Why Did Kodak Fail?

by admin on February 27, 2012

Everbody has a story as to why Kodak failed. Here's mine:

It was the autumn of 1999 or 2000, I forget which year. CREO had just released Prinergy to great acclaim but had not yet become the dominant prepress workflow of the industry. But it was the hot new workflow and everybody wanted their output devices to hook up to it. Including Kodak, which had a proofer called the XP4 that made high-quality proofs, was expensive as heck and gobbled up super-expensive consumables. This was about five years before Epson took over the color proofing market for offset.

Prinergy. Kodak XP4. CREO. Kodak.

While not yet one company (Kodak would buy CREO in 2004), the two companies were business partners in the world of prepress, with CREO selling their computer-to-plate machines partnered with Kodak printing plates. A very good partnership for both. So what could wrong with Prinergy to XP4.

Well, somebody somewhere decided that Kodak should write the connectivity software for connecting Prinergy to the XP4. And it sucked. It sucked so bad that customers who bought Prinergy wouldn't pay for the system because it wouldn't print to the XP4. And that's where I came in, as I was the 3rd party output technician for the Prinergy development team.

Fortunately, there were two ways to drive an XP4 at the time. The first way was usually the lousy internally developed Kodak software. And when I say "lousy" don't think that what I thought of it. I never touched the software. It was the customers who thought up colorful names for it. The second way was to put a Harlequin RIP in front of it. So I set up a workflow of separated DCS (Desktop Color Separation) files from Prinegy to XP4 and it worked like a charm. Well, it was a bit slow but the most important was that it worked with spot colors while the internal Kodak application did not. And if you are in prepress, you sorta understand that spot are *kinda* important.

Anyhow, it worked, the customers signed off on the system, CREO got paid and just as important, the customers started gobbling up Kodak consumables. So guess the reaction from Kodak?

Well the XP4 team went ballistic that the customers threw out their software and it was me, me, me that caused this fiasco. I get phone calls from the Kodak product manager, and then phone calls from HIS boss about how I peed in the soup vis-a-vis the XP4. They threatened to go right upstairs to Amos (then CREO CEO) and report about how I totally screwed them.


Now eventually they finally released version 2 of that software and they finally got it working but by then I had been kicked upstairs to management myself and we had merged with Scitex. In the prepress world, for a few bright shining years, CREO prepress was bigger than Kodak prepress so we didn't have to take ANY crap from them. Too bad it didn't last.

Now in my 10+ years of product development, I have met a LOT of arrogant developers/engineer types. It's almost an oocupational hazard, which is really funny because the very best tend to come as humble guys. But those Kodak guys really made the top 3 list of biggest jerkoff-development teams I ever met. I mean, I was just doing my job so a parade down the main street of Rochester wasn't necessary but seriously, your stupid software didn't work and I was the one who screwed up?

That's my Kodak story. I sure there are thousands of stories like it.


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