Sharp Brings Solid Relationships to its 2015 Dealer Meeting

Sharp Imaging and Information Company of America (SIICA), held its national dealer meeting December 3-6 in San Antonio. While the name Sharp tends to immediately bring hardware to mind, the company as it exists today goes beyond hardware, extending its reach into IT, software and solutions, and had some interesting relationships to talk about during an event whose theme was, appropriately, Relationships@Work.

While my colleague Robert Palmer provides a recap of the event over at The Imaging Channel, I wanted to spend some time and space here at Workflow looking at the nature of those solutions-based relationships. Workflow, after all, is often the culmination of a number of successful relationships all synching together, and Sharp certainly is working to stage those relationships among its partners, vendors, dealers and customers. At the event’s vendor fair, there were 64 third-party companies represented, 36 of which were part of Sharp’s partner program, with the balance represented by strategic and channel partners.

One way in which partners have unique access to Sharp is through its Open Systems Architecture (OSA), which allows developers to create software that integrates directly with the MFPs. Vince Jannelli, senior director, software product management, spoke of the need for that integration during the event’s opening session, noting that Sharp has a fundamental mission to bring tools to the channel that work together. “How do we take hardware and software and make the connection happen?” he asked. Objects that were first developed to complement a device from the outside then move inside the device; the print server and scan server, for example, which once needed to be outside the hardware are now inside, representing a constant migration of features into the box.

Jannelli also noted that one of the biggest developments driving change in today’s office is mobile and cloud technology, and that the technology we have in our daily life is what we’re looking for in the workplace. Most of it, he said, is generational shift — people entering the workforce today have lived only in a mobile world, and they expect it to integrate with their business environment seamlessly.

Sharp’s Cloud Portal Office (CPO) highlights the firm’s awareness of those needs. CPO, although introduced last year, remained one of the stars of this year’s show, with a suite of software for functions such as indexing, storage and collaboration accessible from virtually any device. Partners, as Sharp’s leadership continually emphasized, are key to the program’s success, and the firm previewed CPO’s ability to link with automated capture tools, such as those from Drivve, Prism and Fujitsu. Integration with these types of tools will allow Sharp dealers to be able to provide a turnkey capture and content management solution.

Sharp’s Mike Marusic (far left) and Doug Albregts (far right) talk relationships with partners Clover, Fujitsu and Tech Data

An example of that type of integration is evident in the relationship between Fujitsu and Sharp. Fujitsu’s SVP, Corporate Strategy Jeff DeCarlo said that Fujitsu, as a product company bringing scanners and software to market, could see the value of bringing the right solutions to Sharp, and then delivering services with solutions.

Sharp’s SVP of Marketing, Operations and Service Mike Marusic discussed the development of the Fujitsu relationship. As Sharp began to extend its value in the software business, they needed software that could handle all the repositories and address all processes — needs that ultimately resulted in the creation of an end-to-end system combining Fujitsu and Sharp. “We envision a world where you walk up to a Fujitsu scanner or a Sharp MFP anywhere,” said Marusic. “You’re using their software as intended anywhere in the building.”

Other partners present at the event included software heavy hitters such as Square 9, PrintFleet, GreatAmerica, Ringdale, and MWAi Intelligence. Immediately following the event, MWAi and Sharp announced the integration of FORZA software with Sharp’s Machine Intelligence Call Assistance System (MICAS).

“MICAS, on its own, is a powerful and much needed solution for the customer and dealer and provides detailed insight into the hardware and client network. Sharp continues to provide solutions to enhance customer experience,” said Marusic in a prepared statement about the partnership. “MICAS integrated with FORZA provides the dealer and client with increased customer uptime and first call efficiency as well as a strong sense of intelligent machine and network support.”

The “mirror” screens were a big hit at the event, as was Mike Marusic’s discussion of the integration between Sharp’s MICAS and MWAi’s FORZA.

Another big announcement during the meeting was an integration with education technology company Blackboard. Sharp’s integration with Blackboard’s flagship learning management system, Blackboard Learn, will enable students to print and scan assignments from any connected Sharp MFP directly to the students’ Blackboard Learn courses. The partnership will also leverage CPO, allowing educators to add original electronic and scanned materials directly into Blackboard Learn courses via the service.

Sharp’s AQUOS BOARD interactive display system looks great in the classroom,
pairing with Blackboard solutions.

Our Take

Sharp has gained quite a bit of ground over the years, moving past the perception by many of the firm as a hardware company with some financial issues. Although questions still arise about the firm’s future, the answers to those questions are met with less skepticism than in years past. In his opening presentation, President Doug Albregts told the gathered dealers that Sharp’s philosophy was simple; that [Sharp’s] relationships will facilitate a custom solution for your customers, growth for IT hardware and services, and connections needed to diversify your business. If the three days of the dealer meeting were any indication, Sharp is well on its way to being a company that fulfills its philosophy.