By Jessica Schiffenhaus, Research Editor, December 3, 2013
A crowd of over 900 attendees joined Sharp Imaging and Information Company of America (SIICA) in Orlando, Florida, for the Tour de Force 2013—the company’s national dealer meeting.
The theme of this year’s event centered on music because of the similarities between the issues faced by the music industry as it embraced the digital age and those facing the copier industry, which is transitioning from hardware-only sales to providing complete solutions, explained Laura Blackmer, SIICA’s new senior vice president of sales as of May 2013. Blackmer’s previous experience includes holding senior positions at Hewlett-Packard, Onforce, Inc., and most recently as senior director of North American Channel Sales for Intermec, Inc. The event included live performances on welcoming night and a concert following the awards ceremony (Doug Albregts and a few other members of the Sharp team took the stage during the opening act). And Tuesday’s guest speaker was Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of Iron Maiden, whose speech emphasized the importance of listening to customers so that they become not just customers, but fans.
Although the product showcase featured new monochrome A3 devices and printer MFPs, as well as the company’s color production units, hardware was not the main focus of the show. Solutions we saw in their infancy at last year’s show were in full force, including Cloud Portal Office and MICAS. New software concepts were on the floor for dealer feedback, and 28 of Sharp’s third-party partners had booths set up around the room.
Doug Albregts, SIICA president, addressed the company’s financials during the general session, admitting that shortly after last year’s dealer meeting, Sharp released its most challenging financial report in its history. Despite those circumstances, he had positive news to deliver. Sharp’s document business is up 12 percent since last year; Sharp-only dealer business is up 30% and dual-line dealer business is up 10%. Additionally, in the first half of 2013, compared with the first half of 2012, Sharp Corporation’s revenue increased 22 percent to $13.7 billion; its operating income was $340 million, versus a loss of $1.7 billion in 2012; and Sharp Corporation’s Business Solutions Division has grown 14 percent versus 2012, with revenues of $1.6 billion.
Last year, Sharp moved away from “deal of the day” pricing and, after a careful assessment, came up with a new structure for dealers that, according to Sharp, left dealers with the same or better pricing than they had. One of Sharp’s intentions for the plan was to stop dealers from stocking up on inventory, freeing up cash for dealers to invest in their businesses. According to Albregts, this transition helped Sharp knock off $40 million in AR balance and $60 million in inventory. An unintentional consequence of this shift in the supply chain, however, was that Sharp had trouble fulfilling some orders.
Sharp announced a VMI (Vendor Managed Inventory) partnership with Tech Data, the largest end-to-end supplier of technology in the world, which will provide closed distribution of Sharp products, meaning only to Sharp-authorized dealers and partners. Sharp has control over who is able to get Sharp products from Tech Data, and will continue to control pricing. The benefits to dealers include quicker product deliveries—Bob Dutkowsky, CEO of Tech Data, said that 99 percent of the time, if an order is placed before 2 pm, products arrive within two days—and the ability to order third-party products from Sharp on the same invoice. Sharp executives told analysts during a private meeting that they were pleasantly surprised to find out that many Sharp dealers were already using Tech Data’s services, and that the reaction from dealers in general was positive.
New Solutions Steal the Show
Sharp’s new cloud offering, Cloud Portal Office, is a document sharing and collaboration tool that is hosted in the cloud and consists of several components, which make it accessible from all types of devices. The Sharp OSA-enabled MFP connector lets users scan to/print from the cloud and add index information for searching and access to the MFP’s full scan settings; the connector also supports any access controls set for each user, such as to block color printing. The browser component is where users can set share permissions for files and folders, subscribe to notifications, change files, add notes to files and folders, restore previous versions of a document, and more. Users can access Cloud Portal Office on tablets and smartphones via a mobile app, and the desktop sync component will automatically store local files to the cloud. Additionally, Cloud Portal Office Meeting Room is a connector for Sharp Aquos Boards, allowing users to interact with documents on the board, make edits, and save back to the cloud. Meeting Room also lets users create temporary guest credentials to share meeting materials with attendees without Cloud Portal Office accounts. Set to launch in January 2014, Cloud Portal Office is priced per user license, which comes with 10 GB of storage, per year. One of the key differentiators of Cloud Portal Office versus some other cloud services is the security and control aspect of it, according to Sharp. Administrators can create and manage users, which includes locking a user’s account, so if an employee leaves the company, the data is protected, but not deleted. For dealers to manage their customers’ Cloud Portal Office licenses or future offering licenses, Sharp offers the Cloud Portal License Manager.
Future plans for Cloud Portal Office’s collaboration element include an HTML 5-based system that provides video conferencing, chat, on the fly meetings, and the ability for multiple people to collaborate on one document from different systems (Aquos Board, tablets, etc.).
Another tool that dealers seemed eager to get their hands on is MICAS (Machine Intelligence Call Avoidance System). MICAS is a cloud-based tool for dealers that allows them to monitor all of their customers’ devices (the model names and serial numbers of which must be entered in the system by the dealer first) and deliver reports and dynamic assistance to dealers, service technicians, dispatchers and end users. All of the different resources service technicians may need to reference in order to fix an issue—job log, service manual, parts guide, Sharp academy, etc.—are now aggregated into one system. So, if a machine has an error, MICAS identifies the error code and links to troubleshooting guides, videos, and all other available information from one location.
MICAS can deliver detailed usage reports per device, per customer, and eventually, with the integration of Sharp Remote Device Manager, MICAS will be able to read non-Sharp MFP and printer meters via the devices’ MIB. Users can also create all sorts of reports, including a roll-up report that will show all machines and their status, and can be sorted to list devices with the most critical errors first, so that technicians can quickly be assigned those calls. MICAS is designed to help dealers reduce their call volume and time spent in the field for repairs. When a device has an error, the machine identifies the exact problem and produces data specific for dispatchers, service technicians and end users. Dispatchers can address the problem if it can be done remotely or by a user. Or if the problem requires a service call, dispatchers can view a list of service technicians trained for that specific device, so they can assign the appropriate person to the job. Service technicians can utilize MICAS’s dynamic assistance and prepare for the service call ahead of time.
A new project only eight weeks into development, Centro is HTML 5-based software intended to provide an easy way for teams in small offices to collaborate and share materials. Users can set the system to pull documents, contact information, and other files from cloud services, USB drives, local files and more. The software can connect to Dropbox, Google Drive, and Cloud Portal Office, for instance, and watch designated folders or documents and pull new files down to Centro. Centro also supports DNLA-compliant devices (certain TVs, displays, and other technologies), which in this case means it can connect to a TV in a conference room, for instance, and display whatever the user chooses to display. This enables multiple users to present in a meeting without having to switch devices. Another future technology at the showcase was a customized user experience concept solution; it consists of a cloud site that allows users to customize “My MFP UI,” a personalized control panel associated with log-in credentials that includes applications and workflows, as well as job retention and history for users, allowing users to perform secure print jobs by pulling from the cloud. Administrators would be able to determine the level of customization—organization-wide, per department, per user, etc.—and users can access their customized control panel at a supported device either manually, via Active Directory, or, eventually, through near-field communication. These customized control panels can also be accessed via a mobile device and used as a remote control panel—even on devices with basic LED control panels such as the new color MFPs.
Other software updates include Sharpdesk Mobile 2.0, which now allows users to change print and scan attributes from their mobile devices, print the body of an email, and scan directly from a mobile device; and a new version of Sharp OSA 4.5, which supports embedded OSA applications on most existing and new products, will roll out in the first quarter of 2014. Embedded serverless apps can make it faster to perform functions—Bates stamping, for example—because it is done locally at the device rather than at the server level.
Sharp Announces New A4 Color and A3 Monochrome Devices
Set to launch in December are Sharp’s brand-new color MFPs: the 25-ppm MX-C250 and 30-ppm MX-C300w, built for small workgroups and countertop environments. Both devices have standard paper capacities of 300 sheets and support an additional 500-sheet drawer, which is the sole option. The MX-C250 supports copy, print and scan, and has a 35-sheet automatic document feeder, while the MX-C300w also supports fax functionality and has a 50-sheet RADF. The units are network-connected and support mobile printing; they also come equipped with standard PCL 6 and Adobe PostScript 3 drivers, starter toner cartridges with rated yields of 1,000 impressions (rated yield is 6,000 impressions for the regular cartridges) and separate drums. Additionally, the MX-C300w has a wireless interface and offers wireless direct, which allows mobile users to print wirelessly to the device without having to be connected to an organization’s network. Other features include ID card copy and scan to/print from USB.
Further down the road is a printer version of the MX-C300w, which will support the same supplies. Additionally, sometime next year, a version of the MX-C300w to be sold in the IT channel is scheduled to launch; this will feature a larger, color touchscreen display, a hard drive, and support Sharp OSA.
Those familiar with the positioning of Sharp’s mid-range color devices launched earlier this year will be quick to understand the concept of the new “Advanced” and “Essentials” monochrome series, targeted to launch in January 2014. The models in the “Advanced” series—the MX-M365N, MX-M465N, and MX-M565N—are positioned as solutions-oriented products. Key features of this series are Sharp’s 10.1" control panel; the latest OSA and two built-in OSA modules (application communication and accounting); a standard keyboard; standard Adobe PostScript 3; and a 150-sheet DSPF. Additionally, each device comes with one user license of Cloud Portal Office for one year, with 1 GB of storage.
The models in the “Essentials” series are geared toward bid situations and cost-conscious customers. Sharp describes these models—the MX-M364N, MX-M464N and MX-M564N –as fully functional, but scaled down in some areas that customers may not require in order to reduce costs. This series offers a 7" color touchscreen, a 100-sheet RADF, and although OSA is supported, the modules are optional. Organizations can add optional Adobe PostScript 3, a retractable keyboard, and other options available on the Advanced series.
All six models will share the same options, supplies cost per page and duty cycles. Although they are not launching until sometime later in 2014, highlights of the upcoming 65- and 75-ppm monochrome devices include all of the same enhancements as the Advanced series previously mentioned. Additionally, these devices will have standard wireless interfaces and wireless direct printing, and support the same accessories as the MX-6240N and MX-7040N.
Announced last year, the Pro Series MX-6500N/7500N was on the showcase floor, fully configured. The section buzzed as the Pantone-certified devices churned out full-bleed booklets, a capability not available from any other manufacturer, according to Sharp. The series also fully supports EFI Fiery Command Workstation from its 15" monitor, eliminating the need for a separate workstation—another industry first and a potentially cost- and space-saving benefit.
Republished with permission from Buyers Laboratory LLC (www.buyerslab.com). ©2013 Buyers Laboratory LLC