Old competitors click as Kodak forges ahead

FEW things demonstrate how the business world has changed in recent years more effectively than the inability of such mighty companies as Eastman Kodak and IBM to compete on their own terms. Both these organisations, and countless others, are trying to fight their way back, at least partly, by forming alliances with groups that not long ago would have been enemies.

Kodak, now headed by the former chief of the hugely successful Motorola, George Fisher, forged a partnership with Canon of Japan three years ago and is building what began as a marketing agreement into a product-development alliance. The UK arm has recently formed a relationship with Erskine, part of US-based Alco Standard Corporation, and one of Britain's leading "super-dealers" in copiers and electronic printers.

As Tony Eatough, UK general manager for Kodak Office Imaging, explains, the Erskine deal essentially provides the company, which had hitherto sold its high-volume copiers and printers itself, with an additional route to market.

Under the arrangement, Erskine will market and sell Kodak equipment - a move that complements its existing position as a dealer for several other copier makers whose equipment is centred on the low to medium volume area.

In return, Erskine's 200-strong sales force will be supported by Kodak, which will establish a maintenance agreement with the customer once negotiations have been completed.

Mr Eatough envisages the relationship expanding. "It is likely that we shall establish links between Erskine and Kodak's document image capture and storage capabilities," he says.

This is pretty much how the Canon arrangement began, with the two companies badging some of their goods under each other's names. It is now much more about product development.

Rather like different makes of car that have similar floor panels and doors, today's photocopiers and the like increasingly tend to share components. Far from this being a curious kind of cop-out, Mr Eatough sees it as simply good business sense at a time of great competition. With the R&D costs of creating technological improvements becoming huge, it pays for each company to play to its strengths rather than constantly seek to reinvent the wheel in the interests of producing a "pure" product. Moreover, "it saves a repeat of VHS v Betamax," he says, referring to the war of technologies in the early years of video.

Since Mr Fisher's arrival, the group has put greater emphasis on creating alliances of various sorts, with the primary aim of accelerating market growth and improving the speed to market. But for all this, marketing remains important. The main reason for the reorganisation carried out about three years ago was the realisation that certain Kodak businesses had market synergies, especially customers in common, that could be dealt with more efficiently.

As Mr Eatough notes, the changes amounted to focusing increasingly on the developing needs of customers, establishing Kodak's core commercial business under one banner of imaging, and concentrating attention on what it sees as its main competitive advantage - a strong product combined with service.

But he cautions: "Customers are looking for confident vision, rather than product features." And this means giving people the right skills to deal with customers. Mr Fisher has no plans to develop an in-house university along the lines of his former company's operation outside Chicago. But he is keen to see extra stress put on existing training and development courses.

Kodak as a whole is a long way from being out of the woods yet. But there is a feeling that Mr Fisher has introduced an element that has been missing of late. If he can maintain this image and produce something concrete, he may recreate a company that can stand alongside the best.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Report Writer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Technical Report Writer is re...

MBDA UK Ltd: Indirect Procurement Category Manager

Competitive salary & benefits!: MBDA UK Ltd: MBDA UK LTD Indirect Procurement...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness