As convergence gains momentum in the IT industry, printer manufacturers are more than ever looking to take advantage of software development and vendor partnerships as a way to provide greater value to customers and channel partners.
Ricoh Co., an Adobe Systems partner since 1999, recently announced an agreement with the software company to develop and co-market document scanning, security and print solutions based on Adobe PDF.
John Hoye, senior manager of business development for Adobe’s paper-to-digital solutions, described the latest announcement as “an effort to expand the relationship to encompass more technology and give Ricoh the opportunity to go out and pursue its market goals.”
Hoye said the current focus is in the area of scanning since it’s becoming an important part of the value proposition for multifunction devices.
“Now, with the addition of new security technologies, again in the context of PDF, we can create more secure document workflows that happen to originate through a Ricoh device,” he said.
And when it comes to regulatory compliance and the preservation of company assets, Hoye said there is no reason why paper coming into an organization can’t be afforded the same types of protection once it is digitized.
Although Ricoh continues to develop its own software solutions, Mark Amos, a product specialist at Ricoh Canada, said there is no reason to reinvent the wheel if software that customers need already exists.
“Nowadays, (Ricoh is) a solution provider – we’re not talking about the feeds and speeds of the box anymore – and part of that solution is partnering with the right software vendors,” said Amos.
According to Mark Minshull, vice-president of Ricoh’s solutions marketing and U.S. technology centre, the worldwide revenue of the company’s software business this fiscal year was US$700 million.
In today’s marketplace, the hardware is more of a commodity and where differentiation comes into play is in software and services, which can be offered with the device, said Keith Kmetz, program director of hardcopy peripherals solutions and services at IDC.
He said opportunities are being seen in the areas of device management, tracking usage and accessibility, along with scanning solutions.
“Hardware and software vendors are joining forces to enhance both companies’ revenue streams,” said Kmetz.
Typically, he said, the product will continue to be sold through the hardware channel but because of the software, some differentiation can be added that another hardware vendor doesn’t have.
“Resellers have been preached to by their hardware suppliers that they need to move in the direction of solutions,” said Kmetz.
For Mike Allen, sales director at Ottawa-based Ricoh partner Advanced Business Imaging, customers are finding it much easier to buy printers since the software is now bundled in with the hardware.
“It’s almost demanded now by the client because they don’t want to search high and low for other products to make their printer work,” said Allen.
“They just want to be able to hook it up and download free software from Web sites.”
Xerox, which has had a long-standing software strategy in the high-end multifunction market, has opened the architecture of its products.
“That has enabled us to produce application programming interfaces (API) and then work with business partners around the world to develop solutions jointly for our customers,” said Mike Harvey, vice-president of marketing at Xerox.
For channel partners, Harvey said, it really has opened up a whole new area for value added services.
He cited enabling scan-to-e-mail functionality, training customers, custom development of software that integrates with multifunction products as money-making services a solution provider could offer.
“Migration from the higher end of the market, packaging those things and making them available in the technologies that are growing in appeal for resellers is a key aspect of our strategy,” said Harvey.
Ricoh’s strategy, according to Minshull, is to open its hardware so third parties can write software components to better integrate their products into customer environments.
Referring to Ricoh’s Developer Program for VARs, ISVs and system integrators, Minshull said “it’s a classic ‘let’s provide a platform for others to add value approach’, very much like you would do if you were a PC or game console vendor.”
Mark Phillips, assistant product manager at Canon Canada, said the company is very careful when choosing software partners.
“We pick leading vendors like Adobe but try to develop software in-house as much as possible to keep cost down,” said Phillips.
Although Canon sells products like its imageWARE software suite as standalone, Phillips said by bundling it in with the hardware, resellers are able to offer differentiation when selling printers and copiers.
“Just one more thing they can add to win the customer over,” he said.