distribution of information. By the 1980s and 1990s, Gupta said, there was a democratization of print, driven by desktop publishing. Then the growth of the Internet allowed more efficient electronic distribution, which brought on a decline in the usage of paper printing. The declining use of paper overall, despite growth in developing markets, indicates the overall impact of electronic delivery. Gupta added that the economy is changing people’s use of paper as well and that environmental concerns also lead to a decline in print. All of these trends result in an erosion of paper-based printing, which drives increased competition among the remaining print service providers. Gupta, in a few minutes, painted a stark picture of print in general. For an audience so committed to copying and printing, this had to be a difficult pill to swallow.

Gupta then launched into a broader view of technology, starting with cloud computing, where, as he noted “gigabits meet gigahertz.” He said that one source (a large printer company) cited that 50% of printing came from the Internet applications. He said that software is moving from software that you own and run on your desktop computer to a centralized environment where software is accessed from the cloud. He compared this to the use of wells versus public water system distribution. Software as a service (SaaS) initiatives play a big role at Adobe and are at the base of what he described as “explosive growth” for Adobe’s concern is that printing from the cloud is broken. Web content is flowable dynamic content that is not page driven. His question to the audience was: Do we see this as an opportunity? If so, why hasn’t the issue of printing from the web been addressed better? The second big opportunity that Gupta identified is the explosion in the number of mobile and Internet-connected devices. He sees this as one of the biggest revolutions in human history. Lots of people all around the world have these devices have these devices and Gupta said that a billion people will access the Internet without a personal computer. For many the mobile phone will be their one and only entry point. What opportunity does this create for the printing industry? Gupta cited today’s inadequate mobile printing solutions: Bluetooth, WiFi, Infrared Data Association, and PictBridge. He said that rich media is the new foundation of communication but at the same time this rich content creates printing problems. You can’t print it reliably.

The next trend that Gupta cited was productivity and collaboration. He sees how a multi-function peripheral (MFP) can be the center of the workflow for enterprises and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) by deeply integrating the printing and scanning into the document workflow. PostScript, PDF, and LifeCycle have been integrated into the new imageRUNNER ADVANCE products via the Adobe/Canon relationship. He added that enterprises are demanding engaging experiences and showed a slide with a dashboard type application to display sales and revenue information graphically. He countered, though, that office applications are essentially the same as they were fifteen years ago. New consumer-oriented applications have popped up, such as eBay, FaceBook, Amazon, and others, and certainly enterprise applications need to catch up.

Gupta described a quadrant of new and existing printing (see table below) and how it relates to new and existing customers. Today’s printing is with existing customers and technologies. New printing with existing customers would be printing in a more ecologically friendly fashion through short-run, no inventory methods using print-on-demand. Existing printing technologies can take advantage of new customers in emerging markets. New printing from new customers will come from the cloud via mobile, web, Saas, or RIAs (Rich Internet Applications).

New and Existing Printing Meet New and Existing Customers

New printing

Printing green

Printing from mobile, web, SaaS, RIAs

Existing printing

Printing today

Printing in emerging markets


Existing customers

New Customers

In closing, Gupta urged the audience to “own the print experience” by changing it for the customer. It’s a tall order, but it speaks to the need to move beyond a focus on print or copying alone, and to look at the vertical market and solutions-oriented needs of customers.

In the question and answer period Gupta was asked about offset transfer as a demand driver. While he said that this represents a significant opportunity, and that digital printing will benefit, in part because print quality is getting better, he still thinks that digital volume will go down over time. To make the picture even more depressing, he compared print to typewriters in the 70s and the more recent demise of silver halide film. The only way he sees out of this is to go up the value chain.

While I don’t agree with Dr. Gupta on all of his points (for one I feel that there will be continued growth from digital print as it gains volume from offset and drives new variable applications), his basic call to action to bring value add beyond print is not in doubt, and the underlying trends point clearly in this direction. Delivering a solutions focus with print that is on-demand, personalized, customized, and or interactive is certainly the way of the future.

Note: Dr. Gupta’s presentation is now posted on the web:

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