Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September Observations - A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to Digitization

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to Digitization
by Jim Lyons

I spent much of this summer pondering the question “What’s keeping the world from being 100 percent digitized?” I am not confident I am any closer to an answer, but I definitely have come up with some fine points on the question. For my September Observations, I’ll retrace at least a few of those mental steps.

Summer reading and the history of copying

A piece of my mental jigsaw puzzle is from a much-touted “summer read” of 2014. I refer to “Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street”, by John Brooks, acclaimed by both Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

I had to get my nose into this book, which dates back to the 1960s but was out of print until this August (adding a bit of a “forbidden fruit” allure as well). However, little did I know it would provide a starting point for my “funny thing happened” quest.

One of those “Wall Street tales” is entitled “Xerox Xerox Xerox.” It relates the story of the rise of XRX stock — one of the biggest growth stocks of the 1960s and 1970s.  Brooks goes back to the (really) early days of document duplication (which eventually became known as “copying” and “printing”) and the rise of industry pioneer, the AB Dick Company. The following paragraph got me thinking we are on a 100-year-plus-long journey of going full circle with business documents and their security. (“Grandfather” in this passage is the company’s namesake, as it describes the challenge of selling their early duplicators.)

“By and large, the first users of the [AB Dick duplicator] were non-business organizations like churches, schools, and Boy Scout troops. To attract companies and professional men, Grandfather and his associates had to undertake an enormous missionary effort. Office duplicating by machine was a new and unsettling idea that upset long-established office patterns. In 1887, after all, the typewriter had been on the market only a little over a decade and wasn’t yet in widespread use, and neither was carbon paper. If a businessman or a lawyer wanted five copies of a document, he’d have a clerk make five copies — by hand. People would say to Grandfather, ‘Why should I want to have a lot of copies of this and that lying around? Nothing but clutter in the office, a temptation to prying eyes, and a waste of good paper.”

The quotation above, as it appears in the Kindle version of "Business Adventures". The ebook was available earlier in the summer, prior to the print version's release.
Of course those attitudes and practices would do a 180, but knowing it was over 100 years ago when paper documents began their path to entrenchment in those “long-established business patterns,” it makes sense that there is resistance to changing them again, in this case to digitization. It’s just not as simple as eliminating “a waste of good paper” and those other virtues (like security) associated with fewer paper documents cluttering up the office.

The celebrity iCloud hack

Another recent reference has been late summer’s well-covered “celebrity photo hack” that revealed (sorry for the pun — should I say exposed?) security issues with cloud storage. While photos are not business documents, the risks (and benefits) of cloud storage and access are no different. Is this just one more knock on digitization and the cloud, holding businesses back from a more far-reaching, universal digitizing of their documents?

The Great Digital Divide

A friend and fellow analyst Robert Palmer offered some of his thoughts in his recent Workflow magazine article, “The Great Digital Divide: Working Effectively in an Electronic Office.”

In his article, Bob offers these cautionary thoughts:

“The rush to digitize content has led to several obstacles now facing many organizations. Maintaining document integrity and preventing data loss are two of the most significant concerns when pursuing a digital document strategy. These problems should not be underestimated, although many businesses fail to recognize the significance of the impact — especially as it relates to lost productivity.

“One such problem is the simple and pervasive nature of scanning. Scanning has become quite common in today’s office environment, and it is no longer a process that is limited to back-office applications. Employees want access to scanning, and with the proliferation of MFPs and network-enabled scanners in the office environment they now have it. Market research has shown that more than 70 percent of knowledge workers in the average office today have access to scanners and scanning functionality. Interestingly, that percentage holds fairly consistent regardless of the vertical market.”

Hiro Kataoka, industry entrepreneur

So is it “FUD” (fear, uncertainty and doubt) that is holding back a more universal adoption of electronic processes? It was conversations with industry expert and friend Hiro Kataoka, the founder and CEO of digital-rights-solution provider HoGo, that actually started me on this summer of preoccupation. Several more conversations along the way helped me fill in some additional pieces. With long-term resistance based on favoring paper, fears over security, and other points raised here, will digitization ever gain universal acceptance? Kataoka not only offers extensive experience and opinions, but has cast his lot in the digital world by forming a company to address this problem/opportunity. Additionally, his previous market focus was mobile printing, so I had to know, was the digitization play removed from this interest, or did he find an integration point in these market spaces?

A complete interview with Kataoka appears in the October issue of The Imaging Channel, but his key points are as follows:

1)    Lack of security/traceability and usability are barriers to adoption of digitization

2)    But, there is a new opportunity in scan to mobile

3)    We [HoGo] are going the direction of Box [the cloud company] + DRM [Digital Rights Management]

4)    DRM allows us to protect the content, not just the network 

5)    MFP's should be part of the “liquid computing” ecosystem

6)    The cloud is the glue that connects scanning, printing, desktop, and mobile

And finally, back to the celebrity cloud-security snafu of August 2014 - it is covered HoGo’s recent “tongue firmly in cheek” blog post here.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Demise of Little Printer

An email on the morning of September 9, 2014, landed in my inbox at 4:44am. I wouldn't read it for several more hours, but its subject line, "The future of Little Printer", was ominous. And in the letter, Little Printer's creators, Berg Cloud Ltd of London, described the planned demise of the product/solution which had garnered so much love and attention over the last few years.

Its late 2011 announcement, with lots of attention from many corners via social media, was something to behold - a hard copy device that people were clamoring for, in this day and age! This was my angle, when I first wrote about Berg and Little Printer (see links below). I would go on to  post more more Little Printer tales, including a two-parter last summer that chronicled my first hands-on experience with my very own product.

Product Hunt featured Little Printer and lots of enthusiasm
And the outside world continued to praise Little Printer, right up through this summer. Most notable was its much-liked-and-commented-on appearance on Product Hunt, the hot Silicon Valley-based website, Product Hunt, which is lately the "it" place for ferreting out new products and companies.

Berg's announcement didn't include specifics on causes forcing the Little Printer "hibernation", but those of us who have been around the block a few times recognize what happens when there are not enough paying customers to cover expenses. It's always pretty much the same story.

Details on the "end", and what could come to pass that would breathe life back into Little Printer, including open-sourcing its software, and/or sale to another company, can be found at the Berg blog. Again, for one experienced in such things, I offer that despite best efforts, the odds on any such revival is at best a long shot.

The timing of the bad news, some might note, was on the same day as Apple's HUGE announcement of new iPhones, etc. So it was easy to overlook this tidbit about Berg and their Little Printer. Some picked it up though, including Business Insider and its article by James Cook, "'Little Printer' — The London Startup That Tried To Save A Dying Art — Is No More" includes wording in its headline that carries a little sting, at least for some of us.

One wonders if the timing of the Little Printer announcement, coming on Apple Launch day, was intentional, at least sub-consciously, as a way to minimize attention, somehow in turn minimizing the reality of the bad news? Just like one could wonder if this post, published late Friday afternoon, might be seeking the same delusional outcome?

My Little Printer Posts on Jim Lyons Observations

February, 2012, Media Lessons from Little Printer
November, 2012, Little Printer Ships
December, 2012, Happy New Year
July, 2013, Please Mr Postman
August, 2013, Go Go Go Little Printer
October, 2013, Little Printer creators moving ahead

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Electrolux buy of GE Appliance Division brings back HP LaserJet memories

The news about the acquisition of GE's venerable home appliance division by Sweden's Electrolux brought back some great memories for me.

It was 1992, as part of the HP LaserJet management team, that I was privileged enough to be part of a pair of day-long meetings with GE's Home Appliance Product Management team. It was a "cultural exchange" where someone (not me, and I can't remember who) came up with the brilliant idea (and more important, made the idea happen) to get the teams together to exchange best practices, with the safety of knowing we were in no way competitors, allowing the individuals on each team to speak more freely.

The beauty of the exchange was that though the products we managed seemed (and were) very different, GE and HP both were then (and still are) known for a rigorous, analytical approach to marketing and product management. It was a "home and home" series (as we would say in today's sports world), with the GE team visiting Boise (home base, then and now, for the LaserJet business), and then our HP group visiting Louisville (likewise, headquarters for GE Appliances).

Even though it's coming up on 23 years in the past, I clearly remember learning two things from the meetings (in addition to being impressed with the Louisville factory tour). One was the sensitivity the GE team was feeling towards the green/recycling trends which were growing, heading our way from Europe. This included the idea that the originating vendor could be responsible for "product take back" from customers buying new appliances.

The other "aha" I remember well was the GE team's admission that they as individuals were more focused, that is MUCH more focused, on appliances, both their own and those of the competition, as compared to the general public. They, and the interest level they felt for their own household appliances, and even those of friends and family, were outliers - the customers they were serving generally had a much lower level of passion for their appliances, and the simplicity of GE's sales appeals was paramount. In other words, don't expect the customers out there to do "deep dives" on the speeds and feeds of their new washers, dryers, and refrigerators.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Printer plays unsung role in Detroit Soda Can Fire Alarm story

Of course, I had to click through on this Gizmodo story on a clever and apparently effective means for Detroit firefighters to respond to fires and other emergencies. The article gives a brief description of this and other "MacGyver" solutions to rousting the emergency responders when the notice of an emergency comes through on their printer.

Yes, that's right - it's the printer (or fax, going by the original Detroit Free Press article) that delivers the original message. But maybe it's just not loud enough???

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Who's the Champ in Laser Printers?

An irresistible subject line got me to open this email and link to their landing page 
So am I going to let an email with a subject line like "Who's the Champ in Laser Printers?" lie fallow in my Gmail inbox, even if I know it's a sales come-on from an online retailer (and admittedly one of my favorites, Newegg.com)? Of course I had to open it and take a look and it's interesting to see the brands included, including relative newcomer Pantum (for the US, at least).

And while the five "most popular products" in the category are offered for some amazing prices, it's interesting to me that two are monochrome printers, one is an mono MFP (the only HP in the offering), and one's a color MFP (a Canon, to go along with the Canon all-in-one mono product.)

Best deal (in my mind)? That would be the HP LaserJet M127h - so good it's a "see price in cart" offer.

Friday, August 29, 2014

August 2014 Observations - What’s up with Pop Culture and Typewriters? Weird Al, Tom Hanks, World’s Fairs, and Printing

A typewriter (one of many it seems) made an appearance at the Emmys
I am not sure if it is an end-of-summer nostalgia thing, or just pure coincidence, but lately it seems I am surrounded by typewriter references. This week, it was the Emmy Awards, and the “Weird Al” send-up which parodied famous TV show’s theme songs, and somehow ended with the presentation of a giant typewriter to audience member and "Game of Thrones" writer George R.R. Martin, who famously prefers to write on an old school DOS word processor to anything more modern. (See  “Why Game of Thrones Writer Uses an Old-school DOS Machine”)

Looking at my Twitter homepage a few days prior, I noticed among the trending topics “Tom Hanks”. With all the summer’s negative and even horrific news on so many fronts, I was a bit hesitant to click through to see what this trending status was all about, but was soon relieved to find it was very happy buzz about, of all things, a new Hanks-branded typewriter-simulation app for the iPad. Entitled Hanx Writer, the tweets led me to a TechCrunch description of the app – and its popularity. I also found a Newsweek article that directed me to a New York Times op-ed piece by Hanks, from last summer (2013), which heaped praise and nostalgia on the typewriter – turns out he’s quite the aficionado.

Hanx Writer had Tom Hanks trending on Twitter recently

Of course, I had to download the app and play with it for myself, and found that it's quite the fun app, and really does give the feel of typing – similar but different, too, than today’s keyboarding. Plus, and of course of keen interest to me, Hanx Writer allows printing, so that perfect Courier font on the iPad screen can be rendered to a printed page via built-in AirPrint capability.

A nostalgic piece on NPR’s Planet Money about the 50th anniversary of the New York world's fair and the technology on display included picture phones but stressed how typewriters seemed to generate more interest (see “Typewriters, Underwater Hotels And Picturephones: The Future, As Seen From 1964”). And though such old memories are subject to “drift”, I also remember the picture phone (but not typewriters) from my childhood visit to the 1962 Seattle World's Fair - although they were not nearly as exciting as the “pickle pins” offered by Heinz (a promotional staple of such events for over 100 years), and a grade school status item, at least in 1962!

The nostalgia about the typewriter aside, it really is interesting to think, from a business evolution perspective, about the development of the desktop printer in the period following. I remember in my first office jobs, some of the secretaries – in more progressive areas of the business - having enhanced typewriters that held canned text for letters and invoices in oddly shaped memory cards, to go along manual entry of names and other unique fields. This help streamline the process of more efficiently producing typed documents. These memory-enable machines evolved into standalone word processors, but still requiring a typewriter or the loud and expensive “daisy wheel” printer.

At the same time, the PC was developing (though not yet called a “PC”), and that DOS platform Martin still prefers became home to very basic text editing, eventually also dubbed as word processors. But they needed a better output device than the aforementioned daisy wheels or “greenbar” printers found in the data center. And by 1984, the HP LaserJet emerged as that disruptive printer, featuring “Quick, Quiet and Quality” capabilities, finally beating the output capability of typewriters at every turn.

I guess I am getting a little nostalgic myself, but to take a more calculated, academic eye to the situation, it’s what we categorize as classic development of “complementary products” (as my economics students will attest) along with some “creative destruction” thrown in. The computer-based word processor and the "letter quality” printer developed on similar tracks and created together an outstanding combination that displaced typewriters, even those souped-up models, and business communications was transformed forever.

End-of-summer fun can be yours with the iPad Hanx Writer app

And back to the Hanks app. Whether you want to classify it as pure nostalgia, and/or a gimmicky app to show the kids and stimulate “can you believe we really did this” thoughts and discussion? Regardless, for a little end-of-summer fun and nostalgia of yoru own, I heartily recommend taking the Hanx Writer app for a spin!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Taking another look at HP’s new PageWide large-format printers

With a couple of months to think about it, plus expert help, I offer some more thoughts

Going back several months now, to the beginning of June, I was honored to spend the better part of two days with HP’s large-format printing team at an analyst event in San Diego. And while not the heart of my current “beat” in the industry (I am more often studying office and home printers, with a special emphasis the last few years looking at broader mobile technology and its interactions with printing and imaging), it was a pleasure to become reacquainted with the large-format offerings HP was emphasizing during that event.

I posted at the conclusion of the event (see “HP Designjet and Market Segmentation”), not with anything particularly insightful about the individual products, but with kind (and sincere) words about the skills and discipline this group of HP product designers and planners has shown in understanding and targeting specific market segments. The details and “aha’s” concerning the new products, the HP Designjet T3500 Production eMFP and HP Designjet T7200 Production Printer, and a new software solution, the HP Designjet SmartStream Pre-Flight Manager and Controllers, as well as the “star” of the show, at least in terms of covering new ground, the large-format HP PageWide printers, I felt should be left to category experts and not me, more of an industry generalist at least with respect to this space.

PageWide products by HP are nothing new to me, of course. I have covered the Edgeline, OfficeJet Pro X, and most recently, the enterprise-ready models earlier this year, HP Officejet Enterprise Color MFP X585 and HP Officejet Enterprise Color X555. I posted regarding the latter on their official launch day, March 24, 2014 (see “HP Offers “Ink for theEnterprise” and Innovations, big and small”). And as far as being surprised to see PageWide in the wide format space, anyone paying attention to HP’s communications over any number of years has heard repeated statements that the industry leader could be counted on to pursue PageWide in most if not all of their far-flung areas of interest in printing.
Who better to help on some insight than category expert IT Strategies? 
Hoping that last paragraph doesn’t come across as too smug (a known pitfall for veteran analysts), the reality is, despite my background, I could use some education regarding the precise importance of some of the details of the announcement. And who better to provide me sector-specific expertise than my long-time friend and large-format expert Marco Boer of IT Strategies?

In the weeks following HP’s event, Marco provided me first his draft and then the final version of his take on the announcements. And learn a lot – I did! I can summarize a few of those findings here, with much thanks to Marco and IT Strategies for the education.

The focus of the new PageWide products (going back to that masterful segmentation mentioned earlier), as reported by Marco, is the technical drawing market, where monochrome toner-based LED printers rule today. And the timing, for delivery (and a few minor details like price, exact specs and even model numbers) in the second half of 2015? In this market segment, HP currently does not have a presence, so stirring the pot and letting potential customers know something better is coming does not hurt HP, unlike announcing too soon in a market where delayed sales might come at HP’s expense.

And keeping more with HP internal concerns, what about the importance of PageWide with respect to the company’s bottom line? As I have clearly seen with their “Ink in the Office” efforts over multiple years now (and really flowering with their PageWide offerings), ink profits contribute to profits, which Marco points out fared well in the recent quarter even with flat supplies revenues year-to-year.

Back to the customer, what of the value proposition from PageWide machines replacing those monochrome LED models? As HP made clear in June, “free color” opportunities abound in a market segment which until now (or more accurately, the second half of 2015), has not even has had few color options, and no affordable one. Though as Marco emphasizes in his report, it may be the entrenched habit of mono-only will inhibit this move to color, regardless of cost and pricing. One option that came to my mind, as a way to break those old customer habits, is to offer the “free spot color” option which HP brought back for the “Color for the Enterprise” PageWide models I covered in March.

So with the guidance of Maro Boer, I have indeed learned a lot based on my recent and very memorable exposure to the large-format world of HP and its customers. A few things are very much the same as in my “comfort zone” of home and office printing, with a few things quite different. And optimistically, I can see where a few innovations can move back and forth between the different worlds!