Toshiba Canada expands digital products group

Last summer, Ralph Hyatt earned an expanded role within Toshiba of Canada Ltd., as the new general manager of the company’s recently formed Digital Products organization. Prior to this role, Hyatt served as the general manager of Toshiba of Canada’s Information Systems Group (ISG).

This new position was made possible after Patrick Costello, the general manager of Toshiba’s Consumer Electronics Group (CEG), announced his retirement in June. The Digital Products business group, which Hyatt is now in charge of, includes Toshiba’s ISG and CEG divisions.

Within the past six months, Hyatt says he was tasked with integrating both groups’ operations together in a streamlined fashion.

CDN caught up with Hyatt, where he discussed the changes within the new business group, some key areas of focus for 2010, channel partner updates and market strategies. Below is an edited transcript of the conversation.

CDN: Your role with Toshiba was expanded last summer after Patrick Costello retired. How much of a transition was this for you?

Ralph Hyatt: It was a little more challenging than I thought it would be. CEG and ISG are two businesses that are fairly closely aligned, but a lot of the market dynamics were more different than I thought they were going into it. So it took me a bit longer to get comfortable with the market on that side. From an IT market standpoint, Toshiba, as a brand for notebooks and mobile computing, has a very strong brand position on the CE side, but we were late to market with LCD TVs. In the market, from a competitive sense, we don’t have the same types of competitors in CE like we do with IT.

CDN: How did you integrate the CEG and ISG divisions together?

R.H.: The two businesses are integrated closely together from a backend, service, support, logistics and supply chain standpoint. We’ve accelerated this in the last six months so all backend operations look the same. Both organizations had separate channel strategies before. I’m trying to encourage each of the two groups to look at the other’s channel strategies and programs and learn and form best practices. We currently have 2,400 resellers in Canada and many have an interest to sell retail or commercial-class products and we want to make this easier for them to do. Both divisions historically sold to stores like Future Shop, Best Buy and other major retailers, but there was almost no dialogue in approaching those customers. Going forward, we’re trying to approach these key customers with this integration and convergence story across CE and IT. Over time, I think the way we’ll go to market will be ideally positioned to deliver (solutions) on both sides.

CDN: What are some key areas you’re focused on now within the Digital Products group?

R.H.: The B2B side has historically been less accepting of different form factors such as netbooks. The penetration rate has been fairly low, so our focus primarily on this side is to develop the market for some key Toshiba technologies like solid state drives. We’re heavily invested in this area and I think it’ll be embraced long before by business customers than consumers. Benefits are fairly dramatic as it relates to reliability or disaster recovery. On the consumer side, we’re seeing a proliferation of different types of devices like netbooks and the growth of thin and light models. I think a lot of people are searching for that device that falls between your smartphone and your computer. We’ll play in this space too.

CDN: Toshiba launched its Frontline partner program last fall. What’s been the feedback from the channel community?

R.H.: The adoption rate has been ahead of what we were expecting in terms of the number of enrollments. We have registered 214 resellers as of December 31. The target was 180. We felt the timing was right because we felt there were some gaps in the market as other companies were pulling programs back. We wanted to gain reseller loyalty and engagement. We’re happy with the enrollment and engagement and we also want to expand that beyond training and incentives into more of a full-functioned portal, where we have full interaction with our reseller partners. We’d like to enable partners to come and transact more business with Toshiba here than they can today, and by this I mean with warranty and special pricing programs, where today they’re not as automated as they probably could be.

CDN:What are you doing to empower partners now that there are new entrants into the notebook space?

R.H.: Under the new organization, we should be much more consistent in our application of the Toshiba brand and what the brand means and we should make much better use of our resources. Instead of having a communication strategy for each division, the objective is to be consistent and consolidated. As part of that, I don’t think everyone really understands the scale and size and scope of Toshiba as a global company. From a Canadian perspective, because we represent a fairly narrow product set within the whole Toshiba family, some people don’t really see that light (of what we have to offer).

CDN:Besides Frontline, what are your 2010 channel, product and green plans?

R.H.: From a channel perspective, as it relates to our IT business, we tend to be fairly conservative in terms of driving change on that side. We don’t envision major changes in this area. We’ve introduced our Frontline initiative and we think we can build more product offerings as part of our CE and IT integration. On the environmental side, we’re focused on EPEAT, Energy Star and Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) criteria. Corporately, Toshiba has a large environmental mandate and I think if you’re not strong in meeting all of these environmentally standards, it will negatively impact your business going forward. Environmental initiatives will only grow in importance over time for us.

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