PHOENIX—Though the Sharp dealer event held Nov. 28-Dec. 1 at the J.W. Marriott Desert Ridge Resort may have been dubbed Pulse 2017, perhaps a “Members Only” theme would have been more appropriate. During the general session held on the first full day of the meetings, Sharp President and CEO Doug Albregts stood on stage in front of nearly 1,000 attendees, including 166 dealerships nationwide, and pronounced his company to be on the verge of something special.
“Sharp has direct access to the best technology in the market today,” Albregts proclaimed. “Competitors are trying to get into the party, but they don’t have a ticket.
“You need to know the cadence of your company now and what it will be in the future.”
Albregts invoked the Willy Wonka “Golden Ticket” exclusivity in discussing how Sharp’s relationship with Foxconn is proving to be a game changer. Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group is the world’s largest electronics manufacturer—accounting for roughly half of the world’s electronics—and in August of 2016, it purchased $3.6 billion of Sharp’s stock (about 60 percent). That level of firepower has emboldened Sharp in expanding its product horizon, with much of the current and future offerings previewed in Phoenix.
Naturally, MFPs and printers garnered a solid patch of real estate in the product exhibition hall, with 30 new, mostly monochrome models slated for release this month and in Q2 of 2018. The uniformity of the line is one of its biggest selling points, noted George Grafanakis, senior manager, product marketing for Sharp Imaging and Information Company of America (SIICA). The black-and-white models range from 26 to 60 pages per minute and all use a single monochrome toner cartridge, which has backward compatibility with the 365, 465 and 565 predecessor models. All monochrome models have identical options for paper decks, finishers and exit trays; any hardware option will work on all machines. All models use the same interface, print drivers and user interface.
Twenty-two of the models fall under the Workgroup A3 category, to go with six A4 machines. Four more are slated for a spring release.
“The dealers love it, they’ve been waiting for us to upgrade our monochrome series so they can have the same user experience that they have with the color,” Grafanakis said. “Now they can go into existing customers and sell up or down the line, black and white or color. They don’t have to change their sales pitch because the strategy is the same. It’s a common user experience.”
The next generation of the AQUOS BOARD interactive display, the PN-L705A (slated for launch in January), was definitely a crowd pleaser with its 4K resolution that was nothing short of stunning. Stephen Brauner, senior product manager, professional displays for SIICA, paged through a number of applications that really brought the 70” board’s brilliance to light: medical, architectural, desktop publishing and education.
“On paper, the specs look all the same,” Brauner said, referencing a number of Sharp’s main competitors in this space. “We’ve taken a lot of time to incorporate the usability factor—how it feels, does it feel like writing on paper, does it respond to your touch? We took all of that into consideration in its design. The resolution on this is really quite amazing.”
One of the most popular adjacencies to seep into the dealer channel is office drinking water. Recently, SIICA announced an alliance with Skywell LLC to distribute the Skywell Atmospheric Water Generator. Unlike most water supply platforms, this smart atmospheric water generation (AWG) dispenser takes in ambient air and collects moisture through condensation. Unlike a dehumidifier, the AWG employs a six-stage water filtration system, ultraviolet purification and ozone treatment that removes contaminants to create clean and pure drinking water.
Robotics Garnering Mindshare
For those dealers looking for a creative divergence in product offerings, perhaps nothing was more to the left of center than the Sharp INTELLOS Automated Unmanned Ground Vehicle (A-UGV). This rugged multi-terrain vehicle looks like one of the leading remote control toys on every 12-year-old’s Christmas wish list, but this $250,000 security solution is geared toward outdoor surveillance, safety and maintenance inspection. It can capture video and audio around the perimeter of a business and serves as a robotic security guard, and has sensors that can detect anomalies in atmospheric conditions (alerting for fires or toxic gases/fumes).
While the A-UGV, which debuted this past summer, is traditionally distributed through the security industry, Sharp’s direct dealer branches have shown great enthusiasm for a product that is ultimately a business process automation tool, according to Cliff Quiroga, vice president of Sharp Robotics Business Development.
“On the marketing side, there’s tremendous demand to improve productivity…to get more out of people for less,” he said. “Many companies are downsizing their numbers and need to be more productive. Automation in robotics is going to be the next push in allowing companies to become more productive, more profitable and successful. Sharp wants to be on the leading edge and provide that next productivity gain. It’s a natural extension to the business process improvements that come with our other products, just like the copier.”
There was much excitement surrounding Sharp’s Smart Office platform, including a system that aggregates various tools a user employs. The heart of the system features a “Sysbot” device with a camera that is positioned on a meeting table and can authenticate attendees while using voice recognition capabilities. The overall system is still in concept stage, and the unnamed Sysbot could make its debut in 2018. The smart home/smart office represents a strong area of concentration for Sharp as it continues to provide solutions outside of the mainstream.
Just off the main exhibition area was a room dedicated to Sharp’s 8K resolution technology, which included what the company calls the world’s first 8K camcorder. It boasts application opportunities for areas such as medical, security, inspection systems, broadcasting and infrastructure maintenance. The camera carries a price tag of roughly $80,000.
The exhibit was hardly an all-Sharp, all-the-time bonanza. There were 53 other companies featured in the exhibit space, spanning the entire document imaging galaxy via products, solutions, software, leasing and other related services.
Albregts took a few moments to discuss Sharp’s U.S. veterans hiring initiative for dealers. Sharp is encouraging dealers to onboard veterans with technical training backgrounds for positions in technical and sales positions. The manufacturer itself is actively recruiting veterans while providing information on its initiative through websites and outreach programs. In a fitting gesture, Albregts invited a pair of veterans on stage, Mike Stramaglio and Frank Cannata, and presented them with NFL jackets commemorating their service.
Among the guest speakers was Derrick Wilson of The Wilson Group, who discussed his success in selling the AQUOS BOARD to a school district, where the conversation had originally centered on workflow solutions. The client took a look at the BOARD, sitting off in a corner, and the talk quickly switched gears from copiers to the BOARD.
Mike Marusic, COO and EVP of marketing, spoke on a range of topics, from dealer satisfaction surveys to the veteran hiring program and the national account program. He was later joined by Shane Coffey, associate vice president of document product management, in discussing how shrinking margins and compressed CPCs are factoring into the movement toward product adjacencies. Sharp obviously seeks to address that movement in offerings such as robotics, water generation and 8K imaging.
The marriage of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) was showcased in several forms, including the smart kitchen, which uses data and preferences to turn recipes into reality, all with the help of technology. AI can also be leveraged to learn a user’s viewing trends to produce smart entertainment.
But most eyes are peeled on how AIoT can make a difference for the smart office. The ultimate goal is to share information anytime and anywhere to improve productivity and promote innovation. Sharp appears poised to become a leader in this space, backed by the innovative support of Foxconn.
The second full day’s general session included a lively, educational and entertaining lecture given by Professor Tassu Shervani from the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University. His presentation, “How Technology is Reshaping the World: Opportunities and Challenges,” centered on how the management of technology is one of the most important tasks we face. Looking at the drivers of workplace evolution, we have evolved from people following processes supported by technology to technology driving processes supported by people.
All told, the meetings struck a nice balance between the technologies available today and the smart office-related magic that sits just on the horizon. Sharp itself is coming off a somewhat dismal first half to 2017, but the company picked up steam toward the end of the year, fortified by a well-received experience in Phoenix. That Sharp has a vision for expanding beyond the natural boundaries of the document imaging world, and has the backing of one of the world’s biggest electronics players, bodes well for its future.