Thursday, December 17, 2015

December Observations: Mopria Alliance Update and The Case for Standards

As we wrap up the year, it seemed timely to check in with the Mopria Alliance, formed in 2013 to promote standards for printing from mobile devices and representing a major landmark in our industry. As I noted at the time of its founding, the alliance was truly unique in bringing together, in the beginning, four industry-leading OEMs who would more typically be slugging it out in the marketplace (Canon, HP, Samsung and Xerox) and since then gone on to gain the support of virtually every printer vendor on Earth. Some of the numbers attained in just over three years are impressive – the alliance now has 25 companies as members, with 16 brands (OEMs) with printers certified, and more than 1,000 models.

As someone who cut his teeth in tech on industry rivalries going back to Macintosh versus Windows and the “PDL wars” between Adobe Postscript and HP PCL, I find my attention in the mobile printing space shifts to the (assumed on my part) rivalry between iOS and Android, and differences there, and the perception (again, mine) that Mopria is all about Android. In addition to offering the following guest post, HP Fellow and VP LaserJet Chief Technologist Phil McCoog, Phil McCoog, one of the key founders of the Mopria alliance, offered perspective. He notes that much Apple’s mobile printing solution shares underlying technologies with Mopria, a fact that can be tracked to the long-term work of the famed cross-industry “Printer Working Group” (PWG). Many of the same parties involved in Mopria today had been cooperating on developing standards in that group for 10 years or more, with Apple representatives chairing the committee during much of that time. So while “fierce rivalries” remain among all the participants in the market and in head-to-head product face-offs, the standards work removes significant cases of the players being “bogged down by unvaluable innovation,” in the words of McCoog.

What follows are more of McCoog's thoughts on standards and their importance for imaging and printing, in the form of a guest post, which I am very honored to include as part of my first “Observations” in its second decade.


“The Case for Standards” Blog Post
By Phillip McCoog

HP Fellow and VP LaserJet Chief Technologist, and a founding leader for the Mopria Alliance
How frustrating was it when you bought that new cell phone, and then had to buy a whole new set of chargers? Or when your new computer uses an operating system version that you’re not used to? It seems like every time you buy a new printer or scanner, there are whole new batches of software downloads required.

Whether it’s a new cell phone or a new coffee maker, we’re all always learning to use a new “thing.” It’s time intensive and, frankly, annoying. And, with more and more internet connected products – Gartner is predicting that the Internet of Things install base will grow to 26 billion units by 2020[1] – these learning curves are only getting greater.

The thing is – product inconsistencies we face each day as consumers could have been solved if, at the right time, the right people had decided to do something about it. How? Through the creation and adoption of an industry standard.

At the most basic level, industry standards can be defined as generally accepted requirements outlined and followed by the members of an industry. Industry standards allow us to connect to the internet, ensure our computers and phones can interact with one another despite their brand, and make sure that – no matter if your TV is made by Samsung or LG – it can still receive and interpret broadcast signals so that you can watch your favorite show at night.

Standards help to drive broad adoption across industries, creating a consistent experience for end users. Therefore, when done right, industry standards can greatly improve the lives of consumers, and allow for a more stable market environment (baseline technology foundation) for industries, which often leads to greater innovation.

Take the example of the bar code, which is today ubiquitously used to encode product and personal data. In the early 1970s supermarkets saw the benefits of easily identifying and checking stock, and developed electronic tracking systems. But only when a common standard was developed did the barcode take off. Today the barcode is no longer only used by supermarkets; it appears on mobile phones, access cards, airline boarding passes and much more.  The common standard was able to focus creativity to generate new and unexpected applications that add value.

Another great example of industry standards done right is the MP3 file. The development of the MP3 allowed music to break free of physical recording devices like CDs and allowed for the development of an entirely new (and consumer-friendly) distribution process for music, and the invention of new technology such as the iPod, ringtones, computer game soundtracks, online radio podcasts and more. 

However, creating an industry standard is a tricky business, and when done too soon (or even worse, too late) they often fail. As stated by the World Standards Cooperation, “Developing the right standards at the right time becomes increasingly difficult…In the case of technologies that require that different components to come together to connect, exchange information efficiently and provide a unified set of services, it is important that standardization happens early.  However, when standardization happens too early, it may impede the innovation process.”[2] When the industry has failed to develop standards on its own, sometimes regulators step in – something that would have been made unnecessary by the success of a voluntarily standard.

For example, a 2009 regulatory action by the European Commission resulted in the specification of a common external power supply (EPS), otherwise known as a charger, for use with data-enabled mobile phones sold in the European Union. Although compliance is voluntary, a majority of the world's largest mobile phone manufacturers have been compelled to make their applicable mobile phones compatible with Europe's common External Power Supply, making everyone’s lives easier.

Another possible outcome of a lack of an early industry standard is intense competition between similar technologies. This process is referred to as a “standards war.” Some well-known examples include VHS vs. Betamax, Explorer vs. Netscape, HD DVD vs. Blu-ray, and the list could go on.

We’ve all felt the pain caused by a lack of standards. New technologies should improve and simplify our lives – not cause additional headaches. The Internet of Things (IoT) for example is one of the next hurdles in technology development that require different manufacturers products and components to work together to connect and exchange information efficiently. For example, companies like Nest are developing internet connected thermostats & smoke detectors for the home that can be controlled via an application on your smart mobile. Currently, this process is great for consumers, as they only have a small number of devices to control. But as the industry grows, and more and more Internet-enabled products are developed, this will change.

Without a set industry standard to tie all of these devices together seamlessly – regardless of brand – users could end up with 100 separate apps to control the 100 different Internet-connected devices in their home. I think we can all agree that is not a sustainable model, and would not encourage consumer adoption or collective industry innovation. There are already several start-ups, big companies and consortiums creating IoT standards with the intention of solving this problem.  The unintended consequence may be yet another standards war.

By contrast, the printing industry is in alignment on standards for mobile printing.  Being able to print from your mobile device to a printer at home and at work is an example of a customer experience that is being simplified with the adoption of standards.  The Mopria Alliance is making it seamless to connect to any certified printer, regardless of brand.

Industry standards benefit everyone – driving efficiency, adoption and – ultimately – industry-wide innovation. Consider how much easier our lives would be if mobile device manufacturers had decided to make a standard charger at the beginning of the mobile age. Let’s push all industries to embrace opportunities to create a more intuitive world.

[1] Gartner, “Forecast: The Internet of Things, Worldwide, 2013,” December 2013
[2] World Standards Cooperation, “Too early…too late,” April 2012

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The "reusable paper" vision - is it finally here?

It was over 20 years ago that a future-looking strategy team at HP, one that I had the pleasure of leading, came up with some "wild cards" that could disrupt the printing and imaging industry (I don't think we were using the "d-word" back then, but found something similar to describe the idea). These one-off's went along with the team's more obvious trend analysis, seeing paper use diminishing over time, with electronic distribution of information growing exponentially into the future. More trendspotting showed device prices following an ongoing downtrend in price/performance.

But the idea of wild cards was attempting to identify events not on a continuum, that may or may not come to pass, and one of those was "reusable paper". This news from the Asian Wall Street Journal indicates that may have arrived, or will by next year when Seiko Epson indicates it will begin taking orders for the PaperLab. With dimensions of "2.6 meters (8.5 ft) in width, 1.8 meters in height and 1.2 meters in depth," according to the @wsjasia and reporter Jun Hongo (@junhungo@wsj), the machine is clearly not home-office ready.

Stay tuned for more developments!

Monday, November 30, 2015

November - 10 Years of Observations

Ten years ago, I started my monthly columns - an unbroken streak of 120 in a row!

In a column I wrote 10 years ago, in December 2005, I noted that by looking back 10 years (i.e. to 1995), we would see a different printing and imaging industry, with countless threats and opportunities in its future that were easily identifiable by 2005 but were cloudy and mysterious, if not outright unknown, in 1995. I would point to a list of “still in the future” organizations and technologies that were either altogether unheard of, or at least yet-to-become-pervasive, including “digital cameras, MFPs or all-in-ones, Yahoo, Amazon, Google, Napster, iTunes, MP3s, blogs, RSS feeds, [and] podcasts.” My point (one of many I tried to convey in that column) was that times change and we can look back at how the world has changed, with hopes that we will see we have taken advantage of the opportunity afforded by some if not all of the changes.

That happened to be my very first column, written shortly after my departure from a 25-year-long career at HP, with most of that time from 1981 to 2005 directly involved with their (our!) printing and imaging business. And now that 10 years have passed since then, let me reflect a bit on my decade “on the other side” as a blogger/analyst, and include a similar list. (Before I do, let me clarify that in 2005 and for a few years following, Jim Lyons Observations (JLO) really was a “column”, a term I associate with content which is part of a regularly published hard-copy periodical, initially - in my case - The Hard Copy Observer. My continued monthly “column” cycle, when the HCO became an online-only publication, continues to this day and into the future.)

So what didn’t we know about in 2005? How about smartphones like the Apple iPhone; tablets like the Apple iPad and Microsoft Surface; Google’s presence as an OS supplier (two if you count Chrome and Android); the Wearables juggernaut, with expensive experiments like Google Glass and - some might argue - the Apple Watch, but also the hugely pervasive, with devices like those from Fitbit; and the entire Social Media onslaught – Facebook and LinkedIn existed in 2005, but barely, and Twitter was yet to make its appearance, to say nothing of Instagram, Snapchat, and others.

More specific to printing and imaging, I put “digital cameras” on the “1995 MIA” list, at least in terms of their relatively minor presence in the overall industry, and while they have grown to dominate in both 2005 and 2015, their form has changed from predominately stand-alone to pervasive as a key component of smartphones. Pagewide inkjet printing was resident in some of the bigger R&D labs, but remained to make its presence felt in a commercialized sense, and “ink in the office” was only a pipe dream. Though the major printer OEMs spent significant energy, or at least verbiage cycles, on terms like “solutions”, “verticals” and “services”, the phrase “Managed Print Services” was a new one and MPS was an unknown acronym in an industry that still loves its acronyms.

Of course, that is just a start. Clearly, the past 10 years have included lots to analyze and write about! On a more personal level, that first column led to me to status as a regular columnist with the Observer, then also as a paid part-time staff writer and eventually Senior Editor with Lyra Research, all before the acquisition of the company by Photizo Group in 2012. It was a major career highlight to become part of the combined companies, though it turned out to be my second stint with Photizo, as I had participated as a part-timer staffer in their formative years, from 2006 to 2009. Leaving there in 2013, I was fortunate to be invited to bring JLO - along with additional duties – to The Imaging Channel where I continue to enjoy their hospitality, with their hosting most of my monthly columns to this day. I am also self-published, via Google’s Blogger, where all my columns from #1 to now #120 can be found.

In conclusion (for now)

I have to come to realize that I am very big on noting anniversaries and the like. I think it comes from having an historian’s bent, and firmly believing that we all learn from looking at what has happened in the past. The payoff, outside of the simple satisfaction of curiosity, is that by understanding the steps we have followed along the way to the present, we gain insight on where our steps into the future will lead.

Over my ten years of Jim Lyons Observations, I have had great hosting sites!

It was a commitment to this idea that got me started on Jim Lyons Observations exactly 10 years ago. And I have been tracking the current end-of-year anniversary for some time, knowing that I would definitely use (this) Monthly Column #120 to reflect and look ahead (while also knowing I didn’t have to worry as far as coming up with a column idea!). As described in the introductory paragraph, the significance is more than a “round number” – I used Column #1 to reflect back on the previous 10 years, using the “time capsule” pretext which was actually true! (Those who have ever seen a work area/desk of mine would attest to the possibility of ten-year-old, untouched information caches existing, especially in the days when hard copy played a more prominent role in information dissemination and storage.)

Looking back on that 10-year-old column, (in addition to seeing a columnist with more and darker hair and beard!) I am proud to know I have hung in there and I am very grateful for all the help, support, collegiality, and the like, from both those on the blogger/analyst/research side which I joined and was given multiple opportunities to grow as one of them, as well as those on the industry side who provided (and continue to provide) so much help in telling their stories.

Looking ahead, I may not be ready to commit to 10 more full years, but I have the energy, enthusiasm, and most important, the ideas(!!!) to keep cranking out, as I say in my masthead, “business and marketing developments in the Printing and Imaging industry, combining [my] many years of experience with an ever-enthusiastic eye on the future!”

And of course I could not have done any of this without you the reader!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Nicely done, Epson - and CTA / CES

In my August 2015 Observations, I raved about the new line of Epson EcoTank printers and how their mega-ink-capacity (aka #SuperTank) would ease real customer pain points, relieving the hassle and mess (as well as expense) of frequent ink-cartridge shopping and swapping. (See "Epson’s EcoTank Printers make a big splash, for good reasons!")

So it should come as no surprise that the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), sponsor of the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), has named one of Epson's new products, the WorkForce ET-4550 to be precise, as a winner of one of their 2016 Innovation awards.

As far as criteria for the award, here is what the release states:
The WorkForce ET-4550 was evaluated based on its engineering, aesthetic and design qualities, intended use/function and user value, how the design and innovation of the product directly compares to other products in the marketplace and unique/novel features present.
Good call CTA / CES, and congratulations Epson America!

Monday, November 02, 2015

HP Splits Today - what about HP Labs?

With the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange minutes away, and the official beginning of trading of the two companies' shares ($HPQ for HP Inc and $HPE for HP Enterprise), all the planning and much of the speculation is behind us.

While completing a story on some new LaserJet printers recently (see "HP Printer Group Keeps Minding Customer Needs with new LaserJets for the Enterprise"), and their emphasis on data security, I wondered about this being perhaps a worry for the PC and Printer company (HPQ). Specifically, would it be a problem putting distance between them and their security-focused Enterprise mates, going from being all under-the-same-corporate-roof to being in separate companies. My HP Inc contacts assured me the relationship would simply evolve into a strong partnership, one like they have with so many companies already. And an HP spokesperson, when asked about the venerable HP Labs and how the split affects them, responded,

"HP Labs will be divided based on research area. Shared research between the two companies will remain with Hewlett Packard Enterprise, with a licensing agreement to HP Inc."

With that said, congrats are in order to CEO Meg Whitman and all my friends at both HP Enterprise and HP Inc!!!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Cheapskate Blog on Color Laser and Inkjet Printing

Today's Cheapskate Blog - via Cnet  - is touting a Ricoh color laser printer for $69.99 via online retailer Adorama.

That is a crazy-good deal, and not unusual for Rick Broida - the face behind the Cheapskate. I've used Rick's guidance to get great deals on PCs, storage products, power adapters, and accessories for years now.

While I have yet to meet Rick, I do enjoy his commentaries as well, that come along with his daily (or nearly daily) deals. Today's on color printing is classic - reflecting end user attitudes that favor laser printing over inkjet printing, even in 2015!

If you want to print in color, inkjet printers have always been the necessary evil: They're way less expensive than color lasers, or at least it seems that way until you have to replace their ink cartridges every five minutes.
Me, I've always preferred laser printers, which tend to cost more up front but have a lower total cost per page.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

October Observations - Happy Lifelong Learning Day!

This is the first screen in the brief "Lifelong Learning Day" video - what a fit with my "ten year thing"!
Yesterday I posted a brief note observing the 10-year anniversary of my final day of work at HP (see "Ten Years After"). It was a simple "milestone" post, about an anniversary I did not want to pass unnoticed. But about the same time I was prepping the post, I heard an NPR underwriting announcement from Road Scholar, with the news that today (October 15) is the inaugural National Lifelong Learning Day, which they sponsor.

Road Scholar is a 40-year-old organization based in Boston, billing itself as "the world's largest educational travel organization for adults", and while I have yet to take one of their trips, I have been well aware of several and hope to join one of their adventures sometime in the near future. And when I sought out a little more information about Lifelong Learners Day and found a YouTube video (screenshot above), I was a bit stunned, and pleased, to see their reference to learning and "ten years from now" -- looking back at my post-HP decade, learning has been a continuous theme for me.


Of course, becoming a columnist/blogger/analyst in the printing and imaging industry was a huge part of my past ten years, and commenced almost immediately after leaving the corporate world. While I had a great deal of industry knowledge to apply from the beginning, learning the ropes of traditional hard-copy newsletter reporting (writing style, editing cycles, deadlines, etc.) was a challenge. And that was followed almost immediately by setting up and publishing my own independent blog (this one), and evolving with social media including becoming fairly expert on many of the latest and greatest platforms. But I will have more on that journey in next month's Observations.

Learning to teach

Within a year of leaving HP, I was fortunate to have a fellow company alum who left the same time I did (it helped that he was a long-time friend as well) guide me into the world of college-level teaching with the University of Phoenix. Based on my career background and MBA-level education, I was deemed qualified to teach both undergraduate and graduate Marketing and Economics, at both our local on-ground campus as well as online, following successful completion of an excellent faculty training program. 80+ courses later, I still learn a great deal about my subjects during each course, and am very grateful for the continuing opportunity to pass along a little of what I've learned throughout my education and career to younger generations. Plus, the pressure to "know your stuff" when lecturing or grading papers does wonders for motivation for getting caught with your subject!

Class Central provides a good starting point for learning about upcoming MOOCs

The mad, mad world of MOOCs

Eager to build my skills, and also just plain curious to be on the other side of the online learning equation (i.e. being a student), I have enrolled in and completed more than 30 Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC's) over the last four years. Also, the value of enrolling and completing can be overstated - in addition to everything I've learned from those successfully completed courses, I've also learned a ton from some of those enrolled-but-not-completed choices too!

My full list can be seen via my LinkedIn profile, but highlights via (mostly) Coursera and EdX include a variety of content areas, including subjects which I could use to supplement my teaching (see above), and also refreshing my skills in the ever-expanding world of data science. I majored in Quantitative Methods while earning my BS at University of Oregon, way back when, and then a Marketing/Econometrics emphasis at Cornell's Johnson School where I received my MBA in 1981. As I discovered (and am still finding out), lots of what I learned (no surprise) has advanced significantly. At the same time, I am bolstered by the fact that I have a pretty good foundation - even as regression analysis no longer requires a four-function calculator and lots of scratch paper! (More coming on this in future blog posts also.)

Osher Institute

As I wind up this look at my personal lifelong learning journey over the last ten years, I must mention my hometown resource that I continue to enjoy. That is the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Boise State University. The program offers classroom experiences for the 50+ crowd, with some of our area's leading professors (from BSU and elswhere), as well as with leading experts from beyond academia. The offering is rich and diverse, and just today (Lifelong Learning Day!) I will be spending two hours in the morning in an "Art, Architecture and Culture of Venice" course, as well as two hours in the afternoon attending the middle of five weeks' worth of lectures on the "History of London since 1666".

In conclusion

I am committed to learning more in the next ten years, to answer the question from the Road Scholar video! Organizing my thoughts and experiences enough to record them here in what I hope is a reasonably cognizant fashion has been a pleasurable if somewhat indulgent exercise. But I hope too that at least some readers can find a tip or two here to facilitate their own paths of lifelong learning!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Ten Years After

I have used this legendary band-name as a headline (but not the image) in the past, but today it seems appropriate again for my today's anniversary.

Ten years ago today, I put in my last day as an HP employee. It was a great run for me, starting in 1981, spanning a period when Hewlett-Packard was deemed among the most admired companies out there. I have had a very fulfilling "second career" since, which I will be reflecting on here in the coming days and weeks. So just a note for now, and assurance I am eagerly looking ahead to the next ten!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Memories - EMC to be acquired by Dell

Today's announcement that EMC will be acquired by Dell in a $67 million deal is notable for many reasons. It's the biggest tech merger ever, and the largest deal of all time where a private company (Dell) will be taking a public company ($EMC) private.

But it also teases out some pretty ancient memories for me, and coincidentally I will mention my first job at HP for the second post in a row! (See "Revisiting Splitsville"). A check at Wikipedia reveals EMC was founded in 1979 as a provider of third-party disk storage for Prime Computer. But as they branched out, the Disk Memory Division (DMD) of HP became very aware of them, as a "parasitic" supplier of disk storage for HP minicomputers. As a captive supplier of disk storage ourselves, DMD was in a generally excellent business position and was for a time the HP division with the largest revenue of them all - more than that of even the minicomputer divisions we supplied. But following IBM's lead and their approach to third-party suppliers of disk storage, we saw it as a scourge that needed to fought off aggressively.

That was about 30 years ago, and it is amazing to think that EMC has had such a prosperous history since!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

September 2015 Observations - Revisiting Splitsville

A rocky stock market during 2015 has not been kind to $HPQ
Revisiting Splitsville – it’s a good thing
During the waning days of September, we are now just a month away from the split of Hewlett Packard ($HPQ) into a Printer and PC Company (HP Inc.) and an equally-sized business, revenue-wise, HP Enterprise, with servers, software and services making up its lines of business. Reports are that the behind-the-scenes efforts to cleave the $100 Billion company into two have been proceeding with “military-like precision”, as CEO Meg Whitman likes to say. As the official day of separation day draws near, at least one financial talking head suggests the move making a $100 Billion behemoth into two $50 Billion behemoths as merely backwards-looking “financial engineering”, with little real innovation taking place these days at the firm which started Silicon Valley way back in 1939. (See Jim Chanos’s charges and Whitman’s defense in this CNBC video.) So what do I think? I am growing in my enthusiasm, especially as I look back at all the positive connotations the word “split” has had for HP during its history.

Reminiscing about the positive nature of splits in the HP culture
I wrote about the announced plan to split a year ago in a guest post at Actionable Intelligence (see “It’s Splitsville in Palo Alto”, ). While the use of the term, “Splitsville”, was intended to be taken in a light-hearted way, I found the characterization of the split as a “divorce” by some other industry analysts as heavy-handed and overly negative, while I remained fairly neutral in my views on the split. Now, as the day gets closer, I have been turning more positive, overall. I think it comes partly from having to do with HP’s story under the microscope lately due to contention over the true history behind the firing of a current-day presidential primary candidate, and the stimulus that has offered to think back to what “split” signified in culture of the “HP Way”, while I was employed there at least (from 1981 to 2005). So as the split-date nears, I am much more inclined to think the cleavage is the right thing to do.

Going back to my first days at HP, I learned quickly from my co-workers at Boise’s Disc Memory Division in 1981, two of the most revered concepts had to do with “splits”. One was the stock split, which regularly followed an also-regular runup in the company’s common stock. It was considered a nearly dead-certain occurrence following year-in, year-out growth and profits. With a generous stock-purchase incentive program, this made everyone happy!
While not "every year", as it felt at times, HP stock splits were frequent, with six between 1979 and 2000
The other very positive outcome associated with the term “split” was the “division split” – the seemingly naturally occurring dividing of a successful business (a “division” in HP parlance) once its growth had taken it to a certain level of revenue, $100 Million being the ballpark number in the 1980s. (The LaserJet division, it should be noted, grew to over $1 Billion by the early 1990s, before its cleavage into Network, Business and Personal divisions.) The division split was the ultimate acknowledgement of success – viewed as a payoff to all involved in the growth of the original unit, and resulted in more management opportunities and professional growth.

Writing a book…or at least reading one
A few weeks after the year-ago announcement, I penned my October Observations, musing that it might be time for me to undertake a modern history of HP in the form of a book. (See "The Other Shoe..."). Inspired by author Eric Larson and full of thoughts about all the big picture meanings of the announced split, I mused that there might be a book project “in there somewhere”. But while that ambition lies fallow, I did go back to a fairly current (through 2010) volume on HP's history, the admirable The HP Phenomenon by Chuck House and Raymond Price. (I referenced the work previously in this blog, in my tribute to Ray Smelek in the post, “How Boise, Idaho Became a Printer Capital”.)

In that text, I found the word “split” mentioned 11 times. It was almost always used in terms of growth and innovation. And speaking of innovation, the late Lew Platt offered his wisdom, transcribed from a speech, and included by House and Price as Appendix D, and titled “Managing Innovation: An Oxymoron?” (As a reminder, Platt was the last of the “home grown” HP CEOs, replaced by the first in a series of relatively short-lived outsiders in 1999.) His comments about innovation bristle with the “HP Way” wisdom of keeping things lean and mean, and breaking things up whenever stagnation started to set in. (His replacement made her stab at success based on what might be argued an opposite aggregation strategy.) Splitting a business, an R&D lab, a marketing department – these all fit with the wisdom of Platt and even go along with his somewhat whimsical title referring to the oxymoron of management of what some would consider an unmanageable process, beyond providing the right environment.

The Printer Group – innovating like always, even better?
So will a “leaner meaner” HP Inc. and HP Enterprise offer more innovation and in turn more shareholder value, overcoming the "conglomerate discount", in the words of current CEO Whitman? To me the early resuts, even ahead of the formal split, give a strong indication the answer is “yes”. Of my most recent blog posts, I have penned three about examples what I consider some of the most customer-oriented innovations in the printer industry that I have seen in a long time. Two of those three were from HP, and cover both the consumer market and the enterprise market. (See “More inkjet customer focus - HP eliminates anxiety" and "HP Printer Group Keeps Minding Customer Needs with new LaserJets for the Enterprise".) And it's interesting to note that the “Enterprise” example will remain with the printers and PC’s in HP Inc., after October 31st. This led me to asking HP a few specific things about some of the alignment details post-split. I will save those questions (and answers) for a (near) future post.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Graham Nash exhibit coming soon to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

"Got to get back" - to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and their Graham Nash exhibit, opening in October
My July Observations were dedicated to a Graham Nash concert I had seen over the summer (see "CSNY and Printing"), and the connections that Nash has to high-quality fine-arts printing pioneered by a company he helped form in the 1990s, Nash Editions.

Since my post from a couple of months ago, when I promised more about the story in a future Observations, some great news! Starting on October 17, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland will feature a Graham Nash exhibit. "Graham Nash: Touching the Flame" will feature, according to the Hall's website:
Pieces from Nash's heroes and inspirations – the Beatles, the Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, Buddy Holly and Duane Allman – and treasures from his time with the Hollies and Crosby, Stills and Nash come to life as Nash reflects on the visceral and profound impact of the music and world events on him and those around him.
See more - and for now, I imagine my newly made friends at Nash Exhibits are mighty busy getting the show ready, so I will wish them the best and start working on arraninging my trip to Cleveland!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

HP Printer Group Keeps Minding Customer Needs with new LaserJets for the Enterprise

HP Printer Group Keeps Minding Customer Needs with new LaserJets for the Enterprise

Today’s product launch by HP is impressive as the company’s printer group continues with their sharp customer focus. This carries over from the Instant Ink announcement I covered early this month (see “More inkjet customer focus – HP eliminates anxiety"
In the LaserJet/Security case, rather than the end-user, their customer is the IT manager and product specifier. These individuals, as HP and their research characterize them, are ever more concerned about the security of their networks and the nodes on those networks - which include many Enterprise-grade printers and MFPs. HP hired Ponemon Institute to survey more than 2,000 IT security practitioners in North America, EMEA, Asia-Pac and Latin America to help guide their development and launch of the new security solutions, which are also backwards compatible with devices manufactured by HP as long ago as 2011.

For a great story with more details on the solution, I highly recommend "The Best New Defense in Cyber-Security can be found on - Printers", by Arthur Q. Choi in Popular Science.
Included with HP’s launch of three new enterprise class LaserJet printers today are what the company refers to as “built-in self-healing security features with protection down to the BIOS”.  And while this quote (from the sub-head of the press release) seems a little jargon-heavy, reading down the press release a couple of lines, we find these much more customer-friendly statements (attributed to Tuan Tran, HP’s vice president and general manager, LaserJet and Enterprise Solutions business), “Protecting against security breaches is one of the biggest challenges our customers faceHP is helping customers secure their devices, documents and data by defending our enterprise printers with the strongest protection in the industry.”  (My bolds.)
During my long involvement with the tech industry, particularly from the hardware side, it is always challenging to move the internal interest in product development and launch from centering on the latest in terms of “speeds and feeds” – i.e. new hardware features – to solutions and meaningful customer benefits. With this announcement from HP, and others that have recently impressed me (and to be fair, other industry incumbents like Epson – see "Epson's New SuperTank Printers aim at customer pain points"), the printing and imaging industry is showing a great deal of customer focus and savvy.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

More inkjet customer focus - HP eliminates anxiety

After yesterday's monthly Observations post on Epson and their focus on relieving customer pain points with their August Ecotank printer/MFP launch, it's only fair to point out HP's similar approach highlighted today. Their release from this morning on expanding their successful Instant Ink program touts "eliminating ink anxiety" their customers might have, with the program which I have featured in my Observations in the past (e.g. see "Printers as things? Do Printers fit as part of the Internet-of-things" where I observe the Instant Ink program, expanded today, fits with the IoT model.)

Monday, August 31, 2015

August Observations - Epson’s EcoTank Printers make a big splash, for good reasons!

I had to hit Twitter when I first heard the NPR story about the new Epson Ecotank printers
My early-morning routine on most weekdays starts by tuning in to NPR’s Morning Edition. Its interesting news and eclectic feature stories are presented in a more soothing and non-commercial manner than is offered by my next media step in getting my day going, when I join CNBC’s Squawk on the Street for a half-hour of pre-market-open business news and economic assessment of that morning’s world. So I was quite surprised earlier this week, when the former and not the latter chirped in about Epson’s new printers, in a story with co-host Renee Montagne interviewing Wilson Rothman of The Wall Street Journal about his coverage on the benefits of the new products. (The headline of the Journal's article is worth noting - "Epson kills the printer ink cartridge."

On launch day I could not resist tweeting this shameless pun, which garnered a high level of attention on Twitter.
I had been aware of the new Epson products for some time through various backchannels, and was notified by the company that they had officially launched on August 4th. Printer industry coverage of the new products (printers and MFPs) emphasized the feature of high ink capacity of the products, as well as how this is achieved (refillable tanks and non-refillable ink bags, depending on the model) and the result being very economical cost-per-page printing compared to what most users are accustomed to. (Even if the entry price is somewhat higher.) It is tempting, as an industry denizen, to point to Kodak's failed attempt to make a place for itself in the inkjet printing market using a higher-hardware, lower-supplies pricing model.

But the popular press coverage grabbed hold of the benefits, as I have already stated, with less frequent user intervention (i.e. most ink cartridges tend to run dry very quickly, and the new EcoTank/"Supertank" printers can print for two years without fussing with them) - leading to "new standards of convenience and value", as Epson's webpage announcing the products declares (see below). And it all goes to show the truth behind the marketing axiom of advancing a product or solution's benefits - how unmet user needs will be met by the new offering - rather than focusing on the features that lead to the benefits.

All about benefits - classic marketing messaging that delivers meaning and leads to interest and even excitement
At risk of belaboring the point, the text of the email announcement I received on August 4th (launch day) reads as follows, directly hitting on the "pain point" of user intervention.
Today, Epson transforms the $40 billion North American printing market with EcoTank, addressing one of the biggest pain points for small businesses and consumers: running out of ink. To push the limits on convenience and value for color printing, Epson, today, unveils five new all-in-one color printers that come loaded and ready with up to two years of ink the box – revolutionizing the printer industry. 
EcoTank printers deliver unbeatable convenience with ultra low-cost replacement ink bottles and innovative refillable ink tanks for its home and home office models. The high-end small business models come equipped with ink packs that allow users to print up to 20,000 pages.
The NPR story (highly recommended reading and/or listening) also is worth mentioning another time, as it not only covers Epson's new products, but also insight into the market. Its approach was more of a "story behind the story" - highlighting the strong reader response that came the Journal's (and Rothman's) way following their August 4th review (the one with the headline about killing the ink cartridge.) Seems there is a group of users out there who are quite passionate about their printing, even in 2015!

(A footnote - I have always enjoyed this kind of "story behind the story" coverage and have done, as well, and this one took me back to one of my earliest columns (slightly a year after my start), with the tale of the small software company in Portland that gained the attention and praise of the venerable Walt Mossberg, then of The Wall Street Journal as well. See "Making it to the Top of the PR Mountain".)
(And while I am at it - another footnote - regarding my Graham Nash two-parter: In July I posted the first of a two-part exploration of fine arts printing based around curiosity inspired by seeing Graham Nash in concert in early July, and wanting to find out more about his photography and connections to printing, and share that with my readers. I am still on track for that, but in my post I suggested it would follow as my August Observations, which it will not, but stay tuned for September!)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Intermountain 3D featured on Built in Boise

Proud to announce my first contribution to Built in Boise, a website described as "...writers, photographers, designers, builders and business-owners set out to tell the stories of Boise companies and the people behind them." It was a natural, and builds (pardon the pun) from my February Observations"HP Alums Take On 3D Printing World".

Friday, July 31, 2015

July Observations - CSNY and Printing

When Graham Nash, of CSNY, played Boise earlier in July, I posted on Instagram (no surprise) and I also ended up learning lots about fine-arts digital printing (big surprise)
So if you even comprehend my headline's CSNY reference this month, I am betting you, like me, are a Baby Boomer! And that's a good thing, as far as I am concerned! The acronym stands for the full name of surname-based musical group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, one of the signature bands from the late 60s and early 70s, which began as (and still sometimes returning to) simply Crosby, Stills and Nash, or CSN, sans Neil Young. Following my attendance at a very enjoyable concert by band founder Graham Nash earlier this month, I ended up making a significant printing connection, in the historical sense, and will share a little of what I came across in doing my follow-up research.

A little more on Boomers

In marketing or related societal analysis, an understanding of the defining characteristics of these three major adult age cohorts (Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials) is critical. It does not take great insight to see that, for example, lots of advertising - if you look in the right places, anyway - is oriented towards the Boomers and our current interests in topics like retirement planning and healthcare. And (see below) while it's easy to toss around these labels, it never hurts to make certain we are clear on definitions. And just a reminder that it's never quite clear – note the overlap in birth years between Gen X and Gen Y, which helps keep us mindful that these definitions a bit fluid. And two further notes on the source – since 2010, the "Generation Y" moniker has been largely supplanted by the synonymous term "Millennials", and alas, that 40% of the population comprised of Baby Boomers has probably slipped a point or two, though our spending power remains huge.

Just to be precise, it all comes down to birth year, and Baby Boomers, according to the Glossary of one of my University's recommended Consumer Behavior textbooks (copyright 2010), are defined as follows:

Baby Boomers
Individuals born between 1946 and 1964 (approximately 40% of the adult population).
Generation X
Born between 1965 and 1979, this is a post baby-boomer segment (also referred to as Xers or busters).
Generation Y
The approximately 71 million Americans who were born between the years 1977 and 1994 (i.e., the children of baby boomers). Members of Generation Y (also known as "echo boomers" and the "millennium generation") can be divided into three subsegments: Gen Y adults (age 19–28), Gen Y teens (age 13–18), and Gen Y kids, or "tweens."
Source: Glossary, Consumer Behavior, Tenth Edition
ISBN: 9780135053010 Author: Leon G. Schiffman, Leslie Lazar Kanuk, Joseph Wisenblit
Most of the world's first look at CSN - later to become CSNY - came via this album cover.

Besides relatively fat wallets, Boomers also have our memories and love for the days of our past and the music that went with it. So when GroupOn emailed with the chance to attend the aforementioned local summer concert by Graham Nash, especially including their little tease (see below), hundreds of local Boomers, including my wife and I, jumped at the chance. Nash's voice and songs are signature elements of the late 60s, 70s and onward, and it was a wonderful show. In the days following (in addition to having "Marrakesh Express" and others tunes stuck in my head), my interest was triggered to learn more about this piece of digital printing history and the role played by Graham Nash in its development.

Graham Nash, the photog

Lodged in the back of my mind that Graham Nash was a photographer as a well as a musician. While there are many famous images involving the band (including the one above from their debut, pre-Young, album), including a few I remembered with Nash and a camera. And then in 2006, shortly after launching my second career, post-HP, as a blogger/analyst, I had a "brush with greatness" as I bumped into, literally, none other than Graham Nash, at the Spring conference of the Photo Marketing Association (PMA) in Orlando. It was one of my first events with press credentials, all very exciting, and it was a "press preview" event in a day-ahead-of-the-main-show which offered the opportunity for press to mingle with vendors and their representatives. It was all quite heady stuff, and bumping into the instantly recognizable Nash made it all the more so!

Nash Editions

Fast forward to 2015 and post-concert, I started to do some digging on what the story was on the printing side of things, going by that little tidbit offered by GroupOn. In addition to an interesting and fun 10-year old story (see "Nash Editions: Fine Art Printing on the Digital Frontier")  that describes the "unmet user needs" (again in homage to my marketing teaching) that Graham Nash experienced when trying to convert his digitally photographed portraits to large format hard copy for a gallery exhibition, and how his colleagues worked with him to get an industry solution that has been evolving ever since.

I was fortunate enough to make contact with two of the co-founders of Nash Editions, who are still there after over 20 years. Their stories deserve so much more than being tagged onto the end of this "discovery" part of my story, so stay tuned for August 2015 Observations for some of the Nash Editions saga.

Graham Nash the artist – as summarized by GroupOn

  • How you know Graham Nash: as the singer-songwriter who shared his talents in The Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash, with and without Young
  • 2010: the year he was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire
  • Nash's inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: two
  • How he managed that: he was inducted once with The Hollies, and once with Crosby, Stills & Nash
  • Inductions into the Songwriters Hall of Fame: only one, the slacker
  • Latest piece of writing: his memoir Wild Tales: A Rock and Roll Life
  • Classic Hollies tunes: "On a Carousel," "Bus Stop," and "Carrie Anne"
  • Classic CS&N and CSN&Y tunes: "Marrakesh Express," "Teach Your Children," "Our House," and "Just A Song Before I Go"—all of which were penned by Nash
  • Classic solo tunes: "Military Madness," "Chicago"
  • Everyone needs a hobby: Nash's work as a photographer led to the founding of Nash Editions, which was recognized by the Smithsonian for helping to invent digital fine-art printing.