The evolution of Multi-Functional Devices as we know it

PCQ Bureau
New Update

AI-enabled technology and systems in MFDs ensure a reduction in human-involvement, increase in printing efficiency, accuracy and cost-effectiveness. AI plays a fundamental role in automating everyday operations and optimizing printing investments, explains K Bhaskhar, Senior Vice President, Business Imaging Solutions (BIS), Canon India.


With the Indian printing market rapidly growing and maturing, MFDs (Multi-functional Devices) have become an integral part of businesses across the world, be it for a small size new business or a large-scale enterprise. The ability to perform multiple functions with just one device has not only resulted in business processes becoming simpler but also has drastically increased the efficiency and improved the output. As companies across spectrum has gotten used to the versality of MFDs, some may barely remember a time, when we didn’t have these multi-faceted machines in our offices, instead one required separate machines to print and photocopy, hence taking up substantial time and office space. The evolution of MFDs has been an incredible journey and is worth applauding.

How did it all start?

Interestingly, photocopiers first came to the market back in 1959, with the sole function of making copies of documents as the name suggests. In the mid-1950s, offices had three separate machines for photocopying, printing and scanning. Nobody anticipated that photocopiers would one day evolve into becoming MFDs that are now considered the foundation of any productive business.


Till the year 2000, most photocopiers could only copy one document at a time and did not feature the digital capabilities of storing or sending information, as MFDs offer now. Eventually to streamline costs, and optimize business processes—a multi-function device came into existence which impeccably integrated a printing, scanning, copying and fax together. The technology disruption created the need for MFD segment and soon became a business essential and the acquisition of these lay with the administrators and acquisition heads. With further digitalization of businesses, the need for storing essential documents led to the integration of hard drives as part of the machines for frequent printing. Initially a novelty available in only a few models, these eventually became a standard across the industry.

Introduction of the connected era

The digital integration led to MFDs becoming a part of the office network and IT infrastructure as employees were connected to the same network resulting in users giving print commands from anywhere in the office as well as from their smartphones or other connected devices. In terms of document access, scan to mail was a necessity till a couple of years ago. However with the introduction of technologically intricate yet simple cloud-based management systems, MFDs are now equipped to print, scan and save directly to the cloud, making the entire process as intuitive as ever. It also enables easy information search and retrieval, digital workflow management while helping save IT maintenance and infrastructure costs.


Data Security first

The increased connectivity within the network infrastructure brought in the involvement of CIOs and CTOs as key decision makers in the purchase of the MFDs, and hence bringing in the need for highest safety standards against cyber threats. A lot of tweaks were made with the introduction of department wise passwords, scanning of one’s office identity card or usage of biometrics to print documents, document reminder system to pick up documents left on the machine while scanning or copying—all this helped the organizations not just to keep a track of the print output but also the kind of documents being printed. While maintaining and managing data storage cloud-based solutions, it is also important to ensure that both customer and business data is securely stored and erased as and when required. Hence, not just for optimizing business operations, cloud platforms help in making significant savings on both hardware and software front, as it removes any need to install expensive and time-consuming print servers.

Not just this, it even became pertinent to provide businesses with embedded protection against malware execution running on multi-function devices (MFDs). To take it to the next level, even the MFD manufacturers now partner with the leading cloud cybersecurity companies like McAfee, to provide an additional standard security feature, strengthening the commonly overlooked endpoint. This is helping organizations in safeguarding itself from today’s vulnerabilities and tomorrow’s unknown threats.


AI, the game changer

The integration of Artificial Intelligence in business processes is common these days and MFDs are not indifferent to the concept. AI-enabled technology and systems ensure a reduction in human-involvement, increase in printing efficiency, accuracy and cost-effectiveness. AI plays a fundamental role by activating a protocol for rapid, effective response and remediation that will ensure automating everyday operations, optimizing printing investments and initiating unprecedented productivity.

Not just this, AI plays a vital role in customer service as well. Gone are the times when customers in the anticipation of mechanical parts breaking or needing repairs, used to schedule service maintenance appointments for their MFDs. Today, with the power of predictive maintenance, one can easily forecast when a piece of equipment might fail in the MFD so that maintenance work can be performed well in time to ensure smooth functioning of the machine. Therefore, AI in MFDs enable businesses to expand while not compromising service quality and further reducing the overall cost investments.


Automation is the future

Additionally, if we look at the wayforward for MFDs, technology such as Robotic Process Automation is creating prospects to automate repetitive processes and therefore achieve the business goals more efficiently especially when it comes to machines. It provides the potential to have software robots execute the current processes accurately and faster, all the time. This helps in increasing the return on investment and achieving important benefits such as better compliance, cost reductions and scalability. Currently, a lot of sectors like healthcare, BFSI and IT have been successfully using this to assist in numerous functions. Going ahead, it will be interesting to note how it can revolutionize the MFD segment. This will be a testimony to a perfect confluence of hardware and software.

Digital transformation is a constant journey rather than a destination. Thus, focusing on forward-looking technologies will fulfil business needs throughout the document life cycle and accelerate business transformation journeys. For a business to thrive, beyond ideas and a motivated workforce, there must be a perfect amalgamation of hardware and software. The need of the hour is to provide a compelling document management system along with new age MFDs to take the Digital India story to the next level. It will help businesses—big or small—to optimize processes and streamline document workflow which will certainly enhance the overall customer experience.