Wim Fransen is one of our frequent guests here at INKISH, so of course, we were very curious to hear more about Enfocus these days. That was good. First of all both PitStop and Switch are being updated to 2020 editions – and quite some features are revealed. I.e. PitStop got a new feature that enables it to look into the document processed and compare, i.e. logos, etc. for being the right version. This is of course, truly amazing, but it’s just one of more features. For the API people Switch got a major make-over in their scripting language, that we now know, is a feature that IT people have been wanting for a long time.
AND – One More Thing. Wim Fransen reveals the frame-work of new software that Enfocus is currently developing. Though details are still limited, it’s the first new product from Enfocus in years (besides the many major updates of PitStop and Switch of course.)
As with all our ‘Over the Skype’ interviews, quality is limited to bandwidth, web-cams, and ability to literally LIVE mix the conversations. However, it works, and with Over the Skype, we will bring you more than 20 exciting people, and angles on the industry as it is right now.
This is Morten from INKISH.TV and we are here with our new format over the Skype. And for those who have followed the past couple of weeks, we have been in India and Singapore, in Europe and Iceland and the US and today we are ending our today’s filming with going to Belgium where we’re going to meet my good friend Wim Fransen and who is a managing director of Enfocus. So Wim, a welcome to the Skype. So how are you?
Hey. Hello. Good afternoon, Morton. I’m very well thank you. And thanks for having me on this, on your tour around the virtual world in 80 days or less maybe.
Yeah, I hope it’s less, but you’ll never know. Last week we did 18 interviews and then this week we have 15 and it’s a high to low in the industry. So it’s quite interesting.
So you are, as most people know, Enfocus is a software company. Are you as influenced as anybody else or can you still serve your customers and do business while being in the Corona lockdown?
Yeah, that’s a good question. Yeah, we are a luxury situation in the sense that we have this privilege to be a software development company and writing software requires a brain and a computer and then many of our R&D staff was already working at home.
Of course we do feel that our customers are heavily impacted by us. We see that in part of our company like customer support. They are seeing up to a 50% reduction-
…in customer calls. So we do see this, yes.
Yeah. And customer support that is of course primarily existing customers. How about sales? Can you maintain some level of budgets here or how’s that?
Yeah, good question. So we do see also an impact since the last three weeks of March or so we started seeing an impact and that is mainly on what we call new license sales. So new installations, new software, that is heavily impacted. I would say also by 50% or even bit more now in April.
This also has to do that not all customers are able to see our integration partners and receive them at the site, that has to do with it. The good thing however is that we also have quite a large recurring business from our PitStop subscriptions and maintenance contracts and so forth, so that is still quite strong also. That is a little bit affected but much less than the new license sales. So we are still doing reasonable I would say.
And that is maybe an effect of subscription that nobody could foresee in that when you have global pandemics, like the Corona thing, of course recurring revenues are extremely less impacted compared to if you’re doing licensing sales. So another good reason for having a recurring business like the subscriptions, right?
Yeah. That is what we are now experiencing that that is a good buffer to have.
Yeah. Is it a secret how big percentage of the businesses is subscription now or is that something that you talk about?
Yeah, I can talk about it in broad terms. I can say it’s now, it’s growing and it’s more than 50% of our business is on the recurring side. SAS and subscriptions.
Yeah. So that sounds great. Again, from the perspective that we just spoke about, but I think that in general, I think as a software company, it must be great to have this recurring revenue because instead of developing on your own cost and then releasing something and get revenue on that one, now you have recurring revenues. I think it makes it much more fun to keep developing new features and new versions of software, right?
Yeah, very true. It helps to fund our development in a more reliable way than in the past.
So it’s been a while since I’ve talked to you last time. I think the last time I met you was in the at Labelexpo in Brussels. What have you been up to? Did you bring out some new products, new releases or you just do that all the time? Or what have you been up to, Wim? I know you’re not lazy, so I know that you’ve been working, right?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I do a little bit of, as a general manager, I do a little bit of everything. I mean both in the product strategy but also in the sales and the marketing side. But our R&D teams have been working on new major versions of flagship products. They are PitStop, which is the PDF validation and editing tool and Switch, which is our automation platform.
And we are about to release the 2020 versions of that with a host of new features. And we’re also working on new products that I can’t talk too much yet about. We were supposed to launch that at drupa, that new product and we’ll now have to do that in a virtual way.
Yeah. See, that is what I feel is so unfair because when I talk to people like yourself and you say that, “Yes, we are bringing this fantastic new product to the market, but I can’t tell you.” Just imagine that if we’re the media say that, “Yeah, we can do nice recordings of you and then we put [inaudible 00:05:50] next year.”
Yeah, but I want to talk to you again, Morten. Next time I can share some more information about that.
That is fair. But I guess that you can talk a little bit about the 2020 editions of the two nice pieces of software that we already know, right?
Yeah, absolutely. So let’s maybe start with PitStop. So most of the audience will know that this is a plugin for Acrobat that allows you to check files against certain profiles but also allows editing. The checking used to be focused very much on print technical aspects or, “Will the file that I get from my clients, will it print correctly? Does it have the right resolution? Does it have the right fonts?”
But in this release we are going beyond that and we’re also going to look at, I would say the semantics of what is in the file. Is what is in the file correct?
One of the features as an example we have is using machine vision we will be able to detect whether a logo or an image in the file is the correct version. You give a [inaudible 00:07:06] file and the latest logo, it checks, is the latest logo found in the file or not.
So does that mean, just for me to understand, does it mean that, for example, let’s say that I’m doing catalogs from my company and we have recently updated the logo to a new version with new dimensions, new colors, whatever, and then when I want to reprint, let’s say some of my existing catalogs and brochures, then PitStop is now able to, with the semantics that you spoke about able to check up again, so it will like stop or replace the logos before it gets get to production?
Yeah. That is the idea that it will be able to find logos that are very similar or an exact match with your reference logo. And we will be able to spot those kinds of content mistakes. So that is a brand new, let’s say technology that we have also patented that we are starting to introduce in this release.
And then the other thing we do is we always… PitStop is a very general product in the sense that we have to cater for many types of print applications and-
Output devices as well? I mean there’s a lot of things.
Exactly. so one of the things what we did in this release, which is very helpful for sign makers, is to add powerful tracing algorithms. What this is is like a lot of times-
Is it like changing the bitmaps to vectorize the-
Exactly. And that has applications in creating cut parts for signage, which often has to be based on an image which is in the file. And the customer said, “Yeah, that is my background. But then how do you get that vectorized part out of that?” And now that is… You have other applications for that but now that is built also right into PitStop. And then thirdly, this is more a common theme.
Before you go to the third thing, I’ll ask you something because both the semantic version that you just said with the logo thing we just spoke about and also with the the tracing part of it, seems that if I, maybe I’m not right, but my assumption is that sometimes PitStop is something you have put in the trunk of your car and if it works then you have zero errors and then you just produce, right?
It seems that you are moving to the front seat of the car because now it seems that it’s building more to be also an application that you use actively to improve not just the output but also the actual work of what your customers are doing. Is that a correct assumption?
Yeah, that is a good insight. That is true. What we are seeing is a lot of the tasks that could be automated are already to a certain extent automated and we see… We are trying to find what are the things that are still completely manual or where the printer is forced to go back to the original application or back to basically his clients to say, “Now you have in InDesign, provide the parts…” And now we are in enabling them to offer those kinds of services on behalf of their customers at the print shop rather than having them do the work.
But that is awesome but that also makes PitStop and even more valuable thing. Of course, I know that software companies always try to make their software more competitive and more valuable in every aspect, but I think this sounds like a major step for PitStop to move into that direction, doesn’t it?
Yeah. Yeah, I think it is and we have to, we have to do that. We mentioned, the subscription economy and this business model, this requires us to constantly offer new value that is expected by the subscribers also.
Before talking about the third thing you’re about to talk about, would you say that with a license model you are chasing every new sales with a subscription model? You chase the loyalty for the customers? So the approach on how you do things is from that perspective a bit different in more general terms?
Yeah, that is true.
Yeah. It was positive meant, it was not trying to be negative. I was just thinking that if you have a sales organization that always tried to get new sales, which sales organizations is about, but with a recurring business model, like the subscription, it’s more also like finding something can keep people on subscription and make sure that the product is more and more valuable in the daily life, right?
Exactly. You have to be more customer centric in the sense that you really have to create longer term value for them than just hunting short term sales. That is true. There is a difference there.
Yeah. Okay, great. And the third thing you said that was something that was cross products.
Yeah, it’s cross products. It’s more of a concept is that we are realizing that it’s no longer enough to just perform the task. The software also has to be easy to use and both for PitStop and Switch, we are working on that so making some functions which we maybe already had in the software but maybe we were a little bit hidden or where you had to study hard to know, to understand how to use them.
We are making them more user friendly and this is something that is will be… We started with that, we have a dedicated user experience focus person in house to do refocus on that and help the R&D teams to not to make the feature they designed easier to use.
So both in PitStop we are doing things with a color palette, which is very easy to use. And also in Switch the workflows, being able to, for instance, document them in a very easy way visually is something that we are working on. And this is more a journey. Just wanted to-
Yeah. But that sounds awesome. I mean I’ve been talking to a lot of people in the past weeks and I think that what always strikes me when I talk to a lot of people from the printings I’m constantly amazed whether it’s hardware, software, constantly amazed about how much you actually get for the money you pay for both software and hardware today.
And if you compared just 10, 15 years ago, it’s just mind blowing. The question I think I have asked you every time I meet you is with more and more complex software, doesn’t the storytelling and the marketing and all that, all those kinds of things, doesn’t that become more complex? And I think that what you have answered some of the times is that you have very good features, of course. You have also very good implementators but I think that having UX to me sounds like that is the way of making sure that also some of it comes out of the box by itself because it’s more intuitive and more fun to use. Is that some of the motivations?
Exactly. Exactly. We want to do less explanation and things like user manuals and so forth and more exploration by the customers. Again, it’s a journey. We will have to work several years on that but it’s something that we are putting energy in.
Maybe for one thing is also interesting to mention is what we are doing for Switch because this is a special release of Switch, the 2020 release. And so for those that don’t know what it is, Switch is a workflow automation platform. It’s quite general. It’s not your traditional fixed workflow set up let’s say, but it’s a very general tool.
There’s also our philosophy. We want to make a workflow solution which our customers can combine with all the technologies and the hardware and software they already have. This is really our philosophy with Switch is that it should follow the process of the end users instead of the end users having to add their technology.
I love that approach. Yeah.
That is deep inside our philosophy and we are doing that through a variety of things that we have a very modular approach. We have things like an app store where people can install certain integrations with all kinds of systems through the app store. Some free, some of these app creators charge money for it, but in the area of… We found that a very powerful area of Switch is the scripting. And what this is is, it allows you to… If applications have a certain API, let’s say an imposition program has a certain API, you can write a script to talk from Switch to that API of let’s say a certain imposition as an example.
So just to understand that, let’s say that you have a, as you mentioned, an imposition software. That imposition software might have a very comprehensive set of APIs. So for some printers they might integrate that directly into whatever workflow they have. But with the new version of Switch, they can actually have a UI of actually making the API more accessible for even non-programmers?
No, no, not yet. We’re also working that direction, but what I wanted to say is-
That it was a freebie. You don’t have to charge… I won’t charge you. Sorry.
What I wanted to say is that while very powerful, the scripting engine and capabilities of Switch are getting a little bit outdated. There are of course there’s a lot of evolution in web-based scripting languages, et cetera. And so what we are doing is really bring the Switch scripting language development tools to a totally different level.
So we call this version of Switch really this is for the creators, the people that… We have two types of customers basically with Switch. We have all the end users who use workflows, who launch, who submit jobs. But then also we have a whole growing ecosystem of developers that use the platform and develop these integrations with their products or just between different products. And so we are really bringing this on a completely different level.
That sounds great. And that reminds me because I interviewed our common friend a Diego Diaz last week. We call him the king of workflow because he’s writing articles on INKISH.NEWS about this. And he was actually saying that if you look on a broad perspective of workload systems that all of them had their goods and bads and he also said that all of them have, or most of them had propriety languages in scripting and when talking to them. Is it because you are updating that particular language so you can make it more let’s say generic or instead of, because-
And that is the step we are taking. So moving this from not a completely proprietary system, we are already open-
I know that you were open, but it was like an older standard, right?
Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
But that in my opinion sounds like something that is great for the people like Diego of course. It sounds also to me like something that will open up for new opportunities in the market.
Because now if you can combine a more comprehensive, more open-minded API within Switch and you can combine it into… And you can have resources from not just from the Switch world but from the entire IT world, I think that it opens up a lot of opportunities for printing companies who want to develop things around Switch to something that is more specific to what they need, right?
Yeah, exactly. And we believe that is a unique value of our platform and we just want to enrich that.
That sounds awesome.
And again, the second team is making building workflows and documenting workflows easier. That is that UI expert that is more a UI, let’s say aspect which is more for the end user of Switch who a daily basis has to interact with them.
But both perspectives for me sounds like that you are reaching a broader base, which is I think every company’s interest because you want it to be accessible with the power of Switch, accessible to a lot of people, right?
So with different needs and different sizes of companies. So I congratulate you on that one. Any other exciting news in Switch for the 2020 edition or is that the main feature?
That is the main thing that, it took actually… It was quite a, even though it’s a lot of under the hood work, it was quite a big challenge to do. Yeah.
And now we move from-
Five year old [inaudible 00:21:12].
And now we go to talk about the thing that you can’t talk about. No, just kidding.
I can talk about it in general terms.
Oh, let me hear then, okay?
Let me do that. So if you look at the whole process of taking a job from a client and producing that and delivering that. If we start analyzing where in this whole chain of processes, if you will, is the waste. Where is there still a critical time to be one, if you will.
We see that this is less and less on the production side. Printers have become faster as a lot of technological revolutions really on the hardware side and the finishing side, not to forget, that’s one thing.
Then the pre-press part has been largely automated. We did a [inaudible 00:22:12] job-
You take your fair part of the responsibility for that, right?
Also many others like the best in class imposition software and all these things start talking together. So I wouldn’t say pre-press is a solved case. Many people still have to do a lot of automation there, but for the ones that have automated that, it is no longer the bottleneck. So where is the bottleneck? The bottleneck in many companies, not all, tends to be on the receiving side.
We call in generic terms, we call this job onboarding. Job onboarding means how can I quickly get everything I need from my client in a correct format in so that I can start the production?
So we don’t have to wait. A lot of waiting time is currently at that side. And customers tried to solve that by introducing e-commerce. They do that for other reasons as well because they want to compete on a global level, which is a smart thing to do, I think.
But then often what we see is that on the other side of that, e-commerce is still a human having to pick the files from a folder, having to check them and bring them into the pre-press part basically or back to the end customer.
Some have built automated PreFlight in that stage. But we believe that we have the technology and skills to build products to help also the sales team.
So try to put my words on it, just for me if I understood it, so that means that if I am, let’s say I’m a sales person in a printing company and I have 10 clients, it’s very likely that these 10 clients, they deliver their job description differently and they deliver their files differently. And this is a solution that tries to streamline all the different inputs so you get it into that unified format that we need in a workflow.
That one the one side, but also just enabling the sales people with some type of tool that for starters that they can see the file. Because when I’m talking to a printing company, ordering marketing materials for a trade show, so then it’s often, let me ask, “Will that print correctly? Or do you see what my intent is?”
And they have to go to the pre-press department and bother them to get advice and use maybe our tools like PitStop to get some information about that. We want to make something simple enough where the sales people can use that as a first quick filter to enable them to give an instant or quicker reply to their clients. Can we use your file or not?
I could tell you that it’s funny that you mentioned this because, because of you and the extreme Switch the were part of last year, I don’t know if you recalled, but that was actually one of the demand from the sign company in Tampa that they had to go to the, the pre-press department to see what kind of Illustrator files they received and things like that.
So I think that you were spot on in that it’s a customer need that sales people and project managers who don’t necessarily have Illustrator installed or Photoshop for that matter. But especially when it comes to vectorized graphics that they don’t have the tools to show it, right?
So without saying too much I just think that it sounds like a very good perspective. Also, if you look at, when you look at it focus, you have been focusing very much on the pre-press side and the workflow automation side, which is of course great.
But I think it’s great that a company with the skills and market you have and that you also develop something that can bring it in before. I was just thinking that maybe you should do something that can make more… Bring more customers into the shops as well. But that is maybe the next version, right?
So just here as a final note, first of all, I thank you very much for joining me. That has been really interesting news that I got at least. And just before we end, what kind of consequences does the… When drupa is postponed and everything seems to be in standstill period when it comes to marketing?
I think that every time you present new products and releases, you also have a lot of user events and you have your dealers coming in and learning around the world. How does that influence your operation more from a practical perspective I’m thinking?
Yeah. Yeah, I can tell you it hasn’t been easy. We had to really quickly transform our way of working with partners, with customers. The first thing we did was actually, well how can we help our customers? So what we did is make things like all our e-learnings available for free. We also have to enable our customers to work from home. We have these free licenses of PitStop that they can request for home work and many did that so that they can bring part of pre-press ETP.
So those things, but then in working with our… How do we replace these physical events? First of all, they can’t be replaced. And I really miss myself in the coffee corner talking with my colleagues in the-
You mean the Belgian beers you have in the secret closet?
Also cannot be replaced, cannot be virtualized. But what we are trying to do is, and not on our own, we actually asked around and we did a call for speakers to do virtual events where we showcase not only our own solutions and our own new product releases, but also what others are doing and how this all connects together. We call this a virtual safari.
Yep, I’ve seen that.
It’s not a new concept. We had it before, but now we really saw a need to do that again and we spread it out over quite a long period. So in order for everybody to join in, in topics they are interested, every Thursday we do about three sessions.
And when I say we, I mean we and our solution parts, integrators, we host the thing and it’s a good way to show our new… The latest and greatest. But it’s also a way to just keep our connection with customers and the whole print industry during this period where we are all locked down and can’t go to a show like drupa to meet each other in person.
And how has these virtual safaris been? Do you get a lot of people attending them or is it difficult to get people on these?
No, it’s reasonable. We have about for every session that we did so far, we have 200 plus registrations. About more than a hundred people show up per session on average.
That’s not too bad.
Which is not too bad. People seem to value that and have some time on their hands. At least some of them. And so it’s working. It’s appreciated.
Well that was your final words for today, almost at least because I just wanted to say thank you one more time and wish you all the best. I hope to see you soon. It’s always a pleasure to meet both you and your extremely nice people working for Enfocus.
So Wim Fransen, thank you very much for taking time to talk to INKISH over the Skype.
Morten, thanks a lot for having me. I hope we can have a real physical beer somewhere more second half of the year, I would say. But thanks really for having me and stay safe and take care.
And you too. Thank you. Bye.
Fri December 8th
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What started as an article on tonernews.com strongly urging their readers to raise their voices against lifting the ban on Ninestar - ended up with a long yet lovely conversation between Herve Milner from tonernews and Editor Morten B. Reitoft about global politics, free trade, democracy, and well - interesting we think. If you have time, listen to the conversation, and feel free to comment :-)