by Robert Palmer | 9/18/14
I was fortunate enough to attend Samsung’s National Dealer Summit last week in Dallas. The event served as a venue for showcasing Samsung’s technology, its expertise in all things digital and mobile, and its continuing desire to become a formidable force in the enterprise printing space. Samsung has come a long way since its initial foray into the printing business, and while its success to date has largely come in the SOHO and small business sectors, the firm is clearly gearing up for a full-scale push into the corporate enterprise printing market.
The event, held at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Dallas, featured some 300 attendees, including over 100 dealers and 31 solutions partners. Make no mistake, Samsung is making big strides in the dealer channel and its list of current channel partners reads like a who’s who in the office equipment industry: Ray Morgan, EO Johnson, LDI, and RJ Young, just to name a few. Based on conversations we had and judging from the general buzz in the air, dealers and prospects were excited to be there and anxious to hear about Samsung’s future strategy.
A select group of press and industry analysts were treated to a series of private meetings and a guided tour of the product showcase on the afternoon prior to the main event. The unrestricted access to Samsung executives proved invaluable, as was the chance to get more familiar with recently announced Samsung products, including the MX4 series introduced just prior to the Dealer Summit. Analysts were also treated to a private showing and first glimpse of an upcoming A3 platform called the MX7, which was formally introduced to the dealers and the general public on the following day.
Focus on Printing
Day two began with a general session that included presentations from several key Samsung executives. Tod Pike, senior VP of Samsung’s Enterprise Business Division explained that now is a critical time for Samsung’s printing and solutions business. “Everybody is anticipating where are we going to take this business,” he said. Interestingly, Pike admitted that Samsung is not necessarily the first brand that comes to mind when thinking about the traditional copier and MFP space. “We want to change that notion today,” he proclaimed.
Indeed, Pike said that out of all of the areas where Samsung competes, the firm is focused on two key product categories: tablets and printers. This is somewhat surprising considering the maturity of the printing market and the fact that it is contracting in most if not all of the segments where Samsung competes. Nevertheless, Pike says that Samsung is investing R&D dollars and focusing other resources in both areas. It should be pointed out that the firm has plenty of R&D money to go around. In 2013, Samsung poured $13.6B into Research and Development, up from $10.8B in 2012 and now representing 6.3 percent of Samsung’s total revenue.
Where will Samsung concentrate these efforts? According to Pike, it will begin by focusing and delivering on customer needs. “We remain wholly dedicated and committed to the vertical strategy,” he explained. “Everything we do is about how customers are going to use our products.” This is certainly a marked change for a company that historically has been viewed as the quintessential product-centric manufacturer. Pike said that Samsung has worked hard over the past year to become more industry focused with solutions across multiple devices to address specific vertical market segments.
The Connected Enterprise
Samsung’s strategy for attacking the printing business is to focus on what the firm calls “the connected enterprise.” According to Pike, the office of tomorrow will operate much differently than it does today, with the impact on the printing market being felt in a variety of ways. “We see continued growth for A4 and a centralized view for A3 devices,” he said. “People are not printing directly to the device anymore, they are printing to a server — and businesses can place devices in the enterprise in more effective ways.”
And it is not just about print. The notion of shared information across multiple devices in the connected enterprise is a reality today, and Samsung believes it is well positioned from a technology perspective to enable a paradigm shift. “If you look at the context of the connected enterprise, we think that the print device could be the smart hub of the connected world,” Pike explained.
This is clearly the strategy behind the firm’s most recent product platform, the ProXpress series printers and MFPs. Utilizing Samsung’s new Smart UI, these machines feature a 10.1-inch LCD touchscreen display powered by Android. The new models also have a built-in server, which means they can operate independently without a PC. “This is the new way of printing,” said Matt Smith, VP of sales and marketing for Samsung’s Enterprise Business Division. “The MFP becomes my interface to the Internet without a PC because we built a server into the device.” The new machines also support an option to add wireless and active NFC capabilities, which adds the ability to print files from mobile devices and NFC-enabled smartphones using the Samsung Mobile Print App.
This concept of PC-less and server-less printing is interesting and something that could prove to be a differentiator for Samsung. According to Smith, it is a foundational element of Samsung’s connected enterprise strategy. “Our position is: you connect more and therefore you print less,” he said.
New A3 MFPs
While the recently announced A4 products received a good deal of attention, it was Samsung’s new A3 MFP that stole the show. Unveiled during the opening general session, the new MX7 series MFPs will provide many of the same features as their A4 counterparts, including the Smart UI, but in an A3 engine that will take Samsung’s smart MFP platform further up market. Not expected to be available until the first half of 2015, Samsung will offer models that support 40, 50, and 60 ppm in both mono and color.
The MX7 will fill an obvious gap in Samsung’s product line and further strengthen its position in the A3 space, with products that will be attractive both for customers and the channel. “We think it is going to be the right product at the right time in the workgroup enterprise,” said Tod Pike. “We are going to sell a lot of these.” He admitted that not having products in this segment has been a hindrance for Samsung in the past. At the same time, the firm wanted to be able to deliver something stronger than just another me-too A3 product. “This provides a solution for Samsung and its customers to be a game changer—an entire suite of products based on the connected device platform,” Pike stated.
Dealers were clearly captivated with MX7 MFP. During the product fair it was difficult to get close to the new machine as folks gathered around for demos and to get a closer look, particularly at the user interface. The Android-based UI was clearly a crowd pleaser. It basically looks and works like an Android tablet attached the MFP. The front panel can swivel from portrait to landscape, and supports the same swipe, pinch, and touch manipulation that has become synonymous with most smartphones and tablets.
Of course, hardware was not the only topic at the Samsung Dealer Summit. The firm showcased many of its homegrown and partner-delivered solutions aimed at specific vertical markets, including details regarding the recent PrinterOn acquisition. There was also a good deal of discussion regarding adjacent opportunities for dealers in areas such as managed image services and digital signage.
Samsung has made great strides in the printing market over the past couple years and the firm is pushing harder than ever to further strengthen its position. Along the way, it has nurtured the channel and established what appears to be a loyal following among its resellers. To be sure, Samsung still has work to do in the A3 space, but the MX7 platform will certainly provide a welcome boost to its product line.
The question, of course, is whether Samsung can deliver on the promise to expand its presence in the enterprise and office workgroup? Given its history of tackling other markets where it was a late entrant with very little mind share, it would be unwise to discount that notion. Still, Samsung will need more than great products and strategy. The firm has an extremely strong brand in the consumer space but it does not yet have the same clout in B2B — although that is changing.
Building a better service infrastructure with more proactive response is perhaps another hurdle. Dealers have expressed challenges with receiving product education, training, service, and support through the layers of hierarchy that have existed at Samsung in the past. This is an issue that the firm has been dealing with for some time and I have been told is gradually improving by way of hiring additional staff and deploying different channel engagement methods.
Meanwhile, Samsung is providing dealers with numerous ways to expand beyond A3, not just with A4 products, document solutions, and adjacent business opportunities but also with new and innovative ways to rethink the business of printing. Positioning the MFP as the connected on-ramp to the Internet is nothing new. In fact, most vendors have been pushing similar strategies for quite some time. Nevertheless, Samsung is deploying innovative technologies that could actually foster changes in the way output devices are used in the office — under the guise of a strategy that promotes less printing and better interconnectivity. It will be interesting to see how well this strategy is received — both by customers and the channel.
Robert Palmer is chief analyst and a managing partner for BPO Media, which publishes The Imaging Channel and Workflow magazines. He is an independent market analyst and industry consultant with more than 25 years experience in the printing industry covering technology and business sectors for prominent market research firms such as Lyra Research and InfoTrends. In December 2012 he formed Palmer Consulting as an independent consultancy focused on transformation, mobility, MPS, and the entire imaging market. Palmer is a popular speaker and presents regularly at industry conferences and trade events in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. He is also active in a variety of imaging industry forums and currently serves on the board of directors for the Managed Print Services Association (MPSA).