LEAD 2017 allowed Toshiba to set the record straight about its financial and long-term stability, expand its eco footprint with a new MFP, and ramp up its vertical approach to the market with the Elevate platform and V360 program.
There was an element of magic at Toshiba LEAD 2017, it’s dealer meeting and end user conference in Orlando, particularly during the General Session when during his opening remarks, TABS/Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions President & CEO Scott Maccabe did his best David Copperfield impression, taking all those negative stories about Toshiba circulating in the press and making them seemingly disappear with a clever wave of his hand. He did that by explaining how Toshiba TEC Corporation (T Tec) is a totally separate company from the financially troubled Toshiba Corporation and its lamented Westinghouse division. After reporting how Toshiba is taking aggressive action to rebuild its reputation, stabilize its finance and restore market competition, Maccabe noted that Toshiba’s situation does not in any way extend to TABS, Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions or parent company T Tec. He finished off that magic trick with a graphic comparing the Tokyo stock price performance of T Tec (+29%) to those of selected competitor’s, including Canon (+3.6%), Konica Minolta (-6%), and Ricoh (-21+%).
Yes, it was a bit of slight of hand, and although Maccabe may not have completely erased concerns about the company’s future, he still made a strong case for focusing on the facts. If one is to believe TABS and T Tec, the company is not in trouble, but is financially stable and solid. That was one of the messages TABS wanted its dealers, customers, and analysts attending the event to take home with them. While unpacking after arriving back home on Thursday evening, that was indeed a message I found in my bag, which is why it fits neatly into the lead of my TABS dealer meeting coverage.
With that out of the way, let's look at what was new and exciting at this year’s meeting. This won't take long because there were only three introductions of note coming out of Orlando, and to be fair, sometimes less is more. The e-Studio 4508A, the Elevate platform, and the company’s V360 focus.
The e-Studio 4508LP eco-MFP operates at 45 ppm in monochrome or eco mode, and is an enhanced version of the e-Studio 306LP, which uses erasable toner so users can reuse a single sheet of paper multiple times. Joe Contreras, vice president, product and solutions marketing, described the 4508LP as a hybrid model with the erasable function built into the device. On the earlier model, this was a separate function. The 4508LP is also built on the same platform as the other MFPs in Toshiba’s line, leverages Toshiba’s e-bridge platform, and will be available on June 18. For an eco-focused company, it’s a nice product to have in the line, but let's not get too crazy over a device that uses erasable toner as the market for this device is limited at best.
The most interesting news coming out of Orlando was the Elevate platform. All manufacturers are adding iPhone and tablet like GUl's to their MFPs, and Toshiba has come up with a clever way of marketing its new Elevate platform driven interface via a vertical approach. The company is targeting eight vertical industries with Elevate. Bill Melo, chief marketing executive, noted that these are not cookie cutter solutions. Rather they are specifically designed to match the common tasks performed at an MFP. Once a dealer identifies an opportunity, the interface will be customized by TABS services group to match the workflow within a user’s organization or a specific department within that organization.
Probably the best way to describe the Elevate interface came out of the Elevate breakout session and that is it’s a workflow-based operator panel vs. a copier/MFP-based panel. Apparently, this will be a great platform to demo to end users as the eight vertical GUI’s, which can be further customized by TABS’ services group, will be available to dealers. Release date is the end of July.
In keeping with the magic and slight of hand theme, even though there was only one piece of hardware introduced at the show, with Elevate, dealers have the potential to offer customers dozens and dozens of MFPs, according to Melo, thanks to the Elevate platform.
Melo described Elevate as a game changer, and it does provide dealers with a credible platform to better target vertical markets. If attendance at the Elevate breakout session was any indicator, TABS dealers are interested in learning more about this platform.
The V360 program as in Vertical 360, focuses on sales enablement through a customizable customer experience. Here Toshiba is extending that beyond the product, and is investing in the knowledge and products to build a dealer’s sales team’s skill sets.
“The V360 program takes a holistic approach to building a sale rep’s competency and expertise,” noted Joe Contreras, vice president, product and solutions marketing, during the General Session.
It provides a comprehensive set of sales enablement materials.
“By design, V360 will enable your sales team to pursue opportunities outside of their comfort zone,” explained Contreras. “The program helps them become better versed in the industries they’re pursuing.”
There are four key elements to the program, education, industry solutions, incentives, and demand generation. As far as the industry solutions, TABS is focusing initially on eight industries, including education, healthcare, logistics and manufacturing, legal, and government. The beginning module walks them through industry trends and terminology and helps them understand key decision makers in an organization along with the challenges they face while also guiding the rep through the purchasing journey.
A few of the other things we did learn was that Toshiba will continue to grow its digital signage services and it has entered into a new partnership with Flash Grade, a company that provides a grading program to the education market. Flash Grade will be integrated into the Elevate UI.
There’s always a lot of spinning at these events, and Toshiba LEAD 2017 had its fair share. Even though the event was light on new product introductions, it was strong on content if one took the time to attend one of the many breakout sessions. As we mentioned last month, never underestimate the value of networking with one’s peers at a dealer event, and LEAD 2017 offered plenty of opportunities to do that as well for the 1,350 attendees. In addition to 177 TABS resellers, there were dozens of partners, and 417 end users. While Toshiba and its dealers seem to derive some value by bringing end users, the value of the second day for dealers who don't and the press and analyst contingent is negligible unless they’re attending the breakout sessions, or in the press and analyst group, the executive Q&A.
The MPS breakout session was well attended despite being held in a cavernous room with way too many chairs. What surprised me was the number of questions from dealers throughout the session. For a company who likes to tout how far ahead of the curve it has been on MPS, one would have thought Toshiba dealers would be better versed on MPS. This just goes to show that no matter how mature and commoditized people say the MPS market is, there’s still plenty of dealers looking to get a better handle on it. As noted earlier, the Elevate session was also popular with dealers, and here too dealers seemed to be highly engaged.
Elevate is a notable introduction, but is it enough to excite the channel? For any dealer with a vertical market focus or looking at targeting vertical markets, Elevate looks to be an asset, so maybe it is.
A few other items of note we learned during the Executive Q&A on Thursday morning. For one, the company’s relationship with Lexmark remains strong with approximately 65% of its dealers selling Lexmark, indicating that this is a symbiotic relationship. We also learned that the partnership with OKI is no longer part of Toshiba’s long-term engagement strategy.
For a company that says it’s not in trouble and doing fine financially, it only makes sense that it would be adding staff, and that’s something else that was shared during the Executive Q&A. Maccabe mentioned that the company has added some personnel recently jettisoned by Ricoh as well as R&D personnel who had lost their jobs at Lexmark. When asked if this could signal an opportunity for Toshiba to get deeper into A4, Maccabe wouldn’t say, but if this were a poker game, I’d say there’s a very good possibility.
Also look for Toshiba to get back into the acquisitions game. This is something they haven’t done for eight years, according to Larry White, sr. VP sales, Americas. Despite noting that overall the company’s distribution is great, he explained that getting back into acquisitions is an offensive and defensive strategy. TABS will also support dealers in their acquisitions strategies as well.
To wrap things up, T Tec and TABS aren’t in trouble, Elevate is a dynamic platform, and the V360 program has promise. Beyond that, there seems to be a lot going on behind the scenes that warrant keeping a close watch on TABS.
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