BERLIN—I felt as if I were part of a John le Carré novel as I approached the old East German power station in what was once a dismal part of this city. The feeling grew stronger as I climbed the metal stairs in the cold drizzle. Everything around me was gray, cold and dripping. The fictional spy master George Smiley would have fit right in.
But it’s nearly 28 years since the Berlin Wall fell and this isn’t a story about Cold War espionage and intrigue. Konica-Minolta had organized a press conference here to introduce a new office automation product for small-and-midsize businesses called the Workplace Hub.
Konica Minolta has long been known for producing copiers, scanners and laser printers for businesses of all sizes. But this new product shows that the company wants to market systems that deliver a wider range of IT services to SMBs.
After attempting to explain the future of work, the folks at Konica Minolta got to the point of the press conference, describing a device that looked vaguely like a server, but was in fact a great deal more. Wreathed in artificial fog for dramatic effect, was Konica-Minolta’s Workplace Hub.
On first look the Workplace Hub is kind of an odd device. On top it has a paper-handling system, but under that is the heart of a server. But what makes this device more than just a copier on steroids is everything else that’s in the box.
This device is actually designed to support the operations of an entire company, blending familiar functions with a software platform that can provide an integration base your company’s smart devices, access to storage, network and office management and IT services.
Dennis Curry is Konica Minolta’s Director of Business Innovation and R&D, was responsible for developing the Workplace Hub. The device, he said, is intended to replace the one square meter of office space that currently supports the office copier, printer and scanner.
Those functions have to be retained in that space, which is the reason for the paper handling gear on the display units. But he said the company will introduce additional products that will eliminate that part and be available in a rack mount system with their functions and controls in a cloud-only system.
“Let’s say you’ve been rendering graphics all day before you have to go to London,” he said. The Workplace hub would know because of entries in your Microsoft Office Outlook calendar about your travel plans.
So the system would transfer those rendered files to your company’s London Workplace Hub, where they’d be ready for you the next day. The key here is that you wouldn’t have to explicitly order the system to perform the transfer, but it would simply know to do it.
But that’s just one example. The Workplace Hub can support office collaboration by providing a workspace for teams. It can work as an internet of things support systems providing intelligence from an array of IoT devices.
What exactly the Workplace Hub does depends on your specific needs. Curry said that device can assign local or cloud storage as needs change, for example. He also said that Konica Minolta is planning to offer business services at reduced prices to SMBs using the company’s economy of scale to negotiate on behalf of its customers.
“The Workplace Hub can be a data center,” Curry said. Since the hub would be a repository of data critical to the organization, he said that security will be designed into the system from the ground up.
The Workplace Hub also includes an administrative dashboard that allows the creation of what Curry called Team Spaces. The administrator can also create links between the hub and most commonly used office products, including Microsoft Office.
The device can be tailored for specific types of businesses and professions. This means there will be versions of the Workplace Hub that include support for medical offices, for example.
Curry said that the IoT aggregation functions in the Workplace Hub will be open to any type of devices. He said that the company is already providing APIs for the Workplace Hub software, and that more will be added as the device gets closer to launch in the Fall of 2017.
All of this is part of version 1.0 of the hub, and plenty more features are on the drawing board. For example, Curry said that the company is working to incorporate artificial intelligence and augmented intelligence as well as device orchestration. Augmented intelligence for example enables devices to seamlessly provide information that you need while working.
If this all sounds like a pretty tall order, that’s because it is. Konica Minolta has been working on the Workplace Hub for well over a year to make sure that the device includes the features and capabilities that its customers need and to eliminate those that they don’t want.
At this point, while the company was showing off physical models of the Workplace Hub, Konica was unable to demonstrate any of its planned functionality. A functional product won’t be available until after this fall. And some features and components won’t be available until the spring of 2018. Pricing was not available at the time of March 23 press conference.
Done properly, the Workplace Hub has a lot of promise for SMBs, which is important because similar platforms haven’t been available at an affordable price for smaller organizations that were available to large companies. If this works as planned, it could be a real asset for companies that right now have many of the same needs as large enterprises, but a lot less to choose from.