Are A3 multifunction printers still relevant? I was only half joking when I told Ricoh USA’s Chris Markowski at the beginning of our interview that he had his work cut out for him if his intent was to make A3 sound exciting again. However, the company’s director of portfolio management didn’t flinch, “It’s always been exciting,” he opined about the technology.
I guess that’s what I get when I agreed to an interview about A3 multifunction printers, a topic I’ve written about dozens if not hundreds of times. A4 more may be rising, but not a single traditional A3 OEM is abandoning the technology in favor of A4. In fact, they just keep improving it. And for dealers rooted in A3 and enamored with A3 margins, that’s good news.
Candidly, I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know about Ricoh A3 multifunction printers and how they’ve been evolving. If anything, my conversation with Markowski reinforced what I already knew, and what I shouldn’t forget. And that’s not such a bad thing.
A3 Multifunction Printers and Hybrid Work
There is no doubt that hybrid work is impacting R&D, sales, and marketing. No vendor offering products, solutions, and/or services is ignoring it, even though it isn’t a new phenomenon. “Obviously, people who are working hybrid have different challenges than in the past,” said Markowski. “When you had someone that was working fully remotely or someone that was working fully in the office, it was fairly straightforward. The people at home figured it out. But then, when you’re going back and forth, having the ability to work as efficiently in both areas is something that is a new concern for everybody.”
What does that mean for resellers of A3 multifunction printers? “If you look at MFPs, they’re edge devices,” noted Markowski. “We need to treat them the same way that we would computers and servers. Remote and hybrid work is going to be a big part of it.”
Digital Transformation and A3 Multifunction Printers
Ricoh’s newest A3 multifunction printer is the IM C6010 series, introduced this past May. As Markowski noted, A3, especially color A3 multifunction printers, is the bread and butter for a lot of dealers and for Ricoh as well. “When we talk at Ricoh, we talk about the core business, and we talk about services,” he said. “And when we talk about A3 color MFPs, we are talking about the core of the core. Seeing what Ricoh has done over the years with the technology from when I first joined 22 years ago to where we are today is amazing.”
Even though Markowski didn’t want to overemphasize the cliché about how the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digital transformation, he did emphasize the growing importance of taking information from a hard copy document and converting it into a digital format so that it can be accessed remotely or integrated into a workflow. “What a lot of people have understood over the last couple of years is that we need to make it easier for everybody to share information no matter where that person is,” said Markowski.
For an office technology dealer, that’s a valid talk track with customers.
Sustainability and A3 Multifunction Printers
It often gives me pause when I hear OEMs talk about sustainability because that is something most office technology dealers don’t seem to get too excited about. Perhaps they should. As Markowski pointed out, “As more companies are trying to be a more responsible corporate citizen, they are looking for partners where that partner not only takes sustainability seriously but provides products and services that help them meet their sustainability goals.”
Ricoh realizes those companies are out there, which is why the IM C6010 series is made of 50% post-consumer recycled plastic. “That’s basically where the target will be going forward because we see that as being very important from a sustainability standpoint,” revealed Markowski. “When you talk about sustainability, there are two main prongs. One is reducing energy consumption, and the other is post-consumer recycled plastics.”
Ricoh has also removed a lot of single-use plastics from its packaging. For example, toner bottles don’t come in plastic bags anymore. The company has also introduced a new toner that melts at a lower temperature, which allows for lower energy consumption. And when a user opens the carton, the Styrofoam corners that were once used are now made of plant-based material.
Markowski is particularly excited about a new hard toner lock option, which he said is important for dealers. “When that option is installed, no one can change out the toner until the toner cartridge is empty,” he explained. “I’ve presented this several times to the dealers, and that’s one of the few times where I’ve gotten people to clap. It’s very difficult to get them to clap about an A3 MFP that’s the 17th generation of something that they’ve been selling for a long time.”
Security and A3 Multifunction Printers
As awareness around security becomes more prevalent, A3 multifunction printers and their status as edge devices with the same vulnerabilities as computers and computer networks, have become an important topic in any discussion of cybersecurity in the office. What are companies like Ricoh doing to help end customers protect their IP and data?
“We’ve always had very strong security messaging,” said Markowski. “We can turn ports and protocols on and off. We even have services where we’ll go into a company and work with them to monitor their policies, and then see which devices on the network are in policy or out of policy, and provide them with recommendations for remediation, or we’ll do that for them.”
He also discussed changing perceptions about security, focusing on the need for a balance between convenience and security. The example he used was when OEMs like Ricoh added the ability for users to insert a USB drive into the MFP to scan or access information. As awareness around security evolved, what once was a convenient feature became a potential security hole.
“With Ricoh devices, you have the ability to turn that off so that no one has the ability to take data out of the machine,” said Markowski. “We have a couple of improvements with these around authentication, network filtering, and trusted platform module. Some of this gets down into the weeds, but the bottom line is that it allows us to granularly restrict access to the information on the device and only give it people with access rights.”
Ricoh Always Current Technology
I first learned about Ricoh Always Current Technology during The Cannata Report’s visit to Japan in 2018. A year later, Ricoh introduced this technology with its IM C2500 A3 multifunction printers, and it has been included in every generation of its multifunction printers since then. This technology allows Ricoh to update not only the devices’ firmware but features and security functions mid-life cycle.
“In the past, people used to have to wait until the next generation came out to take advantage of advances that had happened since the launch, now with Always Current technology, we can give them more functionality, or create patches and do other things to mediate against anything that comes up from a security standpoint,” said Markowski.
A3 Multifunction Printers and the Cloud
One of the hottest trends of the past few years has been the emergence of the cloud. What better utilization of the cloud than an edge device such as an A3 multifunction printer that allows users to leverage the cloud? This is where Ricoh Smart Integration (RSI) has historically provided access from the MFP directly into cloud workflows or cloud repositories to make it easy for someone to walk up to the device and, for example, scan into OneDrive or scan into a workflow. In April, Ricoh launched a new print management solution, Ricoh Cloudstream.
“The initial offering has print management and basic scan functionality, but there is a roadmap for us to build all kinds of additional functionality onto that platform,” reported Markowski.
Ricoh Cloudstream is a multi-tenant cloud-based solution. According to Markowski, one of the benefits of the solution is that it removes many of the responsibilities for IT to manage infrastructure for print servers and print driver distribution. “Print infrastructure is something that inherently is going to stay on premise,” said Markowski.
Moving printer management into the cloud provides Ricoh with a platform to build additional device management, dashboarding, and analytics capabilities into the platform. “Hopefully, down the line, we’ll be using artificial intelligence to provide a lot of insights not just for print, but across many of the different modalities that a company may be using and leveraging the cloud.”
The Future of A3 Multifunction Printers
After listening to Markowski and following what other A3 OEMs are doing, it’s a given that even as clicks decline, A3 technology will adjust continue to improve with age. And for the foreseeable future, just like rock and roll, A3 multifunction printers are here to stay.
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