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Software Innovations: From Remote Diagnostics to Device Relationship Management

30 Oct, 2003 By: CAP Ventures imageSource

Software Innovations: From Remote Diagnostics to Device Relationship Management

analog copier is all but obsolete and networked copiers, printers, and
multifunctional devices (MFPs) are proliferating rapidly in corporate America.
As a result, building blocks are now in place for enterprises to gain control of
the expenses related to copying, printing and faxing which are arguably the last
major uncontrolled network expenses. In today's tough economic climate,
increasingly competitive environment, and expense-conscious culture, the ability
to monitor and control the use of network printing devices holds strong appeal.

the same time, manufacturers and dealers who provide service for these devices
are under similar pressures, as product margins erode and the market becomes
increasingly commoditized. With the best margins coming from annuity revenues
represented by aftermarket service and supplies, these players are interested in
reducing the cost of service and improving service levels to maintain lucrative
customer aftermarket relationships.

remote monitoring of printing and copying devices is a concept that has
primarily been applied by manufacturers using proprietary technologies or
management systems for measuring or monitoring the status of specific devices.
As higher-priced output devices, like digital copiers, are increasingly
connected to networks, manufacturers have an opportunity to employ lower cost
Internet-based technologies to provide proactive remote monitoring and
diagnostic services with their products. Proactive remote monitoring that
combines use analysis and diagnostics can increase productivity for service
organizations, improve end-user perceptions of reliability, and increase overall
customer satisfaction.

architecture, standards-based tools that provide an easy interface for
monitoring networked print devices may also prove to be the application that
jolts the connectivity rate for network-enabled MFPs. With IT professionals
increasingly involved in buying decisions for connected devices, availability of
these tools has the ability to remove IT professionals' objections to the
proliferation of connected printing devices. These tools provide IT workers with
remote access to the devices in the same manner that they are able to access
servers, routers and other network citizens. Although most networked MFPs can be
monitored via leading industry network management software tools such as Web
JetAdmin or Unicenter, these tools have been somewhat limited in scope relative
to the overall task of managing networked output devices.

Relationship Management (DRM) is a new genre of software infrastructure. It is
designed to facilitate predictive maintenance and improve revenue streams from
consumables and support, as well as monitor usage of network printing devices.
DRM solutions encompass remote diagnostics and remote device monitoring, and can
be implemented to scrutinize usage within the enterprise as well as establish
real-time communications between the enterprise and suppliers of repair and
maintenance services for networked copiers and printers.

solutions promise more effective management of digital printing devices for the
equipment supplier and the equipment user. They also provide the opportunity to
seamlessly integrate with the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementations in which many companies have
made huge investments over the last several years.

Relationship Management: A Primer Device Relationship Management (DRM) solutions
have grown out of the increasing prevalence of connected intelligent devices in
all aspects of today's world and are fairly well-established in many industry
sectors. DRM is still an emerging application in the copier/printer world.
Copier manufacturers and dealers have been able to perform remote diagnostics on
equipment, even analog devices, for many years through the use of dedicated
telephone lines that involved periodic incoming or outgoing calls initiated by
the vendor or the machine itself. Long billed as the advent of the
"electronic screwdriver," this capability promised manufacturers and
dealers a way to improve service levels while reducing costs, allowing service
technicians to manage a territory consisting of more machines. Xerox was first
to market with RIC (Remote Interactive Communications) in the late 1980s and
others were soon to follow. As technology continued to advance, remote
diagnostics would allow vendors to: o Predict equipment failure before it
occurred and execute repairs, ideally without visiting the site. Xerox promoted
RIC by promising a call or visit from a technician before the customer even
realized there was a problem! o Initiate diagnostics from a remote workstation,
PDA or cellular phone o Identify and diagnose problems before deploying
technicians to improve first-call close rate, instead of having the technician
diagnose problems on site and return later with the right parts. This capability
can also minimize unnecessary technician visits that result in the call being
classified as "no problem found." o Better leverage specialist
resources for resolution of complex problems. A territory technician on site may
be better able to close such a call if assisted by a remote specialist with
access to the equipment via the Web, without the need for the specialist to
travel to the customer site. o Monitor usage of toner, developer and other
consumables and trigger automatic placement of consumable reorders. This
fulfills the dual purpose of locking in the annuity supply replenishment
business as well as making the overall process easier for the customer. o
Automatically retrieve meter reads rather than employing call center resources
to collect them or, depending upon the customer, to remember to send meter reads
in a timely and accurate fashion o Deliver automatic software upgrades

capabilities were viewed and promoted as a customer benefit and they did, in
fact, add value for the customer. It is possible to argue, however, that they
ultimately provided more benefit to the vendors, who were facing skyrocketing
costs of providing equipment service, excessive cost of parts carried by
individual technicians and tied up as "trunk inventory," and
competition from third party providers of aftermarket service and supplies.

downside of this model included the cost of installing a dedicated telephone
line for each device (or sometimes a telephone line shared among multiple
devices), which the customer may or may not be willing to assume responsibility
for. Additionally, educating customers on the benefit of remote diagnostics and
convincing them to install additional phone lines often involved additional
decision-makers. This lengthened the sales cycle and resulted in reluctance on
the part of the sales representative to push the capability.

How Does it Work? A Device Relationship Management solution employs a
distributed architecture that can encompass local and wide area networks, thus
enabling enterprise-wide management of devices. At the device level, software
can either be embedded in devices or can access devices over the network via a
server. A DRM solution will also include a centralized server that aggregates
and processes information.

associated with the DRM solution make processed information available in a
variety of reports or other formats, including automatic alerts when certain
conditions occur. These applications can also enable the user to directly access
the device to perform administrative or repair tasks. In today's Internet world,
these server-based applications are generally accessible anywhere through a
standard Web browser, and do not require the installation of client software.
This is a significant benefit in a climate where corporate IT departments
frequently exercise strict control over the client applications that can be
installed on corporate computing equipment. This DRM architecture is depicted in
Figure 1.


customer organizations that are uncomfortable with free interchange of device
information through a firewall and via the Internet, data can be aggregated on a
server inside the firewall and periodically retrieved through a secure Internet
connection or dial-up line. IT departments are very careful about the Internet
traffic they allow, and for good reason. The process of getting device data in
and out of the corporate network must follow standards that the IT industry
accepts. Even if standards are followed, some IT professionals may still be
leery about bidirectional device information flow and might prefer a more secure
point-to-point dial-up connection.

Figure 2 illustrates, DRM services can be arranged along a continuum, based on
the level of complexity and value they offer. At any point along this continuum,
there is opportunity to overlay additional revenue-generating services enabled
by the DRM infrastructure.

Device Relationship Management for networked output devices is still in its
infancy. As EFI points out, the printer/copier industry is one of the few
industries yet to adopt an effective industry-wide supply chain management
strategy. The increasing adoption of DRM solutions will be a key factor in
driving this change through the industry.

users become accustomed to DRM capabilities in other aspects of their business
operations, they will increasingly demand the same types of management tools for
networked output devices. For manufacturers of office equipment, building an
integrated DRM strategy today will help enable survival tomorrow. Not only will
customers require it, but the economics of delivering efficient and effective
repair, replenishment, and other services will demand implementation of
automated processes in lieu of expensive on-site delivery wherever possible
within the supply chain.

distributors and dealers as well as third-party service providers, understanding
the role that DRM must play in the evolution of the office equipment industry,
and the ability to clearly articulate these values to customers, will rapidly
evolve into a critical success factor. DRM enables providers of networked office
equipment to differentiate themselves in the marketplace, incorporate more
value-added services, and offset the margin erosion experienced in a mature
industry selling products that are all too often perceived as commodity items.

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