Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Pinterest and Instagram getting together

TechCrunch coverage of the story
Two of the tech industry's household names have joined!


Of interest to readers of this blog, I've covered both with a printing angle. Starting in 2011 with "February Observations: If It Sounds Like Print and Looks Like Print, Is It Printing?", and then "Pinterest Printing" earlier this year, and I think it's a very interesting development. Whether this consolidation will make for more printing from users, stay tuned!

Monday, August 01, 2016

I have used Google Blogger, aka Blogspot, for over ten years now, as the primary platform for this blog. I am now moving to Medium for my final publishing target. While most posts will be available in something less-than-complete, I have found Blogger's formatting, editing, and overall usability to be very confining and at times quite frustrating. It's been a good run though!

See July's Observations in a form which flatters the writer and hopefully pleases the reader!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

July 2016 Observations - Wrinkles in the Innovation Development Cycle - More on that Deskjet Family Tree

July 2016 Observations
Wrinkles in the Innovation Development Model
More on that Deskjet Family Tree

3D Nanocolor is an interesting example of a “spin-out” technology promising potential success far outside HP’s traditional markets, in their case the category of “Dynamic Glass”

Product innovation leading to business success can take many forms, as it turns out. In my May Observations (see "Time names HP Deskjet as 35th 'Most Influential Gadget'"), I started with the HP Deskjet printer’s recent inclusion on as one of the 50 most influential gadgets of all time.  As the Time list’s description points out, the Deskjet’s influence has to do with its fundamental technology and its link to HP’s recent entry into the futuristic world of 3D printing. But what other entries of note can be found on the Deskjet family tree? This month I take a look at some less-than-direct descendants as well as some other tech innovation examples.

My motivation for a deeper dive can be attributed to the fact that I have always enjoyed these stories of innovation, but also, in preparing to teach another round of “Product Design and Development” to a group of graduate students in University of Phoenix’s MBA program. The “PD and D” class is the final marketing elective option in the curriculum, for those specializing in marketing, so it never hurts to brush up a bit! In my goal to be prepared, I have been reviewing some of the thinking in our text on product innovation. 
(Davila, T., Epstein, M. J., Shelton, R. D. (2013). Making innovation work: How to manage it, measure it, and profit from it. Upper Saddle River, N.J: FT Press.)
The HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing solution has technology roots that can be linked to the original Deskjet printer.

So starting with recently detailed 3D Printing offering from HP Inc, the HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution represents the type of innovation story that most people can’t resist. The result of years (decades actually) of tireless research, originally focused on something much more pedestrian (in this case, the humble HP Deskjet printer), is now deployed in a dramatic new application of the technology that results in a world-changing solution. Time will tell on that “world-changing” part, but again, there is no more classic an innovation tale than this one.

But what about variations on this theme? Everyone seems to love the story of internally developed technology finding its way into new, even surprising, applications and markets – but it might even be better, at least from a story-telling standpoint, when the technology deployed has been initially dismissed as a failure. This is a “rags to riches” kind of tale that keeps Hollywood afloat, and 3M Post-it notes are a favorite example– the adhesive that “wasn’t sticky enough” but ended up creating a whole new product category and even one could argue a new and improved form of office communication.
3M’s Post-it Notes were based on a product development that wasn’t sticky enough
So there’s one model, the intended long-term investment in technology, with one variation, with the common thread that both HP 3D Printing and 3M Post-it Notes remained under the same corporate roof through their development life cycles. But what about a technology that is transferred between entities and takes on new ownership?

Acquisitions – For better or worse

One might first think of corporate acquisitions here. Having been involved in many during my HP career, it is not a surprising conclusion to make that the success of acquisitions is a mixed bag. The Indigo purchaseclosing in 2002 got HP fully into a commercial printing space that would have been a difficult leap with its existing, in-house technology; Exstream on the other hand was a technology solution to go along with commercial printing (direct marketing software) that seems to have never quite stuck, and was sold off by HP earlier this summer. (See “HP Inc. Announces Divestiture of Certain SoftwareAssets to OpenText”, and note there were four offerings included in the sale, but Exstream is the one I judge to have been most prominent, biased no doubt by my following its acquisition by HP in 2008 in my role as a blogger/analyst.) As another printing-and-imaging example, Snapfish - the photo-repository and finishing service - took HP into a desired direction at the time (2005), but again did not endure as part of HP’s portfolio (see “HPsells Snapfish - cites ‘focus’”.)

For startup companies, one of their most-desired milestones is the “liquidity event”, which often takes the form of an IPO but many times is a corporate acquisition. But acquiring an exciting young company with breakthrough technology is hardly a panacea for the acquiring firm. As my class’s text concludes about mergers and acquisitions, they “…achieve growth, and they can be important tools to bring into the company building blocks of innovation. But they cannot provide the same sustained lift as robust organic innovation. (p. xvii, Davila, Epstein, Shelton (2013).)
Internal New Business Creation
But what about the other way around? What happens when an innovation-intensive corporate culture begins to over-fill the pipeline with technology building blocks of their own design? Sometimes, independent units of “intrapreneurs” are organized to attempt to capitalize on the “raw material” generated by teams of engineers and research labs.

Going back to my years with HP and the Imaging and Printing Group (before I departed in late 2005), the site in Corvallis, Oregon had a New Business Creation organization centered there, with emphasis on using the intellectual property generated around inkjet printing to apply to other fields, some more closely related but with others very distant. For example, I remember a number of ideas aligned around dispensing patient prescriptions via inkjet-based devices, but none of those had commercial market success.

In good HP engineering-culture fashion, the “NBC” process had been broken down into a series of steps, many if not most of them metric-driven. Typical of the thinking of that time (the “Fiorina era” for lack of a better label), future growth for the company was foreseen as coming from a few “big bets” with plenty of “wood behind the arrow”. A typical "hurdle rate" for the new business ideas was something that could be seen growing into a “billion dollar [in annual revenue] business”, a target which can end up being more than a little daunting.

But what about a more unusual approach, divesting the internally developed technology to a group of entrepreneurs who might just be able to focus down enough to find market success but measured, at least initially, on a much more modest scale? Tim Koch (pronounced the same though spelled differently than the Apple CEO) is a long-time HP engineering manager, who along with another HP veteran from the business side of the house, departed the company in 2013, effectively taking a technology with him. He is now Chief Technology Officer for 3D Nanocolor, based in Corvallis, Oregon, in rented space that is on the same site that still houses Hewlett Packard and goes back to the calculator days.
Marathon Patent Group acquired HP imaging technology, which they are attempting to commercialize through 3D Nanocolor, a subsidiary, in the area of smart or dynamic glass. Beyond owning the technology, another advantage in its favor is the startup is managed by two long-term veterans of HP technology businesses.

The intellectual property in question was sold, by HP, to Marathon Patent Group, which in turn owns 3D Nanocolor as a key asset of their commercialization portfolio. While not the time or place to provide a full account of the technology and its commercial possibilities, from the company’s description, “thin-film plastic roll-to-roll technology that can be used for electronic smart windows as well as other application where electronic control of ambient lighting is needed.”

Automotive is one area 3D Nanocolor is pursuing as a potential customer for its dynamic glass.

In a recent conversation with Koch, we discussed innovation and what it takes to convert basic technology to a commercially successful product. Having experienced the NBC process and its overly high expectations (we overlapped but never knew each other during our respective HP careers), Koch’s insight into the current innovation challenge is impressive and seems perfectly suited to the challenge at hand. “It’s critical in our role to not try to do something terribly complex,” he told me, and the company is well along the path to market penetration. As he states, “the story is yet to be told…” but again going back to my textbook, sometimes multiple, small steps can be far more effective in innovation than one giant one.

James Douvikas, Koch’s counterpart from HP who now is 3D Nanocolor’s CEO, adds, “Through the ground-work laid by the HP R&D teams, we now have the opportunity to take the electronic film technology into a wide variety of very large markets like windows with the potential to "make every surface change.”

In Conclusion
So betting my long-time readers, those who have been with me for most if not all of my now 10-plus years of Jim Lyons Observations, may get tired of this, we will be watching and waiting for further news from 3D Nanocolor and other HP Deskjet technology descendants!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

June 2016 Observations - Printer industry woes on display in retail

A recent paper purchase included a "Free App" offer
As I read about the decline in HP Inc's ($HPQ) share price in today's stock market, and the reasons behind it (see "HP Hits a Jam with Printers"), I immediately thought of some anecdotal data I gathered earlier this week. In the proud marketing research traditions of "the focus group of one" and "the last customer I talked to", let me explore what could be going on behind these observations.

I found myself in an Office Depot ($ODP) for the first time in a long time, and in addition to looking for another supply item (whiteboard markers), I needed to buy a ream or two of printer paper. This was my first paper purchase in quite some time - I am guessing at least a year - and our multiple home and office printers were all in need of paper reloads.

Teased on the front, the back of the paper package has details.
I was a bit surprised by the pricing, having remembered basic copier/printer paper typically at under $5 a ream, sometimes well under, but I finally found a deal on Hammermill (brand name - nice!) at $10 for two. (Though $6.99 for one - I hate that!) So I grabbed my two reams, along with the markers, paid at the front and exited, with the courteous checker reminding me that my receipt included a coupon to be used on my next visit, for "25% off (selected) printer ink products, when buying two or more," or something like that. Again, these complicated and restrictive offers annoy me!

Getting the paper back home (actually on the front seat of the car while driving back home), I noticed details on the packaging that I found fascinating. Both the front (teaser) and the back (details) touted a Hammermill smartphone printing app, named "Print Hammermill".  Offering basic mobile printing functionality, their app seems to do what many others have already provided, but at least I like their three customer-need-based scenarios, from home, work, and school.

As a blogger/analyst following the development of mobile printing from the beginning (see April, 2008, "iPhone Printing Revisited", for example), at one time I probably would have been thrilled to see this, as further validation of an important imaging and printing trend. "It's not just printer OEMs and a handful of mobile apps startups..." - I can see the opening line of my post now, in 2010 or 2012, maybe. In mid-2016, it now seems unnecessary and even somewhat desperate.

While supplies last! "Valid through 12/31/2015" says something, too. 

What I found more than a little strange however, but again keeping with grand marketing traditions, was the limited-time "offer" that the app could be downloaded free, from both Apple's App Store and the Google Play equivalent, for iOS and Android mobile devices, respectively. The tease on the front dared to declare a "$12.95 Value", only continuing, per the details in fine print on the back, "until 12/31/15", or "while supplies last". And just how are supplies exhausted with a downloadable software app? I am not sure.

Supplies must have lasted! App store screenshot from June 2016 shows the free app - newly revised - still available.

I had a few further take-aways, as well. While no "fresh-until date" applies to copier/printer paper, the fact that the expiration date of the offer is six months past tells me that paper - like other printer supplies - is just not moving like it used to, at least through the Office Products channel represented by one Office Depot in Boise. And the continuing presence of the app, with a new version as of May and still free on the Apple App Store (see above), is a good sign. However, the web address offered on the packaging is a dead end, at least when I try it today, so the enthusiasm by International Paper (supplier of Hammermill) is a bit of a mixed bag, at least as seen by this observer.

And before I get too snarky about the app itself, the App Store reviews going along with the 10 ratings for the new version were glowing. The "all versions" screen shows a 5-star average for 498 ratings, with a sampling of the reviews (not unexpectedly) very positive as well.

And the final question - have I tried it? Not yet - seems I just don't print that much...

NOTE - Last Observations I promised a further look at spin-off technologies from HP's printer unit. That topic will be covered in my July Observations.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

HP and Shutterfly announce largest Indigo deal ever - partners for over 15 (or almost 10) years?

During the quadrennial Drupa Commercial Printing conference, continuing through June 10, many deals and partnerships are announced. HP has featured some of this year's big ones, including what its press release bills as its largest Indigo press deal ever, with Shutterfly's leasing of "25 new HP Indigo 12000 Digital
Presses, marking the largest customer installation in HP Indigo history."

HP has a Shutterfly "success story" on its website, with a PDF dating back to 2005, recounting the company's history with HP Indigo presses. And per Cary Sherburne's recent account of the deal at "What They Think", HP/Indigo's Alon Bar-Shany is quoted as saying that Shutterfly has been an "Indigo customer for more than 15 years", which would go back to before HP's 2002 acquisition of the Israel-based firm. All that makes sense to me, having been around as an insider leading up to and following the aforementioned acquisition.

I was also around for the rather awkward discussions between Shutterfly and HP, when another acquisition occurred. It was the deal, also in 2005, in which HP bought Snapfish, a leading Shutterfly competitor. That came much nearer to my exit as an HP employee, but I was around to witness some tense interactions between the companies, with Shutterfly challenging HP judgement and intention in buying their leading customer's (Shutterly's) fiercest foe.

Could it be 15 years as a customer but only a collaborator for "better part of a decade"?
Things were clearly resolved over time, and HP dumped Snapfish last year in an anti-climatic deal. (See "HP sells Snapfish - cites 'focus'".) But maybe there's an explanation here, for why in this month's release, Shutterfly exec Dwayne Black cites collaboration spanning the better part of a decade!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

May 2016 Observations - Time names HP Deskjet as 35th "Most Influential Gadget"

Even from remote locations with sketchy Internet, I did my best to keep up with the news
Having been traveling for the majority of May and the latter half of April, it’s interesting to note what makes it through to get my attention. I had multiple “off the grid” stretches spanning a few days each, and was out of the country much of the time, but still managed to stay aware of at least some of the big and small news stories of the day. (Of course, I may never know the ones I missed!)
Time's list found me out of the country and (mostly) off the grid

One item that peeked through the haze for me was the May 3rd publication of Time’s “The 50 Most Influential Gadgets of all Time” (no pun intended, I am sure.). I got the tweet about Apple’s iPhone at the top of the list at Number One, but couldn’t wait to get to the entire list when my internet access improved, which it did a few days later. And, lo and behold, I found a printer on the list of 50!  While my first reaction (and personal bias) was an expectation of seeing the HP LaserJet as one of the most successful gadgets of all time, it was the HP Deskjet printer that made it, at Number 35. Time’s writers included an interesting blurb to go with the ranking, and one that in the end I couldn’t disagree with.

The HP Deskjet managed a spot in between the Palm Pilot and Nokia 3210 phone on Time's list

Notice I expressed my thoughts of “most successful gadgets”? It was natural, but incorrect, to make that mental switch to “successful” from “influential” as I did back then and carried through in recalling my thinking. Keeping in mind the article’s sub-head, “The tech that forever changed the way we live, work, and play,” Deskjet got its due in Time’s list of influential gadgets, as being the replacement for noisy, low-print-quality dot-matrix printers in hundreds of millions of homes. And while I could quibble with Time's reporting on the exact details of dates and prices, the decade when it launched (the 1980s, which they got right) was a long time ago, and to say the Deskjet and its inkjet printer relations are venerable would be quite an understatement. Time concludes their paragraph quite profoundly (though perhaps a bit quick to write off printing altogether), as follows:
“Even in an increasingly paper-less world, the inkjet’s technology lives on in 3-D printers, which are fundamentally the same devices, only extruding molten plastic instead of dye.”
Which leads to another story from the month of May (and another I had to catch up on following another trip) – HP made good (at least filled in many more details) with respect to its 3D Printing efforts. While far from a “gadget” (Wired saw fit to call it a “contraption” in their coverage), HP’s Jet Fusion 3D is a $130,000 machine aimed at industry, with initial partners like BMW, Johnson and Johnson, and Nike. But I will postpone more on the latest on the 3D printing topic for future Observations.

One other aspect of the Deskjet, beyond the technology, that could have been included as extremely influential? That would be the “razors and blades” business model that really started with the Deskjet, and that HP has driven home for decades. The LaserJet side, partly as a result of sharing the business with Canon, has never quite arrived at full implementation of this model. But as far as the inkjet business, where HP has all the dials and knobs under its sole control, the model continues to dominate to this day – an example is the $20 Deskjet 3633 all-in-one (including scan and copy along with printing) that appeared in Cnet’s Cheapskate blog just last week.

Beyond Printers

That’s not to say I was only looking for printers when I found my source. I was fascinated that the list (sorted in descending order, i.e. Z->A, for those Excel-happy folks) included other products I have used -- and in some cases have a real soft spot for. Right there at Number 50 is Google Glass, and as a Glass Explorer going back to 2013, it's a more complicated mix of emotions that I feel on this one, though I can attest that Glass was a bold experiment that got people talking and thinking, even if it was not a commercially successful product in its own right, and least in its first iteration.

More nods of appreciation came from me seeing Nest (Number 44), the Osborne 1 (preceding at 43), Palm Pilot (right behind Deskjet at 36), Tivo (29), Amazon Kindle (28), and those are only a few highlights from the second 25 of the top 50, please keep in mind. The full list is a trip down memory lane that should not be missed!

A proud ancestor

So was I happy it was Deskjet and not LaserJet make the list? Laser printing elitists might hide behind an excuse following the theme that the HP LaserJet (like the aforementioned 3D printer) is far from a “gadget”. And it could be argued that LaserJet printers and MFPs are communications tools critical to automating and thus transforming the modern office and its workflows, gadget or not. But I won’t take that road. I think the choice was the right one, particularly with the pedigree of the company’s current 3D Printing effort leading back to this seemingly humble technological ancestor. And returning to that “Influential” in the title of Time’s list, it’s appropriate for the first extremely popular inkjet printer from HP to be on the list. Next month, we’ll see there is more than 3D printing that can be found on the Deskjet family tree.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

HPQ Earnings Tomorrow - Forecasting IPG Revenues of $5.3 Billion

My Excel 2013 spreadsheet is forecasting $5.3 Billion for Q2, FY16

As a long-time "quant" going back to my undergraduate days at University of Oregon, I have loved taking the opportunity for "retooling" a bit over the last several years, with the latest in statistical theory and tools via the MOOC revolution. My current challenge (the second in a series of three in an "XSeries") is from edX and Delft University of Technology, and titled "Data Analysis: Visualization and Dashboard Design".

The most recent assignment fits just perfectly with tomorrow's HP earnings announcement. Taking the 10 years of quarterly data I have compiled since beginning my second career, I entered IPG (Printing and Imaging) quarterly revenues (in billions), and let Excel 2013 plot a trendline and make a forecast based on a simple linear model. (Compared to undergraduate days, it couldn't be more simple!) 

Before tomorrow's announcement, I wanted to share the model's purely technical, simplistic forecast of a $5.3 revenue quarter for HP Inc.'s printing unit. From eye-balling the data and their seemingly increasing negative momentum, one might judge this forecast to be a bit high. We shall see tomorrow after the market close - stay tuned!


The actual results announced on the 25th fell short of the forecast as I had anticipated. The Q2 2016 revenue number was $4.6 Billion, per HP. http://h30261.www3.hp.com/news-and-events/news-library/2016/05-25-2016.aspx