Why the Office of the Future Is Evolving Beyond Hardware

Canonby Hiro Imamura, Canon U.S.A. Inc.

Focus on implementing integrated solutions and services as a platform, not simply procuring a piece of hardware. That is the mentality that future enterprises will rally behind when it comes to purchasing MFPs and other industrial equipment that will serve as the backbone of the offices of the future. The next generation of enterprises is driven by fostering employee productivity and adaptability. Employers, therefore, wish to promote productivity through flexibility in hardware solutions that act as a comprehensive software platform through the incorporation of next-generation technologies — including AI, cybersecurity and the cloud — that sit poised to offer the most to future employees. 

Today’s technology landscape is changing more rapidly than ever, and thus, hardware products must become agile solutions that can stay on the cusp of industry disruption. Specifically, transformation through artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced digital security protocols, and cloud connectivity are three pivotal factors that enterprises will consider as they embark on their own, individual digital transformations in the years to come. In fact, 60 percent of enterprises plan to implement digital transformation strategies by 2020*, according to a recent research report conducted by IDC.

And with these next-generation technologies imperative to the long-term success of the office of the future, what will enterprises be looking for now? What are the key trends that office equipment manufacturers must embrace when releasing new hardware solutions to not only stay relevant, but to adequately support and play a significant role in the disruption that will face offices in the immediate future?

According to a recent research report conducted by IDC, digital security and cloud services are the two most common technological capabilities in today’s workplace, with spending on cloud services and cloud-enabling infrastructure predicted to more than double by 2021, and 84 percent of IT decision makers surveyed citing content security in the cloud to be very important to the office of the future*.

Artificial intelligence

Enterprises today are looking to add intelligence and automation to routine business processes and workflows so that they may offload mundane tasks and enable their information workers to focus more time on creative tasks to ultimately increase value and innovation.

Thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning, connected, compatible devices in an office environment can digest an abundance of data on a daily basis. Businesses now need to embrace office equipment that supports AI capabilities and develop methods to take the data and turn it into something actionable.

And this further extends into service and support. In the past, service was reactive and singular. A service issue would occur, and the service and support team would react to it. Preventative and predictive maintenance is much more efficient. We are now well into the preventative maintenance stage and moving quickly into predictive maintenance. Support technicians now rely on data and intelligence from their machines to anticipate, and proactively problem-solve, potential errors and alarms that may occur. These findings are used to identify preemptive measures to address possible service issues before they even occur, helping to increase device uptime, which ultimately leads to optimal customer satisfaction.

It is imperative in today’s technology landscape to well equip service and support staff to assist dealers in providing direction as to how the end users manage their incoming device data to ultimately help them improve and, in some cases, streamline their business operations. One such method to accomplish this is by re-creating a particular customer’s unique work environment with its hardware and software setup in a service and support center to help third parties and dealers thoroughly evaluating the incoming information find actionable pathways that their clients can take to help optimize their business operations.

And an abundance of information naturally brings with it additional security concerns. While the individual company is ultimately responsible for enforcing compliance policies, a good step in helping to safeguard sensitive information can be implementing and using security features available on the MFPs. As such, it is important to consistently communicate to service providers the capability and advanced security functionalities of the MFP in question to provide a level of comfort and help the end user understand how its solutions can be used to help them protect their confidential data.**

Confidentiality and cybersecurity

In the world of IoT, security risks are increasing in the evolving workplace – and now more than ever, it is imperative that businesses have procedures to help protect their confidential information. Today’s IT decision makers are challenged with figuring out how to better protect and manage their data, with 68 percent of those surveyed stating that boosting profitability and productivity will be the key benefit of the cloud’s role in transforming business processes over the next two to five years*.

A company’s security policies are, in essence, only as strong as their office technology’s security features. Without proper security measures built into a business’ office technology and practices, there lies potential for even the most diligent employees to engage in the wrongful copying, scanning, creation and distribution of confidential intellectual property — whether that be accidental or intentional. It is therefore crucial that security measures be incorporated at the product design level of today’s connected office equipment technology that companies rely on daily. 

While securing a network is considered an essential link in the enterprise security chain to most IT professionals, it is equally important for a business to think about how its employees will use the connected office equipment, and what types of information will be traveling through the devices on a daily basis. 

Implementing an access control strategy for shared office technology can help enterprises keep in line with today’s workplace automation trends, such as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). As companies increasingly allow today’s workers flexibility, more personal, mobile devices are entering the workforce. This means that confidential company information is not always limited to a company desktop computer, and workers need the flexibility to send sensitive documents to and from copiers, scanners and printers from their mobile devices while using security features. For example, enterprises could benefit from relying on printers that allow users to send sensitive documents to network printers from desktops and compatible mobile devices, while only allowing those users to print the documents when they are physically standing at the device and properly authenticated. 

Data and content security breaches are impacting companies on a global scale. Today’s MFPs must incorporate an array of advanced security features to help companies safeguard sensitive business information, help with employee and customer privacy, and assist in a company’s regulatory compliance strategy. The process to design and manufacture office products with advanced security features must starts early and be continuous. 

Cloud connectivity

Cloud connectivity is an essential feature for today’s MFPs in support of the office of the future. Simply put, cloud connectivity encourages collaboration and lends a helping hand to the aforementioned confidentiality concerns. MFPs that offer cloud-based functionality through authentication, dashboard reporting and basic scan-to-cloud features can afford clients the capability to more easily share information and collaborate with team members remotely, thus promoting flexibility in the workplace. 

Successful companies will be able to provide customizable solutions for companies in varying stages of “cloud migration”, offering cloud and security solutions that complement each other so that companies can take advantage of cloud-enhanced productivity while also implementing security features. Though businesses will continue to have on-premise touchpoints in collaboration with cloud storage solutions, together, both will help shape the office of the future to enhance convenience. 

Vertical solutions

Custom vertical solutions that are more turnkey and tailored for specific markets through targeted feature sets will continue to see increased penetration across enterprises. Key vertical markets including healthcare, legal, education and finance still embrace critical document-intensive workflows and as such are in need of solutions that can be easily implemented into the infrastructure to help streamline and improve operational efficiencies while improving customer outcomes.

These are the markets in which we see the greatest opportunity to help transform the traditional workflow models into ones that better support employee flexibility while simultaneously providing solutions that can help users safeguard confidential information.

In conclusion, the office of the future will be a holistic evolution of hardware, software and services into a solutions-oriented platform. There are so many emerging technologies being built and incorporated as standard into today’s office infrastructure, including artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud and cybersecurity. Learning how to navigate the new technical terrain and, often times, expanding product portfolios and differentiating solutions to target multiple vertical markets will be the key challenge that OEMs must embrace moving forward. 

* IDC InfoBrief, sponsored by Canon, Digital Transformation & Emerging Technologies: The Canon Office of the Future Survey, Conducted by IDC, December 2017

Hiro Imamura
Canon U.S.A.

This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of The Imaging Channel.

 

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