Management: This man says the photocopier will never be the same again

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The Independent Online
To sell state-of-the-art office equipment, first convince the consumer that your way of doing things is better. Rachelle Thackray interviews John Hill, head of Toshiba's electronic imaging division.

It may seem an elementary task to sell to modern managers the idea of an all-singing, all-dancing, all-in- one networked printer that triples as a photocopier, fax and scanner machine, and saves endless trips from one end of the office to the other by multi-tasking at the touch of a button.

Elementary, perhaps, until you consider that the office secretary probably rather enjoys standing beside the photocopier, gossiping with the receptionist as 100 pieces of paper grind out and the kettle boils for tea.

Or that the IT manager guards his network jealously, and may come to blows with an office manager who wishes to have the machine serviced. Or that if the system has an off day, all office functions come to a rapid halt.

It is questions like these that occupy Toshiba's John Hill, who launched the company's first laptop computer in 1986 and was recently charged with convincing firms that the networked super-machine is the true path forward.

"The world is going digital, and the technology is there," declares Hill, who began his career in the merchant navy, then was a salesman in cosmetics and frozen food before moving to Apple Computers.

He was surprised that it took so long for manufacturers to come up with the multi-tasking system.

"The technology involved was quite difficult," he says. "But it's essentially there, and everybody is interested in it from a buying perspective.

"If you produce a document on your PC and you want multiple copies, you usually have to whack it out on the printer and then go over to the photocopier and produce 500 copies. If you do it digitally, it will allow you to send it straight to the photocopier; it will produce the original and copy it too. Then you could fax it from your desk. You even have the ability to manipulate the image."

Hill, who took a break from marketing the Toshiba laptop after undergoing a triple heart-bypass operation, sees his mission in terms of challenging the status quo.

He predicts that by the year 2000, up to 45 per cent of UK businesses will have "gone digital", emulating Japan, where multi-tasking is integral to the space-limited culture. To hasten that end, he uses the Japanese kaizen ("continuous development") theory - plan something, do it, and see if it works - which he claims stops complacency from setting in.

While his long-term sights are set on establishing digital networks, his short-term goals include overtaking Sharp as number three in the photocopier market, below Canon and Xerox.

"If digital is only slowly going to come in, we still have to sell analogue. All this new technology costs more, and we have to get a payback somewhere. Digital will not drive the business," he concedes.

Still, he is seeking a spark to light the touchpaper of popularity for his new system; he watched it happen with the laptop when Allied Dunbar invested in 3,000 Toshiba models, giving their salesmen an edge of immediacy and starting a copycat trend.

"I think the key thing with the portable computer was to find potential users, people in specialist markets. But in order to make use of this new technology, there are work habits that need changing.

"Historically, you had three discrete machines, but now they're coming together. The IT manager may be very protective of that environment, because many companies depend on their networks. Then you've got the office managers; they have a concern that this digital revolution is going to take a big piece of their budget capacity away, and diminish their role. That's not in our interests, because those people are our contacts."

But he admits: "People who own the information [will] be the important ones. The pipe it comes down is almost incidental."

Hill predicts that the market will be cornered by manufacturers who can combine breadth and depth of technological experience with established dealership. The best distribution channels, he claims, belong to the photocopier manufacturers.

"The one thing that the business will need is service and support. Any output device is not only electronic, but mechanical; therefore, it'll need maintenance. The photocopier channel is set up to do that - it has been doing that for a long, long time. Nobody services printers the way they do photocopiers."

Then, of course, there's the cost. "On photocopiers these days, it's less than 1p a copy. On a printer, it's at least double. If you measure what companies do in millions, that's a hell of a difference," says Hill.

He acknowledges that he has his task cut out, although he approaches it with a schoolboyish enthusiasm. His first move will be to run educational seminars early next year, showing office managers how the new technology can improve their working lot.

"It's like having a washing machine that's got 15 different functions; most people will only use one or two. Your average photocopier will have 85 features, but most people will print a document, copy it three times, and that's an end of it."

The new system is different, he says. "By having a step-by-step LCD guide, there will be ease of use. You will be able to delay the output to ensure confidentiality. You can enter your own personal code - that might be very important to somebody."

Hill gives the impression that he is just waiting for it all to begin again; he is ready to enter the fray.

"We are going to have to change the way we talk to people and market the product as it gets more sophisticated," he says.

"It is going to be extraordinarily interesting to see how the market- place develops, and how the buyer gets to grips with the technology."

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