Channel Chat: What Does Channel Evolution Look Like?

What does channel evolution look like to those from within? We decided to find out by asking a few questions of some industry leaders, giving them the opportunity to answer some or all of the questions. The answers, like our panelists, are diverse, surprising and informative. 

Our panelists this month are the following:

Dennis Amorosano, VP, Marketing & Professional Services, Business Imaging Solutions Group, Canon U.S.A

Jim Coriddi, Vice President, Dealer Division, Ricoh Americas

Kay Du Fernandez, Vice President, Strategic Business Development, Konica Minolta

Jennie Fisher, Senior VP/General Manager, Office Equipment Group, GreatAmerica Financial Services

Lance Hale, Owner, President and Chief Software Developer, Print Tracker

Mike Stramaglio, President and CEO, MWA Intelligence

When and how did you begin working in this channel?

Dennis Amorosano: I’m in my 21st year at Canon and I was in the computer industry prior to coming here. I actually worked at both NCR and AT&T Global Information Solutions after AT&T had acquired NCR, my path to Canon was driven by me wanting to move from a direct sales-type role to a marketing role. But when I entered Canon, Canon was just beginning the process of bringing our first digital multifunction technology to market. So I had the opportunity to get here at a time when we were bringing a technology that was completely foreign to what most copier dealers had experience with. Having been in the computer industry for four years, and coming to the copier industry where very few people had any detailed background in terms of IT technology and networking, I got in on the ground floor when I came to Canon. We were very fortunate in that we had a very successful standalone analog copier business and we really used that business and the revenue we were creating there as a way of incubating the digital business. Over time the digital business expanded and we were very successful in driving that business expansion, and of course today it is our core business. It was a really amazing evolution to see what took place over the 20 years that I’ve been involved in this channel.

Jennie Fisher: I began working in this channel in 1990 with GE Capital. I was there for two years prior to joining Tony (Golobic, chairman and CEO) as he started GreatAmerica.

Lance Hale: I began working in the imaging channel in 2004. Troy Casper, founder of Compass Sales Solutions, introduced me to the need that sales representatives had for gathering print volumes to use as a basis for contract proposals. The first version of Print Tracker Pro shipped in July 2004.

What is the most positive change you’ve seen? What is the most negative change you’ve seen?

Jennie Fisher: The most positive thing I have experienced is the evolution of technology and solutions that have provided additional opportunity for our dealers. GreatAmerica is a value-based company for a premium price. This makes it tough for us to compete when all we have to compete on are rates. Technology and solutions allow us to focus on the real value we bring to the market and that is helping dealers manage their portfolios, helping them gain efficiencies through system integrations and offering flexible invoicing options. Today it feels like more dealers are focused on providing high-value, high-margin solutions that are allowing them to separate themselves from the competition.

Lance Hale: I believe that Managed Print Services (MPS) has caused dealers to focus on providing additional customer service and care. End-user focus has increased as well. On the negative side of things, dealers face a tougher business environment and more challenges with the increasing number of diverse imaging devices that are encountered onsite.

Mike Stramaglio: If I had to land on one positive thing I would have to say the explosion of the Internet was the first time that the world of knowledge was made available for every human being and every business.  It creates innovation by the minute with everything from connecting machines to people, or machines to machines, or social media taking communication that used to take days or weeks and reducing it down to the moment you need it. Every business and every businessperson has all of the knowledge of the world at their fingertips and you can adjust your thoughts, plans and actions in a moment. We are no longer inhibited by geographic boundaries or technology barriers and your reach is as far and wide as you wish to take it.  

What single piece of technology do you feel has had the biggest impact on the evolution of the channel?

Jim Coriddi: Without a doubt: digital. Beyond the obvious of how it’s changed the industry and what it does for paper, it also enables you to work on the customer’s network and opens up many opportunities. Digital technology has provided the on-ramp and off-ramp, the entry to the customers’ networks. Without digital, there would be no services. Furthermore, those dealers who embraced and mastered digital are the ones who are now able to move forward with services. 

Jennie Fisher: Mobile technologies and cloud solutions – it gives dealers the option to implement solutions at a more desirable price point. It has also highlighted the need and desire for the office equipment dealer to move down the managed IT path – exciting stuff!

Lance Hale: Smartphones and tablets have had the biggest impact. Before their use expanded, the need to print was more prevalent. Now the need to scan documents and present data in a concise manner is a more visible business requirement. In addition, remote assistance tools and monitoring software with its ability to collect meters and device status electronically, have significantly impacted the channel. Nothing happens until accurate device information is gathered. A simple, non-invasive collection agent that doesn’t tie up print processes or become a drain on customer resources is the underlying technology vehicle. In today’s business environments, the gathering of status information and metering detail helps dealers determine the placement of new equipment and the services they will offer.

What was the most overhyped trend you’ve seen not live up to its hype?

Jim Coriddi: The paperless office. We’ve been hearing about the paperless office for decades, and we’re not seeing anything near the predictions. While we need to continue to evolve and expand ourselves to be more services focused, a drop in page volumes is not what was originally forecasted. That has a huge impact, since we’re heavily invested in the aftermarket. Our aftermarket has been relatively flat, if not a slight decline, but again, nothing compared to what was originally forecasted.

Jennie Fisher: From time to time I have to ask the question – is print really going away? Many dealers I have talked to in the past month say they have more pages under contract than ever before and continue to see a nice increase. 

Lance Hale: While it sounds strange, I would say MPS in general has not lived up to expectations. I talk with people who have stumbled getting out of the blocks with an MPS program or are still reluctant to get involved. At times there seems to be as many flavors of MPS as there are dealers. Some even refer to their offering as MPS when it really isn’t MPS at all! The MPSA defines MPS as “the active management and optimization of document output devices and related business processes” and the definition is dynamic and continues to change over time. MPS is not meter capture. MPS is not putting meters into an ERP platform. MPS is not determining print volumes, yet that’s all some dealers do with their collection tools. Rather, MPS takes shape when dealers help their customers take control of their printing processes. Businesses that offer MPS in this manner rise above the hype.

Mike Stramaglio: I still have a hard time with the whole MPS strategy. I was personally a big advocate of MPS because in the beginning I think it presented a lot of possibilities for the imaging channel, and of course many dealers have indeed made it a successful strategy. Yet I always believed MPS would be an intermediate step toward a much more lucrative opportunity with managed services as the ultimate landing zone. However, I always believed in order for the imaging business to enjoy long-term success a few important factors would have to come together. The supply chain must be automated with a viable open architecture ERP capable of embracing the ability to actually employ a new standard of enterprise where everything speaks to each other with relative ease. This would allow for “service” type sales that include digital signage, security, medical equipment, copiers, MFPs and other adjacent technologies capable of growing legacy business and creating new growth.  

What innovation have you tried that’s failed? 

Jennie Fisher: Our InTune product, which was an online survey tool that allowed you to gauge the customer satisfaction of those that had either recently received new equipment or service from your company. The InTune program would compile and deliver the survey results to the dealer, allowing them to easily identify their current strengths, areas for improvement and opportunities to provide higher customer satisfaction. I really thought this would take off, understanding that the percentage of dealers that survey their customers is very low. I see the value we get from doing our annual customer satisfaction survey, and feel this could have been very valuable to the dealer community.

Lance Hale: A few years ago we generated a report for sites that [listed] devices needing supplies that also included other devices that would soon be needing supplies. Although the report was accurate, the process was not adopted because tracking of alerts that had not yet occurred proved more difficult for dealers than anticipated. It’s much like Thomas Edison said when he talked about his failures to make the light bulb: “We know lots of ways that don’t work!”

What innovation have you tried that’s succeeded?

Kay Du Fernandez: My personal favorite, cool evolutionary product innovation was the creation of the the bizhub MarketPlace for MFPs. Think of Apple iOS apps on the control panel of the MFP. Dealers, developers and manufacturers have the power to create innovative solutions that directly benefit customers and end-users. It offers a tremendous opportunity to monetize and create completely integrated solutions. I recently attended the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, and further recognized the visual power of design. In addition to developing great products and solutions, our job is to keep customers engaged and forge lasting connections. When something looks attractive, works right, and is easy to use it sparks an emotional connection. 

Think of all the apps you can’t live without; my “go to” apps are United Airlines, Waze for outsmarting traffic, Flipboard for news, and Twitter. They simplify my life, are well designed, and keep me engaged and connected as a customer. We’ve created this same type of engagement on our MFPs. The Konica Minolta bizhub MarketPlace has a number of apps that simplify scanning, routing and workflow into many popular hosted and on-premise solutions. Our apps include connectors to Box, Dropbox, Google, Sharepoint and FilesAnywhere, to name a few. The MarketPlace provides a platform that designs beautiful images and corporate announcements to display on the bizhub control panel, access a library of forms/templates, and further optimize workflow around the device. We’ve taken our products and solutions one step further and are developing and designing for engagement.

Jennie Fisher: Collabrance – becoming a managed services provider. Again, many dealers are moving in, or interested in moving in this direction. This allows an option for them to partner with a company that is not tied directly to their customer base. This, combined with our SL-GAMIT Groups, SLIQ and Pathshare, are powerful tools that are expediting the education and tools to move down this path more efficiently and effectively.

Lance Hale: Utilization of the Print Tracker One-Click deployment feature has been the most successful recent innovation. With this “simple” approach, administrators create “One-Click” deployment emails that can be sent to customers for self-installation of the collection software. Because most installations take just a few minutes, going onsite to complete a two- to three-minute job is not cost effective. Simple installations, requiring nothing more than the acceptance of a few prompts, are easily completed with this tool. “One-Click” also allows dealers to re-establish communications when their customers change out servers, workstations, or operating systems. When dealers notice an installation has stopped sending information, they simply send the customer an email with a link. When clicked the collection software is installed and service is restored.

What’s the next big thing?

Jim Coriddi: What’s exciting is that the next big things stem from businesses we’re already in; for example, production, services and other forms of communications. Production continues to expand, and it opens opportunities for the dealer to go to a wider base of customers. Services is still in its infancy and there is much opportunity to grow there as well. Other forms of communications include Visual Communications, Signage and other forms of communications at Ricoh technologies that we’re bringing to our dealers to help them further expand their relationship with their customers.

Kay Du Fernandez: Technology is changing the way we interact with those around us—especially in the workplace. As the mobile working population increases, there will be more enterprise collaboration tools to bring remote workers together. Our Business Innovation Centers are working with strategic partners that are reimagining and rethinking the workplace and workforce of the future. They are focusing on smart office technology including sensor-based technologies and workplace automation and leveraging presence sensing technology to define the future of the workplace. The company is already working with 150 organizations and opened up its application programming interface for other companies to develop new and interesting uses with its smart office technology. 

Jennie Fisher: For us, it is seizing opportunities to finance emerging technologies – software, digital signage, 3D printing, etc. Though it may take several years to gain much traction here – it will come and we will be able to provide our dealers with financing options that help them close the deal!

Lance Hale: Intelligent data mining from scanned documents will likely be the next big thing. So much information can be stored electronically now. Data will need to be extracted to provide insights on how to best manage business processes.

Mike Stramaglio: The only way I can possibly even begin to answer that question is to use a phrase I don’t even like to use because it is so cliché and overworked. With that as a backdrop I have to point to “the Internet of things.” Everything today is headed toward speed, mobility, workflow; automate everything. … Specifically in the imaging channel I believe the next big thing in the near term will be driven by the adoption of a fully automated supply chain capable of quickly facilitating everything with highly innovative and true e-commerce functionality, creating the impetus for what will finally lead to the creation of the first level of de facto standards … for an industry that has been frustratingly slow and literally incapable of adopting what is an imperative in most industries today. Everything must be real time, real data, trending, using predictive buying patterns, anticipated analytics and services rather than just providing “service.” The value-add or the brand distinction can no longer be managed by “controlling” the industry but rather by who can adopt it better, faster and with greater focus on being first with innovation, client care, ease of doing business and providing the best big or little data with which your client can improve his/her business opportunities and effectiveness. MWAi is playing a major role in the the development of the imaging channel’s “Internet of things” because we are indeed the new open architecture who can fan the fire of all other adoptions, making it easy for other companies to rally around curing pain thresholds and establishing new ways of doing business.  

What single evolutionary advancement would help you and your business succeed? 

Jennie Fisher: I am not sure, but it is going to have something to do with integrations!

Dennis Amorosano: At the time we were making the transition from analog copying technology to digital network connected, I can vividly recall us sitting in headquarters and saying to one another how hard it was to make the transition. Then of course we made an additional transition to layering on software and then layering on services.

When I look back now, going from analog to digital technology was a walk in the park by comparison to the transitions that followed. I think this next transition is going to be harder than the last. The business in many ways is getting more complex — I think more complex just given the nature of the kinds of technologies and solutions that are entering the market and more complex in terms of the ways in which customers want to use the technologies.

We are very rapidly moving to a point where many of the things we’re delivering on behalf of the customer are mission critical because they’re ultimately intimately entwined in the way in which the businesses work and responsible for driving key operations that help those customers generate revenues.

We need the channel to be making investments into technology and innovation and accelerating their business model transitions so that they are more prepared and more equipped to take on these new areas as they emerge. The recipe for success will be having a robust delivery mechanism to the channel for Canon’s innovations.

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of The Imaging Channel