Workflow a Focal Point at Kodak GUA 2009

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May 28, 2009

Last week I had the opportunity to attend Kodak’s Graphic Users Association Conference at the Grande Lakes Resort in Orlando, Florida. For those that may be unfamiliar, the 5,500-member Graphic Users Association, more commonly referred to as GUA, is a users group for Kodak software and hardware owners. Anyone who buys at least one piece of Kodak software or hardware is able to join GUA and get access to its online forums to interact with other Kodak users, as well as the opportunity to attend the annual conference. GUA operates fairly indepedently from Kodak, but still has Kodak representatives on its board to coordinate contact between Kodak and GUA, as well as to help coordinate the conference.

This year’s overarching theme of the conference was “Efficiency Revealed”, focusing on how print service providers can utilize production workflow solutions and integration to automate their print shop, increase efficiency, improve turnaround time, and ultimately decrease costs on jobs. Kodak’s Prinergy and InSite product lines that make up Kodak’s Unified Workflow portfolio were highlighted often in various sessions. Workflow topics ranged from utilizing Prinergy’s Rules-Based Automation (RBA) functionality to setting up a business plan for integrated a workflow with MIS. There was also a full software lab available, where users could test out new and upcoming software, as well as troubleshoot issues with files or applications.

Even though last year’s GUA conference in Las Vegas was the group’s largest with over 500 attendees, there was still a fair turnout this year consider the economic climate. It seems that GUA’s theme helped attract the nearly 300 users that attended the conference. Most printers are facing economic pressures, and many attendees that I spoke with are in the process of trying to become more efficient through workflow and integration.

At the opening keynote of GUA last Monday, NAPL’s Chief Economist Andrew Paparozzi threw out some dismal statistics about the current state of the printing industry (sales down 14.3% in Q1, 8%-12% additional sales decline this year), but then offered strategies that will help printers come out of the current economic climate successfully. One big message that came through was that print service providers need to rethink the way they are conducting business and not only implement more efficient workflows, but also consider structural change. Moving from the mindset of selling ink/toner on paper to selling communications services is a big factor when instituting structural change. This message was met with surprising reception, as many printers are opening up to changing business goals. Many of the sessions throughout the conference discussed how these companies can implement new solutions to enable structural change.

Conference sessions delved into topic areas beyond workflow and automation, including Kodak’s developments with its Stream concept inkjet press, computer-to-plate, color management, packaging, flexography, sustainability, variable data publishing, Web-to-print, and integrated marketing. Two specific yet-to-be-released solutions were also showcased numerous times: ColorFlow and InSite Campaign Manager.

ColorFlow takes a very interesting approach to color management by letting service providers visually map relationships of color among different devices, a concept referred to as Color Relationship Management. ColorFlow is currently in beta and set to be released as a Prinergy add-on this July, with a standalone version coming out in September 2009. InSite Campaign Manager, an add-on to Kodak’s InSite suite, has been in development for over a year and is expected to be released later in 2009. The multi-channel communications solutions’ strength exists in its capability to import very large datasets and perform an extensive amount of data analytics and verification to find the most appropriate recipients for a campaign. Additionally, the solution can use the refined dataset to launch and track e-mail, print, and Web campaigns.

One of the most beneficial aspects for GUA attendees was being able to provide feedback to Kodak product managers on what new features they wanted, improvements on existing features, interface improvements, and more. According to Kodak, many of the suggestions from the 2008 conference found their way into software updates throughout the past year, and product managers now have a new laundry list of improvements that they can strive to work toward. Overall, feedback was very constructive and showcased how Kodak is tailoring its solutions to its customers’ needs.

Despite the economy and the current state of the industry, many of Kodak’s power users still managed to make it to this year’s GUA conference. Based on discussions with several attendees, ranging from prepress managers and specialists to company executives, it seems that most view GUA as an investment rather than an expense. Getting to speak directly to the people who develop solutions and provide feedback on the direction of products is of great value to them, and also gives Kodak guidance on how to improve its products. Many of these attendees are competitors in the real world, but they come together to help each other out with solving problems or providing tips and tricks. These factors exemplify the Graphic User Association’s motto of “Knowledge is power, knowledge shared is empowerment”.

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