Lexmark is tapping its internally developed Internet of Things platform to offer a portfolio of IoT solutions to other businesses, in what could represent a major area of growth for the company beyond the printer market, the company said.
On Wednesday, the Lexington, Ky.-based company announced the launch of the Lexmark Optra IoT Platform, the first in a planned series of IoT solutions in the new Optra portfolio.
With this announcement, Lexmark is officially “expanding into the IoT space,” said Phil Carter, director of managed print and IoT services at Lexmark, in an interview with CRN.
The Optra solutions will leverage Lexmark’s own IoT platform that was built to power the company’s managed print services offering. For Lexmark’s use, the platform has involved taking data from sensors on devices manufactured and managed by the company, and then combining the data from business systems to provide crucial insights for customers—enabling outcomes such as predictive services and asset optimization, Lexmark said.
By bringing the IoT platform to other companies, “it’s a natural expansion of what we’re doing today, drawing on our history,” Carter said.
“We know IoT is hard, and it’s expensive. And people get stuck,” he said. “We really think that our background in managed print services gives us credibility where others might not have that.”
With the Lexmark Optra IoT Platform, customers will be able to connect data from their devices with data from other systems of record, such as a CRM or ERP system. “It sits in between those and it’s really the central hub and central intelligence connecting those data sources,” Carter said.
The launch of Optra IoT also follows Lexmark’s expansion into cloud services including cloud print management and cloud fleet management, which the company has held up as a major differentiator from other print industry vendors.
While Lexmark is not announcing an ability for channel partners to participate around Optra IoT at the launch, the company plans to disclose ways for partners to get involved with Lexmark’s IoT suite in the coming quarters, Carter said.
What follows are five key things to know about Lexmark’s IoT expansion.
Serving Connected Device Makers
For the first IoT solution coming from Lexmark, the Optra IoT Platform, the company is focusing on selling to manufacturers of connected devices.
In theory, any connected device maker could use the Optra IoT Platform, Carter said. The platform has “broad applicability,” he said.
Some verticals that could be an especially good fit for the platform include retail and medical devices, Carter said. Lexmark has piloted the platform with medical device manufacturers, a banking kiosk vendor, a bedding manufacturer (which offers a mattress that includes sensors) and a mining heavy equipment manufacturer.
Ultimately, with the Optra IoT Platform, “we’re reinventing how makers of connected devices use IoT to deliver outcomes,” Carter said.
Future offerings in the Optra IoT Solutions portfolio could involve edge solutions, such as connecting Optra IoT with solutions running intelligence at the edge, he said.
Enabling Predictive Service
As customers connect data from devices with other systems of record using Lexmark’s Optra IoT Platform, one of the key outcomes is enabling predictive service on devices, Carter said.
That enables device makers to shift from reactive service – where something breaks and the user needs to call in for support – to a more proactive service approach, he said.
As sensor data flows into the Optra IoT platform, Lexmark applies its AI and machine learning algorithm catalog to the data, Carter said.
“It flags an issue if it sees a problem before it occurs. And then the operational support center of that customer can now take predictive action,” he said. “So that drives down internal cost—they can batch service calls together. They can create a better user or customer experience for their end customers, as they‘re now reaching out proactively and not waiting for a problem to occur.”
Since devices also need to be replaced over time, Lexmark’s Optra IoT Platform can assist with optimizing that lifecycle, as well, Carter said.
Instead of just replacing devices based on a set schedule – every X number of years, for instance – the Optra IoT Platform can look at the performance of the device from sensor feedback in the field, he said. The platform can also connect that feedback with service records.
“Now you’re making a smarter decision for when that device needs to be replaced,” Carter said. “Or it could be that you want to have an optimized fleet in the field. You can make sure you have the right devices at the right places at the right time for customers.”
For example, maybe a customer’s office is consolidating or retail locations are shutting down—the Optra IoT Platform can help with keeping fleets optimized and profitable as they change, he said.
Using the Optra IoT Platform can also serve as a boost for product innovation, Carter said.
With the platform, “I can monitor a device from when it’s designed in the R&D center, when it’s manufactured on the line, when it’s shipped to the field, when it’s running out in the field and finally when it’s sunset. If you can connect the device every step of the way, you have what we call a digital thread that connects all of those,” he said.
“Now I can make much more intelligent decisions for all my technical teams looking at current products in the field—but also future products to come,” Carter said. “I can drive down cycle time of my R&D cycles for new products, and I can also be more effective. I can fix quality problems in the field in a much more targeted manner.”
Future Partner Opportunities
For the initial launch of the Optra IoT Platform, Lexmark is not immediately engaging with solution providers around the platform since IoT is such a new area for the company—but it won’t stay that way for long, Carter said. “You will see announcements with us, with partners, over the next quarters,” he said.
The company expects that its IoT push will represent a “substantial opportunity” for partners in the future, Carter said.
Opportunities that are expected include co-sell opportunities with partners, which “we think will grow over time,” he said.
Other partner opportunities might include providing solutions and services that can help customers to tie into the Optra IoT Platform—such as by retrofitting a piece of equipment in the field with electronics and sensors, Carter said.
“Clearly in the IoT space, as you build out an end-to-end solution, you’re going to have various partners [involved with] the solution,” he said. “We’re early, but we have a vision of where we can plug those partners in over time.”