by Jim Lyons

On October 30, HP made a major, headline-grabbing printer announcement, which included a number of new products and solutions for small, medium and large businesses. And while the traditional view of such an announcement might typically focus more on the hardware, it’s the “solution” side of the story that piques the interest of those close to the business, who note HP’s Printing and Personal Systems Group’s (PPSG) strengthened concentration on forward-looking areas.

This includes a strong “workflow” emphasis, right down to the new products’ “flow” branding; the inclusion of other resources across the company, including Autonomy’s content and document management capabilities; and HP’s notable and continued effort to differentiate its offerings via both hardware and software, considering the needs of SMBs and larger enterprises alike. Even without taking into account a first-of-its-kind, pagewide desktop inkjet offering for the office, HP’s announcement provides a lot to ponder and analyze!

A bit of history, and the many flavors of “workflow”

Office workflow automation has actually been a longtime theme of HP’s printing group (formerly known as the Imaging and Printing Group, or IPG). The original HP document scanners were introduced in the late 1980s and marketed along with the hugely successful HP LaserJet printers of that era. Later the company pioneered a new category — networked scanners — which morphed, based on customer adoption and usage patterns, into a more tuned Digital Sender product line. Eventually — by 2000 or so — it was commonplace for the scanners and printers to be combined in MFPs (multifunction peripherals). With 2012’s announcement, HP now claims to have developed the “New MFP — Redefined by HP.” It also incorporated “flow” into the branding for both its high-end MFPs as well as the HP Flow CM Professional cloud solution, targeted at SMBs.

With its statement on the competition in October’s announcement (an image of a filing cabinet), HP makes it clear that it is seeing its role in the office going far beyond MFP hardware. The terminology can get a bit confusing, though, so I caught up with HP’s Markus Ditzel, marketing manager for LaserJet software and solutions, to provide further background on these latest offerings from the imaging and printing leader.

When asked about the history and definition of “workflow automation,” Ditzel responded, “Historically, we and others in the industry have used it rather loosely, in a generic way, so it could be anything where information flows. For example, scanning something to email — that is workflow, in this sense. Really, anything involving ‘capture’ can be — and is — called workflow.”

Ditzel clarified further. “There is (the) industry term ‘workflow,’ (however), that is much more specific than that. It’s often more precisely called ‘business process automation’. … An example (of BPA) would be invoice processing, where there are many steps in the process. Here the hardware is important, but the software and solutions sides become very important.”

To add to the potential confusion, I asked about the definition of “workflow” as it is used so often in the graphic arts and commercial printing space. Ditzel remarked, “That’s a third usage; more specifically, we would call (that) ‘production workflow.’

“The terms ‘off-ramp’ and ‘on-ramp,’ which have been the traditional HP focus, are on the left side, and closer to the hardware,” Ditzel said. “The traditional approach has been to hand it over to the workflow/document management software, but over the last few years, we have started to invest more in moving to the right side, probably beginning four to five years ago, when we were mostly offering solutions through strong partner programs. We have always aspired to go closer to providing our own until (the) acquisition of Autonomy in 2011. Now (we) have a vast portfolio — including their enterprise content management (ECM) suite and the underlying technology — to build a framework as well as (develop) an easier user interface (UI) to make it suitable for SMB customers.”

Describing the PPSG’s working relationship with Autonomy, Ditzel said, “We are actually working very closely with them. They are providing the technology foundation for these products, but we have an internal joint venture, with engineers on both sides working on the underlying platform and including basic functionality, PPS integration with MFPs, and the UI for SMB customers. This is the Chicago-based organization that is part of Autonomy. Autonomy was founded on data mining, which was the main reason for HP’s acquisition, but (it) had also assembled assets in the enterprise content management space — notably, iManage (which is Worksite currently). Autonomy’s acquisition of Interwoven in 2009 (provided) for this. … Another Autonomy acquisition — in 2007, of Cardiff —(provided) their LiquidOffice forms-processing and process-automation capabilities, since rebranded Autonomy Process Automation. We have put them all on the Autonomy IDOL (Intelligent Data Operating Layer) platform, all part of Autonomy’s Enterprise Conent Management Suite. Clients who purchase Worksite can now use the IDOL search engine. Same with APA, which can use IDOL’s search engine layer. Autonomy used IP from Worksite and IDOL to build Flow CM and can similarly use additional IP from IDOL, APA, etc., to add more advanced search features, forms, etc.”

I also asked Ditzel about the “flow” branding, including the HP LaserJet Enterprise flow MFPs, the color flow MFP M575c and flow MFP M525c, and the HP Flow CM Professional content management solution. “This is our first usage of it, but we are actually using the ‘flow’ name for the entire portfolio as it comes under the PPS organization,” he said. “(HP) will be wrapping other things under this umbrella. All of the solutions that fit into the space will be using the nomenclature, positioned as part of the flow portfolio.

“We are definitely moving more into document management,” Ditzel continued. “That’s where the value is. Printing has become more about reducing cost, but to provide more value to customers, (you must) emphasize document management and workflow. We knew we had to do this and have had it on our list for a long time. And with Autonomy, we can do it, and we are working well together. With the Flow CM solution, we (completed it) in an eight-month time frame. We believe we bring the best of both worlds together.”

Hardware emphasizes workflow too

HP’s announcement included a number of hardware products, but the most interesting from a “workflow” standpoint are the ones whose model names include the word “flow”; these are the HP LaserJet Enterprise flow MFPs, the color flow MFP M575c and flow MFP M525c (shown in the image on the first page of this article).

The most notable workflow-centric features come with the included scanners. A feature list includes single-pass duplex scanning, 2X scan speed, 3X life ADF, high-capacity ADF (2X), HP EveryPage, an integrated keyboard, onboard OCR and scanning to SharePoint.

Coming together

Although the HP and Autonomy names have been appearing in recent business headlines with respect to the terms of the 2011 acquisition, and accusations are flying back and forth, it is refreshing to see an example of how separate parts of HP have come together in a product-focused way. The resulting emphasis on workflow and document management by the industry leader foretells a shift in direction for the entire industry. The longtime strategic goal of HP’s PPSG has been to add value beyond hardware and supplies, and this announcement goes a long way toward realizing that goal.

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