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Ricoh Targets Channel With Tablet, Digital Workflow Services

Best known for its printers, Ricoh is now getting into the tablet PC market with a device and back-end services designed to help organizations move from paper to digital workflow.


Ricoh on Wednesday unveiled a tablet PC and back-end digital workflow services that will be sold exclusively through channel partners.

The tablet, called eQuill, features a 9.7-inch black and white electronic ink display and captures data through stylus, camera, voice recorder or soft keyboard. It's about one-third of an inch in thickness, weighs about one pound and offers up to 20 hours of battery life.

From a hardware perspective, eQuill is all about digital workflow: It doesn't play movies, it doesn't have a Web browser and it doesn't have any ports. The only user interface buttons are Next Page, Previous Page and Submit.

But combined with Ricoh's eWriter Workflow Services, which include digital workflow, management and administration, the eQuill comes to life as a tool businesses can use to replace their paper-based clipboards and processes, said Ron Barr, vice president of marketing at Ricoh.

"Today when people solve problems with a paper-based workflow, they design a form, the form gets routed through the organization, and then into the document retention program. Ricoh replaces all that with an automated system that handles document routing," Barr said in an interview.

Ricoh is delivering eWriter Workflow Services from its own cloud, but later this year will offer a hosted version for companies that require this option.

The eQuill connects to Ricoh's services via built-in 3G or Wi-Fi. Once connected, users can send documents directly to the eQuill and access them while they're outside the office, and they can also have forms auto-fill on the server side as well as the clipboard. The back-end services include support for drop-down menus, text fields, check boxes, radio buttons and signature boxes, Barr said.

"Through a Web browser, administrators can take a PDF or Word document, upload to Ricoh's system, and we convert it into forms and automatically manage the propagation of that document throughout the organization," said Barr. "You can also assign an e-mail or URL to a tablet and have the form sent directly to it."

Ricoh believes any company that's still using paper in its processes can benefit from eQuill, but health-care and field services are the most logical early adopters, according to Barr. eQuill is locked down with hardware-enforced security so that only authorized applications can run, and administrators can disable and wipe content from the tablet remotely if it's lost or stolen.

"With the security we've built in, customers can be confident that all data they're working with is private and centrally managed," Barr said.

eQuill won't be sold through retail stores or online; it will only be available from certified Ricoh channel partners that meet the company's developer guidelines. To sell eQuill, partners must have workflow and document management experience, and at least one programmer with C# or PHP development skills, Barr said.

Ricoh is trying to jump start a development ecosystem around eQuill, and it's providing an API to allow anyone to access the low level guts of the system for integration purposes. "Our goal is to develop a range of applications that have back end integration into whatever system makes sense," said Barr. "We wanted something that would allow partners to create new applications and generate recurring revenue."

The eQuill was designed by Ricoh's new eWriter Solutions (EWS) business unit, whose team includes many former Apple employees. Kurt Piersol, CTO of Ricoh's EWS division and a former distinguished engineer at Apple, has been working on eQuill and eWriter Workflow Services for the past five years, Barr said.

Ricoh will begin taking orders for eQuill this month and plans to start shipping the tablet "this summer." Pricing will vary according to configuration, with entry level pricing starting at around $500 for the tablet and $30 per month for eWriter Workflow Services, with a three year commitment.

Ricoh also plans to sell eWriter Workflow Services directly to business and enterprise customers.

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