Lexmark looks to strengthen its IoT solution to remain competitive

Arguably, the two most iconic examples of digital transformation are Kodak and Amazon. Kodak failed to keep up with the times, leading to the demise of the once dominant trading empire. Still, Amazon had the foresight to not only “stay in its alley”, but to shape the world’s digital infrastructure with AWS.

Now, Lexmark is taking note of Kodak’s failure and Amazon’s success and piloting on its own. Founded in 1991 and headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky, Lexmark can be described as a leading provider of hardware, services, solutions and security.

Moving beyond printers, supplies and accessories – the way Lexmark first made a name for itself – the company’s current motto seems to be “print, protect and manage your information”. In 2022, Lexmark lists print and capture as its only two solutions, including cloud, security and IoT. The Lexmark Optra IoT platform, which was unveiled in September, is featured prominently on the company’s site.

Today, the company is unveiling the Optra Edge, the latest addition to its Optra IoT Solutions portfolio. Vishal Gupta, senior VP, CTO and CIO at Lexmark’s Connected Technology, says the company’s new tools and advancement in IoT is just the beginning.

Lexmark’s entry into IoT

Gupta is an experienced executive with selections from Unisys, Symantec and Cisco, where he played a key role in the company’s IoT efforts. Gupta added a little color to Lexmark’s president and CEO Alan Wogerman’s description of why and how the company is expanding into the IoT space.

Lexmark has been working in IoT for more than a decade, Gupta said, which was one of the things that attracted him to the company. Lexmark printers come with over 120 IoT sensors, used as part of a managed print service, which includes millions of printers. For each printer, these sensors monitor hundreds of data points, including alerts, internal diagnostics, and internal operation of the device.

This enables Lexmark to optimize the performance of its printer ecosystem and achieve optimal results, such as resolving 70% of customer device support issues remotely; 25% increase in profitability through optimized use; And 30% improvement in engineering efficiency. This also enabled the company to add new-a-service offerings to achieve a 40% increase in contract or recurring revenue.

Gupta cited Lexmark’s estimated maintenance for 800 large enterprise customers, citing a 95% success rate in predicting when a problem would arise. This, he said, has enabled the company to mitigate the effects of supply chain disruption by implementing something called “smart refresh”.

The idea is simple: apply targeted fixes before the device’s components break down and need to be replaced. It works by combining real-time and historical data from a number of sources to create machine learning (ML) models. According to Gupta, the result reduces downtime and extends the lifespan of the device by about 25%. Lexmark’s goal was to apply smart refresh to 50% of its powered devices fleet, but it was completed by 80%.

In other words, Lexmark has experience managing hundreds of millions of sensors and getting results. This makes Lexmark an outlier because, according to McKinsey, 84% of companies operating on IoT are stuck in pilot mode.

The idea behind the release of the Lexmark Optra IoT platform was the same: Lexmark’s successful raid on IoT could be used by others. Built on top of the Microsoft Azure IoT Hub, the platform aims to provide users with two types of capabilities. First, to enable the use of out-of-the-box ML models for predictive analytics and second, to enable the development of new ML models.

For the out-of-the-box part, Lexmark relies on its homegrown models. For the development part, as well as to customize the out-of-the-box models as needed, there is a no-code environment, as well as the ability to tinker with the code. Gupta said Python, data science notebooks and all widely used ML frameworks are supported.

According to Gupta estimates, out-of-the-box models can reduce the time by 70% to 80% which would normally take users to get into production. Initially, the focus was on the product, on which Lexmark built its expertise as a manufacturer. However, Lexmark wants to expand into other verticals, starting with retail and logistics.

Lexmark’s Optra Edge

The Optra IoT platform sets the infrastructure for IoT applications. It connects devices, including non-IoT enabled devices, through open protocols such as Lorawan or MQTT, sets up data pipelines and allows ML models to be trained in power applications such as predictive maintenance or fault identification.

The cloud works well as the infrastructure for this. But when it comes to deploying and running applications, the cloud is not always the best choice for many reasons: availability, delay, security and compliance. Connections to the cloud may not always be available or fast enough for hands-on work and some data may not be allowed to leave the place from which it is generated.

Optra Edge is designed to enable application execution near the point of data generation on the edge without the need for data transfer on the cloud. The Optra Edge has been launched as an Edge as it is expected to reach around $ 274 billion in 2025, according to IDC.

The Optra Edge differs significantly from the Optra IoT. Optra IoT is a software platform in which Lexmark customers use its ability to work with whatever hardware they are using. Optra Edge, however, is a vertically integrated solution that combines software, hardware and management. This means that in order to run machine learning-powered applications, a minimum set of capability requirements must be met.

Lexmark provides what Gupta called Optra Vision devices as part of the Optra Edge. With a partner in the case of retail use, those devices are used in a large number of products, he said. Those devices can process input from any camera that is compatible with the RTSP protocol and comes in two flavors.

The first type of Optra Vision devices are more aimed at camera recording and analysis, while the other one focuses on visual detection. They are built on top of Nvidia chips that provide a high level of processing and are certified by Microsoft. ,

Gupta cited specific results in areas such as retail, where retailers were able to create a more attractive environment in stores, while Lexmark’s partners created new revenue streams. In manufacturing, ML-powered visual inspections have resulted in a 40% improvement in inspection speeds, a 99% reduction in errors, and, according to Gupta, could break even within three months in terms of investment.

Lexmark includes startups working on domain-specific applications for Microsoft, which helps market efforts, working with a wide network of partners. The goal for Optra Edge is to grow to at least 50 usage cases by the end of 2022 and to integrate cloud and edge usage cases seamlessly.

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