Monitoring the trends as well as who’s and what’s hot, will prepare you for what’s next.
We like to watch, which is why this time every year we identify the trends, companies, people, products, and events we will be keeping an eye on in the coming year in our annual WatchList. This year’s list encompasses the familiar along with some new additions. For anyone involved in the office technology industry in any capacity, keeping abreast of the trends and other aspects of the industry is critical. We spend the better part of the year compiling this list, and then a month narrowing it down to a 4,000- to 5,000-word cover feature.
As we’ve noted in the past, this is not an exact science, and occasionally there are glaring omissions. But most of the time, we come pretty close to getting it right. So, let’s get the 2024 WatchList rolling.
Acquisitions Keep Rolling Along – We still haven’t seen any of the big private-equity owned firms acquired yet, but smaller dealers and managed service providers continue to get scooped up by large and mid-sized dealers. Although dealers love organic growth, the right acquisition(s) offer an opportunity to grow MIF or bolster their managed IT businesses. In the coming year, we expect to see larger dealers get even bigger through acquisitions, as well as dealers that are hovering just below the $100 million mark in annual revenues exceed that number via strategic acquisitions.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) – The emergence of ChatGPT in late 2022 created a firestorm of interest in artificial intelligence. It’s not like AI is a new phenomenon, just ask Siri or Alexa. What ChatGPT did was democratize AI, bringing it to the masses. Again, many industries, including the office technology industry, were already incorporating elements of AI into their products. However, now that it’s a talking point—and like it or not, here to stay—it’s time to brace ourselves for the many ways it will impact us in our personal and work lives in small and large ways going forward.
A4 Ready to Rock and Roll – After a bit of a slowdown during the supply chain crisis, as some OEMs devoted available resources to higher margin A3 devices, this could be the year A4 experiences a huge resurgence. The consensus is that remote and hybrid work is here to stay and if OEMs and dealers can figure out effective ways to meet that market’s demands with more robust A4 offerings than what is available at online resellers and Big Box stores, this could be a very good year for A4.
The Cloud – Yes, it’s still there and an important element of all sorts of technology that will be among many dealers’ menus of offerings. Think about Intermedia Cloud Communications and its UCaaS (unified communications as a service) solution. This company wasn’t even on most dealers’ radars three years ago. Consider, too, the many other vendors and their cloud-based offerings sold through the independent dealer channel. Concerns about cloud security haven’t exactly dissipated, but they are not as big as 24 months ago, which means greater opportunities for anyone selling a cloud-based solution.
Cybersecurity – Here’s a trend with staying power. Toshiba dealers experienced firsthand what happens when a network is hacked while trying to check in at the hotel during the Toshiba dealer meeting this past September. Cyberthreats are real and ongoing, and they’re an opportunity for dealers that partner with companies offering cybersecurity services in addition to traditional IT services.
Diversification – How many more years does a dealer that only sells imaging technology have? Being a one-trick pony doesn’t cut it anymore, and for dealers that are, the clock is ticking louder than ever. The only way to ensure long-term viability is by diversifying beyond traditional office imaging devices. The list of diversification opportunities is long, which means there is something for everybody. What’s also positive is that not every diversification opportunity requires a big financial investment or hundreds of hours training sales and service staff. Here’s a short list: EV chargers, managed IT, UCaaS, label and barcode printers, document management, shredding services, mailing equipment, computers, digital displays, and production print. We expect to see even more diversification in 2024.
The Uncertain Future of Smaller Dealers – Smaller dealers are not going away. However, if the information contained in our Annual Dealer Survey surrounding acquisitions is any indication, most dealers being acquired are those with revenues of well under $5 million. For some of those dealers, it’s a lifestyle business, and their endgame is to sell. Despite buyers being pickier regarding who and what they’re buying, offers remain on the table for even unprofitable sub-$5 million dealerships and will continue to be there in 2024.
Diversity – This trend is near and dear to our hearts at The Cannata Report. We’re not the only ones in the office technology industry who view diversity in the workforce as positive. Companies such as HP, Inc., Konica Minolta, Lexmark, Sharp, and others understand the value of a diverse workforce, and aren’t afraid to talk about it. We were extremely impressed while at the ConnectWise IT Nation Connect conference in Orlando, Florida, back in November that the agenda included time for LGBTQ+ attendees to meet.
E-commerce – This trend is still simmering within the dealer community but hasn’t come to a boil yet. Despite companies like Keypoint Intelligence and Toshiba talking it up, it’s still not an easy sell to dealers that believe the best way to sell is the way they’ve always done it, even if, deep down, most dealers believe having an e-commerce presence is inevitable.
Hybrid and Remote Work – It’s not going away. According to a June 2023 Forbes article, as of 2023, 12.7% of full-time employees work from home, while 28.2% work a hybrid model. By 2025, 32.6 million Americans will work remotely. Forbes notes that this projection suggests a continuous, yet gradual shift toward remote work arrangements. Other statistics cited in the article that support this trend is that 98% of workers want to work remote at least some of the time, 93% of employers plan to continue conducting job interviews remotely, and 16% of companies work fully remote.
Hyperautomation – This new term was referenced numerous times during the ConnectWise IT Nation Connect conference in Orlando in November. Hyperautomation describes an approach to automation that goes beyond traditional robotic process automation (RPA) by combining various technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, process mining, analytics, and more to automate and optimize complex business processes end-to-end. The goal is greater efficiency, agility, and scalability by automating repetitive tasks and entire workflows and processes, including those that involve unstructured data and decision-making. “Hyperautomation is a concept that is far more powerful than the name suggests,” noted ConnectWise CEO Jason Magee during the ConnectWise IT Nation Connect conference. “It is not simply automation, robotics, or AI replacing repetitive tasks to gain efficiency. It is the orchestration and application of AI, robotics, and machine learning that make it so impactful. It is here and now. With hyperautomation, the roles of human intelligence and artificial intelligence will become symbiotic and it will deliver with immediate impact even at a baseline level.” Expect to see new products and solutions coming to market in 2024 across all segments of the office technology and IT industries that leverage hyperautomation.
Inkjet on the Rise – If the percentage of dealers gravitating toward Epson is any indication, as well as the inkjet offerings from the likes of Konica Minolta, Kyocera, Ricoh, RISO, and others, inkjet has a bright future in the independent dealer channel. Whether it’s A3 or A4, or high-speed printers and duplicators, all the way up to production print, dealers have plenty of inkjet options to satisfy customer’s diverse printing needs.
No More Supply Chain Issues – The supply chain challenges of 2021 and 2022 are a not-so-distant memory, but we’ll unlikely hear anything related to supply chain issues anytime soon. For all those affected by those challenges, good riddance to this trend.
Print Not Dead Yet – That’s what we keep hearing. Could this mantra be wishful thinking by the OEMs and dealers? Perhaps. Print will continue to decline in the coming year at whatever the latest industry projections are—3% or so—but print is not going away in many organizations, which is positive news for those selling printing hardware.
The Ricoh-Toshiba Technology Merger – This was the biggest story of the year in the office technology industry, and it remains to be seen how successful it will be. That’s because the R&D partnership isn’t expected to start until the first quarter of 2024. That means we probably won’t see the first round of products until 2025. The current spin from both sides is positive, as one might expect, and on paper it seems like a smooth move for both companies. There’s still some chatter that Ricoh may eventually acquire Toshiba, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, and sit back and watch what happens on the R&D front first.
Companies to Watch
ACDI – It’s not all about PaperCut print management software anymore. Now, it’s also about EV chargers and KPAX fleet management software. These are sure signs that ACDI is taking a diversification path. It will be interesting to see how it builds on its success as a distributor of PaperCut with these other products. Furthermore, the question looms, what else might the company add to its menu of offerings?
Brother – Here’s an A4 and printer vendor that is receiving a lot of love from dealers in our Annual Dealer Survey. The company’s numbers continue to climb when dealers are asked to identify their top-3 A4 suppliers. Brother still has a long way to go to supplant Kyocera and HP, the two dominant A4 suppliers in our Survey, but with a steady stream of new and innovative products, we expect it to continue to capture more dealers’ attention in the coming year.
directprint.io – This U.K.-based provider of SaaS (software as a service) print management software continues to grow its presence in the U.S. despite serious competition from established print management providers. The differentiator is that its serverless solution enables direct network printing, and because of its Chromebook app, print jobs are not sent via the cloud. The challenge directprint.io faces in growing its presence here in the U.S. is winning over dealers who have become enamored with cloud-based software solutions. But nobody says that dealers can’t offer both types of solutions to their customers, which could make a difference for directprint.io.
Distribution Management – I don’t know, I kind of liked it when the company was called Supplies Network. But things change, and as the company diversified its offerings beyond supplies with A4 products and label printers, it only made sense to rebrand to Distribution Management. Like other distributors, we’ll be watching to see what else the company distributes and how it grows in 2024.
Epson America – Our Annual Dealer Survey distinctly indicates that dealers love Epson. The company received high marks as an A4 provider, and the ratings for its dealer meeting—small sample size aside—were through the roof. Epson must be doing something right, which is why we view it as a company to watch in 2024.
Fiery – In January 2023 it was announced that EFI and Fiery were splitting into two separate businesses although both are still owned by the private-equity firm Siris Capital Group. As Jeff Jacobson, executive chairman of both businesses noted at the time of the separation, “This realignment best positions Fiery, the leading global DFE provider, to accelerate investment and win in its current markets while also strategically expanding its footprint into key adjacencies—as exemplified by Fiery’s recent acquisition of CADlink Technology Corporation.” Meanwhile, Toby Weiss, CEO of Fiery observed, “Fiery now has a greater ability to serve as a neutral partner to ensure OEMs capture success within digital print. We look forward to accelerating our investment as a standalone company while driving our expanding product portfolio, incorporating world-class color algorithms, and developing advanced cloud technology.” All we know is that we’ve been hearing a lot from Fiery and less from EFI since the split. What that means going forward, we’ll just have to wait and see.
HP Inc. – Dealers continue to have mixed feelings about HP as a supplier with one of the biggest complaints being that they are difficult to work with. We know that HP has heard the criticism and is actively working to correct that perception. Many dealers may still disagree, and some are still not fans of the HP Amplify program, which is improving with age, even if dealers refuse to acknowledge that fact. We’ll be watching HP in 2024, although we firmly believe that it will still be challenged by dealer perceptions, real or imagined.
Intermedia Cloud Communications – UCaaS solutions represent one of the biggest diversification opportunities of this decade, and Intermedia Cloud Communications are at the forefront of the UCaaS wave in the dealer channel. The company has made significant inroads in the channel, and we expect to see that continue.
Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A. – Smarting from the supply chain crisis for much of 2022, Konica Minolta was back on track in 2023. For dealers aligned with this top-tier OEM and its broad product offerings, particularly in the production and industrial print segments, the coming year could be a very good year.
Kyocera Document Solutions America – This could be the year when the company expands its inkjet and production print offerings. We’ve been waiting for that to happen since the introduction of the TASKalfa 15000c, and it’s a good bet the wait will be over in 2024.
LEAF Commercial Capital – Here’s a leasing company whose ratings continue to rise in our Annual Dealer Survey. This year, dealers gave it a 4.6 rating out of a possible 5.0, after rating the company 4.5 a year ago. Those are excellent ratings, which place LEAF Commercial Capital in the upper pantheon of leasing companies in our Survey. For that reason, and because of the growing number of dealers that identified LEAF as one of their primary leasing partners in our Survey, we are watching it in 2024.
Lexmark – You might say Lexmark’s connection to Ninestar Corporation is a reason to watch it in 2024, and you’d be correct. Whatever challenges that relationship is causing for Lexmark right now, we feel that that will dissipate over time. However, the real reason we are watching them in 2024 is a new product release that is coming which will bring the company into uncharted territory. We can’t say more than that because we signed a NDA at the Lexmark dealer meeting earlier this year. That said, the upcoming announcement is probably the worst-kept secret in the industry today.
Nexera, an Aspire Software Company – It was the end of one era and the beginning of another when Nexera was acquired by Montreal-based Valsoft Corporation this past May. According to the press release announcing the acquisition, “With this latest acquisition, Nexera becomes the third company in the printing vertical to join Aspire Software—the operating group at Valsoft—along with MPS Monitor and Euroform. Nexera can further strengthen its presence in the North American market and expand globally by leveraging Aspire’s existing presence.” After the acquisition, Valsoft jettisoned many of Nexera’s long-time employees, including those with long-standing relationships with the dealer channel. Will that matter in the long term? We’ll find out.
Ninestar – The company had a tough time in 2023 because of the allegations that it was using forced labor in its factories. It’s a real mess with Ninestar, and the subsequent embargo of its products impacted many dealers and OEMs. BTA issued a strong statement on the situation in support of the embargo. On the other hand, we’ve heard comments from dealers that are more concerned about their bottom lines than any alleged human rights abuses.
PowerMPS – Until this year, we weren’t familiar with this provider of the DXoneSuite SaaS platform specifically developed for the office technology channel. DXone is described by PowerMPS as an “alternative no-code low-code cloud ERP and digital transformation solutions that is industry-centric and focused on solving the immediate needs of the channel while being powerful enough to evolve into adjacent markets in the future.” The company also offers e-commerce and DCA solutions, which could make it as close to a one-stop shop for software for the dealer channel as there is anywhere in the industry.
Ricoh USA – We’re curious to see how the R&D partnership with Toshiba will impact the offerings from both OEMs, even though we aren’t likely to see anything until after 2024. One segment that both companies are challenged by is A4, and it remains to be seen if this partnership will lead to wider and more robust A4 offerings. In the meantime, it’s impossible not to watch this top-tier office technology provider.
RISO – When we think inkjet, RISO is one of the two inkjet OEMs that are top of mind in the dealer channel. The company undoubtedly has a strong inkjet offering and a team whose enthusiasm for the technology is infectious. The question to be answered in 2024 and beyond is can it continue to hold off the competition?
Sharp – We don’t usually need a reason to watch Sharp, but if there ever was one it would be the company’s entry in early 2024 into the production print space. It will be interesting to see how fast the company comes out of the gate with its first two production print products and how well it did in creating a team to support dealers selling these products.
Square 9 Softworks – This company continues to rank as one of the top-two ECM/document management companies in our Annual Dealer Survey. We don’t see that changing at all in 2024, but what we expect to see after a flurry of new product introductions during the past year is an even stronger presence in the channel.
TD SYNNEX – If it weren’t for Sharp and its use of TD SYNNEX as a distribution partner, we might not have considered including it on this list. However, after hearing TD SYNNEX executives explain the benefits it provides to dealers at the Sharp national dealer meeting last April, followed up by an interview and profile in our November issue, we are now more aware than ever of the benefits this distributor brings to the dealer channel. That’s why it is on our WatchList for 2024.
Toshiba America Business Solutions – If the R&D partnership with Ricoh wasn’t a shot in the arm for Toshiba, we don’t know what was. In the long term, that partnership will have a significant impact on the product offerings from Toshiba. For now, what this does is eliminate many of the distractions surrounding its parent company, Toshiba TEC, that were impacting TABS and its dealers. What we’re expecting is a drama-free year.
UBEO – Steady growth that’s what we’re seeing from UBEO as it continues to make strategic acquisitions. Its most recent in 2024 was Spriggs Inc. in Merced, California, in early November. This acquisition expanded UBEO’s West Coast presence. Expect to see more acquisitions from UBEO in 2024.
Visual Edge IT – After reading about the company’s success in production print in our September issue, and then listening to Visual Edge IT Chairman and CEO Austin Vanchieri discuss the company’s strategy for moving into production print and managed IT on a Fridays with Frank episode, we were extremely impressed. We also think the company is being more prudent of late with the companies it acquires, and all of those factors combined make Visual Edge IT a company to watch in 2024.
Xerox – We seem to be seeing a resurgence of dealers taking on the Xerox line based on the results of our Annual Dealer Survey. Will that trend continue in 2024? For dealers looking for a robust production print line, Xerox is certainly a viable option. For dealers looking for an additional A3 or A4 offering, the products are good, and it’s certainly not detrimental to have a Xerox option available.
People to Watch
Brian Balow – The Ricoh USA national vice president heads the company’s graphic communications division. Considering The Cannata Report’s bullishness on production and industrial print, and Balow’s connection to both of those areas, we will be watching and listening to him closely in the coming year, especially since Ricoh seems to be on a hot streak with new products in these segments.
Melissa Confalone – We were watching Confalone this past year, her first as president of Fraser Advanced Information Systems, and will continue to watch her in 2024 as she settles into her second full year in the role. Her insights about the future direction of the company that she shared in an interview in our 2023 Women Influencers issue are a positive indicator of what to expect. One of the things we expect is another successful year for Fraser Advanced Information Systems with Confalone at the helm.
Michael Cozzens – The CEO of Cozzens Group, a strategic consulting organization, Cozzens is a proven leader in the office technology channel with stints at Visual Edge IT, Kyocera, and WBS Technologies. He launched this new endeavor a year ago, and we’ll be curious to see how Cozzens grows this organization in the coming year.
Sam Errigo – After overcoming the supply chain issues that hit the company hard in 2022, and now getting back down to business as usual, we see Konica Minolta poised for strong growth in 2024. Our interview last month with Errigo highlighted some of the initiatives the company has in the works that will enhance its internal operations, and by extension, its relationship with its dealers, going forward. And that’s to say nothing of the technology and services offerings that the company will be bringing to market. In our estimation, Errigo is a proven leader with the knowledge and foresight to maintain Konica Minolta’s position in the upper tier of office technology companies.
Greg Goldberg – Greg will take over for his father Bob as BTA general counsel when Bob steps down in June of 2024. We believe that BTA is in good hands with Greg, who arguably has one of the best mentors in the industry as he embarks on this new role. For the record, we’ll also be watching Bob, because even though this retirement has been a long time coming, we still expect to see him at various industry events even if it isn’t as many as in the past.
Dustin Graupman – The senior director of Kyocera’s new Ink Jet Division, is tasked with strengthening Kyocera’s position in the inkjet market. That’s a tall order, especially considering that Kyocera only has one inkjet product to discuss as of this writing. However, the proverbial ace up Graupman’s sleeve is Kyocera’s long history in the inkjet segment, building inkjet printheads for other OEMs. The bottom line is Kyocera isn’t really starting behind; it actually has a leg up on many of its competitors from a technology perspective. Graupman started his new position this past June, now to see how this division has evolved since then and what kind of success it can achieve in its first year.
Lauren Hanna – Hanna, the vice president of sales at Blue Technologies, represents the next generation of women leaders in the dealer channel. Of late we have been seeing her profile grow as she has become a familiar face at industry events. We predict that she will be playing an even more important role at Blue Technologies in the future.
Patrick Layton – The vice president of managed IT services at Impact Networking, we’ve been impressed by Layton’s knowledge of the space, which is why he is a frequent source on all things managed IT in The Cannata Report. Guaranteed we’ll be watching him and calling on him frequently in 2024.
Casey Lowery – The new president of Applied Innovation, succeeding his father, John. However, we’re always watching when one of The Cannata Report’s Young Influencers scales the corporate ladder and takes on a more meaningful role.
Frank Mallozzi – The former EFI executive is now operating his own consulting business, focused on the high end of the printing industry. He was last seen at PRINTING United in the Sharp booth where he is helping Sharp prepare for the launch of its first production print products. His knowledge of the production print space should be an asset to any company he works with. We’re looking forward to seeing him in January moderating a panel on production print at The Executive Connection Summit.
West McDonald – After making a name for himself in print management and MPS, McDonald is reinventing himself as the office technology industry’s leading authority on artificial intelligence. If anyone understands AI and what it means to the office technology industry, including dealers this early in the game, it’s McDonald. He’s even started a new business, GoWest.ai, focusing exclusively on AI. Talk about being ahead of the curve, McDonald is miles ahead.
Noel O’Dwyer – Just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in. O’Dwyer has worked with some of the biggest names in the software space over his career and has a deep understanding of the channel, which is why he remains a valuable commodity even if other executives his age have long since retired. No wonder Intermedia Cloud Communications was voted Best Diversification Partner by dealers in our Annual Dealer Survey.
Dino Pagliarello – He’s back on our list, not because he was one of the Cannata Report’s inaugural Young Influencers ten years ago. No, the reason is how his role at Konica Minolta has grown in the past decade. As senior vice president, product management and planning, he is instrumental in growing the company’s production print business. As we have witnessed in our many interactions with Pagliarello in the past few years, we are nothing but impressed by his extensive knowledge of the segment.
Toby Weiss – The new CEO of Fiery after the split from EFI, was the perfect executive to take the helm of the new/old company. We expect to see Fiery continue to thrive under his leadership and remain the standard for digital front ends in the office technology space.
Larry White – It’s been quite the frying pan at Toshiba America Business Solutions (TABS) for anyone who has sat in the president and CEO’s seat the past decade because of all the turmoil around the parent company in Japan. With the announcement of the technology partnership between Ricoh and Toshiba TEC last spring, White’s hot seat just got much cooler. Even though it will still be some time before we see the results of this partnership hit the streets, it will be interesting to see how things go with White and Toshiba without these outside distractions of the past few years.
Products to Watch
EV Chargers – ACDI Energy Services may be the only company distributing this product to the office technology dealer channel, but what we find compelling about this product category is how many dealers are signing up to offer these devices. Some of these dealers are significant in size while others are in the small and midsize range, which tells us this is a product category with legs.
“Something Very New” from Lexmark – We had to sign a NDA when this product was announced at the Lexmark dealer meeting in June. As of this writing, the NDA is still in effect. All we can say is that this will be a game changer for Lexmark.
The Ricoh Pro VC80000 – Another example of inkjet innovation, the Ricoh Pro VC80000 should be a winner for Ricoh. The product is designed for direct mail, color books, catalogs, magazines, and commercial print applications on coated media up to 300 gsm. It operates at up to 492 fpm (feet per minute), which is really fast. What’s particularly intriguing to us are the AI, machine learning, and data analysis features that ensure predictable and repeatable output with minimal operator intervention. Call it a new generation of production print inkjet.
Sharp BP-1200S Color Press Series and its as yet unnamed Mono Press Series – We’d be crazy not to be watching Sharp’s new production print devices. Two color and two mono, these machines place Sharp and its dealers firmly in the production print segment. Two of the questions that will be answered in 2024 are how many Sharp dealers will sell these products and how successful will they be.
Events to Watch
ConnectWise IT Nation Connect – If you aren’t involved in your dealership’s day-to-day IT business, this probably isn’t the conference for you. That’s because most of the sessions and presentations are geared toward an audience that eats, sleeps, and breathes IT and cybersecurity. That’s okay; you’ve probably got people on your team, whether it’s sales or service, who speak this language and will fully comprehend what’s going on in these sessions. In our opinion, it’s a great event for the right people in your organization and if your dealership offers managed IT services and cybersecurity services, it should be on their agenda in 2024.
The Executive Connection Summit (ECS) – This year’s summit promises to be bigger and better than ever. Consider it an interactive think tank that brings together many of the usual suspects from the office technology industry along with representatives from companies that don’t usually end up on the agendas of most office technology industry events. Last year, one of the highlights was a presentation by Microsoft on artificial intelligence and the potential impact of ChatGPT. If you were at ECS last year, you heard it there first. Expect to learn about more cutting-edge technologies and trends at this year’s ECS.
PRINTING United Expo – For anyone looking to grow their production and industrial print business, or at least learn more about those technologies and opportunities, PRINTING United Expo is the place. Even though our readers may be unfamiliar with many of the companies exhibiting, there are still plenty of familiar names, including Canon, Epson, HP, Kyocera, Ricoh, RISO, Sharp, and Xerox. But don’t limit yourself to only the familiar. If you go, expand your horizons, visit the unfamiliar, and take advantage of the many sessions that will enhance your knowledge about production print. Need another reason to attend? Take a lesson from Pacific Office Automation (POA), which has had a booth at the conference the past two years even though it isn’t a vendor.