Sharp is positioning itself as a one-stop-shop for the smart office. James Goulding reports
MFPs and associated software might account for 90% of Sharp’s revenue, but today the company offers a much wider range of products, including large format displays, digital signage, videoconferencing systems, document management software, managed IT services, cloud services, AI-based digital assistants, meeting room furniture and even watercoolers that turn office air into drinking water.
Many of these solutions were on display at Sharp Inspire 2018, held in Edinburgh on January 15-18, where Alexander Hermann, President of Information Solutions Europe, explained the rationale for the company’s rapidly evolving line-up.
He said: “Today, there are fewer instances where a single type of product constitutes a sellable solution. Different hardware devices need to interact and connect with each other to form a solution. Sharp’s products are more like components. It is only when they are brought together that you will have the final product.”
Sharp is encouraging channel partners and its own sales force to put together customised solutions for customers that combine ‘components’ from its range (e.g. MFPs and displays) with software and services from technology partners and Sharp itself.
Examples on display at Sharp Inspire 2018 included applications for reception areas, administrative offices, meeting rooms and marketing departments.
Among them were:
a touch-screen Welcome Board that provides a complete self-service visitor solution for reception areas, including the ability of visitors to register their arrival, alert the person they are visiting and print off a name badge;
a Digital Mailroom solution that lets users scan incoming mail on an MFP and index and save it to the cloud where it can be viewed by the recipient in the office or remotely, using a PC, tablet or smartphone;
a Sharp Accounts Payable Workﬂow that automates the entire process, from the extraction of information from scanned invoices to approval, payment and archiving;
a Big Pad interactive whiteboard running Sharp video conferencing software that brings quick and easy collaboration to huddle rooms, as well as the ability to mark-up on-screen documents, distribute copies to meeting participants and connect wireless devices such as tablets and smartphones; and
a digital signage solution that makes it easy to create multimedia content and distribute it via the cloud to multiple screens located on-premise or in public locations.
Hermann said: “We at Sharp are offering an extremely broad line-up of business hardware and software. We are also developing new concepts and smart ways of linking technology to our daily lives, introducing forward-looking ideas that will change the way we work and play.”
Sharp Digital Assistant
The stand-out product in this context is the Sharp Digital Assistant, pencilled in for a 2019 launch, which leverages artificial intelligence to transform day-to-day business activities. A built-in speaker and microphone enable two-way interaction with software and voice control of Sharp Big Pad displays and MFPs; a 360-degree camera supports video communications and facial recognition for automatic log-in; and automatic cloud connectivity provides access to smart cloud services.
Initially, Sharp will make the Sharp Digital Assistant available as a component of the Sharp Meeting System concept – an eco-system of meeting services designed to remove the frustrations of meeting scheduling, equipment set-up and connectivity and to provide greater insight into meeting activity and the automatic generation of meeting notes and action points through AI and voice-to-text conversion.
In the future, Sharp plans to integrate the Digital Assistant with additional subscription services. To facilitate this expansion, it is developing a smart services platform in Europe that will link Sharp devices to meeting services like Webex and leading applications from companies such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google.
Another highlighted example of Sharp innovation was the 8K Studio, which brings together an 8K camcorder and 8K display to capture and display life-like images in incredible detail (Sharp has already launched 8K TVs in China and Japan ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which are due to be broadcast in 8K).
Sid Stanley, General Manager Europe – Visual Solutions, said: “8K is a classic leadership statement: ‘This is where we will be in the 2020s, but let’s become brilliant at it now while it’s an emerging technology’. There’s a big cost and we are not going to get our money back for a long time, but being a leader in 8K, I think, is the basis and foundation for a lot of future success.”
The extra detail and clarity provided by 8K technology is not just a big advance in broadcasting; it also supports the current digitisation agenda. For example, 8K would make it easier for a doctor to view images broadcast from an operating theatre and conduct operating procedures remotely; for security staff to view footage of a crowd scene and zoom in on a single individual with no loss of detail; and for building maintenance operatives to view the smallest details, such as a malfunctioning sprinkler nozzle, from video footage capture with a drone mounted 8K camera.
In the meantime, Sharp will continue to develop its core product range, using the manufacturing resources of Foxconn, which invested $3.8 billion in the company in 2016, to bring out new MFPs and display products more often and more quickly. Whether they are used on their own, integrated with other solutions or even built into furniture like the Sharp Plug and Meet solution for huddle rooms or the Collaboration Station for small teams, Sharp’s solutions can help customers work more smartly.