“Come on print companies, give us your customers“ – what does HP’s new PrintOS really mean

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Nobody in our industry can claim that the crisis has not touched them in some way. Even providers like HP, a giant in the digital print segment, have to  consider adopting new strategies that enable them to secure their markets long-term. Its latest idea is PrintOS. What’s behind this?

A couple of days ago HP unveiled an interesting concept. In future the digital print provider’s clients will be able to make use of PrintOS (its print production operating system) and so integrate their end-customers into their workflows. And what’s more, PrintOS is primarily a cloud-based production system. Print OS is intended to be an open platform that enables digital print service providers to manage their production processes and to benefit from innovations that have previously been the preserve of larger online print providers. Furthermore the term “PrintOS” incorporates a whole series of web-based and mobile apps that are featured on an integrated platform.

These apps are intended to give print companies the opportunity of making specific functions, like uploading print data, use of web-to-print, tracking etc., available to their end-customers. One tool that will be provided as of the end of May is called “Box” – this is supposed to simplify the generation of print jobs from non-automated sources (e-mail, Dropbox etc.).  The objective is to reduce print companies‘ time and work inputs. “SiteFlow” is an HP solution that combines automatic job submission, pre-press and print-room management under one roof. The focus here is on B2B and B2B2C models in particular and handling hundreds of individual print jobs. However an “old acquaintance” operates in the background – the Oneflow tool from www.oneflowsystems.com –, which has already been in service with digital print service providers for several years.

What’s also great is that the apps are to be provided to some extent for free or for just 3 dollars. Whether this is per user or per use has not been specified. The system’s cloud base is AWS (Amazons Professional Cloud www.aws.amazon.com) – one of the most high-performance cloud platforms on this planet. During the unveiling of the system by Simon Lewis, PrintOS Business Director at HP, I started pondering why on earth would HP, HP of all companies, be giving something away?

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“By employing a mixture of brash arrogance and superb engineering concepts and solutions, HP has built up a customer base during the last few years that many a printing press manufacturer (analog as well as digital) can only dream of.” – Bernd Zipper

A whole series of my consultancy clients use HP equipment and over the years I have been able to improve my understanding of how the “HP system” works. By employing a mixture of brash arrogance and superb engineering concepts and solutions, HP has built up a customer base during the last few years that many a printing press manufacturer (analog as well as digital) can only dream of. HP has consistently “nurtured” a customer base that opts into practically everything, if necessary just to acquire a piece of equipment or a technology quicker or cheaper. While other sellers of printing presses sometimes show up at print companies as supplicants, the way HP operates has a touch of class. Good clients, i.e. those that buy a lot, are accepted as “fans” and invited to join dscoop, the HP print customer organization. As “Power Users”, members of this exclusive club are the first to be provided with key information about upcoming innovations and can apply for new equipment or even occasionally have dinner with one of the corporation’s senior presidents. And the digital print providers are massively dependent on HP. While an offset print company can rapidly switch inks or plates if their provider annoys them, most digital print contracts don’t allow this. This is a perfect eco-system that is always geared to achieving the best click or equipment price. Between you and me, it’s really well done, provided you are allowed to join in. ? And absolutely legitimate – if I were a machinery manufacturer, I would also aim to establish a system like this. There’s nothing to beat a smart, well-oiled customer retention system.

The system has just one flaw – what happens if a print company goes bankrupt? While taking back or selling pre-owned HP equipment is a lucrative business – isn’t it associated with expense and effort for the manufacturer? How do you as a manufacturer ensure that this equipment, which was a “superb deal” back then, is properly redeployed? And what’s more – how do you ensure that end-customers, whose needs were previously served by this equipment, don’t migrate to another print provider operating a different digital print system? The loss of fans and click consumers does not fit with the provider’s strategic concept.

 

Some print providers can only dream of this: having all things production-related under control with the aid of an app. HP is even going one step further …
Some print providers can only dream of this: having all things production-related under control with the aid of an app. HP is even going one step further …

Therefore it is only logical that HP is giving thought to the needs of its clients’ customers. And PrintOS is enabling the corporation to get one step closer to end-customers, because users of the apps, which will be provided in future, are the print companies AND their customers. If the print company quits this system, the end-customer still benefits from the service that is provided via the apps. HP could in turn then reroute the end-customer – on the quiet – to another print service provider. The “we keep the clicks within the corporation” system would prove to be successful.

There’s no doubt this idea is really superb and thoroughly state-of-the-art. But, if I understood Lewis correctly, when PrintOS is rolled out, OneFlow will no longer be available on the open market – only HP PrintOS customers will be able to use this system in future. What then happens to OneFlow’s existing customers? At the moment it all points to HP using PrintOS to take customer retention to the next level by securing a key distribution channel (direct to end-customers). This could work in combination with the cloud and an ingenious environment and solutions platform. HP is now heralding this platform as an “open, secure and integrated platform”. A curt “not yet” was the only response to the question about whether HP has been talking with other providers about whether to include offset or other digital printing presses if necessary. Shame upon you if you’re having cynical thoughts.

My take: But overall this solution is nothing to grumble about at all. I would like to see other providers adopting a similar system. Heidelberg, Xerox and others are experimenting with similar customer retention eco-systems. But HP can be regarded as the innovation leader in this respect – only that it now has its own “OS”. Incidentally in IT parlance an OS is an operating system, like Windows or Mac-OS – I believe that HP is defining the term differently and understands “OS” to mean “ordering system”. It all depends on whose perspective you take.

Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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