Canon comes out of the closet on information management

When I received an invitation to attend another Canon industry analyst event, I was in two minds about whether I should accept. While previous gatherings have been interesting, and the high-end printing and imaging technology often demonstrated is truly impressive, most of what Canon does has historically been a bit tangential to my coverage as an analyst.

But then I noticed that this latest invitation was to hear about the recent launch of Canon’s ‘Information Management Solutions’ (IMS) business in EMEA. This suddenly brought the company firmly onto Freeform Dynamics’ turf. So after discussing it with my colleague, Tony Lock, we both decided to go along and find out more.

The essence of Canon’s IMS move

Most people will know Canon as a major player in the photography and videography space, but its imaging prowess extends to its less well known Medical Group, originally formed from the acquisition of Toshiba’s medical systems business in 2016. There’s then the Industrial Group, which, among other things, is concerned with the design and manufacturing of components for high-tech industries.

Canon’s activities in its Digital Printing and Solutions (DP&S) business unit (BU) are most relevant to our IMS discussion, however. Here it delivers everything from commodity printers and multifunction devices (combining printing, scanning and/or copying functions), through large-format and specialist equipment, right up to high-scale digital printing rigs and scanning equipment with massive throughput capability. As you would expect, much of this technology is software defined, with Canon increasingly delivering administration, monitoring and other operational capabilities via the SaaS model.  

Until relatively recently, Canon’s professional services were mostly concerned with supporting the deployment and operation of its commercial printing and imaging equipment. As part of this, it has offered managed print services both directly and via its partner network. Over the years, it has also built up specialist teams – both organically and through acquisition – with expertise that nowadays extends beyond advising customers on how to be successful with its own products. Today it has the kind of people in place that help customers with process transformation and integration of Canon solutions with key third party applications. 

As part of its strategy to move up the value chain, Canon has pulled these expert resources together then added a number of its own and third-party software products to form a discrete information management unit – and so the IMS business was formed, as part of the DP&S BU.

Scope of Canon’s IMS activities

Canon’s IMS offering focuses on several key areas of expertise, primarily revolving around document-centric processes. These include invoice processing, where Canon leverages AI and robotic process automation (RPA) to enable intelligent capture, matching and approval of invoices. Digital mail processing is another strength, with Canon providing solutions to automate the collection, extraction and validation of incoming mail, feeding the data into business process workflows.

Through its IMS business, Canon also aims to help HR departments with digital workflow solutions for managing employee files securely and efficiently. Contract management, centred on e-signature capabilities integrated with document management, represents yet another area of focus. Finally, customer communications management (CCM) is a domain in which Canon has invested, helping clients improve the way they create, personalise and distribute content to customers and partners through digital and print channels.

It’s clear that Canon’s IMS sweet spot is automating and digitising document-heavy processes. In a sense, the company aims to be a bridge between the physical and digital worlds when it comes to the flow of information across an organisation.

A virtual execution approach

One of the more intriguing aspects of how Canon has set up its IMS business is the way delivery resources are organised. Rather than building a traditional centralised professional services group, or scattering resources across the organisation, Canon has established a distributed network of competency centres spread across the EMEA region. Each centre houses experts and solutions targeted at specific domains, industries or use cases. A principle at work here is colleagues working in close proximity can more easily collaborate and learn from each other. 

From a customer perspective, however, the goal is to provide access to the right skills and resources in a seamless way, regardless of where the experts are physically located. When an opportunity is qualified, Canon can pull together a virtual team from different competency centres to address the specific needs of the client. One thing that impressed us was the way the model seems to be designed to provide customers with a consistent, joined-up experience right across the engagement cycle.

This model also lends itself well to collaboration with partners. Canon stressed that it has worked hard to instil a customer-centric culture across its IMS business. Rather than competing with channel partners, the aim is to cooperate with both global and local providers who can add value to Canon’s solutions and services.The Canon executives we spoke with on the day stood up well to our cross-examination on this, and we came away with the impression that customer-centricity really is baked into the culture.

Positioning in the broader landscape

During the briefing, Tony and I were keen to understand where Canon sees its IMS business fitting into the broader technology and business solutions landscape. The company made it clear that its aim is to coexist harmoniously with the offerings and services of other important players in the market. This includes the big ISVs in areas like ERP, CRM, HCM, etc, the major consulting firms who often lead strategic transformation initiatives, and the SI and MSP community who take on broader technical integration. 

The view is that Canon’s IMS team can be everyone’s friend by coming at the services market from a very specific standpoint – bridging the physical and digital document worlds, and enabling the integration of its printing and imaging technologies with enterprise applications and processes.

This sounds like a good formula, but we couldn’t help thinking that it wouldn’t be long before Canon would need to spread its wings wider and engage more assertively, not least because this is what customers need. Success with big transformation or migration initiatives increasingly depends on taking a broad and inclusive approach. 

All aspects of a major ERP, CRM or HRM overhaul, for example, need to be explored and understood at the initial scoping stage. If Canon waits until an RFP for document management and workflow solutions emerges downstream, it will have missed an opportunity to introduce ideas, shape requirements and influence budgets. Sure customers will have their own printing and imaging specialists, but the world is changing rapidly and they often won’t have a full appreciation of what can be achieved with the latest solutions and best practices. 

Our view is that the IMS teams shouldn’t be afraid to start upstream conversations with key practitioners and stakeholders beyond its core area of expertise, in addition to engaging with Canon’s traditional buyers and influencers. That said, Tony and I agreed that this will probably happen naturally over time as Canon’s information management capabilities become known more broadly both directly and via its partner ecosystem.  

Final thoughts

We came away from our briefing with Canon feeling that the company has developed a strong and valuable set of competencies over the years in the document capture, management and digital workflow space. Building on this, we can certainly see how its IMS offering could help organisations wanting to drive automation and efficiency, particularly into document-intensive processes.

Our only real concern is that in many circles, the term ‘information management’ implies management of ALL corporate information, which encompasses everything from databases, and file systems through to email archives, collaboration environments and even backup and disaster recovery. There’s therefore a risk that Canon inadvertently over-positions its IMS offering.

That said, the integration of paper-based information into digital workflows remains a challenge in many organisations, especially in industries that are document-heavy and/or highly regulated. And as digital transformation continues to gather pace, it’s clear that harmonising edge technologies like smart printers and scanners with core enterprise systems is becoming an increasingly important requirement.

Against this background, bringing together specialised skills, solutions and services as Canon has done with its IMS business is a relevant and timely move, and one that we will be watching with interest from this point onwards.

Dale is a co-founder of Freeform Dynamics, and today runs the company. As part of this, he oversees the organisation’s industry coverage and research agenda, which tracks technology trends and developments, along with IT-related buying behaviour among mainstream enterprises, SMBs and public sector organisations.