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What is the future of the office worker?

To answer this, one must look at where we have come. 40 years ago people distributed documents in an office by typewriter and a distribution list. Each person would read the memo or document and mark their name off the list and pass it on to the next person on the list.

Fast-forward to 20 years later and people start using printers to print a document instead of a typewriter and then copy the document and distribute to all people the copies.

Ten years ago people started using email to distribute copies of memos or the email became the memo or document. The end user would then print this email and read it. There is an entire generation of office workers that continue to do this today.

Copier and printer manufactures such as Xerox, canon, Ricoh and hp are marketing solutions to the office worker that combine copying and printing along with fax and scanning in one package. I am sitting at a show being put on by Xerox call a road show shootout and they are presenting a comparison of today’s copier / printer combos.

They are missing the boat. They have a good message; a great demo, a great speaker but they are not marketing to the next generation of office worker. They are focusing on today’s office worker not the nex gen. Until manufactures start marketing to the next generation of office workers they will continue to miss the mark with their products.

What is the next generation of office workers? They are folks that don’t print emails but read them on screen. They use remote access tools to view email from anywhere, including cell phones and pdas. They mobile users and rarely centralized near big printers or copiers. They carry everything they need to do their jobs on a laptop, pda or even portable thumbdrives using flash memory that can’t fail. They don’t use fax machines or copiers. They don’t print documents.

So how does the nex generation office worker use today?s technology? They need a way to input paper documents from today?s generation of office workers. They need to be able output documents for those folks as well. But as today?s generation learns from the next gen or retires the amount of printing and copying will diminish significantly.

But wait, isn’t the next office device revolution color at the copier or printer. Only to the current generation because the next gen has color on the screens of their devices to read their documents. Sure this mix of current and next gen office workers will increase the demand for color output to try to level the playing field. But this is temporary and ultimately unnecessary in most office worker environments. Color is important in a few areas, medical, insurance, sales and marketing. But nothing the average office worker does needs color. It is a luxury, a want, a desire but not for the next gen.

As I sit here watching Xerox face off their copiers and printers to see who’s fastest in output, I already know the answer. All of the people in this room are today’s generation and want the fastest copier / printer. I want to know how these devices can be used as input devices; I could care less about the speed of a printer.

It comes down to cost and capabilities. The gap is huge between the people in this room and the nex gen office worker. Not one of these device sellers understands how big this gap is nor understands how to market to both or just the next gen.

Ironically, a fuse was blown and it was on the Xerox device so we have to believe the presenter on the fact that the Xerox is the fastest. How convenient.

As I look around the room its amazing to see the current office workers amazed at this performance but it really doesn’t matter because the winner isn’t the fastest copier or printer its the worker that adapts and becomes the next gen office worker and sheds the need to print or copy. This person then acts as a virus to spread this huge gain in productivity to the others and quickly printing becomes the least important aspect in the office. These sales folks want to make it the most important and are missing the point.