Link architect Bob Taylor envisions Drupa for developers

Drupa is the world’s largest printing trade show, but it isn’t a good show for developers – at least not this year.

Drupa 2016 is a “big iron” sales show, with HP filling Hall 17 (all 67,000 square feet of it) with Indigo digital printing presses and enormous high-speed page-wide presses that are longer than most houses.

My assignment at Drupa was to show HP press customers from around the world how HP’s Link Technology can be integrated into their products and workflows. With Link installed, QR codes and digital watermarks that are invisible to the human eye can be embedded into images. When a watermarked image is scanned with a smart phone (or mobile device), the image on the page triggers a mobile experience on the smart phone, and we can capture valuable information for brand owners about their customers and how their products are moving through the supply chain.

With Link Technology, each printed page has a unique ID that makes it a part of the Internet of Things – without the cost and complexity of embedded electronics. This is a new kind of variable data printing that makes every single publication coming off the press unique.

Dawn for developers

There were lots of software vendors at the show, but it was primarily finished software being marketed to print service providers and brands. There weren’t many developers, and there was very little talk about APIs, SDKs, or open development.  Software is critical for the Drupa crowd – but for the most part, it is a means toward enabling production printing, not the “product” itself. In HP’s case, software and services is becoming more prominent:  PrintOS had a large presence, the SmartStream suite of workflow products was all over the floor, as well as HP Link, and numerous solution partners. Today, though, most of these are standalone.

After walking the miles of aisles and talking to a lot of people (both HP and partners), I realized that the next Drupa will be different. While these standalone SW solutions are the norm today, the new classes of systems we’re building are being built to be integrated – with APIs & SDKs that allow them to be used and extended by both HP and our partners. I had some great discussions with a few partners. It was great to see their excitement about what they could do on top of what we are building in HP. 

We at HP can certainly create our own closed software systems – we’ve certainly done this in the past!  However, the openness we are now embracing is much more valuable, both for HP and our partners. The new systems we are developing are built to be open from Day One, with APIs and SDKs that our partners can use to integrate and extend, making products and solutions that are better for HP, our partners, and our common customers. 

Here are a few examples:

  • Smartstream Composer/Designer, which has been around for a few years, has a plugin model that allows partners to insert variable data print technologies into the Designer/Composer ecosystem.
  • PrintOS allows third parties to create application connections to our digital presses and workflows.
  • Link, which allows third parties to embed serialized digital watermarks and barcodes into their content at scale, and dynamically manage these marks and their analytics.

Dscoop prediction

At a recent Dscoop show where the Link team was presenting, one partner who was pondering what this all means told me, “In five years, half of the show floor at Dscoop will be Link and its partners.”

I think his vision is right. It won’t be just Link, but I can definitely see that in the future, when we’re talking to customers, we’ll be doing it with partners (and often through partners) who have integrated into our open platforms. There could be a lot of different manifestations of this, but this ecosystem of partners could well have its own “show inside a show” at these conferences. The show-in-a-show will serve two purposes. It will showcase to customers what they can do when we’re all working together. It will also provide a “tech conference” flavor. (Imagine an impromptu hackathon with partners cranking out creative variable data solutions that are then printed live on the presses right on the show floor. That’d be too much fun not to do!)

We’re just starting out, but the path is starting to emerge, and I like where it’s taking us.

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Author : TheSkipper