Arguably, two of the most iconic examples of digital transformation are Kodak and Amazon. Kodak failed to keep with the times, leading to the demise of a once dominant commercial empire. Amazon, however, had the foresight to not just “stay in its lane,” but step out and shape the world’s digital infrastructure with AWS.
Now, Lexmark, is taking note of Kodak’s failure and Amazon’s success and piloting into its own. Founded in 1991 and headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky, Lexmark can be described as a leading provider of hardware, service, solutions and security.
Moving beyond printers, supplies and accessories — which is how Lexmark first made a name for itself — the company’s current motto seems to be “Print, secure and manage your information.” In 2022, Lexmark lists Print and Capture as just two of its solutions, which also include Cloud, Security and IoT. The Lexmark Optra IoT Platform, unveiled September, is featured prominently on the company’s site.
Today, the company is unveiling Optra Edge, the latest addition to its Optra IoT solutions portfolio. Vishal Gupta, Lexmark’s senior VP of connected technology, CTO and CIO, says the company’s new tools and move into IoT are just the beginning.
Lexmark’s foray into IoT
Gupta is a seasoned executive with stints at the likes of Unisys, Symantec and Cisco, where he played a key role in the company’s IoT efforts. Gupta added some color to Lexmark president and CEO Allen Waugerman’s description of why and how the company is expanding to the IoT space.
Lexmark has been doing work 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 more than 120 IoT sensors, used as part of the managed print service, which includes millions of printers. For each printer, these sensors monitor hundreds of data points including alerts, internal diagnostics and the device’s inner workings.
This has enabled Lexmark to optimize the performance of its printer ecosystem and achieve great results, such as resolving 70% of customer device support issues remotely; increasing profitability by 25% via optimized utilization; and improving engineering efficiency by 30%. This also enabled the company to add new as-a-service offerings to achieve a 40% increase in contractual or recurring revenue.
Gupta referred to predictive maintenance for Lexmark’s 800 large enterprise customers, citing 95% success rate in predicting when a problem will happen. This, he said, has enabled the company to minimize the impact of supply chain disruption by applying what they call “smart refresh.”
The idea is simple: applying targeted fixes to device components before they break down and need replacement. That works by combining real-time and historical data from many sources to create machine learning (ML) models. The result is minimizing downtime and extending the device’s lifetime, almost by 25%, according to Gupta. Lexmark aimed to apply smart refresh to 50% of its managed devices fleet, but ended up accomplishing it for 80%.
In other words, Lexmark has experience at scale with managing and getting results from hundreds of millions of sensors. This makes Lexmark an outlier, as 84% of companies working on IoT are stuck in pilot mode, according to McKinsey.
That was the thinking behind releasing the Lexmark Optra IoT platform: to productize Lexmark’s successful foray into IoT for others to use. The platform, built on top of Microsoft Azure IoT Hub, was meant to provide two types of capabilities to users. First, to enable using 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 out-of-the-box models as needed, there is a no-code environment, as well as the ability to tinker with the code. Python, data science notebooks and all widely used ML frameworks are supported, said Gupta.
Out-of-the=box models can cut 70% to 80% of the time it would normally take for users to go to production, as per Gupta’s estimate. Initially, the focus is on manufacturing, which is what Lexmark has built its expertise on as a manufacturer. However, Lexmark wants to expand to other verticals as well, starting with retail and logistics.
Lexmark’s Optra Edge
Optra IoT platform sets up the infrastructure for IoT applications. It connects devices, including non-IoT enabled devices via open protocols such as Lorawan or MQTT, sets up data pipelines and facilitates training ML models to power applications such as predictive maintenance or defect identification.
The cloud works well as the infrastructure for this. But when it comes to deploying and running those applications, the cloud isn’t always a great choice for many reasons: availability, latency, security and compliance. Connections to the cloud may not always be available or fast enough for the task at hand, and some data may not be allowed to leave the place where it’s generated.
Optra Edge is designed to enable the execution of applications closer to the point of data generation at the edge without necessitating the transfer of data to the cloud. The launch of Optra Edge comes as spending on edge is forecast to reach nearly $274 billion in 2025, according to IDC.
Optra Edge differs from Optra IoT significantly. Optra IoT is a software platform, with Lexmark touting its capability to work with whatever hardware customers are using. Optra Edge, however, is a vertically integrated solution, combining software, hardware and management. This makes sense, as 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 Optra Edge. Those devices have been in use in production in large numbers, with a partner in a retail use case, he said. Those devices can process input from any camera that is compliant with the RTSP protocol and they come in two flavors.
The first type of Optra Vision devices is more targeted towards camera recordings and analysis, while the other one is geared towards visual detection. They are built on top of Nvidia chips that provide high-end processing and are certified by Microsoft. .
Gupta referred to specific outcomes from areas such as retail, where retailers were able to create a more interesting environment in the stores, while Lexmark’s partners created a new revenue stream. In manufacturing, ML-powered visual inspection resulted in a 40% improvement in inspection speed, 99% reduction in errors and can break even in terms of investment within three months, as per Gupta.
Lexmark works with a wide-ranging network of partners, which includes startups working on domain-specific applications, to Microsoft, which helps in go-to-market efforts. The goal for Optra Edge is to grow to at least 50 use cases until the end of 2022 and to seamlessly integrate cloud and edge use cases.
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