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It seems like today, every technology company wants to be a part of the Internet of Things (IoT). It’s the buzzword “du jour,” and for good reason. By embedding this connectivity into everyday devices, businesses can get real-time data on usage, updates and replacement parts for hardware and more. Not only does this make for effective customer service, it’s also great for developing new product ideas and cost reduction initiatives.
IoT is a technology concept that is here to stay. According to analyst firm, Gartner, there will be more than 26 billion devices connected by 2020. The critical question then becomes: How can I help my business reap the most benefits from this technology and stand out among the IoT crowd?
At Sharp, we have a long history of leveraging communications with our network devices. Our goal is to make any IoT Initiative a blend of technology and human elements to get the most value and increase our service level. To do that, you need to make it easy, personal and deliver tangible value.
Of course, this is well above my technical knowledge so I spoke with Colin Regina, Sharp’s vice president of technical services, on the ways organizations can seamlessly integrate IoT into their daily business. Here is Colin’s take on how to effectively implement a system leveraging IOT:
Make It Easy
We developed an IoT product in 2014 that became popular due to its seamless integration of technology and people. Sharp’s Machine Intelligence Call Avoidance System, or MICAS, has helped our B2B service department become more efficient and has become a mainstay for many of the multi-function printer (MFP) dealerships that sell Sharp products.
MICAS is an electronics trouble-shooting/monitoring device that is currently installed on more than 100,000 Sharp MFP units sold to our customers. What does it do? It monitors every sensor, motor and PCU in a device in real time. That information is then transmitted and recorded in a virtual portal that can proactively communicate to a service group to alert technicians to any potential problems.
For instance, if there are four toners in a machine and one toner is almost empty, MICAS will receive a message that prompts it to order the toner and send it to the machine’s location. It will also alert the customer to let them know that they need to change their toner and that the toner is being shipped. Businesses will make the most of IoT if they incorporate it in a way that makes their products easier to use while making the service, repair and replacement process more seamless as well.
Make It Personal
Advanced IoT technology and the mountains of data it can generate can be daunting. That is why it is incumbent on companies to simplify it and make it personal to the user. MICAS tracks hundreds of activities on the machine and organizes the information for the user. When an issue arises, the traditional method of communication was an “error code,” still used by many MFP manufacturers. MICAS converts that error code into usable information for the technician or end user. Simply put, it takes complex tables and computer talk, and converts it to usable, common language. Making information available in via IoT communication is the secret sauce that makes mountains of data into usable information.
The MICAS Interface is that value-added resource. Sharp takes all that data and leverages all of our resources in a cloud service that converts “Techie” to “English.” First, we gather all of the information we have on the issue; videos, announcements, brochures, etc., and organize it for the user. No longer do you have to know where to look, and have the manuals and resources available, MICAS does it for you and delivers it to you. The delivery makes it personal. No matter your preferred device, MICAS formats itself to serve up the information in your desired manner. Using a laptop? No problem. The specific, relevant video or page of the manual is delivered to your computer in real time. If you use a tablet or phone, the same thing applies—everything is formatted for the device and ready to be used. Even if you do not have your own device, the information can be displayed right on the front panel of the MFP.
The key to leveraging IoT devices and the communication they provide is making it usable for the consumer of the information. Whatever initiative you take on leveraging IoT, don’t make the “human touch” a secondary consideration. While it is daunting for an individual to manage all of the data that a device can generate, real people can add insight into ways to further leverage the data and provide a higher level of support. Making the technology easy to utilize further engages people into enhancing its value.
For example, by encouraging our dealer service reps who work with Sharp to share how they troubleshoot any issues they come across, we can create additional value in the MICAS System. Our knowledge base of technician information is shared in the MICAS system to help blend the best of the technology and human worlds.
Of course, no IoT B2B solution will work unless it is both cost effective and efficient. In the end, the IoT initiative has to deliver tangible value to the market. For example, service technicians who go to fix an office machine can benefit from IoT if it allows them to pull up all machines at a location at once. So instead of billing an hour for repairing one machine, the technician might be able to provide maintenance on three in one hour. This is a more effective use of time for both the technician and the customer and a value to both parties.
At Sharp, when MFPs are scheduled for preventative maintenance, MICAS not only lets the customer and the service rep know that it is time for the maintenance, it can automatically ship all of the components needed for the maintenance to the customer. Because these parts don’t need to be stored in a dealer warehouse, coming directly from the manufacturer, the dealer does not have to pay for the additional warehouse space, saving money for both the customer and the Sharp Dealer.
In conclusion, IoT is only successful if it is combined with human knowledge and skill sets. A computer code can’t remove a part, or figure out a new way to fix something, but it can show our service reps how to do it correctly. Conversely, a technician should be able to contribute to the overall knowledge base that gets disseminated and ultimately make it better. Having an effective IoT plan can help your business thrive by helping attract new customers, and keep current customers happy.
I hope this provides some insight into what Sharp is doing with our IoT efforts. I would enjoy hearing what your business is doing.