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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.

Too Many Conferences, Too Little Time. Part 1

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time lately at industry conferences, accumulating nights on the road, airline miles, driving pathetic rental cars, and packing on some calories since there is not enough time to work out. Such is life. Anyway, a couple of these junkets—Xplor and the Document Strategy Forum—are worth talking about because they apply to a broad audience.

First up is Xplor, held in St. Petersburg, FL, in mid-April. Xplor, which focuses primarily on high-volume production of transactional documents such as bills, statements and the like, had an earlier life as a big trade show/conference that got caught in the convergence of a shift in management, a big drop in attendance following September 11, 2001, and cuts in corporate budgets for shows and travel. I attended this show for several years before it hit hard times, then passed on it for a few, finally getting it back on my calendar this year. I was pleasantly surprised to see how it has changed, and all for the better.

Xplor president Skip Henk and his team revived the brand, taking it back to its roots as an educational conference without the carnival of a big trade show. The reborn version limits vendor booths to basic pipe-and-drape stands, keeping costs down and fostering the ability to network with customers and prospects in a lower-key, more intimate setting. Xplor now has more than 9,000 members around the world who participate in local events and dial in to webinars every month. While only a couple of hundred or so people attended the annual U.S. conference in April—a handful of people compared to a big show—the difference is that these folks are the recommenders, influencers and decision-makers for acquiring the software and equipment their companies need to keep their document production operations running efficiently. They come with a pretty good idea of what they need and are looking for knowledge and answers.

A key Xplor difference is that conference sessions are typically informative and pleasantly pitch-free. Although vendors are welcome to speak and share expertise, they are not allowed to pitch their wares. Instead, attendees hear about the document production challenges in insurance, banking, healthcare, financial services, utilities, and more, and strategies for addressing these issues. Every session I sat in on was full or near capacity, with a couple being standing room only.

Topics covered the migration of paper documents to digital media and the opportunities this offers, along with recommendations on how to handle the challenges that come with this transition. Ensuring compliance with constantly changing regulations was another recurrent theme because companies are under pressure to ensure all their customer-facing communications comply with new requirements. Compliance was also tied to risk management and workflow optimization. Together these concerns drive the need for software solutions that are data stream agnostic, scalable, non-intrusive, and adaptable. Then there’s the ADF. The automated document factory concept is hardly new, but the advent of full-color inkjet presses and more powerful software has rekindled interest, especially with the elimination of pre-printed forms via a white-paper-in printing strategy. Xplor featured several sessions covering on this topic that is becoming increasingly important as billers seek ways to manage documents efficiently while reducing and controlling costs.

The value of conferences is the information and insights one gains by hearing other people’s perspectives on a host of topics. Xplor was excellent for this, and the absence of product-pitches in the presentations made it far more informative and interesting for attendees. In this pitch-free zone, something I noticed was that very few people walked out on any of the sessions I attended. It was all solid, useful information that gave perspective to attendees’ challenges and the insights they needed to ask smarter questions when investigating the solutions offered on the show floor.

Xplor isn’t the big show it once was. It’s smaller, smarter and better.

Next up is the Document Strategy Conference, which came just two weeks later. Watch this space for that one.

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