Innovation: Business transformation

The power of reinvention

If necessity is the mother of invention, then the same must be true for reinvention, too. It’s certainly true for Ricoh—once regarded as a manufacturer of office equipment, the company has been undergoing something of a transformation. Becky Done talks to Carsten Bruhn, VP of Ricoh Global Services Europe, to find out more.



Insightful manufacturers have long been conscious that these days, potential and existing customers have got their eye on the value-add. In order to stay ahead of the competition, companies have to be offering as much bang as possible for that hard-earned buck.

Ricoh is one company that quickly recognised the requirement for a shift in focus from product to services, in order to meet the expectations and fast-changing needs of its client base. “Ricoh has transformed from a manufacturing company with that associated culture, into a services company—which also means we’ve changed our way of working,” explains Carsten Bruhn, VP of Ricoh Global Services Europe. “It’s created a change of culture which I find very exciting. We have had to attract a lot of new talent and also train some of our existing people to ensure they made the transition from a manufacturing culture into what we call ‘services and solutions’, with a high emphasis on IT services with outsourcing and production printing. It’s been a fascinating transition.”

The company recognised that its clients were rapidly requiring more from Ricoh as a supplier than simply its products. “We take a much more strategic approach with our clients now—we’re on the front line, supporting them in their core business,” explains Bruhn. “We have totally moved away from what I call transactional selling, where in the old days we would be selling a product, to much more consultative selling. That’s really the space we are in.

“We go in and work very closely with our clients to understand how they store and distribute information within their company, and then we re-engineer all those processes by utilising our solutions. That drives down costs; but it also makes them much more efficient as a company.”

The transformation and subsequent explosive success of Apple in the late 1990s and early 2000s is testament to the power of reinvention and innovation within a business: it’s about recognising the changing needs and trends within an existing or potential client base and acting upon them. Coincidentally, it was what some saw as a design flaw in Apple’s hotly anticipated iPad that prompted one of Ricoh’s latest innovations: “It seems to me that the consumer has responded extremely well to the iPad—so one of the things that some users were a bit disappointed with was that the iPad couldn’t print [directly],” explains Bruhn. “So by clearly understanding that the requirement was coming, we developed something called HotSpot printing.” HotSpot allows users of internet-enabled laptops, smart phones or PDAs in an office environment to use an application that will search for a HotSpot printer, which once identified, enables them to print from the device there and then.

The breathtaking speed of technological advance has begun to generate an entirely new way of thinking—and manufacturing, says Bruhn. “It’s been fascinating to see how we have changed our traditional way of manufacturing—where you investigate the market for months, develop something and then enjoy your return on investment for those new products for a few years. But today, with the speed of change in the market, certain innovations have already run out of their lifetime after six months, for example. For me, that’s where you see the ability of Ricoh to spot that change and react to it very quickly, so we are in tune with the market and can be at the forefront when we speak to our clients. I think that’s key for us.”

And when Generation Y is your future customer base, being at the forefront of the market is critical. “If you look at future customers of ours, but also our future employees, they have high demands—when they need information, they need it there and then,” asserts Bruhn. “And that’s where we see an opportunity to ensure that when we install workflow processes, any information is very easy to access. It’s all about, how do you store information and then ensure you can distribute that information?”

As technology has evolved, working methods have evolved along with it—heralding the arrival of a true business-without-boundaries culture. But that growing demographic of mobile workers also brings a big risk—security. “When you talk about mobile working, that means that wherever I am, I can access the network and then bring down and print out my information,” says Bruhn. “And that’s very exciting; but we also need to make sure we clearly understand what that means. Mobile or home working is a key trend and a key area for Ricoh as a company—we see it as an opportunity—but we still see some uncertainty out there. People are not 100 per cent certain what it will bring.”

According to IDC, says Bruhn, the average organisation can spend up to six per cent of its annual revenues on managing document information processes. “And what’s really scary is, we found out that nearly 85 per cent of that is not really being managed. So today there is a huge amount of information within a company that is there in a very unstructured manner—you only have about 15 to 20 per cent that is structured. So we can go in with solutions to manage those requirements—we take all the information that comes in, and the moment we scan it into the network we have it in what we call a secured environment: that’s become very high on the agenda. By doing very simple process re-engineering, you can now manage information in a structured way in a secured environment, ensuring confidentiality and integrity.”

This can address both the security issue and the demands of today’s need-it-now culture. “The key is, it’s much easier for the employees to search for information—it will be available there and then, when they need it,” asserts Bruhn. “And because mobile workers or home workers are really not attached to an office any longer, they need somehow to secure or capture this information in the cloud. This can be done the moment you have it in this structured way, which we can do with our solutions.”

The transformation of Ricoh will certainly define its future in today’s fast-paced environment. “Ricoh is an information management company—the space we will be in going forward is all about how to manage information,” says Bruhn. And with mobile working set only to increase and the pace of technological innovation seemingly boundless, information management looks set to become one of the most challenging and lucrative spheres in which Ricoh can continue to make its mark.