(Pictured above: New EFI CEO Bill Muir addresses attendees on the first day of Connect 2019.)
In our first outing to EFI Connect in 2000, we never could have imagined it would be the beginning of a 20-year run. Every year, we made an effort to meet with as many attendees as possible, and we always learned something of significance in the realm of print.
At that first Connect, I had the invaluable opportunity to interview EFI CEO Guy Gecht, and asked him directly to describe the event.
“EFI is a continuation of the conference established by PrintCafe,” said Gecht [Editor’s note: EFI acquired PrintCafe in 2003]. “Those attending are users of Fiery, Velocity, and other front-end solutions. A total of 150 seminars are presented over a two-day period. It is not a sales conference. We have a small exhibit area with about 21 vendor partners displaying their products. It is a relaxed and informal atmosphere with lots of one-on-ones.”
The typical Connect attendee was an executive of a commercial print company, and many of them came just to hear the EFI message. In our interview, Gecht said over 700 commercial printers were represented.
At the 2005 conference, we lined up Marc Olin who was then vice president and general manager of Commercial Print Systems. Marc was also the owner of PrintCafe when it was acquired by EFI in 2003.
Like we asked Gecht, we turned to Marc for his take on Connect.
“The conference is all about the high-IQ printer, and the tools they need to make very efficient decisions that will enable them to be more competitive,” said Marc. “If there was a single focus that is what it would be.”
When I went back and re-visited my notes on my interview with Marc, one thing jumped out. He addressed how EFI was helping the industry transition printers from offset to digital.
“We have a number of sessions that are all about making that transition,” said Marc. “We have sessions that address proofing, and another that talks about the five keys for effective prospecting for digital, managing your database, how to improve profitability, growing sales with variable data printing, and selling VDP tools.”
In 2006, prior to attending Connect, we interviewed Frank Mallozzi who was then vice president of worldwide sales. We were trying to understand why manufacturers were positioning their higher-speed convenience color devices with an embedded controller. Clearly, the Fiery controller was a far superior DFE (digital front-end), offering superior processing speeds, enhanced color control, and more efficient workflow.
Being an astute sales professional, Frank had to give a politically correct answer as the OEMs were and remain customers of EFI. What we learned about embedded controllers was that it was all about the cost. Manufacturers wanted to introduce their digital color devices at the lowest possible price point and by embedded a controller they could offer their devices at a lower price point. Later, they then offered, in many instances, the Fiery as an upgrade to meet the needs of those customers who needed a more robust DFE.
“We are seeing more and more color applications evolve in the office,” said Frank on the 2006 state of affairs. “We call these applications crossovers. These are applications that require the quality and performance of the engines in this space. These are applications that go beyond Excel, PowerPoint presentations, and color Word documents with any bit of color graphics. The performance is sacrificed without a Fiery. I ask the dealers to run it for themselves. The proof is in the pudding.”
In 2005, EFI acquired VUTEk. Thanks to the company’s great effort and determination, EFI took a software company and elevated it to the second-best provider of industrial printers in the world, according to the highly recognized Frank Romano, who has published many books about print and is also a professor, specializing in print, at Cal Poly.
Back to the Future
Let’s fast-forward to this year’s EFI Connect 2019. Guy Gecht stepped down last year, and CEO Bill Muir is now leading the charge. From my perspective, he has some big shoes to fill and a lot to learn about industrial printing. However, he brings an excellent resume and hopefully, he will convey the importance of branding.
Currently, Frank Mallozzi has been promoted to chief revenue officer and Marc Olin is now CFO. EFI’s continuity in leadership is well established. Between Frank and Marc, they have close to 60 years of experience in digital print technology. That said, we do not expect to see any radical changes in the day to day operation of this company.
Comparing Connect 2019 with that first one we attended back in 2004, the conference is very much the same in terms of audience size (about 1,000) and now costs close to $1,000 to attend. Notably, the number of seminars increased to 200, and the exhibit area featured VUTEk devices and displays featuring Nozomi (packaging industry) and Reggiani (printing on textiles).
I’d also like to specifically highlight that there were also 100 people from various print publishing organizations from around the world. This alone is ample evidence of the stature EFI has achieved in the world of industrial print.
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A Real-World Lesson on DFEs
From my experience as a publisher, I’ve learned that when a commercial printer has made the investment to buy what they believe to be the best, they need well-trained digital operators. EFI offers training for these operators at a modest cost. However, they turnover at a high rate and unless the dealer has technicians fully immersed in this critical area, these dealers are subject to having some dissatisfied customers.
As an example, we offer you our personal experience. When CJ came on to The Cannata Report team, we had employed a printer using a digital color press to produce The Cannata Report. CJ was very critical of the output, and we incorrectly assumed the problem was the print engine.
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