by Patricia Ames
NT-ware is a German software company in which Canon, in 2006, acquired a majority stake. NT-ware is the creator of uniFLOW, a software platform for print, scan and device management. At the recent analyst event at Canon headquarters in Melville, New York, Mason Olds, senior VP and general manager of Sales, Business Imaging Solutions division, mentioned in his presentation that Canon’s solutions business grew 18 percent and this growth was primarily driven by sales of the uniFLOW product. We were impressed by these numbers and wanted to explore in more detail how Canon is accomplishing this, so we sat down during the event with Karsten Huster, president of NT-ware, to get the scoop.
Where are you seeing the most growth for your product?
At the moment, I would really say that it is in the Americas. We’re not just looking at revenue — revenue is one figure, but we’re looking at something called the attachment rate. We’re analyzing how many Canon devices, for example, are being shipped with or without uniFLOW. In some regions we have 80 percent of the devices sold with uniFLOW. In those areas, you clearly can’t grow endlessly. The Americas are very interesting for us because even though we have experienced a lot of growth, the attachment rate is still a third of what we have in Europe. We can easily say we can double or triple the business in the U.S.
Can uniFLOW be purchased separately from the MFP hardware?
Yes. This is actually something we are focusing on right now. We are working with Canon and independent dealers to not only sell uniFLOW along with new equipment, but to take a look at existing customers. There is a lot of value-add that you can get from existing customers, it is not just about looking into new tenders that are coming out.
We have a bit of an advantage. It’s a great time in the market because customers expect a certain level of automation. I think there is a natural drive to include uniFLOW into a deal, but there is still quite a big untapped market out there for existing customers that have never been shown the advantages, even to their existing fleet. it’s always a nice story when uniFLOW is sold not as part of the machine deal but also independently.
With the new uniFLOW Online product, there is a recurring revenue stream opportunity. It’s a subscription-based billing model, which should be very attractive to the dealers and the level of training and expertise required to deploy the system is minimal with the online version. All the upgrades are done automatically. One of the core design principles employed when we created uniFLOW Online was that it should be as easy to install as, for example, a finishing software. Ultimately it should be as simple as a machine accessory. We are driven to make uniFLOW Online as simple as possible.
Are there certain verticals that you’re particularly strong in?
Instead of a specific vertical focus, we’ve built an SMB product, which is a smaller version of uniFLOW. We are seeing installs from three devices upwards. And then with uniFLOW Online we are targeting anywhere from a single device up to maybe five or 10 devices.
Of course, when you go into some features like data loss prevention, there are verticals. The banking sector and insurance sector, for instance, will typically opt for our solutions immediately. In addition, scanning and document input are relevant in any vertical — basically anyone using document management.
There is a lot of development for the health care business as a vertical. We’ve also built a lot of functionality for education. We have a huge advantage working with Canon, because their business is not the same in every region. There are some regions and some countries that have a very large education business. In other countries they are strong in the banking or architecture sector. We’ve been able to develop and grow with Canon internationally. It’s allowed us to build up an enormous amount of expertise within uniFLOW so that we don’t need to pick a specific vertical, and instead we can cater to the strengths of the Canon organizations worldwide.
How are you ensuring knowledge transfer from those different regions and verticals into your back-end for product development?
That’s a good question because when I explain what NT-Ware is all about, I tell people that uniFLOW is roughly 50 percent of the company, and the other 50 percent is what we call our issue tracking system. We use an online database and online web-based system that connects about 3,500 technicians worldwide.
For us it’s really important to be as close to the customer as possible. Once you’ve gone through 10 marketing meetings about what a feature should look like, nobody knows what the customer originally wanted.
We want to work directly with the technician or with a consultant that works with the customer. That works best with our web-based system. For example, when Canon New Zealand visits a customer and the customer has specific requests, the consultant that was trained by us and is a uniFLOW-certified consultant can work directly with us and input the request for that specific customization. We intentionally have a lot of bandwidth for this. We have roughly 20 people in the company that are specifically looking at these customer requests.
We of course have to weigh whether it is a one-time request or simply a configuration or if it is a customization or an idea for the product. By accumulating these requests worldwide, we develop an excellent overview that we can use to determine what we want to do in the next versions.
This wealth of feedback that we get from customers is our lifeblood. Delegation printing is an example of something we’ve developed from fielding customer feedback. Delegation printing is secure printing for the individual, but many customers have also asked to be able to print into somebody else’s mailbox. One person can print a job and then designate another person to pick it up, eliminating the need to send someone a PDF that they then have to go and print. Now they can just go to File, Print, and say, “This document is for you.” It’s something that we implemented probably 20 times until we decided to make it a standard product feature and build some additional functionality around it. This is a good example of programming we originally developed for a single customer as part of the standard customization and configuration process, but we then made a feature out of it, integrated it into the training packages and rolled it out worldwide.
We’ve talked about the positive. I’m sure there have also been a few challenges along the way — what do you see as the biggest challenge coming up for you?
Because of the volume of users who work with uniFLOW worldwide, when we release a product there is a lot of education, training, and a lot of systems that you have to go through.
If you have a big banking customer, they are not going to just deploy a new version. For the bigger global clients, the processes inside can take months. Right now one of the challenges is to be both quick and innovative, but also stable, while displaying long-term thinking. Look at what Microsoft is doing with Windows 10 – it has a faster innovation cycle but there is also a level of control over what gets deployed, especially in the B2B sector. That is how we are handling the challenge as well.
At the heart we are still an engineering company, but when we develop something, we want to get it out to the customer as quickly as possible because we want to get their feedback. Are we doing it right? What can be done better? That is sometimes a challenge because you have to hold back innovation to make sure all the channels and all the people are trained before you can move forward versus trying to get it out as quickly as possible.
Patricia Ames is senior analyst for BPO Media, which publishes The Imaging Channel and Workflow magazines. As a market analyst and industry consultant, Ames has worked for prominent consulting firms including KPMG and has more than 10 years experience in the imaging industry covering technology and business sectors. Ames has lived and worked in the United States, Southeast Asia and Europe and enjoys being a part of a global industry and community. Follow her on Twitter at @OTGPublisher or contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.