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Sharp says it has seen a turnaround in its fortunes – and has regained the channel’s confidence – following its acquisition by Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn.
Foxconn snapped up Sharp for $3.5bn in 2016 after the Japanese firm posted three years of financial losses, exacerbated by diminishing market share in the consumer electronics space.
“We were down on our luck for a few years where we couldn’t make too many investments. It affects the staff, and it affects how people see you in the marketplace, so it was a few tough years,” Stuart Sykes, MD of Sharp Business Solutions, tells Microscope.
Now, the vendor says it is in “the next phase” of its transformation, this week unveiling a new, expanded product portfolio and roadmap that extends beyond its traditional print channel.
“Foxconn’s investment has re-invigorated everyone’s vision as to where Sharp is going,” says Sykes.
The investment is good new specifically for the channel, too. One consequence of Sharp’s belt-tightening measures had been Sharp outsourcing back office admin and credit control for partners, which Sykes says, “didn’t work very well, the partners didn’t like it. [But] when Foxconn came along were able to bring that back, in-house in the UK, which is fantastic.”
The channel can also expect investment in core products again, such as a series of A4 devices that fill a noticeable gap in Sharp’s portfolio, “which dealers have had to work around for too long,” admits Jason Cort, director of product planning and marketing, Sharp Information Systems Europe.
At its dealer event in Edinburgh last week, the firm unveiled a range of new devices. As well as new A4 models, it has refreshed its A3 mono range, and introduced light production print systems, and a new interactive whiteboard. The company also demonstrated voice control of an interactive display for the ‘smart meeting room’.
In addition, Sharp is benefiting from Foxconn’s deep pockets for R&D with a range of ‘AIoT’ (Artificial Intelligence / Internet of Things) products in the pipeline, which look at automated and connected devices for the ‘Smart Office’.
“We’re in a great place compared to our competitors now, to be able to bring new technology and products to market,” says Sykes.
The exec points to Foxconn’s status as one of the largest electronics companies in the world, with 1.2m employees, and 40 percent of all consumer electronics sold worldwide touched by the manufacturer.
“It’s an incredible organisation; their manufacturing and R&D capability, they’re right at the forefront of technology worldwide.”
Sykes also says that Sharp’s own acquisitions – once on hold due to its financial problems – are now “back on the table”, citing its purchase of UK channel firm Midshire last year as a direct result of the investment.
Looking to the future, Sharp says it wants to grow both its direct and channel organisations and is looking outside its traditional print base to the IT channel for new partners.
“Sharp have created an incredible number of door openers that don’t rely on print,” says Cort.
“By providing non-print services and solutions, the reseller has the opportunity to become more strategic and stick to customers. This doesn’t just win them more share of wallet, this protects their print annuities from the competition.”
Louella Fernandes, principal analyst at Quocirca, believes Foxconn helping Sharp to bring A4 devices to market quickly is encouraging, as it its investigation of AI and IoT applications. However, she notes the firm is yet to not confirm commercial availability of anything in this space.
“I do however think that Foxconn brings innovation and agility to Sharp which it will benefit from in today’s rapidly changing market,” Fernandes tells Microscope. “It remains to be seen how Foxconn can apply this innovation to Sharp MFPs.”