ITEX Education Exposition and ITEX 365 have been exploring the future of the workplace, also known as the “Smart Office”. The Smart Office encompasses similar technology implemented within the “Smart Home”, but rather, in the workplace. Brother International Corp. is an OEM that is exploring various components of the Smart Office, specifically mobility, security, pull printing, apps, BYOD, and more. Below is an interview overview, written by Keypoint Intelligence’s Christine Dunne, with Brother International Corp’s Dan Waldinger.

Interview Summary

Brother International Corporation’s Dan Waldinger believes that, in many ways, the office of the future is already here, and that the next wave will just be an extension of the trends currently in place. This includes a focus on mobility, security, pull printing, apps, BYOD (bring your own device), using devices as a service, device insights, and device learning.

“When you talk about the office of the future, it’s really a lot of the things that are kind of here today, but it’s what are they going to look like in 5 to 10 years and beyond?” Waldinger said.

These kinds of themes are starting to find their way into discussions with customers, particularly as many of the technologies in Brother’s technology offering are addressing these various areas. In terms of security, for example, Brother’s MFPs are capable of safeguarding documents and data through features like NFC card reader user authentication, encrypted data transmission, and secure document storage. Authentication capabilities around biometrics and chip technology will take on greater importance going forward.

Brother’s API-based BSI (Brother Solutions Interface) platform for partner integrations is another example of a future-focused technology currently in place.

“You don’t need a client or server to do this, it’s all based on cloud apps and integrations that partners and system integrators can leverage using BSI,” Waldinger said.

For instance, PrintWithMe has partnered with Brother to create a driverless mobile printing solution for public spaces like coffee shops, apartment buildings, and schools.

Brother will continue to leverage its relationships with dealers to gain access to usage insights collected as part of a managed print services (MPS) engagement. This information provides device management insights into areas like feature usage, function usage, and color vs. black and white, helping to better understand the user experience.

It can be enhanced with information from other Brother devices, such as mobile printers for retail applications, point of purchase-printing, and industry-specific applications (e.g., printing of patient IDs and labels in healthcare). Altogether, this information creates valuable intelligence for companies, helping them to improve productivity.

“The ideal Brother customer is using all of those technologies, and all of those technologies are talking to each other, and that’s really where device learning and artificial intelligence (AI) is going,” Waldinger said.

AI technology will allow vendors to better anticipate the needs of customers, making it an even more personalized experience. Dealers will benefit from onboard self-diagnostics that are able to reorder parts and reduce spare inventory, resulting in efficiencies and increased customer intimacy. At the same time, there are limitations with AI in the sense that the privacy protection for personal data within areas like healthcare and education should and will continue to be a top priority.

“How fast is it coming, how fast will the government regulations allow AI, for instance, to play into that?” Waldinger said. “At the same time, because it’s an evolution, we will adopt more of a complementary approach to it.”

As for other predictions, Waldinger anticipates that future MFPs will continue to see a decrease in footprint and become closer to the customer—right where they need it. Customers will also seek out technology providers that are easy to do business with and can grow with them as their business requirements continue to evolve.

Brother is fulfilling this last requirement through adapting its protocols and procedures to customer environments. Today the company is seeing device-as a-service offerings and facilitated connections with cloud-based applications through the sharing of application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs).

Another key element of the future office will be remote training and servicing capability. Brother expects technologies like virtual reality will help customers learn how to use products more effectively. It will take care of remotely servicing customer devices, enabling the dealer to focus more on customer consultancy and intimacy.

“So, they can focus on what they do best, and grow their business and sell and delight their customers,” Waldinger said.

The servicing approach will become more and more proactive, enabling replacement of parts right before they fail.

Like other vendors, Brother will continue to seek partnerships with third-party software companies going forward. In addition to PrintWithMe, a sample of current technology integrations include PaperCut for print management, Google for cloud printing, and Microsoft for OneDrive and OneNote support. Brother will also continue to leverage its OmniJoin technology, a web and video conferencing service, delivering highly secure voice, video, and remote collaboration through online meetings.

Brother has categorized its various office of the future initiatives into six areas: 1) workplace infrastructure, 2) employee experience, 3) customer experience, 4) changing workforce, 5) customer psychology, and 6) technology. It plans to communicate these focuses with dealers and resellers at channel events, as well as through marketing initiatives. To support its commitment to some of these initiatives, Brother continues to hire new people from outside the industry that can bring a fresh perspective.

“I think there’s an opportunity to refocus the discussion,” Waldinger said. “As you can imagine the customers are so much more interested in companies that are forward-thinking, so we’ve been really talking about how to take this information forward to our channel partners, to the customers.”