“This is a dramatic move. Our strategy is swift, simple and bold” he commented. “We have advanced from a historical position of meeting market demands to one of anticipating and aggressively driving the pace and future direction of the multifunction peripheral. Other traditional copier manufacturers have talked about releasing an A4 MFP line,” but McLaughlin pointed out that Sharp was the first to actually do it, and do it on a grand scale. Code named ‘Frontier,’ the new series is a step toward the Sharp’s long term plan, to be number one. “We want to be number one. We want to be the biggest and the best in this space, and in five years we will be,” McLaughlin says.
Underscoring this year’s theme “The Next Frontier,” McLaughlin reminded attendees of the many innovations Sharp introduced during the past few years, such as being a pioneer in developing a comprehensive security suite and introducing a Web services based development platform, Sharp OSA™ architecture. Both of these innovations were subsequently mimicked by competitors, he stated.
At the meeting, Sharp unveiled the company’s largest product line announcement that included 23 new models.  Eighteen of the new models are A4 based units in speed segments 3 and 4.  They included six color workgroup MFPs, six monochrome workgroup MFPs, four color workgroup printers and two monochrome network printers. Code named, the “Frontier Series,” these new products are designed to reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO) and provide added capabilities in response to customer demands for fleet management and managed print services. In addition to the new A4 products, Sharp also introduced its next-generation A3 color workgroup MFPs, which are code named Pastel II and C-Jupiter II. The new MFPs all share common controller architecture, provide a consistent user interface utilizing a new wide-screen 8.5 inch color touch panel and offer the next-generation of Sharp’s OSA™ (Open System Architecture) technology.
Citing research that reveals only 14 percent of documents in the office are produced on ledger-size paper, Gary Bailer, Sharp’s associate director, product management for printers and A4 multifunction commented, “Look at all of the opportunities out there. In the office enterprise, there are eight to 10 letter or legal size all-in-ones and printers deployed for every ledger size MFP,  yet for the most part, the independent dealer channel has not seized upon that opportunity to capture those clicks and their associated supplies and service revenue. “
When asked about how these new products fare against the competition, Bailer responded, “I’m not so sure there is competition,” says Bailer. “While other copier-oriented vendors have introduced A4 devices, those products tended to fill niches in their segment 1, or more recently segment 2 product lines. And printer-oriented vendors have attempted to move their So-Ho oriented All-In-One products upstream by simply making them faster and adding more paper capacity.” Sharp’s approach to these new models was to provide the same core functionality of our higher-end A3 models and provide that functionality into a more compact footprint.”
With the new A4 line, Sharp took the MX series controller and integrated it into the new smaller form factor, keeping the same features across their product line – from segment 6 all the way down to the new A4 product line. “This way the user’s experience is identical, including product training and support,” Bailer says.
The new devices include Sharp’s multi-layered security suite, a common controller platform, a common graphic user interface and version 3 of the Sharp OSA to personalize the interface. The devices also include what Sharp characterized as a “best-of-breed” supplies system. The idea is to blend the best of what copier-oriented MFPs and printer-oriented MFPs each offer.  Like copier-oriented MFPs, the new products offer separate toners, developers and drums that reduce the cost per page by maximizing the life of drums and developers.  Like printer-oriented MFPs, these supply items can be removed and installed in seconds, without the use of tools. With this approach, the consumables can be quickly replaced through the traditional maintenance contract or directly by the end user to reduce downtime and reduce the dealer’s service expense. “No other company has this,” Bailer said.
At the meeting, Sharp also showcased a new second-generation A3 color workgroup series of MFPs, designed to offer businesses affordable, high-quality color combined with new features to streamline document workflow. Sharp claims that these second-generation models raise the bar on performance with a faster microprocessor and enhanced paper handling to offer speeds of 26 ppm (MX-2600N) and 31 ppm (MX-3100N). The units will support the next-generation Sharp OSA development platform, and features advanced remote access and device management capabilities as do Sharp’s new A4 series MFPs.
The MX-2600N and MX-3100N also come standard with a host of innovative features designed to streamline document workflow in the office, as well as enhance the user experience. The new models include an 8.5 inch diagonally measured color LCD that supports high-resolution graphics, offering customers enhanced walk-up capabilities. Both models also offer a standard retractable keyboard, which allows users to perform advanced keyboard entry tasks right at MFP. Sharp’s new color workgroup series also boast new on-screen image preview features, as well as full IPV6 support, full Microsoft Vista support, and available Gigabit Ethernet.
With a unique look and textured feel, the new MFP line looks futuristic. “Someone asked me the other day what the finish was called. I just said it’s sexy,” McLaughlin joked.
Also at the event was Sharp’s  groundbreaking flagship production line designed for the high-volume office and light production market. The MX-M850, MX-M950 and MX-M1100, with speeds of 85-, 95-, and 110-ppm respectively, were being displayed along with a preview of future options such as a pull-out keyboard tray and Plockmatic booklet finisher that should be launched in the coming months. Also being displayed with this product family was the new MX-PEX3 Fiery print controller that was launched May 1st, 2008. These options should help contribute to Sharp’s success in the segment 5 and 6 categories and will keep inline with Sharp’s philosophy of having the same look and feel throughout the product line, and will be Sharp OSA compatible.
Sharp’s Remote Management Tool
With Sharp’s new remote management initiative, iDVM, will benefit both corporate, in-house help desks as well as the Sharp authorized service provider, explained McLaughlin. Developed in collaboration with MWAi, Sharp expects the iDVM initiative will enable dealers to not only remotely access and control the MFP’s front panel, but also clone device settings, upload firmware and access service logs. This will greatly reduce service costs and dramatically improve response time, according to McLaughlin.
“This complete system is complemented by the MySHARP program, which will be available on all the next generation Sharp OSA-enabled MFPs,” McLaughlin says. The user will be able to view easy-to-understand, graphical instructions on how to perform virtually any task directly on the MFP’s LCD panel. The company claims this will further reduce help desk calls, providing users with the information they need, when they need, where they need it. “Nobody has done this before.” McLaughlin adds.
End Users Say “Sharp listens to us”
During the General Session, McLaughlin  introduced three end users, Tim Ringlespaugh, Director of IT with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Sandy Boomer, CIO of Plumbers Supply Corp, and Brad Garlock, IT Director with Biltmore Hotel to join him on stage to discuss how Sharp, in conjunction with it’s  Partner Program members, leveraged the Sharp OSA platform to provide custom tailored solutions to meet their individual needs.
Because it is customary for Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra to have concerts for the local community, the company had to fax individual registration forms to every school. Ringlespaugh said schools mostly use faxes to send documents since school staff members are normally in class during the day. So, prior to the Sharp solution, they had to dedicate a person to send out hundreds of faxes, taking many hours to complete.  Now, with the Sharp solution, it takes 15 to 20 minutes to scan and fax the forms with the Castelle – Sharp OSA integration.
Brad Garlock stated that he “knew [they] would save money, but [wasn’t] aware of how much.”  Not only did the Sharp OSA implementation provide control access to color functionality through user authentication, but the Biltmore was also able to consolidate all their output devices to Sharp MFPs. They took out all desktops and now Garlock doesn’t have to run around the building making repairs, he comments.
Sandy Boomer agreed with both Ringlespaugh and Garlock, stating that the Sharp representatives were excellent listeners. Their representatives did not push MFPs, but really provided a comprehensive solution that met their business needs. Ringlespaugh commented that even after the sale, he received calls and was able to further improve the implementation.  Boomer agreed that listening was a key factor that sold them on Sharp.
Claiming that Sharp really doesn’t have any competition, Garlock said “Sharp OSA enabled MFPs are kind of like the Blackberry™ when it first came out. With Sharp OSA™ platform, we are in a position to take advantage of opportunities when they come around.”
During a videotaped conversation, Tom Groom, CTO from Stewart Title Company, claimed that the flexibility represented by the Sharp OSA platform better suited their long term direction.  Not only was the .NET architecture consistent with their long range planning, but it also offers them the ability to control and grow their own integrated applications as their business IT infrastructure evolves over time.  So important is this value proposition to Stewart, that Groom went on to say “Initially, Sharp represented only 7 percent of our install base, yet we’ve now decided to standardize on Sharp. This is the first time we’ve done this in the history of Stewart Title. Without the Sharp OSA platform, Sharp would not have won the business. After we understood what we could do with the technology, we standardized on Sharp.”
Sharp OSA™ Partner Community
“Sharp dealers know the Sharp OSA platform has had a huge impact on the market, especially when compared to other platforms,” explained Vince Jannelli, associate director, applications and partners.  “Looking back, it was at the 2005 Sharp dealer event that we first talked about the Sharp OSA platform and how it would be central to our future success.  In 2006, we introduced a full line of color MFPs, all Sharp OSA™ enabled. Since then, not only has the color line won practically every major award, but virtually every new development platform introduced since has followed our Web-services based architecture. A good piece of this success is due to the members of our partner program, and the innovative applications they’ve developed with the platform.”
“Sharp products are developed based upon the feedback from our dealers and end customers. This, when coupled with quality engineering and manufacturing capability, is at the heart of our success. The value of the Sharp OSA™ platform is that it allows Sharp to provide a tool kit that allows our partner program members and dealers to further tailor our products in the field so that they better meet individual customer needs.,” he adds.
The product showcase featured 35 partner program members, exhibiting their integrated offerings along multiple product categories. Sharp also demonstrated its newest version of Sharp OSA™ platform, version 3.0. This version of the platform fully leverages the new widescreen LCD display, USB port and integrated keyboard available on the new generation of Sharp MFPs. Sharp OSA™ version 3.0 also features open USB capability, allowing developers to provide a broader range of access control. For example, the ability to log in via a card swipe and the ability to authenticate via Chip/Smart Card (CCID), all without having to embed specific device drivers on the MFP. In addition, existing Sharp OSA™ enabled customers will find that all current Sharp OSA™ 2.0 applications will retain the same look and operation on Sharp OSA™ 3.0 enabled MFPs.
Sharp OSA innovations are not just limited to technology, but are also included in the programs. Sharp is in the process of rolling out a new business initiative, the Sharp OSA™ Authorized Dealer Program (ADP). This program is designed to benefit both Sharp dealers as well as the developer community. Dealers will be asked to meet certain standards,  including dedicated internal resources assigned to sustain the sales/support of the Sharp OSA™  business model, and commit to bringing a select number of Sharp OSA™ developer software applications in house and in turn will gain access to best-of-breed software and enhanced support. Sharp OSA™ Authorized Dealer Program members will have exclusive access to a software library of Sharp OSA™ applets – or single-function applications targeted towards the legal, medical, finance, and education markets. Sharp OSA™ developers will benefit by having access to Sharp OSA™ ADP member dealers. This gives developers access to a group of dealers who are focused on Sharp OSA™ -enabled solutions and who are structured and trained to take full advantage of their offering.
Overall, Sharp presented some inventive products and concepts that might force other manufacturers to “up” their game this year, and we’re looking forward to watching what unfolds as a result.
This article was originally posted at Bertl.