Keen Systems Honored with 2012 InterTech Technology Award for Innovative Excellence

We are pleased to announce that Printing Industries of America has awarded Keen a 2012 InterTech Award for its breakthrough cloud-based combination web-to-print and MIS technology and pioneering business model.

This prestigious award has been one of the top annual print industry honors since 1978. It is given to truly innovative companies that are expected to advance the performance of the graphic communications industry. We are one of the youngest companies to receive the award in its 34 year history.

The independent panel of judges deliberated over many technology nominations ranging from digital presses and related enhancements to a variety of mobile and Web-based software. The InterTech stars will be presented before an audience of industry leaders during the 2012 Premier Print Awards Gala on October 7th, in Chicago.

Keen honored with 2012 InterTech Technology Award“The judges were impressed with Keen’s implementation of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and the utilization of cloud-based software which broadened the marketplace for users,” said Dr. Mark Bohan, Vice President, Technology and Research at Printing Industries of America. “They get the benefit of sophisticated underlying architecture, the ability to easily open web storefronts, it’s extensibility with usage and the flexibility to choose a pricing plan that fits their needs.”

We are honored to receive such an important recognition. Keen was designed to bring the latest Internet technologies and practices to the print industry, which we cherish and support. Although our product is relatively young, the response from the market and industry experts has exceeded our expectations. Our mission is to provide a solution that printers and their customers find efficient and delightful to use every day. We have a lot of exciting features in the pipeline this year. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Come see a live demo and sign up for a free trial account at:

Et tu, Brute? Our thoughts on the Toshiba “No Print Day”

Last week, in an self-serving cry for attention, third-tier copier manufacturer Toshiba launched a National “No Print Day” campaign. You see, on October 23rd this maker of office print equipment wants you to give your copier a day off.

It is arguable that this publicity stunt has made the world (much) more aware that Toshiba actually makes office printing equipment. However, they’ve also instantly made enemies of anyone that matters in the print industry.

This is an ill-fated, misinformed, and self-serving campaign that attempts to perpetuate common myths about the print and paper industries effect on the environment. In reality, it is nothing more than greenwashing and a wholesale betrayal of the industry’s hard work at dispelling these myths.

The print industry took massive steps years ago to take advantage of resource conservation and recycling well before it was cool. It is a FACT, that the paper industry (and related forestry) is a leader in sustainability and eco-friendliness. This is a very common misconception but unfortunately the industry was never good at coming off as anything but defensive on the subject. This is why a few months ago we put all the facts together and launched

If you are a part of the print industry, we highly suggest you boycott Toshiba (#boycottToshiba) until they not only retract this campaign, but take serious steps to make amends. If you are a consumer of print (basically anyone and everyone else), here is a question you should ask yourself: do I trust a vendor who is willing to throw their entire industry under the bus just to make a name for themselves?

Tweet about this: #boycottToshiba cc/ @ToshibaMPS @Toshiba

Want to Win? Get Back to Basics.

We talk to a lot of print company owners and managers in charge of sales to production and everything in between.  These are the people that are in charge of picking the strategic direction for their respective print companies and making sure they have the technology and systems to support those efforts.  Over the course of the last decade a lot of them have been sold the concept of “web-to-print” as something that will solve all of their problems.  In reality, it has only provided the incremental improvement in efficiency by allowing customers to customize simple documents via a clunky web interface.  

If you step back and analyze the status quo of “web-to-print” in the context of today’s business communication technology and common practices at large; the concept is outdated to say the least.  Does it provide instant gratification on simple document edits for the customer?  To an extent.  Most print service providers do not have the volume required to benefit from these incremental time savers.  Does it make the customer more loyal to the print service provider?  Only if there is a long-term agreement in place already.  Which is coincidentally why print service providers have been trying to get customers to pay for the costly implementation of these systems. Is it worth the time and cost to setup it up?  Given the previous answers, not often.  

Most of this is not new.  Surprisingly many print service providers – even with today’s broadening general technology availability context – are still hyper-focused on this one functionality.  Not to mention the companies that have already been disappointed with the broken promises of new business these “web-to-print” systems are supposed to bring.  We call these customers “2nd generation” and they are they are looking to make an upgrade while still operating from within the intent constraints of these systems of the past.

So what SHOULD you be looking for?  
In any business, ecommerce is efficient because customers get what they need when they need it.  In the print world this means: finding the right print service provider, getting a fast quote, placing an order, paying for it, uploading files, dialog during pre-press and production, and finally getting the delivery or shipment.  These are the core basics and are the biggest stumbling blocks to a smooth customer interaction in the print business.  Who cares if they customer can modify a business card template if you can’t provide them an accurate quote, shipping options, calculate sales tax, get paid, and give them a clear order status the entire time their job is in production?  Especially if took tens of thousands of dollars in software, months of initial setup, and many hours of training and configuration for each of those templates.

So what’s the message?  When moving your business online, you must realize that you are fundamentally changing your business workflow for the better, first and foremost.  Ecommerce is no longer something you sell as a capability, but it is the shortest path between your customers and your business.  When done right, it is a win-win and positively affects both your top and bottom lines.  Done right, means focusing on the basics and making sure you start with a sound foundation.

This is what we think about when designing our print ecommerce killer app, get in touch with us for a demo.

Print eCommerce Strategy and The Myth of “Design In The Browser”

Most Print Service Providers are utterly confused by what function their ecommerce presence should serve and what audience to target. It doesn’t help that they’ve been sold an idea (and some expensive software licenses) that their website should offer a poor version of Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator filled with garbage clipart. This strategy rarely leads to new business. The most common response these “low-end” websites produce is a devalued brand in the customers’ eyes.

Target customers can vary wildly and should not be given a lowest common denominator experience. Here are the four specific use-cases we focus on to help our Print Service Provider customers get print-ready content and repeat business from their end-customers:

Design Professionals
This group represents well over 90% of the dollars billed across almost all print segments. This customer typically looks for a high quality Print Service Provider, at the right price with a pain-free order workflow. They need a clear way to choose a product, get an estimate, pay for it, and upload a print-ready file. Anything that gets in the way is a hindrance.

This group is made-up of small business that can neither afford, nor see the value in, professional design. To take their business away from the large competitors squarely focused on this segment of the market, you have to provide design template options. The experience has to be easy-to-use, self-service, and available 24/7. Naturally this group is price sensitive as well. They don’t have a lot of money to spend but in almost all cases would rather give it to a local business. The personal touch doesn’t hurt either.

Large Businesses and Chains
Print material ordering in large companies and chains typically comes with a lot of rules and controls. This is done when volumes of orders get beyond the throughput that can be manually managed with efficiency or in cases where there are many individuals placing orders. Examples are often large enterprises that allow employees to order business cards for themselves or franchises that offer slightly customizable marketing materials to their locations. In each case, it will require integrating a custom design template for the user to modify that would then generate a print-ready file.

Enter the “Welcome Home” banners, photobooks of kids for their grandparents, and custom greeting cards. These are consumers doing occasional projects beyond what their home inkjet can handle. Whereas micro-business need inexpensive yet well designed business templates; this group often wants the dreaded blank canvas and metric tons of cheesy clipart. If your staff cringes and turns away these customers when they come to your shop, you are probably ill-prepared to benefit from servicing this group entirely and should not be targeting them online either. There is nothing wrong with servicing consumers, that is unless you are set up to target business customers. Most Print Service Providers fall in this category.

Keen is here to help you reach your target print customers, get in touch with us for a demo.

Let’s tell the world: Print Is Big!

It was the final straw, an email from someone in the print industry had: “please consider the environment before printing this email” in the footer!  One of the things we are obsessed with is print industry statistics.  In reality, the print industry is extremely environmentally conscious but is really terrible at promoting this fact, or itself for that matter.  

So we asked ourselves how we can help the print industry dispel all the myths and promote itself at once?  The answer we came up with is: – a collection of facts and statistics about the printing industry.  The campaign is also a resource to help companies involved in the industry promote themselves with downloadable graphics. 

Roland Partners with Keen to Bring the Power of E-Commerce to Roland Inkjet Customers in the U.S.

To help customers expand their businesses online, Roland DGA has partnered with Keen, to make setting up an online storefront easy and affordable for the Roland inkjet community. The partnership announced today at the ISA International Sign Expo in Orlando, Florida – the industry’s premier event. Keen staff is co-presenting with Roland at the show.

A revolutionary cloud-based e-commerce solution developed for the printing industry, Keen makes it easy for print service providers of virtually any size or specialty to get online quickly. With an online presence, end users can optimize their existing customer relationships and increase exposure to new consumers they would never have reached otherwise. An end-to-end solution, Keen automates online sales and marketing processes, from online stores and private portals to lead generation, order processing, shipment tracking and more. Keen’s innovative subscription based model removes costly license fees, as well as the setup and maintenance expenses involved in e-commerce, and helps customers quickly establish a powerful Web presence.

As part of the partnership, Roland inkjet customers that subscribe to the Keen service receive an extended 60-day free trial and personalized setup of their account and online stores. Together with Keen, Roland has simplified the process of developing a customized e-commerce site by providing customers with a standardized template featuring several popular wide-format inkjet applications, including signs, banners, backlit displays, labels, posters, vehicle and floor graphics, and decorated apparel, representing a valuable time-savings for the customer. Available to Roland owners only, the customizable template includes pre-populated product images, details and suggested retail prices, allowing the customer to select the products they want to offer and add them to their storefront with the click of a button.

“Keen makes it really easy and inexpensive for any PSP to create an online storefront,” said Rick Scrimger, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Roland DGA Corp. “In addition to automating processes, Keen gives each website a professional design that will allow PSPs to reach a huge number of people they never would have touched. Prior to the Keen Systems approach, setting up an online storefront was a complex and expensive endeavor for most sign businesses and PSPs. We are excited to lead the industry by bringing all the power and potential of Keen’s innovative technology to our inkjet customers.”

Celebrating 30 years of innovation, Roland provides business-critical solutions everyday to professionals across the sign, grand-format, sublimation, UV inkjet, digital graphics, vehicle graphics, fine art, medical, dental, photography, packaging, label, engraving and 3D modeling industries.

For more information and 60-day free trial signup, visit: or

Don’t have Roland equipment? Signup for our regular 30-day free trial:

Transactions vs. Relationships

The world of online print is dominated by only a handful of large national companies.  They target an easy-to-reach, audience with unsophisticated needs.  They focus on offering only simple products with limited options that are less error-prone in production.  In addition, these products don’t cost a lot to ship, are not time sensitive, and are of “good enough” quality for the long-tail consumer and micro-business audience.  Production is homogeneous and as automated as possible to further cut timelines and costs.  

These players are much more focused on marketing efforts than they are on the print craft.  They are very much in the transaction business driven by order volume; where each order is relatively small.  As an example: VistaPrint serviced over 11 million customers last year, each placing an average of two orders of around $36.  Obviously this type of business should be focused on up-selling each one of those average orders and not investing heavily into building a relationship with the customer.  This is also why the product offered cannot be over-complex, risking a high error and reprint rate.

In contrast, a typical commercial print service provider (retail quick-print inclusive) has much fewer customers – servicing each regularly.  The average order, however, is usually in the hundreds or thousands of dollars.  These types of customers are won and lost on the customer-perceived quality of the relationship and convenience. Most print service providers will often make illogical promises to keep these customers from walking down the street to a competitor. 

“Above and beyond” is the norm for relationship-based print service providers.  However, they often miss what’s important to their customers.  The perceived quality in the customer’s eyes is a fragile combination of: responsiveness, fair pricing (and not necessarily cheapest), end-product quality, low occurrence of mistakes, how mistakes are handled when they do happen, range of capabilities (everyone likes a one-stop-shop), and above all management of expectations via good communication.

Often, otherwise relationship-focused, print service providers attempt to get into the online transaction-driven business by emulating what they see on the surface of the large national players.  The benefits of moving to an online workflow are often misunderstood as a way to simply generate a new channel of long-tail business print service providers cannot reach otherwise.  Without the marketing fuel to consistently develop prospects and convert (a single-digit percentage of them) into customers, along with all the production considerations, this can be a very dangerous distraction.  

Most print service providers would be better served using online tools and modern tactics to improve communications and the overall experience for their existing customers first and foremost.  Fortifying the existing customers base, reducing costly errors and customer service overhead, and creating customer evangelists who will recommend the provider to anyone who would listen, is a company-maker.  

When you are developing an online strategy and aligning your resources to support it, ask yourself what business you are in. 

Want to learn more?  Download our free White Paper: “Five Paths to Success Online for Print Service Providers”

Dog-fooding it – the tools we use to run Keen

Keen is a solution, in large part, designed to remove the burden of software and IT resource management for our print service provider customers.  The fact is that most companies we work with find it prohibitively expensive and difficult to deal with in-house software infrastructure.  This is where Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is the ultimate equalizer that can solve complex problems while being accessible to any size customer.

We believe in this model so much, that our entire company runs on a combination of well-known and niche SaaS solutions.  This is truly “eating our own dog food” and we wanted to give you a little insight into some of the online services we use to run Keen: 

Google Docs (email, calendars, and document sharing) – the now ubiquitous service that allows us (and much larger organizations) to avoid having to deal with buying servers and dreaded Microsoft Exchange just to host email.  Instead we happily pay a negligible monthly fee for each of our employees and enjoy a maintenance-free, reliable email experience. 

RingCentral (phone system) – this virtual PBX system allows us to have the convenience of an infinitely configurable VoIP phone system without dealing with hardware beyond our desk phones and our normal in-office networking routing.  We always enjoy the latest features and can do phone routing only dreamt-of just a few years ago. 

Highrise (contact management) – although pioneered the CRM category, we are big fans of 37signals products and use this system to stay up-to-date with our customers and partners.        

Campfire (group messaging) – a simple service that allows our team to have a constantly-open chat room. Discussions can happen asynchronously and various engineering and support notifications post automatically.  This is a great way for everyone to stay synced up without spending endless hours in meetings. (Another great 37signals product.)

Zendesk (online help desk) – part of our customer promise is superior customer support. The way we’ve actually made it work is by integrating this great support system right into our application.  Our customers can ask questions without ever leaving their account and requests instantly forward to our support and engineering departments. (Of course good support extends beyond the communication tools, but we’ll leave this for another post.)

MailChimp (email marketing) – time-to-time we send email announcements to our customers, prospects, and partners.  This system integrates well with our various contact databases and provides us with great analytics on each campaign.

Geckoboard (dashboards) – it goes without saying that a modern software company has to track a number of marketing and performance metrics.  This online service allows us to combine a multitude of statistics from different systems into dashboards formatted for a big (hanging) screen.

Pivotal Tracker (software development project management) – we are a true Agile software development organization (the Scrum flavor to be exact).  This means, among other things, that we plan and publish updates and enhancements to Keen on a daily basis.  To manage this process, we use what has quickly become the industry standard tool.  

Additionally, our engineering team uses a number of other tools to track everything from server performance and uptime to hosted code repositories.  We won’t bore you with the geeky stuff here.

So as you see, if a modern software operation can run entirely in the cloud without spending a dime on servers and maintenance, odds are, so can you. 

Does your company use online services it cannot live without?  Share them in the comments!

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Email Response Rates Have Fallen 57%, While Print Has Risen 14%

Since 2004:

  • Email marketing response rates have fallen 57%
  • Direct mail response rate have risen 14%

Source: International Paper

ASP ≠ SaaS and why you should care

Cloud computing has only begun to show its profound effect on the way software and services will be consumed from this point forward. Already many business productivity software categories such as CRM (Salesforce), Project Management (Basecamp), and even Word Processing (Google Docs, Microsoft Office 365) are either completely or well on their way into the cloud. Acceptance of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) has risen due in part to the marketing dollars invested by leading cloud companies such as Salesforce and Google. Their efforts have popularized the benefits of and reduced the fear of relying on hosted services. Sentiment towards hosted services has turned remarkably quick from fear to mass adoption. As a result, many legacy companies have decided to put the shinny veneer of new and trendy on their old and tired products, in the process frequently misleading customers.

Salesforce is largely credited with coining the term Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). SaaS is an architecture that goes back to the era of time-sharing main frame computers in the 60s, subsequently with its modern iteration growing out of the Application Service Provider (ASP) model of the 90s. ASP’s popped-up with the proliferation of broadband Internet connections. Distributed software then began moving from the in-house corporate data centers to colocation facilities of the software vendors. This allowed companies to offload the work of maintaining servers. However, someone still had to do it and one layer below the surface it didn’t vary by much. Although there were now many clients in the same data center (and in certain cases on the same servers via virtualization), each instance had to have the appropriate technical headroom (storage space, bandwidth, etc) and be maintained individually per client. This is the single tenant model and has inherent limitations.

Enter SaaS. A new breed of companies began treating their software as one large network. One set of hardware resources, one code base, one database, and many customer accounts. In other words: multi tenant. All of a sudden getting a client up and running required very little incremental effort, time, or cost. The resources are shared and therefore customer accounts no longer required 95% headroom. When the software is updated, it is done once for all customers at the same time. As a result, the maintenance costs for SaaS providers and the ownership costs for their client’s are far lower than an ASP’s. Coincidentally, without the SaaS model entire categories such as social networks would not be possible, as they rely on the network effect of multiple users interacting with each other.

The fact that print service providers have to transition online is no longer controversial. Choosing the right solution and understanding the disparity in return on investment between the different software delivery models is crucial. While the old Client-Server model is obviously the wrong solution today, the difference between ASP(single-tenancy) and SaaS (multi-tenancy) is equally as distinct. Paying an ASP for individual maintenance on 20 times more infrastructure than you actually need is just as outdated as paying for software license fees. Not to mention you’ll be missing out on the network effects (for example the Keen plugins which you’ll be hearing more about soon) and rapid deployment only possible with SaaS.

Based on the typical upfront cost, upkeep, and ramp-up time, we’ve done the ROI comparison for you. All the technical details aside, the dollars and sense are undeniable:

Web to Print ROI Analysis - SaaS vs. ASP vs. Licensed model

Licensed: High upfront cost, high maintenance cost, annual license renewal, long lead to first transaction, and because of the effort involved in each deployment applicable to limited segment of orders.

ASP: Still relatively high upfront cost, high monthly subscription fee regardless of actual order through-put, Still relatively long lead to first transaction, and still applicable to limited segment of orders because of the effort involved.

SaaS: No upfront cost, monthly cost tracks usage, sign-up to transactions in 2 days, designed for entire order flow, and because of virtually no additional effort applicable to most orders.

So the next time someone tries to sell you an outdated ASP in a SaaS costume, be skeptical. You can spot them by: setup fees, a long startup process, high maintenance fees, and the inability to work with other online services and partners.