Six months on from Inspire Expo, PrintIT Reseller caught up with Jason Cort, Director of Product Planning and Marketing at Sharp Europe
PrintIT Reseller (PITR): At the beginning of this year Sharp announced it was aggressively investing in new areas of technology such as AIoT and high-res (8K) display technology. What progress has been made in bringing new solutions to market over the past six months?
Jason Cort (JC): Sharp has brought several new products to market in recent months. We are pushing boundaries with the industry’s first 8K professional display, which was launched in Europe earlier this year. This forms a key a part of Sharp’s 8K ecosystem, which will ultimately cover the whole value chain from image creation to distribution and display.
Interest in the 8K professional display has also been magnified significantly by the complementary 8K broadcast camera, which has been previewed alongside the display at several events in 2018. The 8K camera is now progressing through final EU certifications and will launch later in the year, however it was recently used for a European pilot project with France TV to create 8K sports viewing at the Roland-Garros French Open.
Beyond the professional broadcast space, Sharp’s continued expansion into the European consumer market included the launch of the LV-70X500E 8K TV range. This demonstrates how Sharp is developing technology and services that span both the consumer and B2B markets, which helps to create a strong overall business position.
With regards to AIoT and connected technologies, at June’s Comdex in Las Vegas, Sharp, Foxconn and Microsoft announced and previewed the ‘Windows Collaboration Display’. A good example of how Sharp is leveraging Foxconn’s relationships with industry leaders, the system is built around Microsoft 365 tools and is designed to work with the company’s software offerings like Office, Teams and Whiteboard. Sensors on the board utilise the company’s Azure IoT spatial intelligence capabilities which, in an office environment, could enable better management of heating, cooling and room-booking systems based on how the space is actually used.
PITR: IDC predicts that by 2021, 40 per cent of companies in developed regions will have experienced a double-digit decline in office based printing. How will Sharp evolve its offering to account for this continuing decline?
JC: As outlined at our Inspire 2018 European dealer conference, Sharp will continue to evolve beyond print by transforming the way organisations engage with information through connected technologies. We offer a much wider proposition than many other vendors, which includes everything from traditional MFPs to large format displays, videoconferencing and collaboration solutions, cloud and IT services.
This unique mix of solutions and services will not only help Sharp to evolve, but means we are well equipped to support partners with diversification in their businesses, giving resellers an opportunity to protect print revenues.
A recent example of this is Sharp’s expansion into collaborative huddle and meeting space solutions. This includes Sharp Plug and Meet, a mobile, self-contained, video conferencing solution that has a modern design and instant on functionality. The huddle space also comes equipped with a 40” BIG PAD interactive capacitive touch display, Windows 10 solid state PC and wireless hub, and embedded web camera and speakers.
Additionally, Sharp’s recently enhanced Cloud Portal Office is at the heart of workflow solutions for accounts payable, the digital mailroom and HR. Easy to use, innovative solutions like this help us and our partners to offer services that businesses expect, enhancing value and readiness for the office of the future.
Further evidence of Sharp’s B2B ambitions beyond the MFP can be found in the continued expansion of our IT managed services in to Denmark, Norway and Italy. This is one of the many proactive steps we are taking as a business to become more IT centric, an ambition which is also reflected in the recently proposed acquisition of Toshiba’s personal-computer business.
PITR: What impact is the DX economy having on OEMs and their channel partners? Do you see digital transformation as an opportunity or a challenge?
JC: Digital transformation is high on the agenda for all types of businesses, but success in this area requires a change in mind-set and not just technology. OEMs and their channel partners must go through an emotional and intellectual change in order to digitally transform. Once we overcome the emotional challenge of digital transformation, which can be seen as too big or too difficult, we can start to take practical steps to achieve it.
With the traditional print industry predicted to decline, both OEMS and channel firms need to undergo enormous changes in order to become digitally focused and succeed in this disruptive landscape. As with any legacy industry reliant on a huge hardware installed base, manufacturers must find new areas of innovation whilst also protecting their core business.
According to Quocirca’s Global Print 2025 market insight study, 71 per cent of manufacturers are aware that disruption is coming. However, only 39 per cent expressed confidence that they were ready for future changes. It’s important for OEMs and print channel specialists to lay the groundwork now to prepare for a digital future and make sure they stay ahead of the curve.
Manufacturers and channel partners that are quick to embrace DX-related technologies will undoubtedly outgrow their competition. To do this, OEMs must have an open approach to partnering with innovative newcomers who offer complementary software and service solutions. This is crucial to future success.
Furthermore, customers will increasingly look to buy products from IT capable vendors, meaning OEMs and channel organisations need to respond accordingly. OEMs will need to move into the office equipment channel to the IT channel, embracing innovation and digital transformation to provide the products and services that businesses expect in today’s digital era.
It’s also important to remember that the print industry is built on an annuity business model of multi (three to five) year service contracts. Therefore, the added complication off-setting a declining print business will be finding multi annuity business alternatives. A natural alternative in the digital space is as-a-service products, but printing will also have to evolve in order to become even more mobile and cloud-based.
PITR: At Inspire Expo you announced Sharp is offering channel partners profit opportunities beyond print through a wider portfolio that spans large format displays, videoconferencing and collaboration solutions. What’s the take-up been from the traditional channel in terms of diversifying into new areas since we last spoke at the beginning of this year?
JC: We have seen growth in the MFP channel for certain solutions, particularly interactive whiteboards. Our BIG PAD portfolio, for example, has proven popular with dealers responding to the growing demand for collaborative solutions. We’re also seeing some uptake of video conferencing – especially amongst partners who were already early adopters of a diversified approach.
However, the overall pace of diversification needs to speed up. There is a real risk that resellers who don’t make this journey fast enough will be left behind. We do try to go to partners with services and solutions that are easy for them to integrate into their existing portfolio, particularly if it’s something their natural channel competitors are offering.
We’ve already proven that successful diversification is possible through our direct sales force, so we will continue to encourage and support our channel partners to do the same.
PITR: Where do you see the print industry going in the next five years?
JC: As IDC predicts, the print industry is in decline. However, it will remain a substantial industry – printing won’t go away overnight, or in the next five years. It is entirely possible that new disruptions will accelerate the decline in print, for example brand new technology or the rise of Generation Z, but these factors are harder to predict.
What’s certain is that you will see an increase in diversification beyond the MFP, particularly for OEMs. The office equipment channel will become smaller, either because of acquisitions or because there will be less appetite for products. Therefore, OEMs will need to follow the market and move into the IT channel to keep up with the competition.
Products themselves will also evolve, driven to a large extent by consumer technologies. For example, we are already starting to see voice recognition in business environments, including in printers, but this kind of technology will become more pervasive in the next five years.
Importantly, organisations across the industry will have to become much more efficient in the way they serve their customers. As revenues decline and margins become thinner, we need to think about how we deliver MFPs to customers and how we can streamline this process.