With new cloud technologies, Lexmark evolves printers into smart IoT machines

Printers tend not to be top of mind in the digital age, until you need that critical document or can’t ship an order without an invoice. When employees have printing issues and calls to the help desk spike, a robust print environment suddenly feels vital.

Lexmark, a global printing and imaging solutions leader, understands the importance. Based in Lexington, Kentucky, the company is transforming its printers and services with artificial intelligence, cloud technologies and an IoT (Internet of Things) platform to simplify and improve printing for customers. But first, Lexmark had to transform itself.

The organization underwent a massive digital renovation last year, with an upgrade to Windows 10 and migration to Microsoft Azure, Microsoft 365 and Dynamics 365. The move enabled Lexmark to reduce its IT expenses by 25 percent and the number of IT-related problems by 40 percent. It also affected the company’s entire 9,000-person workforce in 170 countries and all business operations, from sales to distribution to manufacturing.

“It was part of a strategy to enable our associates to be more collaborative and responsive, so we can deliver an excellent customer experience,” says Brad Clay, chief information and compliance officer at Lexmark. “We want to become a more agile organization and part of our vision statement is to develop customers for life.”

headshot of Brad Clay

Brad Clay, Lexmark chief information and compliance officer. (Photo by Mark Mahan, courtesy of Lexmark)

The new, streamlined technologies have helped Lexmark evolve its printers into smart,  IoT machines and deliver innovations like Cloud Print Infrastructure, a new subscription service for customers to pay for only what they print. So instead of buying and maintaining the physical infrastructure of printers and print servers, customers can now access a secure cloud print environment managed by Lexmark and powered by Azure. They can simplify IT complexity related to print.

“This is really moving print to that next level,” says Clay. “Our ability to leverage the Microsoft cloud allows us to deploy industry-leading offers at a price point that wasn’t possible before.”

Machine learning algorithms on Lexmark’s IoT platform can factor in a customer’s busy print times, such as the end of a quarter or start of a new year. They can predict maintenance before a printer needs repairs and calculate the right time to order more toner before a cartridge goes dry. Real-time data from connected printers will also feed into Lexmark’s Dynamics 365 connected field service solution, launching this year for intelligent, end-to-end customer service.

“It’s about making the digital thread – design, manufacturing, delivery, customer support – more complete and full-featured, and connecting the entire process for a customer,” says Clay. IoT data will also help Lexmark monitor the life cycle of its products to improve the design, manufacturing and deployment of new models.

A large part of Lexmark’s agility and productivity now stems from Microsoft Teams, a teamwork hub in Microsoft 365 that integrates chat, calls, video, meetings and file sharing. The app replaced a set of disconnected office tools that required Lexmark associates to constantly switch systems.

“We continuously ran into barriers and it became awkward,” says Sven Dellagnolo, Lexmark director of global sales enablement. “I would have to exit one environment and open another and presume the other person could do the same on their device. Then someone wasn’t on the right version, it would crash in their browser, or somebody’s login wasn’t working. Teams solved all of that.”

The app has strengthened collaboration for all groups at Lexmark but has been especially helpful for global teams like Dellagnolo’s that work across continents. Organized channels and archives help associates quickly catch up on workflows from different time zones. An embedded translation feature reduces language barriers between Lexmark teams in North America, Asia and Europe. With 50,000 meeting participants, 17,000 one-on-one calls and 4 million chat messages hosted in Teams each month, Lexmark has bolstered what Clay calls a “culture of empowerment.”

close-up of a badge swipe in front of a printer

Lexmark printer employee badge authentication.

“Tools like Teams help us become a faster learning organization and share what we learn to make us more productive,” he says.

For Lexmark, modern cloud technologies enhance the company’s long history of research and development, and deep understanding of customers, who range from small businesses to the largest global banks and retailers. The tools help deliver solutions that make life easier for Lexmark’s customers, from simplifying the IT of printers to enabling secure printouts with employee badge authentication.

“Purchasing Microsoft technology is beyond just operating efficiently for ourselves,” says Dellagnolo. “It really translates into how we solve our customers’ problems.”

Top photo: A Lexmark printer. All photos courtesy of Lexmark.