You can play video games on your MFP. OK, it’s not a standard feature, but with a little ingenuity, it can be (and has been) done. So if that's possible, just imagine what else they can do.

The MFP has always been a product of convergence. Its origin story: a piece of equipment packing parts from printers, photocopiers, scanners and fax machines into one single device to help speed up paper-based business processes. When paper was truly king, customers demanded high-quality output from MFPs that were fast, reliable and cost effective.

Then everything changed.

The market took a sharp turn when paperless solutions — namely, ECM and business process automation solutions, cloud and mobile technologies, and a flurry of line-of-business applications — began to grow in popularity. Suddenly, one gazillion pages per minute with all of the bells and whistles didn’t matter when businesses could see productivity skyrocket if they just did things digitally. If the MFP wanted to stay relevant, it needed to find a way to fit into the shifting environment. And what has worked in the past is working again; MFPs are converging with computers to take on more roles. Now the MFP is a highly connected, automated information hub for sharing paper and electronic documents.   

And just like with computers, businesses can run software on their MFPs. Most of the original apps were one-trick ponies, handling simple, and sometimes specific print, scan, fax or copy chores. Since then, the growing demand for automation and advances in Internet of Things, cloud, mobile, and big data and analytics technologies have shaped the direction of today’s MFP-embedded applications. Building on a foundation of integration and extensibility, the latest apps are interfacing with email, cloud services, ECM platforms, workflow solutions, and line-of-business applications, and other key systems utilized by many businesses to help optimize processes. In the general office setting, apps are developed to automate as many processes as possible to reduce errors and the time employees spend on clerical tasks, and make operating the device more convenient and easy for users.

Currently, the MFP-embedded app market is diversifying by taking on more specialized tasks. In schools, MFPs are now cost-effective, automated test creation and grading solutions. Some offer reporting features to help teachers analyze test results in order to optimize their lesson plan and can interface with other education solutions. In law offices, apps are hooking MFPs directly to popular document management solutions tailored for the legal industry, allowing users to input indexing and routing information directly from the MFP’s control panel. Meanwhile, financial institutions, accounting firms, hospitals, government offices, and lenders are using specialized forms apps to streamline everything from loan applications to customer and employee onboarding, for example.

The app market is also creating cost-effective alternatives to security solutions that were traditionally housed on a server. Embedded authentication applications can help businesses secure the device and all its connected workflows and repositories, plus limit which device functions and features a user can access to help keep costs low. These applications can also aid in providing users with a convenient, streamlined experience. Users can customize the control panel to meet their needs, then save these settings; each time the user authenticates, they will be presented with their customized interface.

These applications are very easy to use, too. Given the ubiquity of tablets and smartphones, operating these applications are usually a cinch for even the most novice of users. Interfacing with what usually is an embedded tablet, users can navigate and use these applications--building workflows, configuring job settings, locating documents in a repository -- fairly easily using familiar tap, swipe, flick, and pinching gestures. The easy, familiar interface should help with adoption rates and drive efficiency.

As for purchasing the apps, well that is familiar too.

While MFP-embedded applications aren’t a brand-new thing, the trend in app marketplaces are, at least for the OEMs. To date, big players Canon, HP, Konica Minolta, Samsung, Ricoh, and Xerox have rolled out dedicated app markets in one form or another. These marketplaces are nifty value adds that enable businesses to maximize their hardware and software investments.

The deployment of these marketplaces vary by manufacturer, with some available to dealers as an avenue to sell more value adds and services, while others could potentially be accessed and used by the end customer directly.

B2B is starting to look increasingly like B2C, with customers demanding (and getting) user interfaces that mirror their personal devices and habits. Now if I could only get Game of Thrones to play properly on this MFP screen … .

Patricia Ames
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 patricia@bpomedia.com.