Thursday, January 29, 2015

January Observations - Thoughts on Sabbaticals

I remember when I first started working in the tech industry nearly 35 years ago on the manufacturer side (I had been involved as a user before that). This was the early 1980’s, and I was intrigued by programs at Apple and Intel that offered their employees sabbaticals after a prescribed number (usually seven) years of service, giving them some unstructured time away to clear the head and explore new thoughts.
 I liked this idea of time to refresh and redirect, but my employer at the time, Hewlett-Packard, though known for being quite progressive with respect to employee programs (they invented the Beer Bust after all), never saw it fit to offer sabbaticals.
And maybe that was a good thing? I knew of a friend from one of the aforementioned firms who took his sabbatical and then came back to find he didn't have a job. This was part of the deal – internal job-hunting might well be part of the return process at the sabbatical’s end. (There was clearly some organizational refreshing accomplished by the sabbatical programs, too.)
Also, I got curious about a ministerial sabbatical program when I was on my church board of directors. (Beyond sabbaticals for clergy, of course they may be most well known in academia.) Just finding out where that word and concept came from was fascinating and in retrospect should have been somewhat obvious. Of course the idea of the “resting on the seventh day” is prominent in the beginning of the book of Genesis, and a more applied approach was crop rotation, known among ancient agriculturists to be a good idea — letting the land “rest” after a number of years of planting resulted in a higher yield and more prosperous times for all in the long run.

I worked continuously for HP from 1981 through 2005, and never had a real break other than typical vacation times. And when starting a second career after that, I followed some good advice to not let the “trail get cold.” While many colleagues would build in a three, six or even 12 month “cooling off period” before starting something new, it made sense to me that all my contacts and knowledge would be the freshest immediately after leaving corporate life, so in addition to getting some immediate consulting work, my first Jim Lyons Observations monthly musings appeared before the end of 2005, and I have been cranking them out ever since.
But now I'm taking a break. This will be my last one for a while. I finally decided it is time for that sabbatical, after 34 years working in the tech industry. I'll continue to teach but that's far from a full-time endeavor (and not intended to be) and a couple of weeks in, so far I'm having a blast! I'm not worrying so much, if at all, about printer industry issues, but I am enjoying becoming engaged in some broader tech subjects and even community projects.
As luck would have it, I was asked by a colleague to attend a local city library planning meeting she was facilitating. And guess what? 3D printing came up as a vital part of the “maker space” concept under the purview of many in the meeting, including the library. So who knows? Maybe, as the saying goes, the apple won’t fall too far from the tree.
But for now, I thank my many readers over the years, and ask that you not forget about Jim Lyons Observations, even if we go dark for a bit. I made it from 2005 to 2015 putting out monthly posts, and intend to be back renewed, refreshed, and with some newfound interests! 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Checking Out the Boise Library's 3D Printers


This past Thursday, I dropped in on the Boise Public Library's "3D Thursday". It was fun to be there (with a Mechanical Engineer friend) and see who else was interested. Just two days later, the local newspaper ran a story,  "Library's 3-D printers popular to check out".

Now to actually "print" something!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Turn out the lights, the party's over - Google Glass Explorer program ends


As we head into the NFL's Conference Championship weekend, there might be a few readers out there who recognize "the party's over" reference to an old Monday Night Football tradition carried out by the late Don Meredith, who shared the broadcast booth for many years with Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell. When the game was judged by Meredith to no longer be in play, he would start to sing the song, symbolizing the game was out of reach for the losing opponent.

In the case of Google Glass, the "song" really started last year, and this week's announcement that the Explorer Edition was being discontinued was the equivalent to the final whistle with related organizational news from Google a bit of a "wait til next year" refrain.

So we'll see - but so far the Explorer Community's official community site (screen shot above) reflects some confusion and bitterness.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

December 2014 Observations -- OKI Data Americas and Art Institute of Philadelphia Collaboration


My pursuit of a great printing story took me to downtown Philly right before Thanksgiving
 The subject line of the email read, “Art Institute of Philadelphia Announces Collaboration with OKI Data Americas to Integrate Printing Technologies into Curriculum.” When I saw this press release back in August, I couldn't help but become immediately intrigued. Four months later, this interest and many helpful parties led me to an inspiring personal visit to the site of this collaborative effort.

So Much Potential


The C941dn with Christine Shanks, Professor of Graphic Design, and Carl Taylor, OKI Data America’s Vice President of Marketing for North America 

 

The specific OKI printer involved in the collaboration, the graphic-arts-oriented C941dn, is out of my normal range of home and office (and more recently mobile) printing. The application area, again, graphic arts, is also beyond the majority of my most direct industry experience. The other parts of the equation, however, were absolutely compelling to me, as both a story for my readers and a situation I personally wanted to tap into. And something that IS on my regular beat and that gives me plenty of latitude as far as exploration is the future of printing, so this collaborative effort was of high interest. The direct involvement of college-age students promised to offer great insight into “the next generation” and its views on print. Throw a few pieces more on the practical side – the fact I am a frequent visitor to Philadelphia and surrounding environs, and as evidenced by my part-time professor role of the last few years, I really enjoy being around students - it seemed like a natural to request a visit to the Art Institute of Philadelphia and to see the printer (and its users) in action. OKI Data and its representatives were more than accommodating, and before I knew it, they had set me up for a pre-Thanksgiving visit. I am excited to report a few of my findings here.

Observing Products in the Field – A Great Idea!

Yours truly with students (and their designs employing the  white toner) - from left to right - Parker May, John Dzwonar, Erin McConche, Joe Kolodi, and Johanna Mannervik.
As a long-time participant in the tech industry and as a part-time marketing professor for a number of years now, field testing of products is generally of great interest to me. Having been involved personally on many occasions, I was aware of the value and insight that can be gained, even with implementation challenges and the risk of hearing news that is not necessarily what was hoped for. The release described the arrangement somewhat idealistically as can be expected, as follows: “The two organizations will work collaboratively throughout the course of this [three year] engagement to maximize the experience for all involved. This will include regular feedback from The Art Institute of Philadelphia’s staff and students on their experience with the C941dn, as well as ideas for expanding the device’s capabilities.” Just the idea of getting “up close and personal” with users, finding out their likes and dislikes about the product in question, and really getting into their heads is a hallmark of good marketing and customer understanding.

My Visit – Extreme Enthusiasm and the White Toner is ‘Blowing up’!

I was very impressed by the enthusiasm of both the students and professors for the C941dn from OKI Data, which they had been exposed to since August. The five students and one professor who joined me for a group session brought numerous examples of their work. As can be seen in my photographs, they all brought examples of their work using the machine’s “white toner” capabilities. This, of course, provides much more flexibility in printing on dark-colored stock, and invites a lot of experimentation. In their professor’s words, “It's the white toner that's just blowing up,” or, as a baby boomer like me would say, “The white toner capability of the C941dn has led to the students exhibiting a great deal of creativity and enthusiasm”.

One of the other features of the printer (see this article for more details), the clear toner, which offers the ability to put a shiny surface on top of an otherwise conventional print job, seems next on the list for the students to try. And process-wise, the C941dn’s presence in their classroom as a means to test-run pages prior to sending to their in-house service bureau was unanimously popular as a step- and time-saver. And just the easy access and openness to experiment (credit to OKI Data and the Art Institute of Philadelphia) has clearly made the collaboration a big success in just the first months of its three-year commitment.

The students’ enthusiasm for print generally and the C941dn specifically was very high, to the point they looked at me almost quizzically when I described my interest in the thought that some millennials were “over” paper. We did discuss the place for hard copy and the place for electronic communication, with many relating experiences with invitations, cards, and the like, which really only worked with physical print. (The professor estimated the split in their design curriculum is about 50/50 between hard copy and electronic.) And as far as something approaching production, output from the C941dn, in many varied forms, was part of the Art Institute of Philadelphia’s recent “Sketchbook Show.”

Opportunity Knocks

From my brief visit, I believe this has been and will continue to be a very successful collaboration and that at least for the graphic-arts world, OKI Data has a huge market opportunity with its robust C941dn (and no doubt models to follow), with the white and clear toner features as real differentiators. (I’ve posted a look at white toner in a guest blog at Actionable Intelligence – add link.) Back to the field testing, though, I owe great thanks to the Art Institute of Philadelphia’s administration, faculty and students, as well as OKI Data Americas, for the tremendous access they offered me.




Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ten Years After - HPQ Printing and Imaging Results

I know I've pulled the "Ten Years After" classic-rock reference out in the past, but this time it really fits! On the continuing theme of my previous post, "While I Was Away", I am late getting up a link to my quarterly results spreadsheet for HP's Printing unit. Once again it was a solid if unspectacular quarter, assuming "solid" means low-single-digit year-to-year percentage declines across the board. For those counting, it's now been 15 quarters since the former IPG has posted a non-negative percentage "growth" number for total revenues.

Now, to the Ten Years After part! While researching another blog post (coming to a screen near you very soon!) I discovered a reference in the August, 2005 edition of The Hard Copy Observer. Since we are coming up on 2015, this makes it essentially ten years ago, when the front-page article quoted former IPG chief Vyomesh Joshi as follows, "...Joshi said he expects HP to double its printer business over the next 10 years from $24 billion in annual revenue currently to $50 billion— quite a tall order for a company that saw a 6 percent dip in revenue growth for the quarter that ended in April compared with the same quarter in 2004."

While technically the forecast has another year to be measured, interpreted quite liberally, HP closed out FY2014 with revenues just a shade under $23 Billion, at $22.979 Billion to be precise. Note that this figure comes short not only of the ten-years-out projection of $50 Billion, but also the baseline FY2004 revenue of $24 Billion. The profit picture, in fairness, is quite a bit better (the article refers to profit margins in the 14%-16% range back then, with margins over the last 12 quarters ranging between 16% to nearly 20%), meaning HP is bringing in more profit dollars than ten years ago, even with revenues slightly less than back then.

This is not so much about our industry leader HP, but more a reflection on ten years of time in a tough environment for a industry facing numerous challenges.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

November Observations - While I Was Away


(as original posted on The Imaging Channel website)

I spent the end of October and the beginning of November away. I was off on a long-planned, once-postponed vacation/exploration, going to places I had never been before, seeing some sights I had always wanted to see, and doing it all with a group of family members with whom I had never before traveled for any length of time. And it was great. But as might be predicted, I did miss a few things!
 
Off the Grid
 
The big miss (for me) was not being among the connected for the HP 3D Printing announcement on October 29. After much anticipation, HP unveiled its homegrown Multi Jet Fusion technology. (If you missed it, read the news release and two excellent backgrounders by HP).
 
That anticipation came partly from the seemingly “natural” fit for HP in the burgeoning 3D printing world. With much of printing and imaging flagging, growth-wise, 3D printing has been a poster child for an exciting new (but related) industry of the future. And starting with the “printing” in its name implying rampant opportunity for print-industry leader HP, and further reinforced by the firm’s treasure trove of intellectual property in the inkjet arena, a technology fundamentally, shared between conventional printing and the creation of three-dimensional objects.

An Example of CEO Whitman's Promises for an HP 3D Printer by the end of 2014 (source - http://www.businessinsider.com/meg-whitman-hp-will-have-a-3d-printer-in-2014-2013-10)

Highlighting this assumed fit, friends and colleagues have often asked me “what’s up?” with HP in this exciting new space. And the eagerness was heightened by CEO Meg Whitman’s repeated commitment to announcing a product by the end of 2014, during her communications over the last several years (HP’s fiscal 2014 ended October 30.) 
And as a blogger/analyst in the printing and imaging industry, I had not escaped having to offer a word or two on the likelihood of 3D printing offering hope for a beleaguered industry. For example, from an interview early this year with Signazon, where I was asked about the 3D printing opportunity as a short-term panacea for industry incumbents, and I pointed to a cautionary example:
 
As a viable, new business opportunity for the industry, I don’t see it as the next big idea because of the long term research and development needed. It reminds me of HP’s entry into commercial printing and graphics art – though it seemed like a no-brainer to some, the overlap was much smaller than one might imagine. It came out well eventually, but it took much more work and more time than we originally imagined.

Lesson of the Watched Pot
 
With all this anticipation built up over HP’s entry into the 3D printing industry including growth potential for them as well as competitive impact on others (current market leaders 3D Systems and Stratasys saw their share prices tumble on the 29th, for example), it somehow seemed fitting that the official announcement finally happened while I was away, as I’ve learned this “watched pot” lesson before. Going back almost precisely 20 years, while I was in the midst of my two-and-a-half decades of employment with HP, I exited a "normal" product/program management job for the first time in a long time, and over the next months and years noticed how those development projects I’d previously helped shepherd along seemed to zip right ahead without my daily attention. (My original entry level position with HP had been as more of a "staffer," later finding satisfaction and success in a string of "line" jobs over the next dozen years.)

Takes on HP’s Announcement

And in addition to those stock traders who found the portent of industry disruption in the HP news, what did others take from the reality of the company finally entering the 3D printing business, albeit with products still to come in future years? From Re/code, Arik Hesseldahl, whose work I admire, puts together his case for HP’s commercial prospects for its 3D printing future in this piece.


Others like The Guardian had a bit of fun with it. And while I had blogged about HP’s potential in the business as long as five years ago, for now I was content to bring out an interesting naming “coincidence,” at least according to my HP sources. The software portion of HP’s announced solution is Sprout - the same codename given to the original LaserJet while in development, and whose 30th anniversary we are celebrating this year. This 30 years of printing success is a legacy cited in the case for “why HP” in the company’s 3D printing materials linked to above.
Happy 30th, original Laserjet

I borrowed from the title of the first chapter of Thomas Friedman’s 2005 book The World is Flat ("While I was Sleeping") in naming this post, rather than going with something like “HP 3D Printing Launches - Will Market Success Follow?” In recapping my monthly "Observations" some time back, I realized with some consternation that a large portion of my posts were titled, a la the famous TV game show "Jeopardy," in the “form of a question." I worried - should a column entitled "Observations" be making statements, or offering queries? (And see, there I go again with the question mark!) And as far as the recapping process, I should note this is the post completes nine years of monthly "columns" - with my first one appearing in The Hard Copy Observer in December 2005, linked to that aforementioned departure from HP. So it's thanks to my readers, editors, and publishers alike, and on to Year Ten!
 
Jim Lyons has been writing, analyzing and blogging about industry developments since 2006. In his monthly Observations column he comments on business and marketing developments in the printing and imaging industry, combining many years of experience with an ever-enthusiastic eye on the future. In the Jim Lyons Observations column on The Imaging Channel, highlights from that blog appear monthly. Lyons is also a faculty member at the University of Phoenix, teaching marketing and economics at its school of business, and is a regular contributor to both The Imaging Channel and Workflow. Follow him on Twitter @jflyons and read more of Jim Lyons Observations at http://www.jimlyonsobservations.com/.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

November Observations now up at Imaging Channel - While I Was Away


Great news! My friends at Imaging Channel beat me to the punch this time, posting my November Observations, "While I Was Away", before I can get it up here (yes, I am away AGAIN). So accompanied by my wish of "Happy Thanksgiving", I encourage you to visit their site and read my musings on HP's recent 3D Printer announcement.