From September 4-6, 2018, Toshiba America Business Solutions (TABS) and Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions (TGCS) once again came together to hold its annual conference, LEAD (Learn, Engage, Act and Deliver) at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. This year marked the third time the two divisions have co-hosted the event.
The LEAD theme for 2018 was “Empowering the Art of Business,” which according to Toshiba “celebrates the notion that each company is a unique collection of people, ideas, language, culture and brand. This concept epitomizes Toshiba’s collective belief that every client is unique. Their work is their art, their employees the artist.”
It’s an eloquent and — well — artistic description, but it worked well and allowed for some nice marketing tie-ins (creating a theme and building the marketing around it is harder than you might think, so I always appreciate it when I see one that feels like it works). The “art” theme carried throughout the keynote sessions, the breakouts and the vendor floor.
More than 1,600 people attended LEAD; a number that included customers, resellers and technology partners as well as industry media and analysts. We all got to hear the highlights of the event, which included the opening presentations that went over Toshiba’s successes over the last year, and the product tour on the vendor floor that highlighted the three big announcements of the event — a slew of new Toshiba hardware, the enhanced Elevate platform and a partnership with Brother.
Let’s discuss that one first, as it was the most unexpected — we were all intrigued by the Brother booth on the vendor floor during the press and analyst walk-through preceding the event. Toshiba already has an existing partnership with Lexmark, so this new relationship was an interesting one. The partnership gives Toshiba’s customers access to the full series of Brother Workhorse A4 devices as well as Brother’s portfolio of services and solutions, which will now be available through Toshiba’s direct and independent dealers in the U.S.
The Brother relationship, said TABS Vice President of Product and Solutions Marketing Joe Contreras, is complementary to its existing partnerships with Lexmark and HP. “There is a unique value proposition with Brother,” said Contreras, allowing Toshiba to provide dealers with more options and broadening its reach. Toshiba-branded options are available for those customers who specifically want them, while Brother would be a more entry-level option, Lexmark would serve the midpoint, and HP plays a big role in the MPS portfolio. We’ll be exploring the Brother/Toshiba partnership in more detail in a separate blog, so stay tuned.
The lineup of new Toshiba devices, as mentioned, included three new Toshiba-branded A4 devices, which will replace existing components of the lineup. The new A4 releases include two color devices of 40 and 50 ppm, respectively, and one 50 ppm monochrome device. “Growth is in A4,” noted Contreras, which accounts for the wide net Toshiba is casting in that area.
The balance of the new releases are A3 eSTUDIO devices, which all incorporate Elevate, Toshiba’s customizable user interface that enables users to “enjoy a completely custom-tailored experience supporting each customer’s unique requirements. Elevate enhances an organization’s overall efficiency and productivity by enabling document workflows and common tasks at the push of a button.”
Introduced in 2017, the platform has been streamlined and enhanced. With a common 10.1-inch user interface on all the A3 devices (the A4s do not include it), Elevate offers more than 40 apps but a simplified screen, allowing users to see only what they need to use on a regular basis. Elevate also incorporates additional security measures such as NFC.
Product announcements aside, the event included presentations from Toshiba executives including President and CEO Scott Maccabe, Chief Marketing Executive Bill Melo and Chief Revenue Officer Larry White. They touted the improved performance of Toshiba Tec and its parent company, Toshiba Corp., which have endured some struggles. Maccabe likened the company’s overcoming of adversity to the Las Vegas Golden Knights NHL team, which, in case you missed it, nearly beat 500-to-one odds by making it to the Stanley Cup finals this year. Was Maccabe pandering to the hometown crowd? Who cares? The Golden Knights were an amazing success story and I’m more than happy to listen to it as often as possible.
And of course, the point Maccabe was making was that Toshiba overcame some odds and did well this year too. There were a few particularly bright spots — digital signage, which has been a big part of Toshiba’s game plan, grew 18 percent, and Toshiba lists such impressive clients as Pepperdine University and the Mercedes-Benz arena in Berlin. Toshiba also reclaimed 7-Eleven, a major coup. Print also did well in some areas in particular — MFP unit sales were up 8 percent and A4 was up 70 percent (hence that wide net).
Outside of the standard presentations and press announcements, Toshiba offered a variety of other entertainment and education options. One standout session for me was the “Women in Technology” breakfast. The presenter was Dr. Judith Spitz of the Initiative for Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York (WiTNY) at Cornell Tech, and her presentation was a brutal eye-opener that included some facts about the degree to which gender bias exists (and necessitates the existence of “Women In” events and groups, with which I have a love/hate relationship). For example: using gigabytes of data from Google as its basis, software being programmed was asked to complete the statement “Man is to computer programmer as woman is to X.” The software’s response was “homemaker.” An article on this is forthcoming.
Onto some more fun (and yes, that breakfast was fun — it was actually worth getting up early for). Evening events are always a big part of these meetings and Toshiba did a great job here, with a reception at Drai nightclub the first night and, particularly fun, an 80s-themed party at Marquee the second night. Seeing Larry White in a hair metal wig and Def Leppard shirt was worth the entire price of admission.
The annual conferences OEMs hold for their dealers are, by nature, designed to promote, be positive, and give dealers, customers and the press lots of good news to carry forth. Is everything sunshine and roses for Toshiba? Of course not. But they’re making some interesting moves, taking advantage of major growth areas and working to stabilize areas that have been less successful. LEAD 2018 was a great example of a dealer event that left a positive impression on attendees, and we look forward to seeing what the next year holds.