NEW YORK – Customers are the best teachers when it comes to product development.

That’s one philosophy Ricoh Corp. embraced before developing its latest digital imaging systems, according to Hede Nonaka, Ricoh Corp’s vice-president of marketing, office products and solutions groups.

At a press conference this week, the West Caldwell, N.J.-based supplier of office automation equipment launched its Aficio 1035/1045 multi-function machines.

The systems, which include printing, copying and faxing capabilities, also let users scan documents and e-mail them to their selected recipients.

“We understand we have to listen to the customer,” said Nonaka. “There is no one else who can teach us how to increase customer satisfaction.”

Franklyn Falby, senior marketing manager with Ricoh’s workgroup product marketing and sales training, said the devices are targeted at the workgroup environment or “decentralized environments of small to mid-sized groups of personnel who share similar workflow applications.” The recommended maximum volume for these systems is 80,000 to 100,000 images per month, he said.

Using a new controller platform, the systems no longer need separate controller boards for the network printing, scanning and faxing options, he said.

The 1035/1045 lets users scan paper documents at 600 dpi, which converts them to images – then the images can be stored on the Document Server, which acts as a document repository, said Falby. By using the bundled software package that comes with the system, users can access the stored information, search the repository and view documents from their own PC. And data stored in the Document Server can be printed, copied, or faxed, he added.

The bundled software package includes SmartNetMonitor, a network utility that helps users control networked Ricoh peripheral systems; DesktopBinder, a digital document filing and retrieval software that lets users integrate files saved in different formats into customized folders; and ScanRouter Professional, the company’s scanning software, Falby said.

In a separate interview today with CDN, Michael Fast, Ricoh Canada’s marketing product manager for colour and digital products, said the open architecture of the 1035/1045 “opens up doors that have been unimaginable in the past.”

A software development kit makes it possible for independent software and hardware vendors, as well as dealers, to configure the machines according to a customer’s workgroup needs.

“An end user may say ‘I just want a driver that they can point and click on, and it’ll print out always on the third tray with the yellow paper’…So we can actually build a customized driver for that environment that solves a particular need,” Fast said.

“That puts the control of the machine into our hands,” he continued. “We can now modify the use of that machine to do anything we want . . . It can’t make a cappuccino, but you could really tailor and modify the look, the feel the functionality of the machine based on whatever solution you need.”

Those opportunities make it possible for resellers to start pushing solutions rather than just another peripheral, added Christine Tomaselli, spokesperson for Ricoh Canada. “It’s all about what goes on in the environment and finding a solution that fits a customer’s needs, she said. “It requires some different skills on the part of our dealers and sales folks in terms of needing to listen to the customer very carefully and understanding what their needs are.”

Tomaselli and Fast added that Ricoh Canada’s Network Services Group, a support structure that includes staff certified in network installation, will also be able to offer pre- and post-sales support to dealers who need it.

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