Out of the Box: Samsung’s A3 Venture

By Carl Schell, Associate Editor, February 16, 2011

BLI recently spoke with Ken Colby, Director of Printer Products for Samsung Electronics America, about the company’s foray into the A3 market. The journey took time, years, and as Colby detailed the process had obstacles, but “the message surrounding the devices has always been simplicity and consistency,” he said.

While they were announced last year in Korea and Europe, today Samsung released the 35-ppm color/black CLX-9350ND and 25-ppm color/black CLX-9250ND, as well as two monochrome devices, the 40-ppm SCX-8040ND and 30-ppm SCX-8030ND. Going back to mid-2008, though, when BLI traveled to South Korea as part of a private press tour, the company’s eventual entry into the A3 space was a much-discussed topic. So the arrival of this series is significant, representing a big and bold step for Samsung in its quest to not only build a more complete portfolio, but compete with traditional copier manufacturers, too.

The Process

“The A3 line started with an investigative process approximately four years ago,” Colby said. “From there, we dove into research and development, which led to preproduction in late 2009.” He then explained that once Samsung felt comfortable with what it had, it put the devices through even more internal testing, with a variety of material and media types, for instance. The company also enlisted BLI to do a private, prelaunch evaluation of the devices, “which certainly helped shape the way they were formed,” he said. “It’s safe to say we learned from past mistakes, and every step we took was there to ensure that we addressed all the issues.”

Because the models represent a new product category for Samsung’s dealers, following the BLI test the company spent several months working out the kinks, including upgrading firmware, solidifying the distribution plan and updating training policies. After that, the devices launched first in Korea and then Europe. Here in the States, though, the company had other ideas. It selected five dealers to participate in further assessment; the dealers were given one of each device in the series and asked to run Samsung-specific tests for serviceability, quality, reliability and usability, as well as their own tests, so they could provide insight. The dealers received the devices in November and kept them for two or three weeks, whereupon they were installed at customer locations for an additional two to three weeks.  “It was imperative to us that the devices be put in the field, under typical daily usage,” Colby said. “And we had a person at each location so that if anything went wrong, our engineering department would immediately correct the problem.

“The bulk of what we’ve changed over the last year or so has been cosmetic or software-related,” he continued. “For example, the ability to suspend all ‘undoable’ jobs due to paper being out and releasing other jobs that can be completed was added, and we reduced the number of keystrokes necessary to perform a scan-to-e-mail or create booklets.”

Dealers

A huge undertaking in this endeavor has been getting dealers up to speed on servicing and supporting the series—to be a fully featured MPS provider. With the increasing depth of its portfolio, Samsung is “striving to offer an end-to-end solution on the hardware side,” Colby said. “If you look at the channel, most sales are derived from A3, even though ledger comprises around 3 percent of output totals. Dealers love our A4 devices, but the bottom line is that the margins are in A3. And in order to be a respected and full-line player, we had to make this happen.”

The company has partnered with multi-line dealers, so service and support is nothing new to them. However, having to service and support another brand obviously requires more time, effort and resources. “There’s always that apprehension of learning something new, and the simpler it is, the better,” he said. “Whether it’s the UPD or Samsung driver, the routine maintenance aspects or the setup, these devices are easy to use and, for the dealers, maintain. This is one of the most important things we’ve discovered, that there’s tangible value in the value proposition by, in short, simplifying things. Because once our dealers get it, they get it up and down our line.

“And for consistency’s sake, the same finishers can be used for all four devices, which helps our dealers streamline their inventory,” he added.

Samsung is committed to its dealer channel and has always refused to go direct. “We want them to know if they’re willing to invest in us, we’ll be right there with them,” Colby said. “At launch, I anticipate half of our roughly 150 dealers will be selling the series, but in time I’m positive all of them will climb onboard.” He believes that those who sell the devices from the outset will, in fact, take on the full lot rather than just the color or the faster ones.

Judging Success and the Future

“Over the next year, our success won’t be measured solely by how many units we sell, though that’s important, but also by the relationships we build within the dealer community,” Colby said. “Truth is, this is a marathon. It’s a long race, but we’re in it for the long haul. We may make mistakes, but we’ll learn and adapt to help our odds of winning. Ultimately, our success will be measured by the overall momentum that’s generated in the channel.”

The company began accepting preorders in January with an aggressive prelaunch campaign. And because printer refreshes happen more often than with copier-based devices, Colby is confident that the company’s A4 experience will translate into its new A3 world.

Colby highlighted two other areas that he said will add tremendous value to the devices. The first is in regard to open architecture, which “you’ll see more of in the near future, especially for document management systems, from the very low-end of A4 to this new series. Be it Web-enabled or integrated in the device itself, the platform will give people who are looking to create a full infrastructure solution the ability to do so.” Secondly, in terms of security, the company has a strong desire to bolster attempts at more bids in select vertical markets, most notably government and healthcare. “Things like increased flexibility in configuring color access and proximity card compatibility are on the horizon, too.”

Building a Better MFP

“It was clear when preproduction units arrived in the lab for prelaunch testing more than a year ago that Samsung had done a good job benchmarking the best of what other vendors had to offer in terms of control panel design and administrative utilities,” said BLI Managing Editor Daria Hoffman. “But what was most impressive was the company’s commitment to improvement. Even after resolving the bugs and design flaws we uncovered, Samsung continued to add functionality and make enhancements. The result is a family of products that earned top scores in more categories than most other devices in recent memory.”

This article was originally posted on Buyer’s Laboratory.

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