Konica Minolta’s cloud play is crucial for office comeback

Aside from commercial real estate dealers, office equipment vendors were among the hardest hit by the massive office evacuation following the pandemic.

But the death of the office was much exaggerated, say some affected CIOs, who point to an increasing number of corporate mandates for employees to return to the office for at least three days per week as the telltale of better business ahead for them.

Tokyo-based printer manufacturer Konica Minolta, for instance, is seeing a jump in business that its US subsidiary CIO cannot quantify now but is confident will show in future earnings.  

In fact, the 150-year-old OEM used the business slowdown to develop its digital transformation strategy to reinvent itself internally and grow the internal value of the company, as well as the external value it provides its customers, says Mike Lee, senior vice president and CIO of Konica Minolta Business Solutions USA.

The blueprint of that transformation, which is based on Google Cloud Platform and its core microservices, was designed roughly two years ago but its implementation — which first involves migrating data to the cloud and then implementing analytics — has just begun.

Migrating data to GCP and implementing Google BigQuery and Google Looker to analyze business data will be a game changer, Lee predicts.

The US-based subsidiary signed a 5-year deal with Google 18 to 24 months ago. Following the planning process, the OEM recently began migrating data from the 200 servers at its Ramsey, N.J., headquarters to the cloud, with plans to close the data center once the cloud move is complete. It will take Lee’s 60-person IT team some time to complete its rationalization efforts to sunset legacy apps that are no longer useful, he says.  

“We really didn’t have a consolidated repository of all of our business data,” Lee says, noting that the printer business still houses business information in database silos and in SAP Business Warehouse. The plan is to decommission everything in the data center that does not tie into the US subsidiary’s long-term connected office services strategy on the cloud.

The business benefits of analytics in the cloud

First, US Konica Minolta’s hop to the cloud will improve overall efficiencies and cut IT maintenance costs, Lee notes. It will also enable the company to develop new services that piggyback off existing services provided by multifunction office machines, the CIO says.

“One of the business outcomes is for our field-service technicians, to make them more efficient and productive, and the other value proposition is using the analytics and insights generated to design better products for our customers, whether they are direct or dealers,” Lee says, adding that doing so will drive new business revenue.

Today, the company uses Tableau and PowerBI for analytics. Adding Google Cloud, Looker, and BigQuery will yield more sophisticated insights for enhanced workflows and more lucrative business outcomes, such as better demand generation for marketing teams, refined qualification of incoming leads, and faster notifications of sales leads to the sales force — all of which will lead to incremental new top line revenue, Lee predicts.

Lee also expects new deals to result from the sophisticated analytics platform. “Monthly KPIs are produced manually today,” he says. “Through GCP, BigQuery, and Looker, we will be able to automate those and track them. The concept is to be fully automated.”

Implementing more IoT sensors into its multifunction machines will also drive new business services as part of the company’s connected product strategy, he says.

The connected office of the future

Lee, formerly an IT exec at GE for 21 years, says Konica Minolta is commemorating its 150th year in business in 2023. And no company that’s lasted that long does so without reinventing itself to remain relevant, he says.

The subsidiary’s digital transformation will usher in a new era for the entire company. Running data and analytics on the cloud is accelerating the company’s goal of developing next-generation services that will redefine what was once simply dubbed a copy machine, he says.

Currently, multifunction printers contain hundreds of sensors that provide enterprises with alerts about many aspects of maintenance requirements such as depleting ink levels and anomalies that alert technicians to malfunctions.

But to drive its more ambitious digital transformation, Lee developed an application managed service model and outsourced it to a consulting firm so that he can refocus his team on technology modernization.  

“I don’t want anyone on my team doing application support or break-fix or even small enhancements,” Lee says. “We freed up a bunch of my team’s time to focus on these digital transformation initiatives. “

Going forward, Lee expects the multifunction printer will be reinvented into a connected office hub with service packs that could yield data about the office environment such as energy utilization, power consumption, office temperature, possibly external equipment failures, supply issues, or even viral loads in the air, Lee says.

The sky is the limit when using advanced analytics, a new generation of IoT sensors and automated factories that are based in Japan. Eventually, AI will be a part of the evolution of Konica Minolta’s equipment.

“There’s a value proposition of our products providing lots of analytics and insights back to our customers, whether it’s a direct account or a dealer,” the CIO says, adding that the company services large enterprise accounts such as BMW and Accenture, as well as dealers across the globe.

It’s still too early for Lee to predict AI plans. To date, the company currently partners with a SaaS vendor that provides a chatbot for customer service that saves a lot of overhead and “we’re evaluating where we could potentially leverage ChatGPT for content creation for our marketing teams,” Lee says, but acknowledging a proper AI strategy will use data and analytics to get there.

Konica Minolta also created a separate e-commerce platform with partner Elastic Path to create new customer experience touchpoints, Lee says, adding that he has high hopes for a rebounding office workforce and what the company’s planned evolution of the multifunction printer and services the company can provide to enterprises.

Like most OEMs, Lee is constrained by a discretionary budget and ongoing supply chain issues. Still, his optimism is far higher today than it was during the pandemic when office building across the globe were largely empty.

“We’re not immune to the microprocessor shortage. Processing speed is a huge consideration” for the company’s manufacturing arm — but there is light at the end of the tunnel, he sees. “We are still dealing with backlog issues on our finished goods,” he says. “So the good news is there is a tremendous amount of demand and we’re playing catch-up.”

Cloud Computing, Digital Transformation