Sharp gradually transforms into a broad IT supplier

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Suppliers of Multi-Functional Printers (MFPs), including Sharp, are increasingly looking to expand their business. This is because of the market for MFPs, which looks slightly less rosy than it used to. Whereas years ago, an increase in printing, copying and scanning still resulted in strong annual growth, it is now more like one percentage point of growth for the total market. Compared to other IT suppliers, such as cloud providers and cybersecurity companies, this is not a lot. Therefore, MFP suppliers are introducing other products to serve organizations. This also applies to Sharp’s business branch, where more and more efforts are being made to supply as much equipment as possible to corporate offices.

Sharp is known to the general public as a supplier of consumer electronics. For example, it produces a significant number of OLED panels every year. The rumour that Sharp is going to produce the displays for Apple products has also been circulating for some time now. Part of the reason is that Foxconn owns a large part of Sharp’s shares. Apple already does a lot of business with this supplier for hardware components. Officially nothing has been announced about a possible switch by Apple to Sharp panels, but the alleged interest shows that Sharp has a considerable footprint on the consumer market.

However, the company is also a major player in the B2B market, originally mainly with its MFP activities. However, this market is expanding considerably. Sharp is focusing on substantial investments in new hardware solutions, such as a collaboration screen and a line of business laptops. In this way, Sharp’s business unit aims to become a versatile supplier of office supplies. We recently discussed the changes within the company with CEO Europe Jun Ashida.

Investments pay off

The top man indicates that Sharp is heading in the right direction with the course he has set. While both the B2C and B2B activities were sold to Foxconn three years ago due to difficult circumstances, there is now growth again on several fronts. In the Netherlands, the company recently opened a new office for further expansion. The company bought back hundreds of millions of shares from financers, and under the flag of Foxconn, a takeover followed.

By attracting Toshiba’s PC activities, Sharp has made a move to broaden its business portfolio. The laptops have been given the name Dynabook and should excel in two ways through the experiences of Foxconn and Sharp. For example, the scale on which Foxconn operates can lead to a more competitive PC price than during the Toshiba era. The parent company has contracts and experience in many areas, which helps to produce hardware more cheaply. On the other hand, Sharp can leave its mark on the Dynabook line by providing the notebooks with high-quality panels. This creates a laptop brand that appeals to the business professional. The creative professional attaches great importance to a good screen. If the cost price is below that of a MacBook, for example, then the unique selling point (USP) is clear. In combination with a number of other features and components, it should lead to real business notebooks.

In any case, the attention surrounding the Dynabook brand will be focused in the coming period on the further expansion of the activities in the European market. After the takeover of the Toshiba portfolio, the activities mainly focused on China, but that will change. To avoid confusion, the European Toshiba Client Solutions department was recently renamed Dynabook Europe. However, a Toshiba label remains on the products in Europe. In August, Portégé and Tecra laptops will appear on our market, two series that we know from the Toshiba era. In itself a good move, because Toshiba has built up a certain reputation on the PC market that Sharp can use.

Focus on Windows collaboration display

With Dynabook, Sharp has, as far as we are concerned, made a decision to serve small and medium-sized enterprises in particular. However, the company also aims to provide solutions for large businesses. The real focus in the near future will be on the Sharp Windows collaboration display (WCD). The device looks a bit like a whiteboard like Microsoft Surface Hub and Samsung Flip but goes a lot further to meet the needs of SMEs and enterprise organizations.

It is a 70-inch screen that is used to improve meetings and collaboration. At the basis of this are tasks that you can expect from such a screen. For example, support for Office 365 helps to show PowerPoint presentations on the screen or to call a colleague remotely via Teams. On top of the display, there is a standard camera so that a large meeting room can be supported with both audio and video during a Teams session.

What the Sharp WCD is best known for is its integrated Internet of Things (IoT) sensors. The camera may look pretty basic, but it certainly isn’t. The sensors used in these sensors detect movement, temperature, air quality and light. This enables the device to see how many people are present in the room, so that the correct temperature, air quality and light can be determined.

This functionality sounds quite interesting on paper. From the moment that someone says “it’s hot in here”, you’re ahead of the game and the health of the employees also benefits from the right air quality. Whether or not the Sharp WCD is really appreciated by many companies remains to be seen. This is because it still has to become available everywhere.

Everyone is going along in a new direction

The steps Sharp is taking in many areas show that it increasingly sees a role for itself in supporting employees within organisations. This goes hand in hand with the attention that Ashida is giving to its own staff. “We are a people company”, says the Sharp director. By this, he means having good employees. They are important for building a relationship, both within the organization and with customers. The latter is especially something that SMEs value. When you do business with such companies, it’s often a matter of building good relationships in order to gain trust. They will see Sharp as an IT vendor that can cope with the changing digital world.

Sharp employees face the challenge of understanding the new direction and concept. For both technical and sales staff, it means that they need to be retrained. For years, their work has been on MFPs, but now it’s more about providing offices with multiple IT needs. The fact is that not every Sharp employee can do anything with a new Sharp product. That’s why Sharp attaches great importance to establishing partnerships on an international and national levels, so that partners can also respond to changing situations. That increases fairness, because a good MFP vendor is not necessarily a good collaboration display vendor.

In the end, everyone is moving in the same direction, so that the new business strategy is closely followed. In the long run, this will result in a more uniform approach at all levels. The company is also considering a good central dashboard for the management of all its equipment. We will have to wait and see what this will look like. What is clear is that Sharp will soon be taking away a lot of companies’ IT worries. The steps that come with this are still being taken. We are therefore curious about what we can expect from the company in the coming period.