By Cassandra Balentine
Technology continues to advance, changing the way we live and work. Today, organizations and consumers are more comfortable with cloud-based software solutions. Add to this the constant influx of data and better data management practices and the opportunity for automation through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) is significant.
“Enterprises benefit from an open, flexible mix of services that leverage their existing IT infrastructure with simple, automated solutions that allow the knowledge worker to focus on core competencies and not on the office technology itself,” says Vince Jannelli, associate VP, software product management, Sharp Imaging Information Company of America.
Above: Sharp provides its channel partners with a selection of services that work with its products, allowing the channel to provide customized experiences to meet evolving customer needs.
Many buzz-worthy technology trends—AI, cloud, mobility, Internet of Things (IoT), security, and ML—are in the infancy stages in terms of real-world applications. However, this is poised to change.
Hiro Imamura, SVP/GM, Business Imaging Solutions Group, Canon U.S.A., Inc., believes cloud connectivity and digital security will play an instrumental role in transforming how we operate—from what we do to how we use it. “We have only scratched the surface on what these technologies and trends will do to transform our work. These and other emerging technologies will continue to add intelligence, automation, and collaboration to routine business processes and workflows to increase value and innovation,” he shares.
Mobility and cloud solutions continue to impact how business transactions are processed and how we consume information. “This results in a decrease in paper consumption as business transactions are approved and processed electronically and information is captured, shared, and presented digitally on both small and large format screens,” says Jannelli.
He explains that the cloud has also resulted in affordable computer processing power and data storage, a combination that makes AI applications possible.
Jannelli also points out that natural language processing is transforming customer expectations in how they engage with products and business processes. Similarly, he says ML is being applied in business processes, such as helping physicians with medical diagnoses, credit card companies detecting fraudulent transactions, and search engines retrieving relevant content.
The Modern Document
Document and output management strategies have transformed significantly in the past decade. Digitization is a core element to many business processes, and countless organizations have implemented managed print services (MSPs) in order to control print costs, improve efficiency, and reduce environmental impact.
Cloud connectivity encourages increased collaboration and lends a helping hand to confidentiality concerns. “Multifunction products (MFPs) that offer cloud-based functionality through authentication, dashboard reporting, and basic scan-to-cloud features can afford the capability to more easily share information and collaborate with team members remotely, thus promoting flexibility in the workplace,” says Imamura.
Dale Walsh, director of service advantage innovation, Ricoh USA, Inc., points out that document and output management are highly automated on the front end through software that facilitates job intake. “You also see a lot of automation on the output side, guiding a job through printing. However, many print environments rely on manual processes to move jobs between print engines, add inserts, or stuff envelopes, for example. These tasks represent a huge opportunity for both automation and robotics, which can help seamlessly move print jobs through every step, end to end. That can reduce the opportunity for error, drive down turn times, and aid in efficiency.”
Information is now consumed more in a 16:9 aspect ratio as opposed to 8.5×11-inch formats. Responding to this changing workplace dynamic, Jannelli sees a growth in both MPS as well as managed network services (MNS) or IT services. “The MPS approach allows the reseller to offer cost control across all output devices within the business. MNS further diversifies the portfolio by allowing resellers to address cybersecurity issues through remote monitoring and management of all network end points, including patch and malware protection in addition to providing help desk functionality.”
Jannelli says content management providers apply ML to improve search results as well as document recognition and data extraction processes. “Every time a person searches, do they find the right content in the first five returned items or are they going deeper? Do they initiate a new search? This information can be applied to present better search results the next time around. The same basic principle applies with form recognition. Did the system recognize the form the first time around? Was the data correctly extracted for indexing? The key is to continually train the system with a growing data set to improve the outcome for the customer.”
AI and the technological innovations that come from its capabilities also continue to make business processes more efficient and streamline workflows so that employees can spend more time focusing on helping customers make smarter decisions faster. “AI will also play a crucial role in mining large data sets, assessing risks and opportunities, and speeding up the process to identify solutions quickly,” says Imamura.
We’re just starting to see the benefits of next-generation office environments. The automation of manual tasks is on the horizon. A lot of these opportunities are a reality due to cloud acceptance and security as well as the prospect of AI and ML.
According to Digital Transformation and Emerging Technologies: The Canon Office of the Future Survey—conducted by IDC in December 2017 and sponsored by Canon—companies are expected to double spending on cloud services and cloud-enabled infrastructure by 2021. “At Canon, we know that AI and ML, advanced security, and cloud connectivity play pivotal roles in the office of the future, so we are focused on innovating to provide solutions designed with these advanced technologies to better support companies embarking into the future of work,” says Imamura.
Jannelli believes the future office will be connected in every sense of the word, blurring the lines between virtual and physical spaces. “Smart offices will provide knowledge workers with the ability to be fully functional anywhere, at any time. Employees will be able to go into the office to any station, and have their devices—such as a laptops and mobile devices—automatically hook up to the nearest printer. When you move into a conference room, it will know when you enter and will automatically connect your content and devices. In tandem, the nearby printers will know that you are in the area and connect to your device. On your way to work, you will be able to take a conference call, or if in a self-driving car, work on a proposal without having to focus on the drive itself. In short, the future of the office is one that is smart, fluid, and mobile.”
Kristina Marchitto, PR manager, Konica Minolta Business Solutions, U.S.A, Inc., says all of these widely discussed technologies propel the future workplace toward two very desirable destinations—simplification and future proofing. “Simplification of workplace processes is particularly coveted by small and medium businesses (SMBs) with limited resources to keep up with rapid fire innovations in technology. SMBs feel strongly about preserving the value of their investments in IT. They can’t tolerate as much risk as the big players, they don’t experiment as much, and they can’t recover as easily from mistakes. Our vision is to offer them a unified hyper-converged platform—a hub—that incorporates all of the elements of the most up-to-date IT infrastructure that integrates disparate systems while making the management of these systems smartphone simple. Call it CIO as a service or workplace as a service,” says Marchitto.
Future proofing is another trend. “While businesses put a high priority on preserving IT investments, they want to be able to exploit attractive IT developments when it suits them—and to do so affordably. They want enterprise class capabilities that fit a mid-market budget,” says Marchitto.
Walsh believes automation is the future. “Just about anything we see as a manual process today is subject to be automated. In particular, we see a lot of potential in robotics; it especially has room to grow in print and mail centers. There are many tasks in print and mail centers—such as stacking and moving pallets, pushing carts, and sorting documents—that could be appropriate for robots,” he explains. The role of robots is already growing in warehouses, and many of the same tasks performed in those environments could translate to other business environments, from sweeping up to serving food. “I expect in the coming years you’re going to be seeing robots as more ubiquitous and more visible in our everyday lives.”
Outside of robotics, there are a few other exciting growth areas, including the cloud, which Walsh says is reshaping the way we work in real time, thanks in part to scalable, modular software as a service deployments. “Securely, seamlessly empowering collaboration across devices—including consumer-grade mobile devices, is another huge trend.”
Enterprises benefit from embracing trends like AI, the cloud, automation, and ML.
“The next generation of enterprises is driven by fostering employee productivity and adaptability,” says Imamura. “In fact, 68 percent of those surveyed by IDC in the Canon Office of the Future study reported that boosting profitability and productivity will be the key benefit of cloud’s role in transforming business processes over the next two to five years. Employers, therefore, wish to promote productivity through flexibility in hardware solutions that act as a comprehensive software platform through the incorporation of next-generation technologies—including AI, cybersecurity, and the cloud—that sit poised to offer the most to future employees.”
Businesses are looking to run faster, safer, and more collaboratively. A tall order that emerging technologies are in a position to meet. dps
Jul2018, DPS Magazine