Printers aren't so dumb anymore. They don't just sit there, idly pumping out mindless copy. Multifunction printers, in particular, are becoming communication hubs and the link to a world of comprehensive document management.
The growing mobile workforce, as well as the demand for more intelligent devices and constant access to the Web and company info, is changing the office landscape. Many in the industry are calling it the Web 2.0 movement.
According to experts, Web 2.0 is set to change the way businesses invest in office automation. In order to keep up with the shift, vendors are transforming the face of copiers and printers, morphing them from standalone office devices into intelligent business application solutions.
Speaking at a recent Trans-Tasman Business Circle lunch, Cisco Systems chairman and CEO, John Chambers, told a crowd of 600 partners how important the shift to the Web 2.0 world was.
Chambers said the world was entering the next phase of the Internet: the human network. The first phase was all about the transaction of the machine, which drove 10 years of productivity. The next wave is about collaboration and Web 2.0, and a more personalised, easy-to-use format, he said.
An evolutionary theory
Like the rest of IT, printers are evolving, and cranking up a notch on the IQ scale. This is creating new market opportunities for partners, particularly in software customisation, consulting and support. The latest models aim to expedite office workflow and information management processes, Ricoh Australia general manager systems support, Les Richardson, said. Coining it Print 2.0 and Scan 2.0, he said workers needed to print anytime/anywhere.
"Fuelled by the collaborative and interactive sharing of intelligence, Web 2.0 is changing the way people and businesses communicate across traditional boundaries," Richardson said. "As such, the information economy is increasingly dependant upon open architecture, scalability and integration to deliver the benefits of this new trend."
Ricoh recently hatched a new Business Solutions Group in a bid to transform the way businesses invest in office automation. The new support centre will work with customers and applications developers to extend the functionality of Ricoh devices through customized solutions.
The technology behind the collaborative push is Embedded Software Architecture (ESA) - an open source, JAVA-based applications platform for customised business solutions. Richardson claimed ESA was transforming printers and copiers from standalone office devices into intelligent business application hubs. Some of the business solutions around this include integrated cost recovery and centralised and on-demand Web-based printing.
To date, 25 Ricoh multifunctional copier/printers and laser printers offer ESA, but the sky's the limit now the business solutions group has formed and developers can further take advantage of the platform, he said.
The push for more intelligent apps is being driven by the fact people are always on the go. "Clients want the ability to print without being next to the printer," Richardson said.
Follow Me Printer is one such intelligent printing tool. The printer is able to read smart card ID swipes to run a follow-me print job out to the authenticated user at a specified printer.
"If the client is working from home, they can print to server in the office. They can walk up to any printer, swipe a prox card, and get info," Richardson said.
Kyocera Mita Australia marketing manager, Anthony Toope, said the effect of Web 2.0 on the printer landscape boiled down to providing better customer service. In an effort to get more collaborative, lower costs and boost efficiency, many are investing in higher speed workgroup models.
"Resellers and system integrators embodying the Web 2.0 way of thinking can offer a high level of service and support as part of a total managed print service," Toope said.
Kyocera's efforts to boost integrated network print device management solutions include the KMnet Admin tool. This manages usage as well as produces email notifications and reports. Partners could work out a solution or decipher problems before making a service call, Toope said.
"The Web 2.0 tool lets a VAR view the customer's fleet on the Internet," he said. "It shows when a product is running short on toner or where there's a jam.
"We'll see these sorts of tools becoming more and more important to customers looking for a managed print service."
With a view to improved collaboration, Toope forecast the workgroup arena would heat up this year. "The up to 20-user space is growing. The product is repositioned to the under $1000 price tag, whereas it used to be $1300," he said.
The next step is to get 2-way communication. "This will give us a higher level of service reporting with customers, whereby we can do break/fix within the office," Toope said.