As more people work from home in Japan and worldwide, MFP manufacturers are providing products and solutions for remote workers.
Editor’s note: This column was written at the beginning of April during the early days of the pandemic.
With the rapid spread of infection in Europe and the United States, the coronavirus pandemic is driving major transformation in the imaging industry, and it is not a positive development.
The first stumbling block from the coronavirus pandemic was a temporary disruption in product supply from China, a critical source of the global supply chain. The second stumbling block was the subsequent lockdowns, border blockades, and stay-at-home orders around the world. This impacted deliveries and maintenance services. The third much larger stumbling block is the growing number of people working remotely. Because of this, copies and prints are being replaced by electronic data that is shared online more than ever before. Even after coronavirus calms down and people return to their offices, this trend is expected to continue.
The first-stage impact of the virus in the imaging industry was the interruption of production and logistics. As you know, most MFPs are manufactured in China, so when Wuhan was closed on January 23, production and logistics of parts factories began to stagnate, which affected MFP production. However, parts production partially resumed around February 10, and the supply of products and consumables are now satisfying current demand as of mid-April.
Production and logistics were expected to resume in late March as the pandemic in China subsides. The downside is that the use of copy and print has decreased in the European and American markets because of stay-at-home and work-from-home orders.
In the Japanese market, telework has been promoted as a new and agile way of working, but it has rarely been implemented. The main reason is that Japan is a densely populated small country with a well-developed public transportation network, which makes it relatively easy for people to get to work. The challenge of managing remote workers is another obstacle to its acceptance. However, to prevent the spread of coronavirus, self-restraint requests have been issued in places such as Tokyo, Hokkaido, and Osaka, and many companies are implementing work-from-home initiatives peremptorily.
Unfortunately, companies have not prepared themselves or their employees to efficiently work from home. They are not able to access documents received on office facsimile machines, read or send documents that have not been digitized, and there is no structure in place for web conference systems.
This situation has created a new business opportunity for MFP manufacturers. They have long advocated the digitization of documents using scanners, and the use of mobile work and business processing solutions in a cloud environment to increase the value of their MFPs. For small and mid-sized businesses, building a cloud environment using an MFP and implementing a web conferencing system will enable more employees to work remotely.
In Japan, as a countermeasure against the coronavirus, all MFP manufacturers are also asking their employees to work from home. Working from home is providing the MFP OEMs with a better understanding of the challenges associated with working remotely. While experiencing it themselves, they are focusing on selling telework-related products such as MFPs that support telework and web conference systems.
As more companies in Japan need these types of solutions, MFP manufacturers and web conferencing system manufacturers are providing them at no cost or a low price for a short period of time.
For example, Konica Minolta Japan is offering a free service that provides the “bizhub essentials,” which integrates its bizhub MFPs and cloud storage. Ricoh Japan also launched the “Telework Pack,” which supports the construction of a telework environment by combining ICT equipment and services. Ricoh Japan is also offering special pricing including no initial cost and no monthly fees through the end of May for a package that includes the BB Pack Select, which provides mobile Internet access, the UCS web conferencing system, and Microsoft Teams.
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