There is an evolution going on in thinking about office technology hardware. It’s called the smart office, and it means using technology to make it easier for people to interact with data, make it easier for them to share information, and make it easier for them to collaborate and create higher value around business outcomes. It requires a shift from thinking solely about what can happen within hardware offerings to thinking about what is happening around the hardware as enterprises, SMBs, and workers use all available technology to create their smart office environment.
Hardware is critical, but how we think about it is changing. The digital transformation in the way firms and employees work is enabled by bringing different pieces of technology together. Businesses are thinking about how each piece of technology – hardware, software, cloud, services – must work together to deliver the benefits of the smart office. The product-centric silos of the past are on their way out and this thinking is shaping new trends in the work landscape.
Work trends fueled by technology
Through ongoing network advances, IT infrastructure is more widespread than ever before. The ubiquity of the internet, sensors in devices to support network connectivity, and even BYOD desires of workers have made all office equipment into IT equipment now. No longer can copiers, printers, scanners, laptops, video displays, whiteboards, mobile devices, software, etc. be looked at individually to deliver the complete benefits they once did to a firm. Organizations have found that the ability to share information and support collaboration efforts across all these platforms throughout the network is highly productive and expected by their employees who are more and more digital natives. This trend of cross-platform collaboration will grow as technology advances continue and as the workforce changes.
The Internet of Things
Smarter offices have come about because of the internet of things (IoT). Manufacturers are engineering sensors into devices to provide status reports and make remote adjustments. These sensors let devices communicate and share data with other devices formerly considered disparate. Consider that there is technology already available that connects people to meeting rooms faster, senses the environment of the room (too hot or cold; even sensing carbon dioxide levels in the room,) communicates with the devices people are using to connect to the meeting, and connects with the building infrastructure to adjust brightness, volume, even airflow to the room to change the meeting room’s temperature. This type of technology interconnectivity contributes seamlessly to better meeting and collaboration experiences, producing more productive results.
Another important trend to recognize is the increase in remote workers. The newest generation in the workforce has grown up using digital technology to do work that once was possible only by being in an office building. Team meetings, conference calls, private chats, and information sharing can now be done on laptops and mobile devices wherever the employee is working. Working from home, or anywhere else remotely, is easier than ever before — which was fortunate when the COVID-19 impact created an enormous need for employees to work from home. Many firms that had not been willing to allow remote work in the past will find that employees can be as or more productive and collaborative using interconnected technologies. Once circumstances allow, some of these remote workers will be back in the office and may find themselves in conference rooms without cameras and other tools they’ve become accustomed to; tools they have learned to rely on that improve collaboration and make meetings more productive. Being back in the office could feel like a downgrade in technology and reduce the productivity that employees had at home — with Bring Your Own Meetings (BYOM) tools, it’s possible to capture the convenience of the smart home and bring it into the office.
The trend away from using printed pages to distribute information among office teams will continue. While a need for paper documents will still exist, that need will diminish as workers share more information and data using technologies other than paper. New collaboration applications, tools, and software enable real-time tracking of projects, make it easier for the reviewing and editing of documents, and make the management of tasks more efficient. Collaboration that once called for team members to have paper documents can now be done using interactive whiteboards, video conferencing and other collaborative platforms. As the workforce changes and remote workers increase, the use of collaborative tools like these will obviously increase.
Concerns about security and the need for compliance with an increasing number of regulations have driven trends in hardware and software integrations. One of the initial steps to ensure security and compliance tracking is user authentication. To make the authentication step easier for the user, mobility and near field contact (NFC) technology are being used together. Almost all workers have mobile phones that can use NFC to easily authenticate to devices without the need to remember a card, user ID, or password. This requirement for making secure technology easier to use across all interconnected devices and services will continue to drive the need for IT services from partners with a proficient understanding of network security.
The interconnected world has brought together different office technology pieces in ways that have made their use seamless and easier. The combination and use of these different technologies may be undertaken by the end user, the IT department of a company, or in some instances, through an imaging channel reseller. The challenge has not been the availability of technology in hardware or software. Rather it is in the way businesses are beginning to expect the bundling and consuming of the technologies. This is an opportunity for both imaging channel manufacturers and resellers as they come to realize they are in the information sharing business, encompassing the engineering, delivering, connecting, and servicing of more than one office technology category.
Changing technology consumption models
The traditional imaging channel was built on a variable consumption model. The transactional sale of a copier involves, most likely through a lease, a fixed payment amount a firm can easily budget. However, the pricing and sale of maintenance, service, and supplies is based on a cost per page that creates separate invoices that vary depending upon the total number of pages a firm prints in a billing period. All-inclusive MPS programs and new flat-rate programs have attempted to take the variables out of the equation to provide customers with one regular billing that includes hardware, service, and supplies. However, challenges remain in the flexibility of upgrading to new features and functions following a new hardware rollout, or when usage patterns change at the customer, making a seamless change difficult without altering the underlying payment agreement.
Many software solutions, too, are sold based on a consumption model. Customers are billed based on how many documents or transactions are processed, how many users interact with the solution, or how much bandwidth is consumed during an agreed-upon timeframe. With the growth of cloud platforms, the consumption of this technology, unlike hardware technology, has grown easier for customers to consume and vary their usage requirements. With cloud solutions, new features and functions can be added and made immediately available to users, and billing can vary at the customer’s discretion based upon the number of users that need access to the software technology during any given timeframe.
To meet today’s collaboration needs, these two technology consumption models are colliding. To share information efficiently, software is used across copiers, printers, interactive screens, and other office hardware technology. Current invoicing and billing models for separate hardware devices and software solutions are causing enterprises to wonder why they can’t have one invoice since many of the hardware, software, and services are, or can be, supplied by the same dealer or reseller. Additionally, organizations want to make sure they always have the most up to date technology in use, configured to their specific needs and budget.
The office technology utility
In the minds of many enterprise decision-makers, office technology is very much like electricity, water, and other utilities. They simply want the technology to work when it is turned on or accessed, and then pay for the technology they use during a time period. This “office technology utility” model can provide an opportunity for those creative enough to develop offerings around it. It could be viewed as another “as a Service” model. Still, there are challenges to overcome.
What to include in an “office technology utility” offering will differ between resellers, depending upon the type of technology they sell and are trained on. Those that have a wider technology offering that includes as much of the hardware and software needed for the type of information collaboration now required will be in a much better position. Those that choose to maintain a singular product category attitude will find it more difficult to remain competitive, and perhaps even more difficult to be attractive to M&A suitors.
In pricing the offer, customers have shown they prefer a flat rate such as a monthly fee. How that should and will be priced – per employee, per hours used, per something else – will evolve based upon the needs of the customer and the creativity of the reseller. There will need to be finance partners available that can provide flexibility of billing for technology upgrades during the agreement. Current lease and finance companies serving the imaging channel may be in good positions to do this.
Overall, a shift to this type of technology consumption model will most likely change the revenue and profit footprint of dealers and resellers. Revenue and profit growth will continue to be available for those bold enough to make the change. However, that revenue and profit will not come from the traditional sources that have served the channel for more than 50 years.
To make the new technology consumption model work, manufacturers must engineer products that can be interconnected with the collaboration tools organizations are using. This openness to work with any platform has been emerging and needs to continue. Manufacturers will need to support their channel partners’ requirements in delivering an “office technology utility” by broadening their collaboration solution toolkit in hardware and software, making it easier to deliver new features and functions to hardware automatically and seamlessly, and providing training and education to sales forces and customers alike.
Adjusting to the smart office era
Times are changing rapidly, and hardware changes are no longer the sole driving force behind office automation trends. The technology and creativity that interconnect devices and people are creating new working collaboration environments. How office technologies are acquired and consumed is changing rapidly.
Understanding that the imaging channel is really in the “information sharing business” forces our thinking to move from the selling siloes of the past. It forces dealers, resellers and manufacturers to ask how they can position themselves to enable the type of collaboration between both remote and onsite employees that enterprises now expect.
To do that, integration of different technology pieces is required to fit individual customers’ smart office needs. Simply put, in today’s climate, a dealer, reseller or manufacturer that is not investing in diversifying technology offerings and being creative in putting together an “office technology utility” is at risk of losing business to those who do.
As vice president, Marketing, Bob Madaio leads the marketing team for Sharp Imaging and Information Corporation of America, the B2B arm of Sharp Electronics.