Sharp unveils its product roadmap and provides dealers with a glimpse into the future at its four road shows.
At the end of the first half of the program at Sharp’s fourth and final 2017 road show, Laura Blackmer, senior vice president, sales, commented that when people ask what’s different about Sharp now that they’re owned by Foxconn, what dealers heard during the first half of the program should have answered that question.
It’s a valid question and one many of us in the press and analyst community continue to ask. While concrete changes are still forthcoming, there’s no doubt that there’s a different dynamic at Sharp.
Starting in June, Sharp held four road shows in four different cities, Dallas, Anaheim, Chicago, and its final one on July 18 at Met Life Stadium, home of the NFL’s New York Giants and New York Jets, in East Rutherford, NJ. Cumulatively the four road shows played to nearly 500 dealer principals and sales representatives.
These road shows are an excellent way for dealers to 1 get a preview of Sharp’s product roadmap, learn about the company’s key business partners, and most importantly, how Sharp’s relationship with Foxconn will impact them—maybe not immediately, but further down the road. What made the final road show at Met Life Stadium different from the three previous road shows was attendance of Foxconn executives.
Sharp President & CEO Doug Albregts kicked off the program by informing dealers that Sharp needs to become a more dynamic company. He also reported that Sharp ranked #360 out of 500 on the Forbes 2017 list of the best companies to work for in the United States (Above Konica Minolta, the only other company from our industry on the list.) and that he would like Sharp to become a destination workplace for top talent. Dealers also learned that Sharp stock has risen four times what it was prior to the acquisition.
“Financially, we’re in the best shape we’ve ever been as an organization,” observed Albregts.
On the product front, and there would be a lot of discussion on this topic, Albregts reported that the company is looking at products with a service component and recurring revenue streams beyond copiers.
With the Foxconn component firmly in place, the mantra that dealers need to prepare for is the concept of “The Smart Office.” That’s a major initiative of Foxconn and we can expect to hear much more about The Smart Office at Sharp’s November dealer meeting and maybe even see it come alive in future products from Sharp’s Business Solutions Group. To simplify the Smart Office concept, it’s all about managing data in an array of ways with the goal of simplifying management of that data, and making it easy for the dealer to bundle and easy to market. Currently, that seems to be more conceptual than not, but the wheels within Sharp and Foxconn are turning in that direction.
“We believe the Smart Office ecosystem is where the future of the document business is,” added Sharp COO Mike Marusic during his presentation.
The Sharp executive team is arguably the most outwardly optimistic of any executive team in the industry considering the challenges they’ve had to overcome the past few years. With an industry in transition, Marusic emphasized that the market is right for Sharp, particularly since Sharp has products that no one else does. He was not referring to MFPs.
Dealers also learned that Sharp has created more competitive programs to help them sell and that the company is looking to help dealers close larger deals. Apparently, Sharp has a track record of closing 40% of large deals, but as Marusic pointed out, they’re not getting enough of those opportunities. As a result, he challenged the dealers in the room to help them do that. “We want a shot at it,” said Marusic.
Associate Vice President Product Management Shane Coffey provided a product roadmap through 2018 while reporting that Sharp is committed to a 36-month refresh cycle. The big news here was that dealers will finally see some Sharp developed A4 devices as well as enhanced production devices. He was followed by Vince Janelli who shared Sharp’s software roadmap and Gary Bailer who spoke about the company’s visual solutions products.
Mark Chen of Foxconn spoke briefly about artificial intelligence, noting that dealers can expect to see such capabilities as voice recognition, data management, and other AI functions embedded in Sharp products in the future. He was followed by Matt Provo, co-founder of Gram Labs who took an even deeper dive into the world of AI with his presentation on the future of enterprise AI.
Gram Labs is a small technology company that has partnered with Foxconn to bring AI to the company’s future products. A copier with facial recognition technology that’s voice activated was one of Provo’s examples of how AI might be integrated into a familiar technology for the dealer. In the future a user would be able to walk up to a copier that’s having issues and interact with a virtual service tech AI to troubleshoot and potentially resolve the problem.
Unless I haven’t been paying attention, I don’t recall hearing much about Sharp’s business partners at a Sharp dealer meeting, but we learned plenty about Sharp’s partner offerings, most notably Fujitsu on the scanning side, Lexmark on the A4 side, Clover for MPS.
The only actual product on display was a water creation system for the office that’s been developed by Skywell, a Foxconn company. Sharp is looking to encourage dealers to view this as a supplemental product. It’s likely that this system will resonate with a few of Sharp’s more forward-thinking dealers who are looking to diversify with a product that has decent margins, can be put under a service contract, and has a recurring revenue stream via the supplies necessary to filter the humidity in the air to create clean drinking water within an office.
The first half of the day was followed by lunch and a talk by New York Giants Hall of Famer Harry Carson. The second portion of the program included separate breakout sessions for dealer principles and sales reps, and concluded with a reception and tour of the stadium.
There remains a huge sense of optimism at Sharp, which was on full display during the presentations at Met Life Stadium. Sharp, with Foxconn’s backing, is certainly not alone as a technology company with plans to shape and define the office of the future. Fortunately, for Sharp, the Foxconn relationship provides it with the necessary resources to go where the old Sharp would never have gone before. If the road show was any indication, it seems like there’s going to be a lot to see and much to talk about at Sharp’s November dealer meeting. For those of us who have been following Sharp for many years, we can confidently agree with Laura Blackmer that what’s different about Sharp since the Foxconn acquisition was in evidence during the morning program. Many of us who have been covering this industry for a long time remember when Sharp was playing catch up to its competitors. Let’s not forget, Sharp was one of the last to offer a digital copier. Today’s Sharp, thanks to Foxconn, has the potential to be more on the leading edge of technology. We don’t think they are quite there yet, even though they were talking a good game at Met Life Stadium, but they are moving in the right direction. By all accounts, this is going to be an interesting–if not an exciting company–to watch from here on out and you don’t need artificial intelligence to figure that out.
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