For nearly a half-century, we’ve been told that paper is going to be a thing of the past. Computers were going to replace the need for paper. Who was going to buy printers and copiers and MFPs when no one will need to print and copy and fax ever again?
Even after businesses implemented their own information management, conferencing and collaboration, workflow automation, big data and analytics, and line-of-business software, they’re still swimming in paper. Even with all of this amazing modern technology, it’s the MFP holding everything together, serving as the ever-important hub that connects people, information, and processes. These days, however, the flow of traffic through that intersection is changing, with print and copy (and fax) volumes trending downward, and scan volumes trending up.
With the primary usage of MFPs changing, OEMs have to find new ways to differentiate from the competition. Customers aren’t excited by an extra three pages per minute or a larger document feeder like they used to be, because those things don’t eliminate complicated workflows. But, if you have technology that can help their business do things faster, cheaper, and better than the competition by providing a seamless gateway between physical and digital processes — now that’s something that will grab your customers’ attention.
These days, OEMs are partnering with the developers, positioning themselves closer to the technology that drives today’s businesses. They are also developing applications that provide seamless connectivity between MFPs and digital workflows. The partnerships and applications are critical, since they help MFPs remain relevant in the office.
Let’s explore what some of the major OEMs have been cooking up.
Canon’s MEAP platform was the first to introduce embedded applications that connected the MFP with third-party back-end document management systems. Starting with eCopy, Canon has worked with third-party applications to develop embedded solutions. They have also acquired or have major interests in companies like NT-Ware, Therefore and IRIS that have brought intelligent capture, document processing, information management and workflow solutions to the portfolio.
In 2017, Canon announced partnerships with content management platform Box, and the cloud-based email management solution mxHero. The trio of technologies can reduce IT costs by replacing physical IT infrastructure required to manage email and digital content with cloud-based solutions. Basically, the partnerships enable Canon’s customers to leverage mxHero’s ability to convert email attachments to Box links automatically, and Box’s unlimited storage capabilities to eliminate on-premises servers, thus lowering their IT costs.
Cloud-based email and digital content management comes with the added benefit of making it easier for workers to share, access, and work on content together, no matter where they are working from. And naturally, with fewer servers to manage, IT professionals can spend their day focused on higher-value tasks.
Notable Epson partners include Amazon, Apple, Google, the MOPRIA print alliance, and Microsoft. The partnerships allow Epson’s customers to print while they are on the run. Epson also has partnerships with ISVs, VARs, and OEMs through its Solution Partnership Program. The program helps partners reach “large as well as specialized end-user markets” by making it easy to integrate with Epson print environments. Epson provides partners with technical and developer support (for example, a TWAIN SDK for building out scan to workflows), as well as access to devices and training for developers and salespeople.
In January, the folks at Konica Minolta announced a partnership with Google, adding Google Cloud solutions to KM’s already-large arsenal of products. Now a Google Cloud Premier Partner, KM can sell Google’s line of cloud-based office software, like Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, Meetings, and more.
More recently, KM announced a partnership with Dropbox, an update to its bizhub Connector for Dropbox Business application, and its availability on i-Series and Workplace Hub models that use the KM MarketPlace. The application is downloaded from the Konica Minolta MarketPlace and installed on supported KM MFPs, and enables workers to interact with their Dropbox account directly from the control panel. Specifically, users can browse folders in Dropbox, print documents from them, and scan documents to a specific location in Dropbox, all from the control panel of their KM MFP. The solution can be a big time saver for workers who frequently scan and add hardcopy documents into their Dropbox. Rather than scanning a document to their PC and moving it into the necessary Dropbox folder, users can send scanned images directly where they’re needed in one step. Connectors for several other popular cloud services are also available, including Box, Evernote, Google Drive, SharePoint, and more.
Like most OEMs, Lexmark has major partners like Oracle and SAP. That’s because no matter what your customer does to make money, Oracle and SAP will be involved in one way or another. But the company also has partnerships that helps them succeed in specialized areas, like banking, government, healthcare, HR, insurance, manufacturing, and retail. For example, Lexmark has several partners in the HR space that can help customers get the most out of their HR department. Lexmark works with AssureSign, a digital signature solution, to help HR professionals to streamline approval processes. Another partner, Guardian, provides customers with I-9 and E-Verify processes, reducing mistakes and ensuring new employees can get to work faster.
With nearly three dozen partners in their stable, Ricoh is able to get the right technology into a diverse group of customers’ hands. Notable partners include EFI, Kofax, Laserfiche, OpenText, Kodak Alaris, and Pharos.
In Kofax, Ricoh has a partner that can push a business closer to their digital transformation goals. The developer’s lineup of software sold by Ricoh can handle anything from digitizing and processing information in hardcopy documents to fully automating business workflows. With Kofax Capture, customers can create an automated onramp from their Ricoh MFPs to their ERP or ECM solution. They can also purchase the Kofax Transformation Modules to automate business processes like invoice processing, sales order processing, and medical claims processing, or turn to Kofax TotalAgility to automate complicated processes. Kofax isn’t the only partnership Ricoh leans on to meet their customer’s capture and workflow automation goals. Solutions from Ephesoft, Kodak Alaris, Access, and Objectif Lune are also helpful.
Toshiba’s Together Commerce Alliance Solutions Providers include channel sales partners, solutions partners, and services partners. The list is easily over 100 businesses long, with more than 40 ISVs and IHVs from all over the world represented. Instantly recognizable partners —‑ many of which partner with most, if not all, OEMs — include Microsoft, Honeywell, VMWare, and VeriFone.
Toshiba’s Solutions Partners specialize in everything from POS and VisualStore software, to complementary software and hardware solutions. Partners also develop software for Toshiba’s TCx Elevate workflow automation platform, as well as TCx Sky, a specialized operating system built for retail environments. The partnerships with TCx Elevate are key, as it allows Toshiba’s customers to create shortcuts that can streamline processes between e-BRIDGE MFPs and the solutions driving their business.
Tailor your technology for what businesses demand
Think of it this way: most problems cannot be fixed with faster print or scan speeds. Unless print is the final step of a process, the point where workflows move from the physical world to the digital realm will always be the source of your bottleneck. Print and scan speeds that are five percent faster — or even 50% faster — aren’t going to make up for that lost time. Eliminating the bottleneck does. That’s what these partnerships and apps are enabling. They help your customers consolidate those multi-step processes — scanning a document to their desktop, just so they can clean it up, extract or manipulate some data, and then send it off to the next step in the chain with a single button press. You can provide them with the technology that prepares data in the precise way it needs to be when it hits whatever application they’re pushing it through.
That’s what improving your customer’s business looks like. And that’s how you grow a business selling copiers in 2020.
Patricia Ames is president and 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 15 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.