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Open Systems Needed in Fast-Changing Marketplace
Commentary by Steve Aranoff & Robert FitzPatrick, The EAGLE
March 7, 2007 -- In the offset-based graphic arts world, proprietary workflows were often tied to a single brand of platesetter, and were well-accepted in single-vendor shops. In these shops the workflow software and the pre-press equipment came from the same vendor, and over 90 percent of the time it included a tie-in to a multi year consumables contract.
The digital wide format inkjet market is far more varied in equipment due to the proliferation of different file types, media types, substrate sizes, and end user/buyer purposes, etc. For any one digital print shop to survive, it seems they need a myriad of different solutions to compete. Therefore, for them, an open system is all the more important.
And so, the actions by several major vendors to move in the opposite direction - to develop integrated and more proprietary systems including RIPs and printers - bears examination.
We have previously written about the move by DuPont to focus their efforts in wide format through their own RIP, rather than to promote the use, and ensure good integration and color quality with industry standard RIPs that interface with other printers. Gandinnovations is an example of the open systems approach, essentially giving their customers the choice of ONYX, Wasatch, or Caldera RIPs for their printers.
DuPont has significant color expertise and could understandably maintain that through their own RIP they would be able to deliver the absolute best integrated systems for their customers. Yet, for the market factors earlier mentioned that wide format providers face, the integrated strategy poses some significant problems for their customers. This is especially true for those printing companies that already have a workflow and common RIP in place.
We now see this same proprietary strategy being pursued by EFI. About two years ago, EFI purchased the printer manufacturer, VUTEk, telling the world that they didn't plan any major changes to this acquired company that was doing very well in the marketplace. In our writing, we speculated that this would probably be true for about a year, but after that, EFI would make significant changes.
We were slightly wrong in our prediction. It took more time -- about 15 months. Last summer, EFI/VUTEk quietly decided that they would give up their exclusive use of the Colorburst RIP in favor of a new proprietary wide format version of the EFI Best RIP from Germany. Many industry observers had expected this decision, as EFI was first a RIP company before it became a workflow and color proofing company. We had suggested in THE EAGLE that EFI's real interest in VUTEk was to broaden their hold on workflow and RIPs by extending their base in the narrow format digital world to the wide format one.
Like the DuPont strategy, an internal set of motives and conditions may justify EFI's move toward an integrated and proprietary approach. Yet, we question whether this direction best serves the customer base of wide format print providers and fits the current state of wide format's life cycle.
Wide format printers have been changing so fast their buyers are virtually required to get new equipment every two years or they are no longer able to compete in either price or quality. Manufacturing companies that are just entering the wide format field, like DuPont and EFI/VUTEk, thus gain the opportunity to sell new printers to a wider market of prior printer buyers than if they were just able to sell to new buyers.
Many of these prior buyers already have used other brands and have well established workflow systems. They are adding a new printer primarily to get more speed, quality, or other new capability to continue their success. They don't need this expansion or upgrade buying decision to also entail mandated replacements that may be good for the vendors but create complicating side effects for the buyers.
EFI's new VUTEk QS3200, for example, is delivered with the new EFI RIP, and, we are told, EFI is no longer cooperating with other RIP vendors who are interested in driving this printer. We're speaking here of RIPs that already drive the rest of their product line
Many printers come with proprietary RIPs, so why is this important? It is important because the digital printing plant takes information from its customers and may print on different printers at different times, depending upon which one is available, and/or best for the job. The print shop may also have found that guarantying color calibration for specific customers requires that they have a single RIP driving their different printers so that the same color accuracy and same workflow will apply no matter what print device is being used.
One of the beautiful things about having a standard workflow in a print facility is the ease of production. Each customer's files are treated the same way, and the machinery used to do printing and finishing fits within that workflow. This option may not be available now to printing companies who purchase what they believe to be the newest and best printers in the marketplace. The cost will now include losing the ability to make production equipment transparent to their employees.
As many plant managers have told us, teaching their employees to run a new piece of equipment is something they can handle. But a new workflow often involves more than just their employees; it also affects customers being required to change the way in which they prepare jobs. Changing workflow affects many more people and is normally avoided at all cost, unless it brings significant new benefits.
For the fledgling industry of wide format printing, in which printing companies are just learning and mastering workflow, the proprietary limitations imposed by vendors only add to the pressures of competition and the already formidable learning curve.
Is the move by EFI or the earlier move by DuPont a way to combat the fast commoditization -- lowering price and decline of equipment brands -- of wide format? Who does it serve? Does it recognize the realities of wide format's diverse user community and their wide output requirements?
In the offset world, proprietary "pre-press" systems yielded to open systems. Single brand offerings moved inevitably to mix and match. Long term relationships with customers were won on product reliability and consistent technical support, not by limiting buying options. As commoditization encroached upon some vendors, they won the day with low price and long term financing, tied to purchase volumes. Vendors concluded that their products must each stand on their own as the best in the marketplace in order to prosper.
We believe these trends will prevail in the wide format field as well.
Stephen P. Aranoff is founder and principal of ARTTEX Associates. He has 28 years experience in the development and profitable distribution of printing/digital imaging market products. Managing prepress technology companies from start-up through significant growth, such as Xyvision, Eikonix, Raytheon Graphics, UNDA, and ScanView, he has played a leading role in introducing many first-of-a-kind successful printing industry products.
Since 1986, ARTTEX has provided pragmatic business, marketing and sales strategy and implementation consulting to both large and small client companies based upon this successful operating expertise - including bringing off shore products to the domestic market.
Well known clients include: Cactus/3M, Dainippon Screen, Heartland Imaging/VieNet, Island Graphics, Kodak, Ricoh, and Scitex, as well as venture capitalists, law firms and startup technology ventures.
Since 1995, Mr. Aranoff has specialized in the marketing and distribution of Digital Imaging products, with emphasis on marketplace convergence brought about by the use of powerful off-the-shelf components.
Mr. Aranoff also holds a Masters Degrees in Systems Engineering and an MBA Degree, with Distinction, in Sales/Marketing. He often serves as a speaker and forum moderator and for many years, has done so at NAGASA's Forums. He is also a frequent guest writer for digital imaging publications.
Contact Stephen Aranoff at: 25 Canyon Shadows Drive, Sedona, AZ 86336 USA, Tel: (928)282-4173, Cell: (928)300-8757, Fax: (775)254-5768, email: Steve@arttex.com
Robert L. FitzPatrick, president of FitzPatrick Management Inc., is an industrial relations consultant, writer, speaker, facilitator, and trade association advisor. He is a nationally recognized analyst of mature industries. His work involves grasping the fundamental economic needs of all parties in the supply chain as well as understanding the dynamics and life cycles of products.
Since 1981, Robert FitzPatrick has continuously published THE EAGLE, a unique and influential journal that analyzes technology, manufacturer/ dealer relations and trends in analog and digital product distribution. His articles on the dynamics of mature industries have appeared in trade journals for graphic arts, sanitation supply, automobile parts, office automation, wholesale florist and food processing industries, among others.
He has been a featured speaker at dealer conferences for Hewlett Packard, FujiFilm, among other major companies and he has organized international dealer/manufacturer conferences in Antwerp, Belgium and in Guadalajara, Mexico. Consultancy clients of FitzPatrick Management include Fuji Photo, DuPont, Lastra S.p.a., Anchor Chemistry, AB Dick, #1 Network, London Litho, Heartland Imaging, VieNet.com, among others.
He was a consultant and featured speaker at the meetings of Food Industries Suppliers Association (FISA) four consecutive years. In 1997, Robert FitzPatrick co-authored and published the first book to expose and critique the multi-level marketing model of sales and distribution. Entitled, False Profits, this book is available in bookstores nationwide or from the publisher at web site www.falseprofits.com. He has served as Expert Witness in various cases involving pyramid scheme fraud perpetrated against independent distributors.
Contact Robert FitzPatrick at 1522 Lilac Rd., Charlotte, NC 28209 USA. Tel.: (704) 334-2047, Fax: (704) 334-0220, Email: email@example.com.
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