Want to know more about the future of print, a good place to start is EFI’s Connect conference.
(Pictured above: EFI’s Frank Mallozzi hosts a customer panel at this year’s Connect conference.)
Since its founding in 1989, EFI has grown into a $1 billion print powerhouse that offers software, a wide range of hardware dedicated to commercial and industrial printing along with print-related services. A visit to this year’s EFI Connect conference, January 23-25 underscored the company’s breadth of software, hardware, and services offerings, and provided a glimpse into EFI’s present and future as well as an opportunity to hear from partners and customers.
When a company the size and scope of EFI stages an event of this stature, the independent dealer channel that sells its products and is looking for new opportunities to generate revenues should be flocking to Las Vegas to see and hear about what’s new and next. As far as we could tell, there weren’t many representatives from the independent dealer community on hand at this year’s Connect. We know of at least one, and an informal survey of dealers who are successful on the higher end of the print spectrum, revealed that they did not send anyone to Connect. For those dealerships who didn’t, we consider that a missed opportunity. If you’re selling production print devices and have customers in the commercial print space, and you’re considering your options for targeting the industrial print space, two or three days at Connect is a wise investment.
Anyway, with so much happening at Connect, allow me to share my 10 take homes from the conference, which will hopefully offer a few compelling reasons why a dealer principal should seriously consider sending someone on their team who is focused on commercial and/or industrial print to next year’s conference.
- The definition of print is changing. We all know that, but when it comes to print, EFI is thinking big and beyond print. It’s no longer a document, no longer just publishing—it’s every material in the world that needs to have some images is print was one of the messages coming out of the conference. “And if we as an industry embrace that, there’s a bigger opportunity than we’ve ever had before—those are much bigger markets than we’ve ever addressed before,” stated EFI CEO Guy Gecht in his opening remarks.
- Enter the fourth industrial revolution. Gecht understands how to captivate an audience and his comments about the fourth industrial revolution, not surprisingly position EFI at the forefront of that revolution at least in the changing world of print. While last year Gecht spoke of Artificial Intelligence in his opening remarks, this year he spoke of virtual reality and its potential in printing as well as more personalization and customization as key elements of the fourth industrial revolution. “This is where the virtual world meets the physical world,” said Gecht. “We can translate the images from the virtual world into the physical world.
- EFI is blazing trails with a new customer engagement platform. Perhaps the most exciting announcement at Connect 2018 was a new customer engagement platform called EFI MarketDirect. This platform allows users to develop, distribute, and track communications for loyalty programs, offers, newsletters, surveys, and communications. EFI MarketDirect is offered as a standalone app or with EFI’s Web-to-Print Solutions, which is integrated into EFI’s Productivity Suites. The target market includes print service providers, corporate customers, and universities.
- Personalization/customization is a big part of print’s future. Gecht emphasized that people want customization and that was also the message of Aaron Tavakoli, marketing manager, during the press breakfast announcing the EFI MarketDirect platform on Wednesday morning, and a message that was reiterated during Wednesday’s media and analyst briefings.
- EFI is rocking inkjet. EFI will invest $3 million between its three business units—software, Fiery, and the inkjet business unit to bring new products to market. Ken Hanulec, vice president marketing, inkjet solutions, reported that customers are looking at inkjet to reduce costs, drive efficiencies, and create a leaner organization. They also want to do things they can’t do today to capture new market share such as printing on corrugated materials. Enter inkjet. New inkjet products announced at Connect include the VUTEk HS125 Pro and HS100 Pro Fast-4 hybrid flatbed/roll inkjet presses with a range of 4-color grayscale modes and speeds up to 225 boards per hour. Another inkjet model, the VUTEk FabriVU 340i, is a soft signage printer that reportedly delivers a lower cost of entry into soft signage applications by offering fully integrated inline sublimation without impacting engine speed or quality. Connect also offered visitors an opportunity to see a virtual reality demo of the EFI Nozomi C18000 ultra-high-speed single-pass LED inkjet corrugated packaging press. Although not a new product, this is a device that is already being used in some large customer sites.
- EFI is crazy about corrugated. See above and also understand that inkjet printing on corrugated materials in this era of e-commerce along with an emphasis on all sorts of packaging applications, is a significant opportunity in the industrial print segment.
- Forever Fiery. EFI’s foundation remains as strong as ever and one can’t visit Connect without hearing EFI or one of its partners drop the “F” bomb. It’s safe to say that Fiery remains the de facto standard for digital front ends in the printing industry and will be for a long time to come even as EFI expands its hardware, software, and services offerings.
- Partners in print. Thanks to Fiery, EFI has established close partnerships with a host of hardware manufacturers that the independent dealer community should be intimately familiar with. A few of those exhibited at Connect, including Konica Minolta, Ricoh, Riso, and Xerox. On Wednesday, media and analysts heard from Ricoh, Xerox, and Xeikon in addition to EFI executives. Each of these companies discussed their partnership with EFI and provided an update about some of their latest and upcoming product offerings for the commercial and industrial print segments. And yes, inkjet was at the forefront of those discussions.
- 3D is DOA for EFI. For a company committed to print in its many shapes and forms, a question came up during Guy Gecht’s Q&A at the media and analyst briefing about whether EFI was interested in acquiring a 3D printing company. Citing the plummeting stock prices of 3D printing companies and noting that he viewed 3D technology as more of a manufacturing than a printing technology, it’s unlikely that EFI will expand into 3D.
- A global powerhouse. If anything was evident at this year’s Connect—not that it hasn’t been in past years—is that EFI has a significant global footprint. The fireside chats with Guy Gecht featured two large, customers, one from Spain and another from Ireland, talking about their printing businesses while the customer roundtable hosted by Frank Mallozzi included a customer from Australia. Further evidence of EFI’s global reach can be seen among the more than 100 media and analysts from 18 different countries attending this event and writing about EFI. Now, if only EFI could connect with the independent dealer channel here in the U.S.
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