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Simplifying IT for SMEs

James Goulding finds out more about Konica Minolta’s intelligent Workplace Hub from its inventor Dennis Curry

Konica Minolta is making good on the promise of the intelligent Workplace Hub it first unveiled in 2017, with the launch of an expanded range of form factors and capacities to meet the diverse needs of small and medium-sized businesses.

Following the launch of a rack-mounted version (the Edge) and discrete model housed within an MFP (the Hub), it is shortly to bring out an eye-catching standalone version, which, like the Edge and Hub, will be available in a choice of capacities to suit the varying needs of customers.

Konica Minolta has taken its time to get to this stage, which is to be expected considering that in developing an all-in-one IT system that seamlessly integrates hardware, software and services into a multi-vendor, one-stop solution, the company is effectively creating a new category of device.

Dennis Curry, Konica Minolta’s Deputy CTO and inventor of the Workplace Hub, told Managed IT that, as the first entrant into this market, Konica Minolta was determined to launch a fully formed solution.

“We didn’t want to be one of those first entrants that are only recognised for being first entrants; we wanted the Workplace Hub to work really well from the outset. Being a Japanese company, it was important to us that the quality was good and that it was dead right for our customers. We also wanted to make sure the delivery infrastructure and the sales and support functions were in place. It wasn’t just a question of getting everything lined up technically; we have to be able to provide the complete infrastructure and support,” he explained.

Expanding network
Quality control is also why the Workplace Hub is initially only available from Konica Minolta. However, Curry expects this to change soon, as existing and new dealers start to take on the product.

“Workplace Hub is presently sold by us direct, but very shortly it will also be sold through dealers,” he said. “As the opportunities for us to provide additional value to SMEs increase because of the platform, we are looking at additional partnerships, including with resellers that are more IT orientated. But before that we need to make sure we have checks and balances in place, because we want to make sure this thing meets the customer’s expectations.”

To this end, Konica Minolta will be expanding its network of service providers, which already includes companies like Microsoft, HP, Sophos and Acronis.

“We have numerous smaller SMB partners and are creating a marketplace on Workplace Hub through which users can connect to them. There will also be a developer support programme for partners and customers, so that eventually companies that have something of value will be able to plug that back into the Workplace Hub and offer it out to other customers,” he said.

Phased implementation
The ability to integrate solutions from companies other than Konica Minolta is important as it gives customers the flexibility to implement the Workplace Hub alongside existing services.

“We can provide most of the managed IT services ourselves, but the challenge we face is that when someone introduces our platform to their office, they can’t just switch everything off. They may already have several different contracts with different suppliers, so we have to build in the ability for them to leverage existing contracts within the platform,” explained Curry.

The Workplace Hub
The Workplace Hub

“Obviously, we want to provide all the services ourselves, or through our dealers or partners, but the reality is this won’t happen at the beginning and customers will need time to switch. So we are enabling the Workplace Hub to connect to third party resources, such as Box, Azure, Office 365 and Sharepoint.”

That said, the benefit of a platform is commonality and the ability to deliver a uniform service quality to customers, so it is likely that in the future Konica Minolta will look to gain additional expertise and capabilities through acquisitions as well as partnerships.

“As we start to dig deeper and understand better the direction of travel from IoT, analytics and decision support systems, we will consider acquisitions or partnerships to gain the capabilities we need. That will be in everything from sales provisioning to delivery to future developments, such as AI and IoT,” explained Curry.

Added value
It is still early days for the Workplace Hub, but Curry is confident that at a time of falling office print volumes, value added solutions such as this will help Konica Minolta to prosper and grow. Ultimately, the platform could even outstrip the company’s MFP business.

“Over the next decade, there will be a significant decline in the use of print within the office as younger people who have grown up with less and less printing enter the workplace, so I do believe that this platform will eventually supersede print,” he said.

“It will take time for this new segment we’ve created to grow. It will need to be filled by competitors, by partners and by customers that come up with novel ways to make use of this centralised, intelligent, enabling edge. That will take a few years, but Konica Minolta has great aspirations for this new segment we are trying to create.”

http://workplacehub.com

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2018