Editor’s Road Notebook: Epson ISV Conference 2018

There are very few conferences built specifically for ISVs and one of them just took place. Epson held its third annual ISV conference in Nashville, TN earlier this month. As one of only two publications in attendance, I had a front row seat for the event designed to 1) educate Epson’s ISV partners on new opportunities in the market and 2) to present a chance for ISVs and Epson’s team to network and collaborate.

Over the course of the two-day event, I took a lot of notes. Following are highlights from my notebook:

  • Linda Sudderth, North America Sales Manager, Business Systems for EPSON America kicked off the event with a welcome message that set the tone. “We’re seeking long-term partnerships and collaboration. We’re here these couple days to learn from one another.”
  • Greg Buzek, president of IHL, gave a data-filled keynote on the state of retail:
    • Mainstream reports of the demise of retail are wrong
    • IHL polled 1803 retailers in 10 segments
    • Overall, sales are up $142.6 billion through 9 months
    • Online sales are up 11%
    • 10,168 store closures, but 14,248 opens (+4,080 net stores opening)
    • Departments stores are struggling the most
    • Over-expansion, outdated business models, and private equity firms getting involved are causing the trouble in retail
  • Buzek on IT spending in retail:
    • Amazon spends $15 billion on IT innovation — more than all others combined
    • Top CIOs say they need an 87% to 237% increase in IT spending/innovation to effectively compete with Amazon. However, they are, on average, only getting a 4.7% increase
  • Buzek on Amazon: Question retailers need to ask, is Amazon a competitor or a partner? 55% of all commerce starts at Amazon. 82% of incomes >$112k have a Prime membership
  • Buzek’s advice for building retail applications:
    • Consumers used to have to shop, now they have to want to shop. Retail must be an experience
    • Transform the experience, remove friction, and reduce time wasted
    • Disney hires cast members. People go to stores for expertise and knowledge, not just product
    • Building apps for retail? Don’t bother unless you’re factoring in the user experience and other needs of this evolving market
    • You are either at the table of unique commerce or you are on the menu
  • Buzek nugget: Retailers don’t have to beat Amazon, just outrun their slowest competitor
  • Mark Matthews, VP commercial product management for Epson gave a quick corporate overview:
    • Epson is strong and growing. $9.1 billion in revenue, with high profit and cash in the bank to invest back into the business
    • Epson is #16 in US patents
    • Epson’s main focus of growth is in industrial and commercial, not consumer sector
    • Epson wants to be #1 or #2 in market share within all markets they go after
    • Promises partners to go the extra mile to ensure long-lasting profitable relationships
  • Case study on BERG Liquor Control system
    • Collaboration between BERG (RFID pour spouts that control pours) and Epson OmniLink
    • Benefits:
      • Enhanced customer experience
      • Consistent drinks and cocktails
      • Portion control – inventory control and cash management
      • Speed of delivery – place order on mobile device and drink is made immediately
      • With OmniLink, BERG is now POS-agnostic
Editor’s Analysis

Overall, Buzek’s research paints a much rosier picture of retail than the mainstream media does. His analysis is that over-expansion, the failing department store model, and private equity getting involved have led to store closing and some poor performing big names in retail. However, he’s seeing a net increase in store openings. I should add that his analysis is conservative, not including mom and pops and other specialty retailers such as cell phone stores (due to lack of clarity on the ownership structure of the stores).

His advice is clear — retailers must emphasize the customer experience by leveraging technology. ISVs should focus on enabling retailers to compete with Amazon by including experience-focused functionality.

Case studies shared on stage were great and highlighted a couple key points for ISVs in attendance:

  1. Epson’s OmniLink can make a solution POS-agnostic. One ISV shared that they have one product that they’ve taken a decade building integrations to nearly 100 other systems. With OmniLink, they can quickly work with any system.
  2. Epson’s team is dedicated to working with ISVs to make OmniLink work for them. Epson has a team in Canada that’s focused on squeezing more features, functionality, and power out of the OmniLink platform, including OMS (OmniLink Merchant Services), the cloud portal where all kinds of magic can happen for applications you build.

The second day of the event included Epson sharing a product road map that includes new versions of its OmniLink T88VI printer. An “I” version will give the intelligent POS printer peripheral hub characteristics, supporting four USB devices, more Flash storage, and includes a Web server.

Another new printer (still about a year out) is an OmniLink DTZ that will provide a major overhaul to the PC specifications of the printer. Epson states that ISVs have asked for more options when it comes to memory, storage, and modules, and this printer will be the answer. It will be powerful enough to run Windows 10 (as an option) and can be used to run POS, digital signage, and more.

Overall, ISVs must have left this conference excited about Epson’s willingness to partner on deeper levels and the company’s commitment to enhancing the OmniLink solution set. During a closing roundtable discussion with Epson executives, one ISV attendee said it best:

“We partner with Epson because you are responsive, your products are well-built and reliable, you have a commanding market share. Many companies preach agnosticism, but don’t practice it. I’ve seen firsthand that Epson embraces agnosticism, which makes it simple for us to deliver and implement our solutions. This could be the most beneficial partnership we have.” 

Datacap Systems
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The former owner of a software development company and having more than a decade of experience writing for B2B IT solution providers, Mike is co-founder of DevPro Journal.