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Digital dreams – connecting to the digital network in Singapore

Tuesday, 30 August 2011
By Print 21 Online Article

Dscoop Asia, the HP Indigo users co-op, held its annual meeting in Singapore last week. Patrick Howard went along to hook into the energy.

Singapore is on the equator, well it’s 137 kilometres to the north, but it might as well be right on the line. It’s hot, it’s steamy and when you step outside Changi airport into the night air there’s a redolent smell of lush vegetation with just a whiff of tropical decay.

Singapore is the first stop, the nearest destination to Australia and New Zealand where anyone would want to stop off, apart maybe from Bali. Many of us only see it in transit on our way to more traditional destinations, a legacy of our European heritage.

But the world spins and dynamics change and now Singapore is exercising its own power of attraction. The airport taxi to Sentosa Island Resort drives through an almost futuristic metropolis, elegant soaring skyscrapers and arching freeways against a background of multi-coloured light. It is the 21st century writ large, gracing the antipodean visitor with a sense of being nearer to where the action really is.

The Fiesta Hotel at Sentosa Resort World is a family affair, not your usual business-class accommodation. My family room has an additional bunk bed, there are lots of swimming pools shining in the night below the window, while the shipping container terminal over the highway bustles on, arc lights and huge cranes processing the endless lines of ships at anchor out in the dark. The breakfast queue the following morning is filled by Singaporean families with lots of children. The noise over the noodles and eggs is deafening.

I’m here to attend the 2nd Dscoop Asia annual get together in the convention centre next door, so it is an early start. Three escalators down into the air-conditioned conference spaces and all sight of tropical Singapore is gone.

There are lots of people milling around, over 1300 according to the organisers, up from the thousand or so at last year’s gathering in Seoul. Business Beyond the Ordinary – Your opportunities, Your connections, Your way; the conference theme is projected in multi-media around the walls.

The registration counter is a Babel, a mix of Malay, Philippine, some Euro faces and, of course, lots of Singaporeans. Smooth and efficient handling of the various languages is impressive. The Chinese have their own Mandarin and Cantonese desks, as have the Japanese and Koreans.

Along the sides of the foyer HP Indigo partners are setting up tabletop displays. Some are more elaborate, such as the shower recess with digitally printed tiles. The HP executives are easy to pick out in the mix; they are the guys in the dark suits, white shirts and ties. Blending in they’re not.
I move into the conference hall, easing through the throng to a front row seat. It’s an old behaviour of mine; better sit up near the teacher if you want to learn anything.

I spot David Minnett, (pictured) owner of Group Momentum, North Sydney, the chairman of Dscoop Asia. We shake hands. Over the next day and a half he is going to be everywhere, opening the conference on behalf of the committee, responding to accolades, doing his own presenting and always urging the delegates to “get involved.” He is one of those people who puts a lot into anything he commits to. At this stage he is focused, a little nervous about the opening session but taking it in his stride.

The conference opens with a frenetic bunch of drummers pounding away onstage. It’s a trans-cultural thing; who doesn’t get drumming? Then we’re into the introductions. David Minnett is on stage to make the welcome speech. He does well. It’s a fine line, emphasizing the user group’s autonomy and independence, while giving due credit to HP, which meets most of the bills. There’s no doubting the enthusiasm of the crowd, even with half of them plugged into Chinese, Japanese and Korean translations.

First speaker is Chris Thomas, Chairman BBDO/Proximity Worldwide, an advertising heavyweight talking about the vital element of creativity in building brands. It has nothing to do with printing, but everything to do with marketing service providers, which is what these people from Dscoop are aiming to become. It sets the tone for the conference.

Next up is a hard-talking American, James Lafferty, CEO of Coca Cola West Africa. He treats us to a potted bio of his start as a gym trainer, before a decade with Proctor and Gamble and then Coke. He is big on the dynamics of FMCP (fast moving consumer products) with a very American presentation about Building Your Business Beyond the Ordinary. It’s good motivational stuff with a notable quote that the customer is the CEO of your company, but I’m not sure how it plays in translation. Halfway through my thoughts drift towards the lunch break.

As the audience streams out to the buffet, I take a burl around the partner stands. Familiar faces are deep in earnest conversation with prospective clients. Roland Schmidt (pIctured)  is extolling the benefits of Direct Smile software to a focused group from Kula Lumpur. Next door, Joe Manos, Mindfire, is well into his pitch. Along the corridor Mondi Paper and Mohawk Papers are doing good business.

There are 39-trade partners here covering everything from finishing with c.p. bourg and Hunkeler to Taopix for photo album portals. I hear from David Hawkinson, executive director Dscoop that in the USA trade shows are unhappy with the number of exhibitors scaling back their involvement because they prefer the more targeted audience at Dscoop. It makes sense.

Dscoop is a strange hybrid, part printing show and part marketing co-op. Buy a HP Indigo and make the transition to the future of printing, seems to be the ground plan. I bump into Richard Bailey, honcho of HP Imaging & Printing in Australia. He tells me there are almost 40 locals here and he seems well pleased with the whole affair.

After lunch it’s time to decide between four streams of presentation. The emphasis is to share experiences. I sit down for Dr Rüdiger Schmidt, owner of family company Bosch-Druck in Germany. Everyone from Germany seems to over qualified and credentialed but Rüdiger is a down to earth fellow, detailing how his company has moved into high-volume web2print digital.

But I’m waiting for the next presenters, rooting for the home team of Andrew Durrans and Sam Carter of GEON. They present together, showing how the largest offset sheetfed company in the region has moved strongly into digital. According to Andrew, GEON now produces 10% of its volumes on a variety of digital engines. He reckons without it the business would have suffered even more during the GFC. Sam Carter talks about how the mix is changing – 20% of the digital print is variable. During their session it strikes me that the local industry is a leader in the use of digital technology. It’s always good to learn, but we also have a lot to teach.

Then the bell goes and we shuffle out and I’m looking around for the next local here, who turns out to be Andrew Smith, Albumprinter from Melbourne (pictured). This is good information for anyone wanting to get into the hyper competitive world of photo books.

He shows how low-cost aggressive commodity producers are attacking the market. His solution is to maintain a brand strategy, provide the peak quality at the best price point. Albumprinter, an affiliate of Bruce Peddelsden’s On Demand, uses HP Indigo, naturally, along with Taopix and runs a constant evolution of its website. It seems to be working. Smith says, “the re-buy rate is wonderful.”

Quickly following on is Joe Manos of MindFire (below). Joe has been doing this for more years than I care to remember. He’s an easy confident performer, full of anecdotes about the benefits of MindFire cross media software. He is the ultimate marketing services guy, a good asset to anyone looking at entering the sector.

I finish off with a session given by Thomas Stevenson, a dry mid-western American who runs his family’s fourth generation printing company. “If you’re not growing you’re dying; there’s no in between,” he says by way of introducing a presentation on transforming a dyed in the wool high-end offset printer into a digital house. He shows a photo of a six-colour offset press on the print floor. “I’ll never buy another one of these,” he says. He used to do art prints, running them through the press six, seven times. No more. Now he is a full-service packaging and retail services provider, a HP Scitex wide-format machine is the moneymaker.

This is the type of information you don’t get at ordinary trade shows. These are people who are presenting to others who might be competitors. But it doesn’t seem to matter, they’re here to share knowledge and experience. It’s what Dscoop is about.

By now jet lag is starting to blur my focus. Singapore is only a couple of hours out of Sydney but it does make an impact. I head back up the escalators and blink in the heat and sunshine. If I’d time I go for a swim in one of the many pools, but there’s only enough for a brief room break. We’re back on in half an hour for a night at the Warner Bros theme park.

You‘ve been there. You know what it’s like. Picture the Gold Coast with tropical heat. Fake Marilyn Monroe mouing with visitors for the camera; people in penguin suits; no, I mean, real Penguin suits. Charlie Chaplin wheels by, sweating. At least there’s plenty of beer.

I hook up with Michael Mogridge who has parted ways with HP after many years. Michael’s always a good guy to hang out with. We both know where the bodies are buried.

Soon we’re in a theatre for the presentation of the 4th Asia-Pacific and Japan HP Digital Print Awards. It’s packed. Awards are not the most exciting spectator sport, but what can you do? I sympathise with the judges. I was one myself a few years back. The HP suits on stage hand out awards over 18 categories and everyone gets a photo opportunity.

Australian companies get a few mentions, including one for David Minett’s Group Momentum but the only winner is Datem from NZ, which picks up the DM category for the second year in a row. They’re not here to receive the trophy. Considering the number of awards it all moves on fairly well and then we’re out for more food and beer along the phoney Hollywood studio streets. I meet up with an old friend, Prof André Economou, who is a solutions architect for HP in Singapore. Nice guy, brain the size of a small planet and a wealth of industry experience. We go back a long way. He lives in Singapore now after many years in Australia.

The night draws late and eventually after lots of food I make my excuses and leave. It’s been a big day.

Press conference in the morning

A good thing about Singaporean timelines is that you wake early, but not too early. Time for a few laps in the pool before it clogs with families. As I said, it’s not a business class hotel.

This morning there’s a press conference with Chris Morgan, (pictured) head of HP’s Graphics Solutions Business. He’s a big fish in this pond. HP is seemingly hell bent on making good its goal of becoming the leading supplier to the printing industry. We laughed back in 2000 when the company first made known its ambitions, but no one is laughing now. Chris Morgan is the guy driving the train.

I get chatty from my front row seat. Gido Van Pragg, HP Asia, (seated on left) sets out the company’s relationship with Dscoop and why it values the user’s group. The indefatigable, David Minnett, joins us after his presentation in the main room.
For me there is only one question. HP‘s CEO has just announced the company is considering getting out of PC manufacturing. This from the largest PC maker in the world! Its share price takes a hammering.
Does this mean HP is going down the IBM route of becoming a software IT company?

In a word, the answer is No! according to Chris Morgan, who gives a spirited explanation as to why printers and especially commercial printing equipment is integral to HP’s market offering. He comes across as a bloke without obvious hype, earnestly seeking the right explanation for the company’s actions and motives.

He acknowledges it’s a fair question, but as far as he is concerned, HP is in the printing equipment business for the long haul.

Then it’s to the grand ballroom once again for the wrap up session and the inimitable Alon Bar-Shany, HP Indigo, who gives a typically entertaining and informative update on the state of the industry. There are winners and losers; offset press manufacturers and film companies are losers; digital transformers such as Google and Apple and of course HP, are winners. In the $600 billion print market only $20 billion is digital but it’s on the rise. There are 3,403 HP Indigo customers in the world in 120 countries, 568 of them in Asia/ Pacific with an average of 1.4 presses each.

He tells the story of the Rabbi and the Goat.

We’re coming close to wrap up time. David Minnett takes to the stage again, this time with David Hawkinson and Yuki Okamato, the conference chairman from Japan.

Valedictory speeches all around; it’s been a great conference and for my money, that’s true. Many people are thanked, including HP for picking up the major cheque. By this time David Minnett is an old hand at this stuff. He’s relaxed and smiling on stage, to the manner born.

Dscoop Europe will be launched at the upcoming Labelexpo in Brussels and next year there will be a major Dscoop, possibly the first worldwide meeting, around drupa. For a user’s group Dscoop has a lot of momentum and energy. I expect the USA, Europe and Aisa forums to become fixtures on the industry calendar.

But for now, I’m out of here. There are a few hours before QF4 takes off to Sydney and I intend to take advantage of them by chilling out in the tropical heat.

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