Here’s another year that may not go down as the biggest year in the office technology industry from a news standpoint through the end of October when this article was completed. Still there are a few notable stories as well as a noteworthy acquisition to report. Some readers may describe these stories as business as usual and no doubt much of this is business as usual. With that disclaimer out of the way, here’s our take on the Top 10 Stories of 2013.
- Anger at the Aftermarket.
Whether it’s Lexmark’s never-ending battles against remanufactured toner suppliers or Canon’s big win this summer against this group as the result of a General Exclusion Order (GEO) by the U.S. International Trade Commission regarding certain toner cartridges and photosensitive drums sold for use in Canon and HP laser printers, OEMs are serving notice to aftermarket suppliers that they will not be trifled with. Even though the OEMs may be fed up with what they deem infringements on their intellectual property, there are still big bucks to be made in the aftermarket. We’ll continue to see the OEMs win their share of battles in the courtroom, but it’s anybody’s guess who’s ultimately going to win the war.
- Sharp Imaging and Information Company of America defies the doubters.
Going back a year, this isn’t exactly what we thought we’d have to say about Sharp in late 2013, even though we figured they’d end up somewhere in the Top 10 Stories of 2013. Beginning last year and continuing into this year one couldn’t ignore the rumors circulating that Samsung was on the verge of acquiring Sharp; however, those rumors were laid to rest earlier this year. Of course the financial difficulties of Sharp’s parent company in Japan planted the seeds for those rumors, but despite those financial issues, Sharp’s office technology business had a reasonably good year in 2013, at least in the U.S. One might attribute some of that to credible products, Sharp’s Promotion Plus pricing, and a dealer channel that was able to overcome the vicious rumors circulating throughout the industry about Sharp’s premature demise.
- Samsung becomes a force to be reckoned with.
They’ve got product, they’ve got Tod Pike, formerly of Canon, and they are winning the hearts and minds of a growing number of dealers. Will they displace some of the other second-tier players (no disrespect intended) in the industry, or will they make a land grab from some of the upper tier players as they grow their product line? It’s too soon to tell, but if the early returns among the dealer community are any indication with many big name dealers picking up the line, Samsung is an office technology supplier not to be trifled with.
- The office technology industry takes on the patent trolls.
Thanks in large part to BTA General Counsel, Bob Goldberg and BTA as well as some of the office technology industry’s biggest OEMs, the industry has collectively made a stand against patent trolls who were targeting the customers of dealers and direct branches, frightening them with patent infringement lawsuits simply for taking advantage of some of the features found on their MFPs such as scan to e-mail. The initial furor and threats have died down as BTA and the industry collectively launched an awareness campaign with the dealer channel and end users to ease their minds about these patent infringements while some of the patent trolls have backed down on their trolling in the face of this united front from the industry.
- HP and Memjet shake up the printer industry with high-speed color office printers.
Earlier this year, Memjet generated some serious buzz in the printer market with the introduction of the C6010, a 60-ppm color printer that its marketing under the Memjet brand. This is a change in strategy after initially offering its technology to printer manufacturers in Europe and Asia. Meanwhile, in February HP rolled out the OfficeJet Pro X series of printers and MFPs, which uses HP’s PageWide technology, and delivers output at up to 70 ppm—that’s twice the speed and at reportedly half the printing cost compared to a laser printer. These two devices are clearly game changers for color printing, although we aren’t seeing many office technology dealers embracing these devices just yet. What’s interesting about Memjet, however, is that Parts Now is the first distributor to offer this device in the U.S. and that Memjet has created an MPS channel program to entice the MPS reseller channel into carrying the product. Based on its relationship with various OEMs who are using its technology in their output devices, this is a story that could very well remain notable going into the coming year.
- OEMs and solutions providers make a mobile move.
Nobody seems to stay in one place anymore and because of that, or more succinctly put, the mobile workforce, there’s an increasing need to access information and print from just about anywhere at any time. As a result, manufacturers are embracing mobile printing via apps such as Konica Minolta’s PageScope, Xerox’s PrintBack, Canon’s Mobile Print, Sharp’s Mobile-iOS, Ricoh’s HotSpot, and Toshiba’s ePrint, just to name a few. AirPrint capability is also gaining in popularity, allowing users to access and print from their mobile devices without having to download drivers. It wouldn’t be a surprise if in the next couple of years this capability becomes as standard on an MFP as a “Start” button or zoom reduction and enlargement.
- High hopes for high volume.
As more manufacturers introduce new higher-volume products as well as production print devices, their channels continue to prepare to sell into the production print marketplace. Canon’s latest inkjet introductions illustrate a new breed of product that is expected to open up doors for those well versed in production print. As margins continue to decline in the lower output device segments, it’s a given that some dealers in the right markets are taking these products on and finding new opportunities where there were none before.
- Managed Services becomes the service du jour.
That’s probably an unfair assessment of Managed Services because it makes it sound as if it’s a fad. But let’s not minimize its impact on the dealer channel and the opportunities it is opening up for dealers large and small. If you want an example that illustrates the potential, look no further than Marco in St. Cloud, MN. In just five short years, its managed IT services’ revenue grew from $2.4 million to nearly $13 million today. Marco’s model has become the envy of dealers nationwide and is being replicated by other organizations. A managed IT services strategy makes a lot of sense as some contend that dealers can’t make money on hardware anymore. Although there are plenty of dealers who can easily disprove that statement, there’s more like Marco looking to expand their service offerings into IT. Why not, when the prevailing wisdom is that whoever controls the network controls the account.
- Dealers become disenchanted with MPS.
Oh yes, there’s still plenty of folks touting the benefits of MPS, but there’s plenty of dealers out in the real world disappointed with the margins and not so sure anymore that this is the greatest opportunity never sold and the key to their survival in the industry. In fairness to the dealers who are doing it right and members of the analyst community who contend that it’s all in the execution, some of those dealers who are disenchanted might be better served by going back to the drawing board and plotting out a new strategy. It’s a given that there’s plenty of dealers selling MPS who are doing it wrong or practically giving it away, and that’s a good reason for even those dealers with the best of MPS intentions to become disenchanted.
- DocuWare acquires Westbrook Technologies.
In early September, DocuWare Corporation announced that it had acquired Westbrook Technologies, Inc., an ECM vendor known for its Fortis and Fortis Blue solutions. Based in Branford, CT, Westbrook has a sizable customer and partner base in North America. This acquisition is expected to enhance DocuWare’s position as a global ECM vendor for small and mid-sized companies. It also adds 1,500 Westbrook customers to DocuWare’s existing base of more than 10,000 customers while expanding DocuWare’s 500+ network of authorized DocuWare partners with 40 Westbrook resellers. Westbrook is currently operating as a subsidiary of DocuWare. Bottom line, a document management powerhouse became even more powerful in 2013.