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Noel Ward

Real World Digital

By Noel Ward

About Noel

Noel Ward is Managing Director of Brimstone Hill Associates, which specializes in marketing communications in the printing industry, including video production. He can be reached at 603-672-3635 or via email at His website is, and he has a YouTube channel.

Document Strategy Forum Draws a Mixed Crowd. Part 2

Last time (in Too Many Conferences, Too Little Time. Part 1) I talked about Xplor which was on St. Pete Beach in mid-April, and now we jump forward two weeks to Stamford, CT, and the Document Strategy Forum.

This is the conference that almost wasn’t. Originally scheduled for last November, it was run over by Superstorm Sandy and was cancelled at the last minute. Scrambling to fit it into the spring, the only opening on relatively short notice was the final week of April which was unfortunately less than two weeks after Xplor ended.

The Document Strategy Forum is really a blend of three conferences, Document Strategy, Social Business and SharePoint, and the annual Business Forms Manufacturers Annual conference. There was enough common ground to attract about 300 attendees for a busy two days. Still, there’s a significant overlap with Xplor on the document side of this show, and many of the same vendors have space on the show floor, so I wondered just how this would play out.

It turns out that the three distinct tracks served their respective audiences pretty well. The wide spread use of SharePoint in the enterprise spreads aspects of document management across the collaborative side of document creation while linking it to output side issues like compliance, risk management, and integration with both print and electronic media. And I’m probably missing something, but I still don’t understand why forms printing needs a conference.

Although vendors took the podium in many of the conference sessions, most of them managed to keep the product pitches more or less under control, although one did wonder just how much of what was said might have been skewed towards a given product. No matter, though, the information was mostly compelling, thought-provoking and provided welcome perspectives on some of the key issues facing the industry.

The highpoint in my estimation was Analyst Day, featuring leading industry gurus from Gartner (Pete Basiliere), Forrester (Craig LeClair), and InfoTrends (Matt Swain). Each offered up a non-biased, informative take on key trends that are shaping the future of document production and distribution. This was on the last day, so a lot of people had left and they missed out on some valuable insights. These should have been general sessions earlier in the show.

If you want to know about the possible shift to digital mailbox services, the go-to guy is Matt Swain. He gave perhaps the most coherent presentation on digital mailboxes I’ve heard and provided a fine view of this nascent technology. The question of course is how soon—if at all—these services will get out of first gear and start moving down the road. There are a variety of models and none seem to be offering the unique selling proposition that is going to bring consumers flocking to digital mailboxes to receive their bills and statements, much less direct mail. We’ll see!

Craig LeClair spent some time talking about the growth of mobile apps and how consumers—largely seeking convenience—are continuing to shape mobile markets. With mobile devices come apps, the way things get done on smartphones and tablets. Apps, he said, a mere $6 billion market today, will grow to nearly $57 billion in just the next two to three years. Enterprises that don’t leverage apps as the way to interact with customers “are stuck in concrete,” says LeClair, the message being that if your company doesn’t adopt apps as one of the touchpoints with customers you are likely in deep trouble.

Gartner’s Pete Basiliere summed it all up: electronic media is rising steadily to prominence as the choice of consumers. Whether it is social, the use of mobile devices for receiving (and responding to) transactional or marketing messages, the expansion of the cloud, or just an empowering way to move information around, it also constitutes a shift in power. Marketing departments no longer control the message, even if it comes on one’s credit card bill. Content, said Basiliere, must now be meaningful content in the context of the recipient’s preferences and even location, which puts the customer in charge of what they receive.

There was much more, and considering that I couldn’t possibly care less about pre-printed forms or SharePoint, I was surprised that some of the content was as interesting as it was. This was a good show and I’ll make space in the calendar for next spring.

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