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Apps: bespoke or off-the-shelf?


 Andy Johnson, Head of Product Management, Brother

Andy Johnson, Head of Product Management, Brother

As the number of printing apps continues to rise, we ask our panel whether they are seeing more demand for customised applications.

Have you developed customised apps for clients to embed on their MFPs, or does the existing offer from OEMs cover all their needs?

Sam Elphick, Sales Director, Lex Business Equipment Ltd: “We haven’t developed customised apps to date. Both UTAX’s and Develop’s offerings are very strong and encapsulate all the necessary functions that our customers require from apps for their printing devices. Our clients in the construction and design industry particularly like the ability to take a photograph on a smartphone and print this directly on an MFD when they return to the office, without the need to connect to PC or email.”

Matt Goodall, Service Director, Office Evolution: “We haven’t developed customised apps. We do, however, offer the option of customising the screen to suit customer needs, colour co-ordinating it and adding the customer logo. We are also able to install specific apps developed by Develop for use on the MFP. These extend to eco copying and eco consumption monitors, finger print and card authentication modules, web browsing, Searchable PDFs and Editable OCR files.

“The apps available from Develop meet all needs we have at present, but the open API nature of the machines does allow for further options if required.”

Toni Gibiino, Group Marketing Director, RDT Office Solutions Group: “Yes, we’ve been developing custom apps for Xerox MFPs since the inception of Xerox’s ConnectKey platform. Apps add real value to the basic functions of a typical MFD. At their best, apps offer business productivity beyond the traditional use of the hardware.”

Paul Strout, MPS Key Account Director, ZenOffice: “Yes, indeed. We have developed apps and we have also provided customers with the skills to develop their own.”

Steve Hawkins, Managing Director, Xeretec: “Currently, we are working with a number of specific customers to create applications that deliver real value within their work processes. In my opinion, this targeted approach is where apps will deliver the greatest value and will provide the basis upon which proper replicable solutions can be developed.”

Mark Smyth, Operations Director, Vision Plc: “Vision has had some involvement with app development, even if not fully customised, as part of our Managed Printing Solutions offering. We are currently working with specific clients on app development, mainly embedded on Samsung devices that now have the Android Operating System as standard.

“OEMs are starting to invest in applications development that could potentially differentiate their products and I predict a possible app war at some point in the future.”

Paul Strout, MPS Key Account Director, ZenOffice:
Paul Strout, MPS Key Account Director, ZenOffice:

Gary Downey, Group Marketing Director, Apogee: “Yes, we have developed customised apps for our clients. We often find when assessing client workflows that there are opportunities to automate repetitive tasks or digitise some of their processes that currently rely on either paper documents or obsolete technology.

“As an independent, we have access to a wide range of solutions and our PS specialists will tailor these to fit each client. That said, there will be environments where a client’s mixed infrastructure or processes require functionality not available from the OEMs. In such cases, we will develop a customised application to facilitate that integration or optimise that workflow.”

Andy Louch, Product Marketing Manager, Danwood: “The apps we have installed to date have all been from the manufacturers’ standard portfolios, but that doesn’t mean that they cover all customer needs, as so many businesses have so many different requirements.

“Using apps on office MFPs is still in its infancy, but as they become more commonplace it’s likely we will develop custom apps to meet individual requests. Look at smartphones and tablets. They started out with a relatively small number of apps, but there’s now one for anything and everything. The same may happen with business apps for MFPs. As they become more commonplace, the ideas and requests will grow and the manufacturers’ portfolios will need to grow with them, or more likely individual developers or organisations like Danwood will become more involved in the development.”

Andy Johnson, Head of Product Management, Brother: “Most Brother devices offer an open interface called Brother Solutions Interface (BSI). This enables our customers to develop embedded solutions and customise the display to suit their needs.

“A good example is our Scan to SIMS solution. This was developed by an ISV to allow customers to scan directly to the SIMS database from a custom-made button on the display. SIMS is a student information management system used by 80% of schools in the UK.

“We offer this free of charge on our devices so customers can develop solutions. If required, Brother can help with this development. Other standard apps include the ability to scan directly to popular cloud services such as OneDrive, Google Drive and Dropbox.”

Peter Munday, Global Experiential Solutions Marketing Manager, Xerox: “Xerox is running a programme called Personalised Application Builder (PAB), a set of tools, training and marketing resources that enables partners to personalise solutions to meet their customers’ unique requirements and then differentiate themselves by branding the solution under their own name.

“Unlike other vendors, the versatility of Xerox’s programme lets partners create personalised solutions, ranging from office and managed print services to production, giving them scope to grow. Partners can build their own applications or work with Xerox’s authorised developer network to create solutions on their behalf.

“Xerox has also created a number of ready-to-use apps that partners, and now customers, can access via the Xerox App Gallery. Customers can directly browse and install these apps with any 2016 Xerox ConnectKey Technology-enabled ‘i-series’ Smart MFP – right from the user interface of the device.”

Jason Cort, Director Product Planning and Marketing, Sharp: “Sharp is very responsive to customer and partner feedback and a number of our products have been adapted following customer requests. For example, a number of features in Job Accounting II were added because customers requested them.”

Nigel Allen, Marketing Director, KYOCERA Document Solutions: “Yes, KYOCERA has developed customised embedded HyPAS apps for its devices to address specific customer needs.”

Steve Hawkins, Managing Director, Xeretec
Steve Hawkins, Managing Director, Xeretec

Steve Coombs, Solution Business Manager (North West Europe), OKI Systems (UK) Ltd: “Yes. The most compelling example of this is our SENDYS Explorer document management app. When configured with cloud connectors, this allows users to scan and perform optical character recognition (OCR) on files; send them to Google Drive, Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft OneNote or Dropbox; and access the documents via an OKI multifunction printer or mobile device.”

What problems have your customised apps solved?

Toni Gibiino: “In one particular instance, a major global client had made a significant acquisition and was struggling with the challenge of managing two unique document management systems. Both systems required information updates within a specific time frame, which increased workload and manual intervention across the two businesses.

“Our service app provided the company with pre-configured templates that allow documents to be scanned; dynamically renamed to include location details and timestamps; and deposited in several locations as one automated process. The app automated and simplified the process of converting the documents through an easy-to-use interface integrated with Xerox MFPs on 114 sites.”

Paul Strout: “So far, the apps have been more of an aid to communication than specific problem solvers. For instance, we had one customer involved in a major office relocation and they wanted to utilise the large screen of the MFP to provide consistent messaging around the relocation, with advice on where users could go for support. We provided training and the customer created their own default screens for the MFP to support their relocation communications strategy.

“The same customer also utilised the app creation capability to customise its MFPs globally to generate local season’s greetings over the Christmas period.

“We have also created apps to provide service/support contact information to replace the old-fashioned stickers we used to place on equipment. Our latest app is geared around user feedback. We have always been highly pro-active in seeking customer feedback. However, this has historically come from senior managers within our customers rather than from users themselves. Using a combination of app development and internet-based survey tools, we now have an app to provide us with direct feedback from the end-user. We share this with our customers’ leadership teams and use it to help drive improvements in customer service.”

Jason Cort, Director Product Planning and Marketing, Sharp
Jason Cort, Director Product Planning and Marketing, Sharp

Steve Hawkins: “We have solved specific blockages within a customer’s work process, which were creating time delays, process breakages and manual errors. All aspects were ultimately creating cost in the process from human intervention. These significant costs were removed through a tighter, technology-enabled process.”

Mark Smyth: “Apps have been developed primarily for scanning and reviewing documents utilising an MFP’s tablet display, with the ability to perform basic edits on the fly. The use of cloud storage apps and collaboration apps are starting to gain wider acceptance. Growing confidence among CIOs and IT Directors is enabling their use within businesses.”

Gary Downey: “Mixed fleets, unique network configurations and business processes all require a more flexible approach, and that’s where our ability to tailor and develop apps is a big advantage for us and our clients.”

Andy Louch: “Whilst we have not developed any specific apps ourselves, we have signed up to App development programmes with several of our manufacturer partners, as the ability to tailor a print solution to meet very specific customer requirements is going to become more and more important as business needs change.

“We do know of at least one of our customers who has been developing their own MFP app to enable students at their school to view timetables on the MFP screen. This shows how organisations are realising the potential of their modern MFPs and wanting to take advantage of their abilities.”

Peter Munday: “PAB is not designed to replace existing OEM solutions, but fill the void that exists when customers need something different to the off-the-shelf offerings.

Gary Downey, Group Marketing Director, Apogee
Gary Downey, Group Marketing Director, Apogee

“Partners are using PAB to create many different apps to solve their customers’ pain points, whether it’s helping them to communicate better with their employees or simplifying everyday processes by removing unnecessary and time-consuming steps from workflows. We are also seeing partners create apps that allow their customers to order items; request service and supplies; and even replace traditional services such as mailing or analogue faxing.”

Jason Cort: “With Job Accounting II, users get greater control over MFPs; they can use it to restrict access to certain functions of the MFP (such as colour copying) and limit how many pages each user can output. With the client billing option installed, the operator has an easy and direct way to charge individual jobs to specific clients, cost centres or client project codes – this was introduced in response to demand from insurers and solicitors via our resellers. Job Accounting II can be installed on any Sharp OSA 3.0 (or above) enabled MFP.”

Nigel Allen: “Some customisation requests are simple fixes, such as corporate branding, but others have led KYOCERA to develop new applications with further feature enhancements, such as Cloud Direct. We were receiving more and more requests relating to scanning and printing with Google Drive. We had an existing application that would allow users to scan and print from Google Drive, but there was a further requirement to be able to search for documents within their space and to offer a single sign-on option when used in conjunction with a secure print release solution. Cloud Direct was created to address these customer needs. Further customisation requests have now led to the creation of versions for OneDrive for Business and DropBox.”

Steve Coombs: “SENDYS Explorer solves many of the most common business challenges faced by OKI’s customers today. Essentially, it is a document management solution that will help companies of any size fulfil their document workflow needs, maximising efficiencies from capture to distribution and enabling them to streamline business processes and save time. It enables business users to convert documents and distribute or upload them to a chosen location, providing them with greater flexibility to edit, access, print, retrieve and share files.

“SENDYS Explorer’s mobile version allows customers to make use of their smartphone cameras to create scans and convert documents to editable formats, while also easily retrieving files and printing documents on-the-go. The SENDYS Explorer app is available on the App Store and on Google Play.”

Do you expect to develop your own customised apps in the near future?

Sam Elphick: “I don’t see any urgent need for developing customised apps at present, although as mobile technology improves and the needs of clients broaden, there could well be a need for more choice, so their development may be

Nigel Allen, Marketing Director, KYOCERA Document Solutions
Nigel Allen, Marketing Director, KYOCERA Document Solutions


Matt Goodall: “If it’s required, we will consider it. However, as with all bespoke software development, cost can often be prohibitive.”

Toni Gibiino: “Without a doubt. We started to invest in the development of apps a couple of years ago, offering solutions for simple tasks, such as scanning to secure repositories, as well as more complex functions, as mentioned previously. Today, we’re all used to apps on our phones and tablets, so using them to increase productivity in the office is just natural progression.

“Significant client education is still needed before we see wider adoption of apps across business. Most OEMs have some form of offering integrated in their MFPs, but resellers seem to be lagging behind when it comes to articulating the offering to their clients. With MFP apps we have a genuine means of improving productivity across many business functions. With print volumes declining, apps provide a source of new revenue for dealers in the channel.”

Paul Strout: “100 per cent yes – we’re all about the apps!”

Steve Hawkins: “Absolutely. We have appointed two developers within our organisation to continue our development in this area. iPhones and other smartphones have helped to make technology all about the supporting apps, and they will certainly be prominent in the future of printing. The creation of app-enabled MFPs is being discussed in nearly all meetings with our clients. It’s fair to say that we’re seeing a lot of interest in what the technology can do now and its potential for the future.”

Mark Smyth: “The challenge with customised apps is the high cost of production, with app development costs starting at approximately £15,000 and rising significantly depending on the level of development required.

“The future of new printing hardware technology will be the ability to interact with the device and enable different methods of sharing information, mobility and collaboration, and this means a win for more generic apps such as Google Drive, DropBox, Evernote and OneDrive, to mention a few.”

Sam Elphick, Sales Director, Lex Business Equipment Ltd:
Sam Elphick, Sales Director, Lex Business Equipment Ltd:

Peter Munday: “We are proactively encouraging our partners to join the PAB programme and add to the thousands of custom apps that have already been created globally.”

Andy Louch: “Absolutely. Danwood’s commitment to the workplace of the future means we need to be able to meet the changing needs of modern businesses.

“The ability of an app to target one specific business need, not only allows us to tailor solutions, but can also help drive down a business’s costs. For example, there are some incredible full print management products available that offer a host of different facilities, but what do you do if a business only needs to use a small part of that functionality? Often, they still have to purchase the full product. An app could carry out that one single function, for a fraction of the cost and still enhance the customer’s business processes.

“Danwood has led the industry in print management for over 40 years and always been at the forefront of bringing new technology to the market. Developing apps to meet our customers’ needs and provide a fully tailored business solution will help us continue this tradition into the future.”

Jason Cort: “We will do more customisation in the future, as people demand more connections between their devices and business applications and MFPs become part of longer and more complex workflows. We offer software to help people create and access documents easily and ensure actions are fully auditable and secure, and we have the capability to customise it. It helps us because often those bespoke features end up informing our product development.”

Nigel Allen: “We are continuously looking at the market and listening to our customers to identify business needs and develop our HyPAS apps to meet them. As a result, we already have further apps in development, with a growing list of customer requests.

“KYOCERA doesn’t just look at corporate customisation requests, but instead looks at the whole market, as a small idea can have a big impact across all types and sizes of business.”

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