Ricoh recently held its 2017 EMEA Industry Analyst Summit in Paris. Providing a strategy update on company plans for the next three years. The summit welcomed analysts covering office printing, IT services and Unified Communications & Collaboration.
Ricoh’s Communication Services division manages its workplace collaboration products, including lines of projectors, interactive whiteboards (IWB’s) and video conferencing equipment. The division is a relatively young but emergent segment of Ricoh’s business, with significant investment taking place in the last three years.
A look at developments and strategy in Ricoh’s other business units can shed some light on what we may expect to see, as Ricoh increases its focus on the communications services market.
Ricoh’s core business is office printing. This is a mature market with declining margins. Ricoh is a leading player with a global customer base composed of large and mid-size enterprises. With growth in the print market uncertain, Ricoh has focused on developing new opportunities to service its existing customer base. IT convergence is a theme that many in the AV world will be familiar with and a similar story can be found in the office printing industry. In recent years, the management and procurement of printing services has increasingly shifted from facilities managers to IT managers. Seeking to address this new customer profile, Ricoh has built an IT services business which now accounts for approximately 10% of the company’s revenue globally. This growth has been achieved primarily through acquisition. The last five years has seen Ricoh make in excess of 15 acquisitions of companies with IT service capabilities, providing a workforce of over 9000 specialists globally.
Ricoh is now looking to apply the same methodology of growth through acquisition to its Communication Services business. The first acquisition on its books was Techno Trends in Spain, which was acquired in July 2017. Techno Trends is a UC&C reseller and audio-visual integrator. The company maintains existing relationships with leading UC&C players like Cisco and Microsoft. Acquisitions of this nature highlight Ricoh’s strategy for partnership and interoperability in the communication services market. It’s video conferencing end points and IWB’s are compatible with third party platforms like Skype for Business. This is increasingly common in the broader market, as a growing number of vendor’s position video solutions for the meeting room. Vendors like Logitech and NEC have adopted the same strategy with comparable products. These platform agnostic solutions offer an alternative, (typically lower in cost and specification) to platform optimised hardware from platform owners like Cisco and Microsoft. Interoperability of communications platforms is another industry trend where Ricoh has made investments. Partnering with Videxio to offer a virtual meeting room platform with similar capabilities, to solutions from providers like Pexip and Acano; these solutions provide a virtual space to host users of multiple different conferencing platforms. During the Analyst Summit, Ricoh hinted that further channel acquisitions with a broadening geographic focus may be in the pipeline, following a similar blueprint employed by the company’s IT services division.
Beyond influencing Ricoh’s future acquisition strategy, the IT services division may have broader implications for the company’s development in the AV and communications services markets. To date, Ricoh’s IT services business has focused on three key areas, mobility & workplace, data centre & infrastructure and information management & analytics. In an increasingly connected and interoperable workplace, each of these areas has the capacity to impact AV deployments and as such, the ability of vendors to influence a customer’s IT services strategy will increase a vendor’s capability to influence that customers AV strategy. This trend is observed in the broader market, with IT integrators becoming increasingly involved in AV deployment, either through the development of AV skill sets in-house or through outsourcing integration to AV specialists on a white labelling basis.
Perhaps most interesting from a solutions perspective is the role data analytics and machine learning will have in the form of Virtual Personal Assistants (VPAs). VPAs are already widely available in the home audio market; a similar trend is now emerging in commercial markets. Ricoh is an early adopter and has partnered with IBM to integrate an IBM Watson based virtual assistant into its IWB’s. This assistant can capture meeting proceedings, monitor meeting room usage & scheduling and integrate with other third-party applications for meeting room control and additional services. More recently, Cisco has announced a similar solution; the Cisco Spark Assistant will be deployed in phases from early 2018. Building out from the meeting room, these VPA’s will have the ability to support additional areas of office ICT; digital signage, office security, imaging solutions and desk based communications products are each potential areas of adoption with vertical specific solutions expected to emerge in the longer term. The ability to centralise and increasingly automate workflow management through these platforms may be a key competitive differentiator for workplace technology suppliers moving forwards.
With a large existing customer base to address, an evolving portfolio of IT and AV solutions and an appetite for acquisition that will give Ricoh a greater influence over the AV channel, Futuresource will be keenly watching Ricoh’s further investment in the communication services sector.