What’s Kodak Up To? What I learned at GUA

Posted on by Greg Cholmondeley | No Comments »

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a few days of Kodak’s Graphic Users’ Association (GUA) conference in Atlanta. I had never been to one before and I arrived with three questions in the back of my mind:

  • What is the GUA conference all about?
  • What is Kodak’s strategy regarding the print industry as they come out of Chapter 11?
  • And, since I’m a workflow guy, what is all the fuss about Prinergy 6?

Well, I came away with answers to these and thought I’d share them.

The answer to my first question was obvious throughout the sessions and conversations over the two days I was there. GUA is all about learning and networking. It’s a lot like our own PODi AppForum in that regard. Attendees at both conferences tend to be thought and industry leaders and share their struggles, ideas and best practices with each other. That statement probably sounds odd to most people for two reasons. First, competitors enthusiastically share ideas with each other – which is exactly what is done at both GUA and AppForum with everyone coming out ahead. And second, the people with the most expertise and knowledge tend to be the ones who join and participate in these associations while those that most need help tend to stay home. The differences between these events is that GUA is vendor-specific, application agnostic, and mostly geared to the technical side of the house while AppForum is vendor-agnostic, more application focused, and mostly geared to the business side.

Next I wanted to get a better idea of where Kodak is headed and, to put it bluntly, why they chose print. In fact, one of the very first keynote presentations tackled this subject. Kodak is focusing all their energies on Commercial Imaging, which they define as three key areas: commercial printing, packaging and functional printing. They see commercial printing involving more hybrid approaches between offset and digital printing in order to better integrate with online media. They see packaging growing and evolving as new technologies come on line. And they see functional printing of displays, batteries and other non-traditional applications as a nascent market poised to grow as enabling technologies come into place. For example, they just introduced a partnership in functional printing where they will begin printing displays for cellphones.

Kodak feels that this defines a huge and growing market and that, while they are already a major player in the traditional segments with CTP and other technologies, they are also well positioned for the newer segments as well. Their rationale is that they have deep core competencies in materials science, imaging science, and deposition processes. In particular, their Square Spot technology currently used in CTP can write lines down to 2 microns thick and will drive into functional printing while their stream inkjet printing technology will satisfy the need for speed on a wide range of substrates.

So what about workflow and Prinergy 6? Well, 6 is clearly a major release with dramatic changes into which they’ve obviously put a lot of hard, thoughtful effort. While the techies in the room cheered for specific new features, to me Prinergy 6 is much more about creating a platform and UI that positions it for future directions than it is about slapping on new functionality. It’s still focused on automating prepress workflows, leaving management of collaborative design, multi-channel integration, post-press operations and MIS to others, but it provides a much richer and expandable way to do that. From my perspective, prior versions of Prinergy were very much designed for trained technical operators and programmers. As such, while Prinergy delivered great functionality, it was used and controlled by a very small, core set of people. Even the licensing models with limited Kodak Dashboard seats supported this model.

Prinergy 6 takes a much more layered approach to the interface so that high level users can see screens with information tailored to their needs and presented in meaningful formats. Jobs and queues can be searched, sorted and sometimes graphically represented so that an operator or a CSR can filter and view the information that is important to them. Users can drill down to see details and make changes with commonly-used values, and then go deeper, when needed, to highly-technical programming. The user interface further breaks functions into three major categories – planning, management and tracking – to help organize the myriad of information and tasks that Prinergy 6 provides.

This makes the functionality much more accessible to more people in a shop without deep technical training and the new licensing models that allow unlimited access to Dashboard will put it on their screens. However, this is a lot more powerful than personalized dashboards with pretty displays on tablet devices. This layered, modular interface approach seems clearly designed to provide a platform for programmers and, presumably future releases, to be able to create much more sophisticated workflow automation.

So, what were my conclusions?

  • GUA is a highly workflow-focused networking and knowledge sharing event where Kodak users can freely talk with their peers as well as with Kodak executives. While it is great to network and share ideas with the current market leaders, I wish more companies who want to become market leaders would see the value and participate in associations and events like GUA, PODi and AppForum.
  • Kodak clearly has a strategy and a justification for focusing their entire company on the commercial imaging market segment. Whether they can pull this off remains to be seen – but it is refreshing to witness this much focused direction and sheer passion directed at the printing industry.
  • And Prinergy 6 is a radical change from earlier versions that positions the product for handling more sophisticated automation and management. Their biggest challenge will be in educating and changing the habits and practices of a large, existing user base. It’s not quite as radical as Windows 8 – but it will probably feel that way to some users.

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