In a recent interview with sister publication PrintIT Reseller, Stuart Sykes, Managing Director of Sharp Business Systems UK, outlined how Foxconn’s take-over of Sharp Corporation is helping the company realise its ‘connected technologies’ vision
Comparing it to a lottery win might be an overstatement, but Foxconn’s $3.5 billion take-over of Sharp Corporation has clearly given Sharp Business Systems UK a shot in the arm. After months of penny-pinching and deferred initiatives, the company is looking forward to exploiting the financial muscle of the Taiwanese contract manufacturer to strengthen its product offering and drive significant growth in the UK.
When PrintIT sister publication PrintIT Reseller caught up with Stuart Sykes, managing director of Sharp Business Systems UK, at the company’s offices in Stockley Park near Heathrow, he described Foxconn as ‘the biggest business you’ve never heard of’, pointing out that it is the third largest IT company by revenue (according to Forbes) and that in some way it touches 40% of all consumer products worldwide.
This, he says, gives Sharp real strength in depth, adding that the benefits of the relationship ?ow in both directions, with Foxconn gaining an important new route to market.
“Sharp gives Foxconn added market potential. With Foxconn’s support, we want Document Solutions to sell more; both companies share the same ambition for Sharp to grow aggressively in the next 3-5 years. That’s very exciting,” he said.
“One of the concepts we can now look at is ‘the smart office’, what we call ‘connected technologies’. We want to be the one-stop customers go to when they have to kit out an office or school. Sharp could do the network cabling and infrastructure; the IT equipment – servers and laptops; the MFPs and displays; the furniture of the future, which will have technology built in; and even the telephony. Because Foxconn is helping us put that wider portfolio in place, all the pieces will integrate and talk to each other. That idea of the smart office is something we want to pursue.”
Sykes points out that in the short-term Sharp is already benefiting from the relationship. “Foxconn has invested a lot of money in some new A4 products, which has always been one of the weaker parts of Sharp’s offering. That’s underway now and we will see new products coming to us within the next 12 months. We also have a new Visual Solutions range that we will be launching at ISE in February. This will broaden our reach with different functionalities, different price points and some products that are slightly different to anything else on the market. That’s a real benefit – being able to fill the gaps in our offering.”
Before Foxconn’s investment Sharp was already diversifying beyond MFPs to offer customers a variety of complementary documentcentric products and services, including large format displays and interactive whiteboards, ‘cloud portal office’ document management and collaboration solutions and, most recently, IT services that enable SMEs to outsource essential functions, such as help desk, backup, disaster recovery and hardware break-fx.
As well as enabling customers to reduce the number of suppliers they deal with, Sharp’s broader offering provides reassurance that different solutions will work together and gives businesses the convenience of one number to call should there be a problem.
MFPs still make up more than 90% of Sharp Document Solutions sales but this is likely to change in the future as sales of software, services and other hardware devices increase.
Sykes points out that as Sharp seeks to diversify into other areas, having both a direct sales force and a network of 120 Sharp dealers is a big asset, because it allows the company to fine-tune its offering on the direct side and then deliver market-proven solutions to its dealers, wrapped up in a way that makes them easy to sell and deliver to end users.
“The template we have followed with our visual solutions, which we are going to replicate with IT Services, is to launch to the direct team first, take it to the marketplace, find the sweet spot, identify difficulties, learn from our mistakes and find partners who can help us with supplementary or complementary products and services that help us add value to the customer,” he said.
“After nine months of selling visual solutions through the direct business, we were in a position to go to our dealers and not just hand them a screen that hangs on the wall but give them an ‘ovenready’ package and show how we have done it, where we sold the solutions, what partners we have found to help us and also the things we have done wrong.”
In April, Sharp launched its Integrated Technology Partner Programme (ITTP) to identify dealers that are ready to go beyond MFPs and print solutions and embrace Sharp’s expanding range of visual, collaboration and cloud solutions. From an initial cohort of six, the number of ITTP dealers has now expanded to 18.
As important as a diversifed product offering are the improvements Sharp has been making to its customer service and back office functions.
“Under the previous regime, for cost-cutting reasons, the whole back office was outsourced. The service customers were getting wasn’t good enough and it started impacting the business. So, when we were able to, we took the decision to terminate the contract and ‘in-source’, to bring the back office back in-house. This has been a complete success,” said Sykes.
More recently, Sharp has invested money and resources in training, technical support and marketing, including the establishment of half a dozen steering groups to help develop solutions for specific technologies and market areas, including SMEs, enterprise, visual solutions, EPOS, IT services and education. One of their main responsibilities will be to establish how integrated Sharp solutions can be packaged and delivered in a way that appeals to and meets the needs of end user customers.
Even in Sharp’s darkest hours, Sharp’s global Document Solutions Business was one of the company’s bright spots. Now, with the backing of Foxconn and freed from the financial constraints of recent years, it has the opportunity to live up to its potential.