It was time. Five years ago, the executives at Konica Minolta recognized that the business had to change.
The Japanese company had once been famous for its camera lenses—it pioneered the technology used in the smartphone cameras—but they decided to exit the photo and camera business altogether in 2006. Although its $7 billion commercial-printing and managed services provider business was strong, changes in the workplace were slowing the market growth for its elite multifunction printers.
Still, the team knew that Konica Minolta held a distinct claim on a prime piece of office real estate at a time of rapid and continuous change in the world of work: the printer, of course.
“We’re striving to rewrite what the industry is about,” says Dennis Curry, Konica Minolta’s deputy CTO. “We’ve got 10 square feet of space in all our customers’ offices, and our first step in this transformation is to make the most of this central space.”
“We asked ourselves,” says Kevin Kern, senior vice president for business intelligence services and product planning, “‘How else can we be a one-stop option?’ And we found there’s an opportunity to deliver enterprise class and IT capabilities while saving space, increasing security, and simplifying support.”
Enter the Workplace Hub, Konica Minolta’s new platform. It aims to change and simplify the way that companies manage IT—one printer at a time.
A Legacy of Innovation
For a 144-year-old company best-known for printers, diving into cloud-based managed IT services might seem risky. But Konica Minolta has taken big risks before to drive innovation. It introduced Japan’s very first plain paper copier back in 1971, and invented the first 35mm camera with built-in flash in 1975. Over the years, Konica Minolta technology has been adapted for everything from smartphone cameras to the Apollo lunar and Mir space station missions.
The Workplace Hub is the latest outgrowth of this legacy.
Here’s how it works: The hardware acts as a single IT solution, one that includes a multi-function printer, server, Wi-Fi access points, and a hybrid cloud. Companies are given an “Admin Dashboard” which enables simplified access to basic IT functions and information. More complicated tasks can be delegated to managed IT services, a dedicated team focused on maintaining data security and monitoring backup servers.
“We want to connect the Workplace Hub, so it becomes the true digital center of this evolving world, taking away today’s frustrations in the workplace, and making IT simply work for our customers, on their terms,” says Curry.
While many of its large corporate clients could afford a dedicated tech team, Konica Minolta recognized that other customers simply didn’t have the resources. But they still needed printers. Small-and-medium sized businesses, in particular, struggle to adapt their IT for an ever-changing workplace. Their headquarters may be in, say, Austin, while the design team is in New York, and the development group sits in Budapest or Berlin. They outsource IT management to a third party and pay extra for after-hours troubleshooting. And because they’re often unable to issue company laptops or mobile devices, employees introduce a slew of software and operating systems through their personal devices. Workplace Hub aims to unify the fractured workplace through a centralized and streamlined platform.
This isn’t Konica Minolta’s first foray into IT management. Nor is it the first time it has delved into a new industry. Over the past couple decades, the company has gotten into robotics, medical imaging, and enterprise content management (ECM) services.
Recently, some notable recognition—the NIKKEI Smart Work Award 2018 and Buyers Lab Pro Award for production print—has underscored its commitment to providing world-class technologies, says Kern. “Our investments in research and our Business Innovation Centers allow us to meet the demands of the marketplace,” he continues, “while leading the development of the technology and the infrastructure that enables the workplace of the future.”
Konica Minolta has become an industry leader in network security and has developed network defenses for major healthcare systems, a sector constantly under threat from ransomware attacks and data leaks. That experience contributed to the company’s vision for a new and expanded role for customers.
“If you could buy a box that your entire IT operation can run through, you don’t have to care about anything else,” says Christian Mastrodonato, Konica Minolta’s chief technologist for the Workplace Hub, based in London. “That’s valuable because—and this was a surprise that came out of our research—a lot of our customers don’t have a full-time IT person.”
Curry, together with Kern, Mastrodonato, and the wider R&D team have been developing that box—what’s become the Workplace Hub—for the past four years at Konica Minolta’s global network of Business Innovation Centers. “Printers take up a lot of expensive real estate in offices around the world,” says Curry. “The key to our innovation was to consider how we can extend our services through this. At the end of the day, the most important thing is how you empower your customers. How do you help them innovate? How do you help them do things more economically and more securely?”
Curry and his team have ultimately adopted a hybrid approach to IT management. Despite more and more technology moving into the cloud, physical devices were still needed in offices. Konica Minolta built on its printer management services, expanding into broader IT services, including the cloud. The result is a flexible platform that adapts to customers’ needs, tapping physical and digital resources as needed.
Cognitive Tech On The Horizon
The company may have gotten out of the photography business more than a decade ago, but it’s still laser-focused on vision. “If you think of cameras—where Konica Minolta got started—that’s all about vision and being able to see things that aren’t normally perceivable to the human eye,” says Heather Chisholm, the future platforms technology manager at the European Konica Minolta Labs.
“What we’re doing with Workplace Hub is in line with that, but it’s more about understanding what information we see, and extending that to the workplace. It’s receiving that information and utilizing it in ways that haven’t been done before.”
This can be especially challenging in the current workplace. From scrappy startups to corporate behemoths, companies are increasingly leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to untangle the complexity caused by a distributed staff that relies on fast, secure, and reliable connectivity.
In response, Konica Minolta is already at work developing the next-generation platform, the “Cognitive Hub,” to manage this ecosystem of emerging technologies. “The workplace is becoming more and more noisy,” says Chisholm. “Cognitive Hub is aiming to get the signal from the noise.”
That ability depends on humans as much as computers, which is why her team has concentrated on making Cognitive Hub a tool that empowers workers. “The word we use quite a lot is augmentation,” Chisholm says. “If you look in the workplace, there’s so much information, there’s a lot of duplication. Just being able to find things or collaborate on a project is challenging. Using tools that can, say, semantically label things and find things based on context rather than file names is important.”
The leap from printers to bleeding-edge technology is significant, but Konica Minolta remains confident in its new offerings. “We can reinvent that one-meter-by-one-meter space to make it more powerful,” says Curry. “But at the same time, we can use it to connect all the other localized things that are out there. It may be real-estate management, it may be more immersive devices, it might be additional compute environments that sit elsewhere—it might even be a self-driven car coming up to your office.”
Whatever the technology, it’s bound to introduce more complexity, more noise, into the workplace. And therein lies the next opportunity for Konica Minolta to innovate again, delivering a solution that empowers companies.
This story was created for and commissioned by Konica Minolta.