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Konica Minolta seeks to reinvent itself as IT services provider with launch of Workplace Hub

Konica Minolta launches Workplace Hub

Small and medium-sized businesses with limited IT expertise are the target market for a new platform developed by Konica Minolta to simplify IT infrastructure and management and help customers digitise their businesses.

The Workplace Hub is a compact server/storage/networking unit that connects to an organisation’s existing tools, services and devices, providing a single dashboard for easy management of the IT infrastructure, plus a range of IT services delivered by Konica Minolta.

The platform, developed with key partners HP (server), Sophos (security) and Microsoft (collaboration and office solutions), is designed to help SMEs with their digital transformation now and in the future.

Konica Minolta says the product roadmap includes the integration of technologies such as IoT, AI, Intelligent Edge and Decision Support as they become part of the workplace of tomorrow.

When it is launched in the autumn, Konica Minolta’s platform will be available in four versions: the desktop Edge; the rack Edge; the Workplace Hub; and the Workplace Hub Mini. The Workplace Hub variants feature an Edge built into an enclosure beneath an MFP (A3 and A4 respectively).

While this link with Konica Minolta’s heritage might raise questions about reliability and resilience – what happens if the Workplace Hub or MFP needs servicing or replacement? – the company points out there are practical reasons for the arrangement; it saves space in small firms with little room for equipment and the range of the built-in WiFi antenna is reportedly better if located within a printer on the office floor rather than in a server room.

Removing complexity

Explaining the thinking behind the product’s development, Jerome-Etienne Zastrow, Konica Minolta Manager Portfolio Extension, said: “We had a look at what work problems SMEs have and found that the complexity of the IT environment in a small company is not much less than in a big company. Yet the big company has an IT department staffed with specialists. A small company or the branch office of a bigger company generally only has one generalist to cope with all this complexity.”

Workplace Hub

Zastrow argues that while IT has become more connected and less complex in enterprises, small businesses have yet to benefit from this trend and are still having to manage large numbers of devices and software applications.

“One of the people we spoke to said he would be happy if he could cut down from 50 to 15 administration software applications. We said ‘You’ve only got 50 people, why do you have so much to administer?’ and he said ‘Easy. We started with an office in London and then we bought a company in Birmingham with a totally different IT set-up. Then we acquired a small company somewhere else and they again had a different set-up’. As a small company, you can’t immediately renew the entire IT of the companies involved, so huge complexity builds up.

“We thought how can we change that. We looked at all the IT infrastructure in a company and basically put all those that are accessed by multiple people in a box – the server, the storage, the WiFi networking, security, printers and so on. Then we created a dashboard that we put on top so that now the IT generalist doesn’t have to cope with 10 or 15 different applications, but just one.

“The second part is that we offer services around this. We offer to provide services for everything or just certain items – the customer can pick and mix. At the moment, we are offering backup and security management, server management, WiFi management, repair services, copy and printing services, IT helpdesk services, and we will add more services in the future,” he said.

Easy collaboration

The third element of the Workplace Hub is Teamspaces, an HTML 5 application that Konica Minolta has developed to remove complexity from collaboration.

“Every company we encountered complained about how difficult collaboration is, which was interesting for us because at that stage we weren’t talking about collaboration but only IT and infrastructure. We thought everything to do with collaboration was solved, but people said there is still a lot that is wrong,” explained Zastrow.

“So we came up with the idea of Teamspaces and putting everything to do with collaboration – text messaging, video calls, voice calls, file sharing etc. – under one dashboard. We are not offering all these services, but are connecting the tools that a company already uses. We can connect to Lync, we can connect to Sharepoint, we can connect to Webex, we can connect to Google Cloud, we can connect to Dropbox and so on. This makes it far easier for non-hardcore users of these systems, while hardcore users still get full usage, because it’s just a connector, a different view.”

This application underlines one of the attractions of Workplace Hub for small businesses, which is the potential to change applications and services at a pace that suits them.

“There will always be legacy systems and smaller companies don’t like to be limited to one vendor,” explained Zastrow. “The only thing we do is replace the hardware so you don’t have legacy and old equipment. And you don’t need to purchase it – you just rent it per month per user from us, so there is no upfront investment. On the software side, you can keep using what you already use.”

Printer companies have been trying to reinvent themselves as IT service providers for a number of years, with limited success. Could Konica Minolta’s Workplace Hub be what’s needed to make that change?