INDUSTRY USER GROUPS -- For Users, Not LosersAugust 2002
"Plus it is an environment where (user group members) are not interacting with competitors from right down the street," McLain notes. "In addition to separate user groups for Printcafe's PSI, Logic, Prograph and PrintSmith management systems, Printcafe is unique in that we also offer our annual Connect users' conference for all Printcafe customers. It brings together small-, medium- and large-size printers, as well as magazine publishers, from across our product offering in one location for several days of hands-on product education and dialogue. At one table you might have a president of the biggest printing company in America networking with the owner of a smaller operation."
This kind of interaction allows small market printers to understand what is happening in the larger markets, and for large market printers to understand what is happening in the smaller markets, McLain points out.
New to the user group scene is MAN Roland, with its PowerPrinters program. After an initial membership push, MAN Roland reports PowerPrinters now has 350 members. PowerPrinters will be fully supported by the resources of MAN Roland. That means club activities will be dues-free and the group will also have a direct connection to MAN Roland experts.
"What makes this group unique is that we're focusing exclusively on the hands-on level—press operators, press supervisors, even press helpers," explains Christian Cerfontaine, director of marketing. "The second unique aspect of PowerPrinters is that advanced training is by far the most important component of our program. We've taken that route because that's where we feel a user group can have the most impact. The advantage to our customers is that they wind up with more knowledgeable and more productive press crews, who can maximize the capabilities of their equipment."
Another user group that has seen a membership boom as of late is the Creo Users Association (CUA). Membership has more than tripled since the beginning of this year, reports Rochelle van Halm, media relations manager.
"We have approximately 700 members worldwide, with new Creo users signing on daily," she says. "Local chapters of the Creo Users Association are being formed and existing organizations in various countries are joining the CUA to form one, unified association. For customers located in remote areas, the CUA is a vital link to Creo and an invaluable resource for accessing some of the best minds in the industry."
Meanwhile, Xerox Premier Partners is a Xerox-sponsored, global e-community, open to Xerox graphic arts service providers. Premier Partners and guests have access to a diverse set of digital print-focused content and services.
Commercial printers who need qualified partners to help them complete a complex print job or outsource a service can find the right match through this referral service.
Premier Partners participating in this e-community can exchange business opportunities, share critical knowledge, and take advantage of services offered by Xerox and its technology partners. Xerox Premier Partners members keep in contact mostly via e-mail, which is a popular method of communication for industry user groups.
By contrast, HDIA produces a unique combination e-mail newsletter/survey called "The Friday Quickie" that is distributed to about 2,500 users, sponsors, media representatives and Heidelberg staff all over the world. Each Friday, in addition to news and commentary, it publishes questions submitted over the previous week that come mostly from users, but sometimes from industry consultants doing research, or Heidelberg representatives trying to gauge user opinions, Friedman says.
"Readers submit answers via e-mail over the next few days, and on the following Wednesday we sort, compile and publish all the replies, sometimes with further elaboration by Heidelberg technical experts," he reports. "Users find this to be a great way of getting answers on a timely basis without having to sort through the dozens and dozens of e-mails, relevant or not, that other online media, such as listservers, often produce."
Some groups have annual meetings, like Printcafe's Connect 2002 conference held in June in Las Vegas which was open to Printcafe's 4,000 customers from over 8,000 facilities worldwide. Among the largest user events in the printing industry, it allows Printcafe software users to get information about what's new with their print management systems and add-on software enhancements including new features, new ideas, new trends and new technologies.
Over 125 Printcafe technical, development, training and customer service personnel attended Connect 2002, to provide one-on-one interaction in the computer lab and in any one of hundreds of training seminars.
"It gives us an opportunity to listen to what our customers want from the next generation of our products, and where we need to make improvements to existing functionality," stresses Bob Bierwagen, senior vice president of product development for Printcafe. "We do that with a series of workshops. We have a computer lab staffed with product management and customer service personnel dedicated to helping our customers understand how to get the most value from our offerings."
Breakout sessions and a computer lab were just part of the program. Connect 2002 featured an exhibit area, pre-conference events and special evening programs geared to expanding members' opportunities to learn and share information.
"It's a fun environment—it's always been kind of a family environment," says Mike Daninhirsch, director of Prograph client services. "The focus is less on sales—much more on learning. You can walk up and ask a question about the software, face-to-face, and get an immediate answer."
HDIA also has an annual conference, called Directions. It features keynote sessions, user panels, Heidelberg workshops, management seminars, an equipment display and social networking events.
The next conference is set to take place October 8-11, in Chicago, at the tail end of Graph Expo & Converting Expo. Friedman says guided tours of Heidelberg's Graph Expo booth, as well as those of all the other HDIA sponsors, are planned. At the conclusion of Graph Expo, HDIA will kick off its own general session, followed by four concurrent, specialized seminar tracks for prepress, DI, Digimaster and NexPress users.
Cerfontaine advises that MAN Roland also intends to conduct special events, like conferences, and will have PowerPrinters gatherings at the major graphic arts trade shows in the future.
"We based the U.S. version of PowerPrinters on a very successful user group that we started in Europe, and special events were a big part of the program there," Cerfontaine contends. "PowerPrinters may be a new user group here, but it already has a pretty solid track record on the other side of the Atlantic."
PowerPrinters launched with an inaugural training course that was completed in March. The training courses will be ongoing and continuous, Cerfontaine says. This is where most group members will have their first encounters with other PowerPrinter members.
While user groups are designed to help the equipment users themselves, they obviously have proven to be valuable to the equipment vendors. Printcafe, for example, boasts that 95 percent of all enhancements to its PrintSmith software comes directly from customer requests. Other Printcafe software offerings report the same level of customer interaction.
"Creo takes feedback from its customers very seriously," adds van Halm, speaking of the CUA. "We have made significant changes on some Creo products and services as a result of client feedback. The value of being heard and being able to engage your vendor on details that affect daily production is important."
Also, when Heidelberg launched the Quickmaster DI Pro at PRINT 01, it was touted as having eight major improvements over the QMDI "Classic" version. According to Friedman, of those, seven were specific requests delivered to
Heidelberg by the HDIA via surveys, seminars and user/developer workshops.
On the Peer
In a related topic, the Printing Industries of America (PIA) has a series of peer groups available to printers.
A typical Printers Executive Network (PEN) Group has eight to 10 members that come from all over the country, so no members compete with one another. They're similar-sized companies in similar businesses, all facing similar issues. The peer group setting encourages members to share their experiences and insights.
There are currently 13 existing groups, and many more are being formed—with the new groups designed to reflect all the differences in size and market positions facing printers throughout the country.
Groups generally meet quarterly, but the meeting schedule is decided by the members in each group. Visits to group members' plants are also suggested by the PIA. The PEN Group meets at the plant of a member or at local hotels. Several groups also attend the PIA Presidents Conference annually as one of their meetings.
Each group adopts rules by which they operate, and there is always flexibility to accommodate personal situations. Members make a commitment to the success of the group. PEN members often come to trust each other and discuss private, as well as business, issues at meetings. Friendships have been established that go well beyond the PEN meetings.
Each group sets its own agenda. Most groups have adopted a Friday evening to Sunday noon schedule. When meetings are held in conjunction with the PIA Presidents Conference, PEN members attend the education programs of the conference and meet when the conference is not in session.
To find out more about peer groups offered through the PIA, visit www.gain.org.