Nuance Communications and Seiko Epson have announced a worldwide strategic partnership that will allow Epson to provide Nuance document imaging solutions through its distributors and resellers. Partnering with Nuance isn’t something especially earth-shattering, as most major OEMs have done so — but that’s precisely what makes this so interesting. This partnership specifically applies to Epson’s inkjet MFPs — the press release noted “Epson will sell and distribute Nuance eCopy ShareScan and Equitrac Office/Express software on Epson’s innovative family of inkjet multifunction printers (MFPs) including its high-speed Workforce Enterprise WF-C20590 and LX-10000/7000 series of linehead technology for SMB and Corporate workgroups.”

Do we expect today’s MFPs to include software? Yes. Is it breaking news when an OEM integrates with a software provider? Not really. And that’s why this is newsworthy. By doing something so expected and mainstream with its business inkjet devices, Epson is saying “yep, these are just typical workgroup devices. They do all the things you’d expect a workgroup MFP to do. Oh, and they’re inkjets.”

But let’s stop paraphrasing and get it directly from Epson. Larry Trevarthen, director of marketing at Epson America, said of the partnership, “It gives us a nice end user message as we go into the enterprise, into the healthcare verticals and the legal verticals and others. One of the things about business inkjet historically is that the whole solution set hasn’t necessarily been there in terms of what you need at an enterprise level for key compatibility, etc. That’s changed recently with what we’ve done … those barriers are starting to come down.”

To really catch the interest of dealers, Epson’s Workforce devices will need to break through those barriers entirely, and Nuance is serving as an excellent point of entry, per Trevarthen. “One of the things that we’ve heard since we’ve been recruiting dealers is that they want to make sure that, beyond hardware benefits and profit benefits, the product is a complete solution. And so when you look at the solution set across document management, authentication, security, print management … the name that pops up the most is Nuance. This is all going to add great value to those channel partners.”

Chris Strammiello vice president of global alliances & strategic marketing, Nuance Document Imaging, agreed, saying, “I think the market is now ready for business inkjet. … our partnership is not about software compatibility, it’s about committing to a long term together, it’s about sales enablement and training and service and channel recruitment and all the things that it takes to grow in this market. I think each of us is ready for growth and together we’re ready for growth.”

Let’s take a quick look at the nuts and bolts: In addition to the MFPs, Epson will also bundle Nuance Power PDF software with select lines of Epson document scanners and integrate the Nuance OmniPage SDK into Epson scanning applications. OmniPage and Power PDF will be made available for document scanners, and Equitrac Office, Equitrac Express and eCopy ShareScan for Workforce Enterprise and Pro printers.

Our Take

It’s been an interesting year for business inkjet, which has had a long and, until recently, only semi-successful history (see this infographic for a deeper dive). It’s probably safe to say that 2017 has been the biggest year to date in that arena, with the launch of HP’s PageWide Enterprise devices as well as the Epson Workforce Enterprise. A historically consumer-based device, we’ve seen ground gained in the lower end of the SMB for inkjet, but it is growth in the larger workgroup and enterprise that will truly speak to success — and for that, software is a must. How about the reverse, though? We asked Strammiello for his take on business inkjet. “Within an industry that has a number of areas of consolidation or a number of areas of contraction I think business inkjet is a vector of growth,” he said. “We look at it, and this partnership, as such.”

As with so many of this year’s announcements, all we can really do is wait and see how it pans out. But on the surface, it seems like a win — Epson wants dealers, dealers want sales and profit margins, end users want solutions and solid workflow, and business inkjet wants respect. Can we get there from here?

is editorial director of BPO Media’s publications Workflow and The Imaging Channel, and senior analyst for BPO Research. As a professional writer and editor, she has specialized in the office technology industry for the last 20 years. Prior to that she worked in public relations and has a master's degree in communication arts.