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"If I had to choose one thing that has changed regarding the need for intelligent, connected workplaces in the wake of COVID-19, it's that we now need to write 'CONNECTED' in capital letters," says Olaf Lorenz, Senior General Manager, Digital Transformation Division, Konica Minolta Business Solutions Europe, describing the rise of "hybrid work" and its implications for the workplaces of the future. For some time now, his company has been supporting its customers in reaping the benefits of further digitalising their work processes. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath have put digital transformation into overdrive. What had been generally seen as a beneficial endeavour quickly became an absolute necessity for businesses to survive: Providing employees with connected digital workplaces, accessible from a variety of locations. Before it could help its customers with their transformation, Konica Minolta had to undergo a profound transformation itself. In this interview, Olaf Lorenz explains the transformation process at Konica Minolta, how his company is helping its customers reach the next level in digital maturity at their organisations, and what he expects workplaces to be like in the future.
Mr. Lorenz, how have work practices and workplaces changed — especially in the wake of recent events?
The lockdown has profoundly reshaped work practices and workplaces. At Konica Minolta, we were able to shift our operations in Europe from working in the office as the norm to everyone working remotely within a matter of days. This transition was much more difficult for firms that had not prepared their workplaces and processes for remote working early on. Although an increasing number of businesses have realised the need for digitalisation over the last few years and saw the potential it offers to drive their business forward, digital offices that could be accessed remotely became an absolute necessity almost overnight.
You could say that, in past decade, many customers began to transform and evolve from pre-digital to digital work processes. Many of those who approached us found themselves in this first phase of digitalisation, moving specific processes from paper-based, analogue approaches to digital workflows. As we might expect, this improved their processes and provided efficiency gains in these specific fields. Take digital personnel files for HR, for example, or an invoice process that removes the need to circulate a document within a corporation.
Yet, to make remote work actually possible, it requires a second step: digital integration. It is crucial to merge the different digital solutions into one coherent digital environment that is both remotely accessible and secure. This lays the foundation for hybrid work models that enable employees to work regardless of their location. Demand for such digital integration support is what has soared in the wake of the current pandemic.
And it will also shape work in the post-COVID world.
There is a notion of a post-COVID world that I do not share: A picture of us all simply returning to our offices and resuming work in the same way as before the pandemic. In fact, I expect there to be a high level of pandemic-related health concerns for the foreseeable future. Plus - and even more significantly - both employees and businesses are experiencing the benefits of remote work. These factors will profoundly reshape offices and the way we work: Employees, especially office-based "knowledge workers", will not be ‘all back in the office’. In fact, offices will be able to become smaller and might need to serve a different purpose, such as collaboration or brainstorming. The term "workplace" will no longer mean a geographical location. We envision an intelligent connected workplace - with "connected" being the focal point. These digital hybrid workplaces will bring together maximum workplace safety with maximum efficiency - while giving more space for freedom. Teams will not be formed on the basis of who's physically there: instead, they will bring together the best people for the job across the organisation and beyond, fostering creativity and innovation. This is the true power of workplace digitalisation.
How does Konica Minolta support its customers in terms of this transformation?
We understand that every business is different, and that digital process requirements and maturity levels are different as well. We bring together two of our strengths to support our customers best on their path to digitalisation by combining our expertise with an in-depth understanding of our customers' workplaces and related workflows. We identify the actual needs of our customers and listen to business managers as much as we listen to the IT department.
I have worked in pre-sales myself, and I learned first-hand that while implementing a solution may be seen as a success from an IT perspective, if it does not resonate with the actual users or benefit them, it will not be adapted and fail. We take a holistic approach to providing digitalisation solutions tailored to our customers.
What role do your MFP solutions play in all of this? With hybrid offices on the rise, are they still needed?
Until recently, our experience was that customers were centralising and consolidating the printing infrastructure within their organisations. However, this development is now being reversed: With hybrid work, we are seeing a return to decentralised printing. In a digital work environment, the role of the MFP is changing. On the one hand, user printing behaviour is becoming increasingly selective: Many users tend to print complex documents like contracts for better comprehension during reading and review tasks. On the other hand, MFPs themselves have transformed in the wake of digitalisation: Our smart bizhub MFP devices are a two-way link between printed, physical workflow steps and virtual, digital ones when it comes to workflows such accounting or those requiring a digital signature. Due to this transformation, they are no longer just a printing centre - they are a connecting point for digital workflows, making the transition between them as seamless and frictionless as possible.
Our Workplace Hub solution is a prime example of how we take this to the next level in our "Intelligent Connected Workplace" services: It merges the world of document workflow management with IT infrastructure and managed services, all in the space previously occupied by an office printer. This means Workplace Hub holds everything our customers need to provide an intelligent, connected workplace for their employees - from solutions for secure and effective remote working and collaboration to digital workflow solutions. With solutions like these, Konica Minolta helps its customers reach the next level in digital maturity at their organisations, tailored specifically to their needs.
This shift in the services you provide must have meant a massive transformation within your organisation. Would you say Konica Minolta is still the same company it was a couple of years ago?
I have two answers to this, and while they may seem initially to contradict each other, they in fact go hand in hand. My first answer is no: In the past decade, we have invested heavily in organic growth in the form of strategic acquisitions, particularly in IT services. With this approach, we were able to integrate the expertise and experience we need to provide our customers with the digital solutions they require. Maybe one of the most visible changes externally is that when our tech support visited our clients in the past, they had a toolbox in one hand and a vacuum cleaner in the other to maintain the printers. Now they are much more likely to turn up with a suitcase and laptop.
However, my second answer to your question is yes: We are very much the same company our customers have appreciated working with over the decades. Ever since we worked on customer document workflows, we have always worked through three stages of a project: Consult, Implement and Manage. We have combined our new IT expertise with our existing, profound knowledge of our customers' workplace needs. We have known their document workflows from early on and have an in-depth understanding of the processes they run. Today, we help them seize their full potential with our digital workplace solutions. With limited internal IT resources, this support is particularly highly sought after by our small- and medium-sized business customers. As with our print solutions, our support and technicians remain close at hand and can support them if anything comes up. We have a service and troubleshooting infrastructure that can help our customers on- or off-premises quickly, wherever they are located. It fills me with pride to learn from customers that they perceive Konica Minolta as "part of the team". Konica Minolta has transformed and integrated IT services and become a reliable partner for digital workplaces – we offer them a single point of contact all of these requirements. In its current MarketScape Report, IDC acknowledges the considerable progress we have made in repositioning ourselves as a managed services company that delivers digital workplace solutions. And, while we have transformed the services we provide, we stayed true to our mission in leveraging our expertise to create value for our customers and help them master the challenges they face: we place them and their needs at the heart of what we do.
The profound digital transition in workplaces must also create uncertainties for many businesses, especially small- and medium-sized ones. How do you address security concerns?
By making security an integral element in all of our "Intelligent Connected Workplace" services. While we are seeing an increase in ransomware and data theft attempts in the general work environment that are trying to exploit non-secure remote work processes, we have "built-in" security in all our solutions for digital workplaces, including infrastructure, cloud services, managed content services, managed video solutions or managed print services. In fact, we are able to show our customers that our integrated, intelligent digital workplace solutions are actually more secure than non-integrated solutions. Digital integration is therefore not a security threat — in fact, it helps improve security.
The digitalisation journey will not stop at the digital integration of workplaces. What will be the next step? What will work processes look like in the future?
For us, digital transformation in its true sense starts from being able to harness the power of data in a way that creates new, additional value for our customers. We will then use the data acquired, analyse it and apply data modelling to support knowledge workers in making better, fact-based decisions. The daily activities of knowledge workers are shaped by increasingly complex decision making: Helping them take this to the next level will support them and their businesses alike — especially in the wake of a skilled labour shortage. In a nutshell: The future of work will be digital and driven by data.
 SMG/CMSWire: 'The State of the Digital Workplace', 2020, https://www-cmswire.simplermedia.com/cw-cp-state-of-dw-2020.html?smg_source=cmswire.com&smg_medium=web&smg_campaign=cw-cp-state-of-dw-2020&smg_content=global-nav
 IDC MarketScape: 'Worldwide Print Transformation 2020 Vendor Assessment' (doc #US45354420, August 2020), https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=US45354420
 Barracuda, Threat Spotlight: Coronavirus-Related Phishing, 2020, https://blog.barracuda.com/2020/03/26/threat-spotlight-coronavirus-related-phishing/