Let’s get something straight right off the bat: putting on a conference is hard work. Really hard work. We’re talking blood, sweat and tears, and that’s just picking a date. Organizing a venue, putting together a lineup of speakers, ensuring attendance, managing the schedules of the speakers and attendees, coordinating various technical requirements … I could go on and on, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. So when I start this recap off by applauding the MWA team for putting together a fifth successful Executive Connection Summit and say it was, for all intents and purposes, a flawless event that has continued to improve every year, it’s something that deserves saying.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to business. The ECS took place at its now-traditional and beloved locale, the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, May 7-9. Kicking off with a press conference, event sponsors had the opportunity to share news and information on the state of their companies with the press and analysts in attendance. Following that was the kickoff cocktail reception, providing a great introduction to the event and opportunity for networking with attendees.
The full event began bright and early May 8 with one of the few presenters in the world who could get me excited about 8 a.m. on a Monday morning: Joseph Bradley of Cisco. Bradley, who has the enviable title of “Vice President, Internet of Things,” presented at the 2014 event, garnering some of the most universally positive feedback I’ve ever heard regarding a speaker, so kudos to MWA for bringing him back. Bradley spoke about big data, starting with some basic observations on this topic that has become critical across industries and quickly delving into areas critical to the assortment of dealers, manufacturers and distributors in the audience. Seventy-five percent of IT projects fail, Bradley noted — if big data is going to provide you with insight, then why do you have a system that fails 75 percent of the time and lacks accountability? He offered actions that will solve that problem: identify your listening sources; embrace shared risk, innovate outside the four walls of your organization; take action against your blind spots; and identify your dark assets. As an example of the last item, he offered the idea that the MFP is the largest dark asset in any enterprise — an interesting observation in a room heavily invested in changing that concept.
Although not central to the presentation, the MFP-as-an-asset, dark or otherwise, ties nicely into essentially all of the conference’s presentations — connectivity and security being central to the day and a half. Xerox’s Mike Feldman spoke about Xerox’s most recent initiatives, which include its heavy focus on connectivity – read more about that in our coverage of their recent product launch event.
Likewise, HP’s Dave Prezzano addressed much of the big news we’ve heard out of HP lately — its A3 launch, PageWide devices, its Smart Device Services (SDS) program — which Forza now integrates into — and security. The latter kicked off a section of the program that, if we weren’t going to mince words, we’d call the “Let’s Scare the Crap Out of Everyone” segment. Security: it’s big, it’s important, and if that wasn’t enough to convince you, consider the fact that HP enlisted Christian Slater, along with award-winning directors and editors, to produce “The Wolf” web series.
From basic security, which is scary enough, we moved on to the truly disturbing: ransomware. Datto’s Technical Evangelist Henry Washburn is a subject matter expert, and covered statistics such as: In 2016, ransomware resulted in $75 billion worth of downtime for businesses — that number includes not only the loss of sales, but business downtime, and the cost of losing trusted advisor status. Most IT service providers predict ransomware attacks will only increase – halfway through 2017 we’re on par with all of 2016. Washburn says that Datto sees more than 150 restores a day in its direct partners alone. And many ransomware attacks are unreported – fewer than one in four get reported, in fact, so the federal government doesn’t know how prevalent it is. And, like almost everything else that can be purchased as-a-service, so can ransomware. When the audience was asked if anyone had been the victim of such an attack, there were a few brave souls that raised their hands.
Ponder those facts, as we did, while we move into the next panel on “Technologically Secure Armament,” hosted by Bob Goldberg (who is still waiting for the return on his Nigerian investment) and comprised of a panel of those who have a wide range of experience with security issues: Atlantic’s Bill McLaughlin, HP’s Brett Hunt, Datto’s Brooks Borcherding, Perry proTECH’s John Swalwell and DPOE’s Chip Miceli. “There’s not one single item that you can use to define security,” noted Hunt, which summed up the discussion well. On the plus side, the dealers on the panel noted that the security discussion is an opportunity to build relationships and does create new opportunities.
Bob Goldberg as “SAP Man,” saving the channel one dealer at a time.
Once the entire audience was done phoning their IT departments, checking on their data backups and reading the fine print on their cloud services agreements, the talk veered back into slightly less scary territory — at least for a little while. CIG’s Luke Goldberg and Print Audit’s West McDonald revisited their 2016 presentation on seat-based billing, a topic that has exploded over the last year, with several roadshows planned over the next few months and a recent webinar that attracted more than 250 attendees. SBB is another great example of the convergence between print and IT and the importance of the IoT; it requires a depth of understanding that goes beyond basic device metrics in order to achieve the higher margins and access to new revenue streams promised by the SBB model.
Closing out the day was a panel entitled “OEMs Comin’ in Hot” and it certainly brought the heat. Hosted by MWA’s Mike Stramaglio and consisting of HP’s Mimi Evenson, Lexmark’s Phil Boatman, Muratec’s Jim D’Emidio, Sharp’s Doug Albregts and Konica Minolta’s Rick Taylor, the panel was entertaining, informational and at times a bit contentious. Audience questions were entertaining and provoked interesting responses as well, such as one about cloned cartridges. HP’s Evenson summed the market up well, however, saying, “I see acquisitions, integrations with bigger parts of technology expanding into IT infrastructure, seat-based printing … it’s not just a print conversation anymore, it’s a data center conversation. This business is very vibrant and alive.”
On that note, it was time for drinks, and the party adjourned to The House for dinner. But there is no rest for the wicked and we reconvened early the next morning for the next day’s keynote, Konica Minolta’s Rick Taylor — another presenter who made 8 a.m. bearable. Taylor spoke about customers’ changing technology demands, the IT services market in North America and Konica Minolta’s vision for the future — a vision that includes its fascinating Workplace Hub. Patricia Ames took a close look at this new launch recently; get the full scoop on it here.
The final panel of the event was “All About the Benjamins” – a panel on investors including Steve Etter of Greyrock Capital, Patrick Adesso and Johnny Barr of e-merge Print Management, Dan Ruhl of Oval Partners and Rick Taylor of Konica Minolta. Keep an eye out for more coverage on this particular topic, M&A being the extremely hot industry topic that it is.
LMI’s Doug Johnson gave the penultimate presentation of the day with “Your Roadmap for Success — Paper or Google?” Johnson, who is always on the cutting edge, spoke about reevaluating tools, systems, skillsets and partnerships to enable growth. And finally, Matt McGuire and Aaron Dyck of Clover presented “How to Avoid the Digital Danger Zone” — making sense of the latest digital marketing trends.
After the close of presentations, the event moved onto a subject on which I have absolutely no knowledge or expertise — golf — and therefore my ECS wrapup will end here. Having attended every ECS since the inaugural, I think this may have been the best and most interesting; it was well attended, well put together and, as far as I can tell, well received – seats were still full well into the second day. Hats off to all involved on another event well done.
Bob Goldberg knows golf.