Julie Watson, CEO of Ultimate TechnoGraphics, discussed 2021 printing industry and plans for Ultimate with Morten Reitoft at INKISH.TV:
This pandemic has caused a lot of changes to everybody in the world. How has it influenced your company and the work that you did during the last 10-11 months?
All our team, from one day to the next here, we had the indication to work from home. We got organized. Everybody set themselves up at home and we’ve been working from home every since. Actually, we’ve never really been back to the office. And we changed a little bit certain things, the way we worked, but generally speaking, it’s been going pretty well, all things considered.
And talking about things going well. Not so long ago, you were able to release a new version during the pandemic, right?
Yes exactly. Actually, our company, and thank you for bringing this up, started a project several years back. First we wanted to redo the user interface and user experience. And this turned into a little bit of a technology revamp at the same time. This project ended up being a little bit more work than we had originally anticipated, like most projects do. But thankfully we released it. I think it was at the beginning of last year or the end of the year before that. And we’ve been working really hard at migrating customers. We are in the middle of this migration. We are still going to continue in 2021. We have a nice migration program for all our customers as well where we assist them. We give them a grace period, a transition period so they can try out the new software, import their settings, etc. It’s been going pretty well but it’s a lot of work, I have to say.
To be honest, I have been completely unfair to you because we didn’t start with introducing you properly. Maybe we should talk a little bit to the audience about who you are and what you do. Now we have digged directly into the new things, but tell us a little bit who you are Julie.
Thanks. I’m a second generation CEO. This company started in 1989. We’ve been doing imposition software for over 32 years now. Can you imagine that? Originally, light tables were being used to do imposition and then, thanks to our solution, we were able to do it using a computer. And through the years, we have also developed a lot of ways to automate this even further. This is what we’ve been doing.
You have become, I (Morten) mean with Impostrip, quite bit in literally all segments of the industry. Haven’t you?
Well, we definitely have a strong presence. We definitely have a lot of Impostrip customers. And we’re very thankful for this. They all want to produce certain products, certain ways. So we’ve worked through the years to enhance the solution to meet their needs. And we’ve very happy to have a good customer base today.
And talking about customers. Because I think I also spoke to your colleague Raymond two months ago, and we spoke a little bit about that: When you all these new requirements from customers, basically faster turnaround times and smaller print runs, strange sizes and all these kind of things, the demand from customers to create really efficient usage of also using imposition is a very important part of it. How is it to be in that competitive space? Is it like you’re getting to where it’s getting really heavy now to produce?
Well, in fact, this is what is great about our industry. It does evolve a lot. There’s a lot of new needs. New equipment, for example, that may have new needs. But at the end of the day, we’re all about staying at the edge of it, and being able to adapt and bring more automation, more intelligence for our customers to be able to enhance their productivity. Let the software do the imposition and focus on more value added tasks. For example, we also tie in to finishing automation, which also helps bring that automation to another level as well.
But one thing is, of course, the imposition itself. But also when you talk about the automation as more like a generic term. It’s because with digital equipment, you have an opportunity to dig deeper into the workflow. I mean so imposition, and what you do as a company, can basically be extended and then become more valuable to even more customers, right?
Yes of course. Definitely, digital printing has been a driving force of automation because it’s a different way of working. You can no longer touch every file. You can no longer do these things manually. Although we still see it, because we serve large customers as well as small customers. We interact with a variety of print service providers. And I have to say that there are still people imposing manually. So I really think there’s still a lot of opportunity, especially for some smaller companies. There is the opportunity to benefit from this kind of automation an putting workflows in place as you mentioned. Now, imposition is such a small piece of the workflow. You want to tie this in with some preflighting, file management and automating it down to the press, and maybe furthermore with some of the finishing. So it can become a good project, but also a benefit or a future opportunity for some of these customers who are investing in workflow.
When you mention smaller print companies and smaller customers. The entrance point, moneywise, from getting involved with software like yours. Does it require huge companies? Or do you have packages that fit everybody?
Exactly. We have a wide range of packages. So you can actually start off probably a couple hundreds dollars with our very entry level Must solution, which already helps customers no longer manually do some imposition tasks. Then, we obviously move towards the product line, into more automation, more connectivity and more scalability. This is where the price will increase. So a customer can start with our solution and eventually build their business and can continue with the solution into higher productivity. I think there’s a lot of benefit for customers to start, even if it’s starting small but building on this afterwards.
What about the ones that require AI and APIs, and all that kind of thing? Is that also something that you can serve?
Of course. One of the key features, when we survey our customers that they like the most, is the ability to connect or integrate Impostrip into their workflow easily. So they don’t need necessarily to have very extensive programing skills, and they can get this connectivity going either to a workflow, MIS solution or web-to-print solution. In just a matter of days, they can have their workflow completely automated. Even sometimes in a couple of hours. It depends to what extent they want the automation of course.
Is that something that you find unique with Impostrip or is that just like how software are these days?
Well software in general offers connectivity. Some software requires maybe a little bit more work to automate or to connect. That was maybe not the primary purpose or design of the solution. For us, focusing on automation has been a mission for our company and our products for over a decade. Basically, every time we develop something or bring something forward, we think about: This customer is going to want to automate this or do this in a smart, automated way. So built on this, it makes automating and position much more easier, much more seamless with the solution. This is definitely a benefit of choosing Impostrip as well.
Let’s say that people are interested in getting to know your more. How is your solution sold? Is it subscription-based? Do you have dealers? I take that if you have a complex workflow, you might even need some implementators to help you actually create the workflow. How does it work with Impostrip?
So the first question is about our licensing model. We do have perpetual or subscription. We offer both currently. The subscription is a little bit more recent. Customers can get our solutions in different ways. We encourage customers to work with solution-subject-matter experts, expert integrators or consultants that are helping them improve their workflow, and can provide and integrate our solutions to their workflow. That is definitely a great way, as well as going on our website and contacting us. We have a team of very helpful and friendly that you can speak to about your projects. We are happy to help!
Stepping a little back from the technology and the solutions and you as a company. How is it to run a company in Canada? Sometimes you must be in the shadow of the US, or how do you see that?
I mean, I’m not an economist. But definitely there’s an expression: When the US sneezes, we get a cold, right? There’s interdependence in these economies. However, I think Canada is very well represented in the world. I see we have a lot of opportunities as a Canadian company. Also, we’re known to be friendly people, which is also a good benefit.
I agree with you. The people I know from Canada are very friendly. I was asking because I know that Canada is not a small country, but it’s a small America kind of thing. I was thinking of it because, in Europe, we have a lot of smaller countries. We also have the bigger ones, but there’s a lot of small companies. It seems Belgium is a place where a lot of things are going on when it comes to workflow and automation. So I was thinking maybe Canada is an island in the world, where you have to get your way into the market, but that is maybe not so difficult.
I know here in Montreal there’s a lot of emphasis on technology. Also, Element AI is a well-known company here. I am sure you’ve heard of them. It is a pioneer in this area. So I think that Montreal is definitely a good hotspot for technology and innovations, not just in the printing industry, but many countries are coming out of Montreal as well. It’s a nice place to be.
What I hear you say is that basically Canada is an advantage because of the people and the open space. And you have the interrelationship with the US. And you don’t have any limitations when it comes to going out in the world. Right?
Sure there’s many benefits to being in Canada. I guess to anybody who wants to established themselves in Montreal and are in the printing industry, give us a call. We never know, maybe we can work together.
I now get back to the product. You have been in this imposition business for a long time and you have a lot of expertise in this area. Have you ever considered expanding your product offering into segments of the industry? Or you just stay focused on what you do?
We definitely stay focused on what we do. This is what our customers expect from us. They expect us to deliver a solution that is flexible and capable. This is something that is very important to us, to be able to deliver this to them, as well as adapting to the market needs. We talk a lot about centralizing imposition. We do have customers with a wide range of products that they want to produce. Enhancing our capability to accompany them in this production is definitely something that we’ve been doing, as well as tying that to the finishing automation. Taking it one step further towards the end of the workflow. Finishing is often becoming a bottleneck now. For customers, it’s no longer just about costs. It’s no longer just about printing at an inexpensive price for customers. It’s also: When are you going to be able to deliver? Especially with the pandemic, we got used to getting our packages from Amazon pretty much the next day. So now when print buyer is going to contact their print service provider, either online or any other way, one of the first question they have is: When am I going to get it? Workflow automation becomes even more important to be able to obviously have a cost effective production, but also be able deliver these products rapidly. I think that the time to deliver is also a very important factor here.
Does that mean that you’re also more and more tie into the actual planning of production as well? If you have gang printing, you need to make sure that everything is organized, according to call of space, the best uses of sheets and all these kind of things. But when you have the timing as a part of it, you need to be at least communicating with some kind of systems that can prioritize that print as well.
Exactly. We do have that communication. A capability going in and going out. Tying into a customer planning management system is definitely something that we offer, and that many customers are using today. That’s very important, but it’s also about productivity and setting things up quickly. Getting jobs out the door, really. I mean, this is becoming more and more important for our customers to do.
And just a few months ago, we had a an event both in Europe and the US. That we called “Smart Factory”. Because there’s a tremendous interest from printing companies also during the pandemic to automate as much as possible. And as you said, it’s not just about the prepress. It’s also on-press and post-press right now. I was just thinking that with IoT and the “Smart Factory” – I think that it also influences how you have to develop software in order to communicate on the machine level with the different machines in the workplace. Is that a correct assumption or how do you see that?
Yes, well, it’s actually a benefit to automation. Right? You can already only automate the communication to a device if it’s A. On a network and B. Have some kind of communication to it. Which is not the case for all finishing equipment today. But there’s definitely a lot of companies that are providing today some very smart finishing equipment that can communicate. And this is definitely a starting point. And you have to. Yes, we we work at developing software. That integrates with these devices and I can automatically set them up. So this is very exciting.
The reason I was asking is just because I was thinking, based on what you said that the delivery time is becoming more and more important. I was thinking that sometimes you may need to compromise on your imposition because speed is more important than effectiveness of sheet, for example. So I was just thinking that maybe there is some kind of interaction between what is the equipment capable of doing, in relation to what is most feasible for whatever priority that is the highest.
That’s an excellent question. So it depends on customer. And their are objectives. Some customers and it is especially true in a more of a traditional way of printing offset. I think there was a lot of time spent on how the sheet was used. Because you would, you know, build a printing plate and then reproduce this printing plate many times. Whereas you go in a digital world and every job is different. So there are some customers that rather have a quick throughput, a faster turnaround time, because that’s their business model. And others maybe are producing differently and want something more exact. The value of Impostrip is that the way it is, it is really a tool box. So whatever business model or objective you have as a print service provider, you can use this tool box and tailor it to the type of workflow for your type of needs that you have. So this is a big added value. And one of the main reasons also our customers choose to work with Impostrip.
And the future Julie. We have to talk about that, too. I mean, you said it took some time to create the iteration that we are talking about right now. So have you already started on the next iteration?
Actually, yes. Once we finalize our migrations, this is when I say to the team, then the fun begins. Right? Because we have a lot of ideas, a lot of things that we want to bring and some projects that we already started. And, you know, some things that, you know, we are maybe not going to announce today. But if you stay tuned in the coming months, then, you know, maybe there’s going to be more capability that I will be announcing. But definitely it’s an exciting time, I’d have to say we’ve we’ve worked hard. You know, we’re a great team and a lot of good ideas. So I really look forward to what we can bring for our customers.
I can’t help think about that when I spoke to Raymond months ago, I asked him what drives all this innovation in your company, for example? And I was thinking sometimes it can be because of the technology, like the computers and the power of a CPU. And you know memory gets cheaper and stuff like that. And another is the demand in the market. But what comes first kind of thing. Right? So it sounds that ideas is not the limitation. Is it more like how to get things to market in a pace where the customers can actually absorb that kind of technology that you’re delivering? Or what are the obstacles in your opinion?
Obstacles. I see, the question has to two facets. What drives innovation? I’d have to say customers. Customers, but as well as printing technology. So looking at, where the industry is going, where the needs are going. Sometimes, the innovation comes from customer requirement and sometimes it comes from ideas that we bring also to the table. So it’s a combination of everything. And I think that’s probably true for most companies. What are the obstacles? For example, you can bring technology a little bit too early right in the game. And sometimes you’re rushed to bring something out as well. So timing is also as something of essence. I think, in a lot of projects and a lot of that go to market strategies. But at the end of the day, when we look at something that we want to do as a project, especially as a whole, then we’re generally persistent and we see it through. This is when we can really see the benefits of this innovation.
Julie, I want to thank you very much for your time here. Once again, I apologize that I was a little bit late on this. But I think I had a wonderful conversation with you. And please say hi to your team. I know Eve. I know Ray. I know a little bit about you now. And you probably have more people. So please send all the best regards and stay healthy. And I hope to see you at some tradeshow or somewhere else in the near future.
Thank you. Thank you very much for the opportunity. And happy to talk with you today.
Watch the full interview on INKISH.TV by clicking here.