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By Cary Sherburne, Senior WTT Editor
October 24, 2005 -- WhatTheyThink recently spoke with Tom Saggiomo, President of Agfa Graphic Systems and the newly elected Chairman of NPES to get an update on the latest news from Agfa, his plans for NPES, and his thoughts about the Print Council. Saggiomo also talked about the implications of Agfa’s recently announced deal with The New York Times.
WTT: Agfa announced that it had exceeded its sales expectations at Print 05. Can you talk to us a bit about your show success, and your thoughts about what the show reflected for the industry at large?
TS: We had a wonderful show, and we exceeded our expectations by a lot. For us, the show was all about being with customers, talking to customers, and understanding their needs. Our message to our customers was that Agfa continues to be in their corner, trying to put them on the fast track. It is very clear that the marketplace is changing, and our customers are changing. Our mission is to help them change to meet their customer and business requirements.. I know that others are saying similar things, but for us, the underpinning is our technology. If you look at what Agfa is putting on the table, our offerings will, in fact, enable customers to change. We have never been a company that dabbles in one piece of a technology. We offer full solutions. In the traditional business, this approach has worked, to the point that our two key competitors are emulating us. And that validates our solutions approach—everyone is rushing to be like Agfa and that is a nice position to be in. It provides more competition, but we are energized by it.
WTT: Let’s talk a little about your offerings, starting with workflow.
TS: We have been talking about our Digital Solutions Suites, and we have been talking about The Graphic Enterprise. When we talk about The Graphic Enterprise, we are not talking about Agfa; we are talking about the printer’s enterprise. Each printer has a unique set of needs depending on what markets they serve. So to meet those divergent needs, we introduced the Digital Solutions Suites, with :ApogeeX 2.5 as the core, :Delano links their enterprise with project management together with the right hardware and integration to make sure the system is customized for their business.
WTT: In addition to the availability of :ApogeeX 2.5, what else is new with :Apogee and the Digital Solutions Suites?
TS: We have found that customers find significant value in a fully integrated solution, including plates, CTP and workflow. With that in mind, we have expanded :ApogeeX with an entry-level version that meets the needs of smaller customers, :ApogeeX Prime. I also should mention that the second generation of high definition imaging is also available now, with :Avalon, the fastest thermal platesetter on the market, optimized for chemistry-free imaging and :Sublima XM screening. It was designed with the evolving needs of customers in mind as they are looking for more automation, chemistry free solutions, and improved screening technology.
The other significant initiative we are working on is expanding :ApogeeX applications outside of the traditional Agfa world. The first example of that was our alliance with HP to have :ApogeeX driving Indigo digital presses which addresses the need for a multivendor hybrid offset/digital workflow.
WTT: There was a lot of buzz at the show around processless plates, including Agfa’s :Azura. What comments do you have about that?
TS: There was an enormous amount of discussion about so-called processless plate technology. If you look at our major competitors, they are all waving the flag. Agfa is able to give customers proof that we really do have processless technology and it is out in the field already working. :Azura is real. It is not beta or alpha or simply words. Going into the show, we already had 300 installations of :Azura. In the case of our competitors, one is planning a launch next spring or summer, but no there is no real meat, and you can’t buy the product today. The other so called processless technology is an old story about imaging a plate and then putting it on a printing press to develop it. Our perspective is that the printing press is for printing, not for processing plates. Our solution using Thermofuse technology is real. You expose, you gum and you print. And it works.
WTT: In terms of inkjet technology, both the :Grand Sherpa and :Dotrix product lines seemed to draw a lot of interest at the show. Talk to us a bit about your inkjet strategy and what you see as the future of inkjet technology, in both the wide and grand format arenas.
TS: Inkjet is important. Everyone is seeking the next business mountain to climb, and we have chosen inkjet. We believe this technology has legs. We believe it is a high growth segment, and our technology will allow us to cover the whole waterfront. We have very interesting inkjet head technology, we have ink technology, we have substrate technology, and of course we have software and services. We can play in virtually every area of the inkjet market. In terms of proofing applications, Agfa has never embraced high end digital halftone proofing. We have being singing about inkjet for years, and voila, inkjet is the preferred solution for proofing. In terms of our wide format engines, we have a focused sign, screen and display segment, which we are viewing as a very discrete business… it is all about inkjet. Our wide format and :Dotrix engines fall in that segment.
WTT: At IFRA, Agfa announced a relationship with The New York Times. Tell us about that.
TS: Agfa has entered into a five-year strategic agreement with The New York Times Company, involving software, consumables, violet CTP engines, and collaboration on what the future of the technology will be over the next several years. We are honored that The New York Times has chosen us as their strategic partner. This discussion about what life will be like in the future will also help us as we plan product development over the next 3, 5 and even 10 years.
Without a doubt, the newspaper industry is another segment that is having to change and adapt, and it is a very important segment for Agfa. We have a very large share of the newspaper market worldwide from a total solution perspective.
WTT: Congratulations on your recent appointment as Chairman of NPES. What are you looking forward to accomplishing during your tenure?
TS: My goals here blend nicely with our discussion about Agfa. Change is constant and our industry is changing. Our membership is necessarily going to change at NPES in the process. I certainly would like to leave NPES a better place and to effect change. One area of focus would be the graphic arts shows. There is quite a bit of discussion about whether the shows too long, whether we have too many shows, etc. We are embarking on an initiative to understand better what the membership needs in terms of shows, starting from the market back—understanding the role shows play for the printer.
We also have a substantial international effort at NPES to have U.S. companies place their products in full view of the world, and I want to continue to promote that.
Finally, as you know, Regis Delmontagne is retiring at the end of the year after 30 years with NPES, and another of my goals is to make sure we have a seamless transition to the new leadership. Ralph Nappi is already on the payroll as we speak, but doesn’t assume the position until January 1. Thirty years is a long time, and Regis had NPES running as a well-oiled machine. We need to make sure we continue as a well-oiled machine.
There are probably 20 other things I need to do, but that is the short list.
WTT: Agfa is a member of The Print Council. Can you share your thoughts about the direction this organization is taking and its ability to achieve its stated goals?
TS: There is a fair amount of discussion in the industry about The Print Council and whether we are on the right track. I believe we are making progress, but we need to do more. We need a methodical process. We are still the formative stages of this organization. In talking to Marty Maloney, Jim Dunn, Roy Grossman and others, I think what we would like to see is a clear strategy, definitive actions, and funding that allows for those actions to move forward. We would also love to see The Print Council expand beyond the suppliers with the participation of more printers. We must engage the print community to be successful in assuring the future viability of print as a communications medium. We have to learn how to better use print to complement alternative media.
WTT: Not too long ago, Fuji threw down the gauntlet, so to speak, indicating its intent to capture 40% of the market share for digital printing plates over the next two years by taking away share from Agfa and Kodak. Also, recently on WhatTheyThink, THE EAGLE put forth a proposition that there is too much capacity in the plate manufacturing industry for the market demand. What comments do you have on these subjects?
TS: According to a business book I read not too long ago, most markets are comprised of three competitors. One never works, and even two don’t work. Having read that book and reading Bob’s comments, I thought the whole discussion was very interesting. Also, Bob included Konica in his assessment, and with due respect, I would say that Konica purchased a very small and very focused company in American Litho. I was surprised that he included them. There are other independent players in the market that are larger and more broadly focused than Konica. I believe there will continue to be three major players in the printing plate technology arena. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
In terms of Fuji’s statement, once again I use the word “energized.” We look at the Fuji situation as interesting and energizing, but we are not deterred. We believe we can accurately claim that Agfa technology is resident in one of every two printing installations in the world. And that is huge. We can debate how many printers there are in the world, but there are hundreds of thousands of them. We have a very substantial position in the marketplace, and our technology speaks for itself. Our expectation is that we are going to be around for the long haul.
The other thing that is very telling, and I have said this before, is that most of our competition has basically emulated our model. Today, everyone wants to be in the printing plate business. Ten years ago, some of these companies were shedding those assets. Ten years ago, Agfa had virtually zero assets in printing plates; we were basically a film company. And ten years ago, when others were divesting themselves of plate manufacturing assets, we embarked on a journey, starting with the Hoechst acquisition (known in the U.S. and Canada as Enco), which was at that time the leading supplier of printing plates in the world. Shortly thereafter, Dupont was acquired, and last year, we acquired Lastra Western. Meanwhile, we were developing our own technology in digital plates. We are now in the leadership position globally, going from zero assets and zero market share to being the world leader, through both acquisitions and organic growth. We could have written that article ten years ago, saying we are going to be the leader in digital plates. It just validates that Agfa’s market strategy reflects where other folks want to be. It is very nice to hear that our strategy is one that our competition sees as the winning strategy.
WTT: Tom, thank you for talking with us today. Is there anything else you would like to add before we close?
TS: Yes. I would like to close with a thought from Darwin: In the struggle for survival, the fittest win at the expense of their rivals because they are successful in adapting themselves to their environment.
Adaptation is really important, and that is our mantra here. We have to change, we are pushing our customers to change, and we have to do it with technology. Our growth is dependent on getting our customers to grow, and we believe we have the technology underpinnings to make that happen and ensure that our customers stay ahead.
Prior to launching her consulting practice, Ms. Cary Sherburne was the Vice President of Marketing Communications and Outsourcing Solutions at IKON Office Solutions. In that capacity, she developed and implemented a branding campaign to build brand awareness for IKON in the marketplace as well as enhance employee pride in the organization, and was responsible for all internal and external communications, including trade shows and events, corporate newsletters, and industry and press relations. In the outsourcing role, she set strategic objectives and priorities for IKONs product and services portfolio in its Outsourcing businesses, including development of programs and sales support materials for that environment.
Sherburne was a Director at CAP Ventures, an internationally known firm specializing in market research and strategic consulting for the digital document and print on demand industry, before joining IKON, where she launched and managed the companys Document Outsourcing Consulting Service.
Her tenure in the printing and publishing industry has also included sales and marketing positions at Xerox Corporation, Indigo America and Bitstream. She is a frequent speaker at industry events and a recognized author.
Cary can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, online at www.sherburneassociates.com and by telephone at 603-430-5463.