For years, printers, scanners and fax machines have been treated as adjuncts to traditional IT infrastructure. Somehow inferior to servers, networking gear and personal computers. Hence, they have been dubbed "peripherals" along with monitors, keyboards and other hardware that didn't happen to be classified as a full-fledged computer.
But as document workflows become more digital, and workers become far more mobile, the role of printing and imaging devices is changing dramatically. That's why you've seen most of the big printing and imaging vendors focus far more attention on the software running and managing these devices.
Now, Xerox is seeking to take things even farther with the introduction of ConnectKey, an operating platform and new portfolio of multifunction printers (MFPs) designed to directly support cloud services and customized workflow applications. These are also the first MFPs to include embedded security from MCafee, which means you have to be on a white list to control them.
"We want to move from a peripheral business to an integral business," said Rick Dastin, president of the Office and Solutions Business Group at Xerox.
Here are some of the features made possible with ConnectKey:
Cloud access - Documents can be moved to repositors such as SharePoint Online, Google Drive, DropBox, Evernote, PaperPort Anywhere and Salesforce.com
SharePoint connections - The MPFs can be used to browse documents or store them in a SharePoint My Site or home folder
Print from anywhere - Workers can print from any email-enabled mobile devices including Apple iPhones, Android or Windows smartphones, and BlackBerrys using Xerox Mobile Print
Remote administration - ConnectKey MFPs can be managed off the network, in the same way someone would set up or service a server
There's also a big push for custom workflow applications that use the ConnectKey platform, through the Xerox App Studio, which will be available in June.
The company is encouraging VARs and software developers to create custom, industry-specific tools. One example might be an app that lets a health insurance company scan reimbursement claims directly into a payment system from the MFP's interface.
While ConnectKey's features are backwards-compatible with Xerox's solid ink printing technologies, they aren't available for all of its existing MFPs.
So, if you want to do some of things that ConnectKey enables, you'll have to invest in one that does - such as the Xerox WorkCentre 5800 or 7800 series or the ColorQube 9300 line - along with specific software (such as ConnectKey Share to Cloud or ConnectKey for SharePoint. The prices for these printers are competitive with other offerings, Dastin said.