Lexmark Internationals decision earlier this year to shutter its inkjet printer operations and lay off 550 Lexington workers might have surprised some, but it was mounting evidence of a business in transition.
For the past several years, the Lexington-based printer maker has been in the midst of changing strategies and made five key acquisitions since 2010 designed to take the company further from its roots only in printers and more into computer software and services.
Its part of a trend of printer companies working to make themselves invaluable to businesses by getting more involved in the flow of information, regardless of whether it ever shows up on a printed page.
For some of Lexingtons operations that have been rooted more in Lexmarks past, it meant a painful contraction, but the companys leaders say its a necessity to evolve and stay strong.
Difficult decisions need to be made, said executive vice president Marty Canning. So we made the decision to walk away from the ink-jet technology.
A look back
Change has been a constant at Lexmark since it was spun off from IBM in 1991.
CEO Paul Rooke, who has worked for the company since it was a division of Big Blue , recalled how the majority of Lexmarks first product line was dot-matrix printers.
The technologies are going to ebb and flow, he said, noting how the company expanded into a broadened line of laser printers and then inkjet printers aimed at home consumers.
The company had success with inkjet for an extended period as it created all-in-one home printers that offered scanning, copying and faxing functions. Demand soared for its cartridges, so much so that it expanded manufacturing in Lexington and built plants in foreign countries.
The company hasnt manufactured any products in Lexington since 2004. Instead, operations here have focused on continued research and development, as well as corporate work like marketing and sales.
In the mid- to late 2000s, the companys inkjet operations began a steady decline as consumers werent buying enough ink to meet profit expectations. Like the business model for razors and blades, inkjet printers were often sold at a loss with the expectation that future ink sales would provide enough profits.
A few years ago, the company refocused its inkjet printing technology for businesses, which have long been at the core of its laser printer offerings. But executives decided earlier this year that the sales potential in business inkjets wasnt enough to justify the costs.
Laser was clearly a better play for us in serving customers, Canning said.
Focused on businesses
While business-focused inkjets faltered, the companys other focuses on business customers grew.
The company has long tailored its laser printers to businesses. It helped pharmacies print on pill bottles. Its products helped retailers print the tags you see on product shelves.
Over the past decade, the company has focused on managed print services. The concept is exactly like it sounds: Lexmark manages companies printing by choosing the most efficient printer setups and shipping more toner as needed.
Among its customers is American Signature Furniture, which operates more than 125 furniture stores under names such as Value City Furniture.
Lexmark helped us bring color printing to our stores, said Chuck Cook, manager of technical services. We print most of our signage in the store now at quite a savings versus going to FedEx or Kinkos to do that.
Thats been a huge help to us.
The stores also use printers with scanning functions to handle anything at the store level that needs to come back to the corporate headquarters as opposed to faxing or mail ing back, he said.
Over the past few years, Lexmarks acquisitions of software companies has led it even further into its customers business operations.
The moves began in June 2010, when Lexmark acquired Kansas-based Perceptive Software, which specializes in what is called enterprise content management software.
Perceptive bills itself as providing content in context. It takes information in any number of ways a scanned document, perhaps, or a typed-in form and makes it accessible in a companys workflow.
Take, for example, AEG, a company that manages stadiums and arenas, as well as stages concerts and live events. Among the venues it manages is the KFC Yum Center in Louisville.
The company processes roughly 250,000 invoices annually, said Brandon Weiss, senior director of financial systems and process improvement. Before using Perceptive Software, AEG employees would mail paper invoices to various locations for the necessary approvals.
We were spending a lot of time and money mailing invoices, Weiss said, noting it took 42 to 45 days on average to pay them. The biggest issue in addition to taking a long time was we didnt even know if an invoice was in house.
It was a mess.
Not only could the company not take advantage of early-payment discounts, it also found itself paying late fees.
Now the Perceptive Software system makes scanned copies of the invoices available anywhere.
Were down to 14 days now, he said. Its a big difference. Not only does it reduce our payment times, but our vendors are much happier.
Lexmark continued to bolster its software offerings in 2011 with the purchase of Netherlands-based Pallas Athena. Earlier this year, it announced the acquisition of three other firms: Brainware, ISYS Search Software and Nolij.
The four companies, which are continuing to work from their existing locations, have been folded into Perceptive Software, said Scott Coons, Perceptives CEO. Perceptive has kept its headquarters in Shawnee, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City, Mo., and recently broke ground on new offices there.
Canning said the company has carefully chosen acquisitions that can benefit from Lexmarks existing operations.
For instance, while Lex-mark has a host of customers among large companies, those werent Perceptive Softwares traditional strong point. Perceptive, meanwhile, was popular among universities, but Lexmark was stronger with grade schools.
The acquisitions come as many companies are beginning to think more about their environmental footprint with some starting to print less. As the entire printer industry is maturing in terms of pages printed, companies including giant rivals HP and Xerox, both of which have a presence in Lexington, have turned increasingly to software to boost revenue and profits. It allows them to strengthen their hold on customers, who are finding the companies helpful in discovering efficiencies through what the industry refers to as solutions.
Canning equates the software acquisitions to building a bridge.
The software and solutions is the future, he said. It puts one leg squarely in the imaging marketplace, which is a huge marketplace still, and another leg in the high-growth services and solutions marketplace.
What that means to our customers is we can serve them regardless of whether theyre in a high-page-usage industry or low-page-usage industry. We can save them money through managed print services or we can help them automate their workflows and move it to a digital state.
Industry observers have historically said the biggest obstacle for Lexmark is its small size relative to its competitors.
The loss of inkjet magnifies that, said analyst Shan-non Cross of Cross Research.
It clearly makes Lexmark a smaller player, but hopefully it will make them a very focused company, she said. In a way it doesnt change that much because Lexmark wasnt focused that much on the inkjet side of the business anyway.
But its tough because theyll have to cover earnings that theyre losing on the inkjet side with profit from a more maturing color laser business.
Cross said her research shows companies are printing less and less. Lexmark executives acknowledge the decline but say they believe its temporary.
To grow, Lexmark will have to take (market) share, and thats difficult when youre fighting against much bigger players, Cross said.
Lexington going forward
So where does that leave Lexington operations, which have focused much of the companys research and development on printer hardware?
The company recently launched 42 new laser printers that Rooke, Lexmarks CEO, said shows the importance of the Lexington headquarters.
Those all came out of here, he said. Obviously we worked with partners, but the core technology came out of Lexington.
And the company employs numerous software engineers here who work on printer features that help save time and money for customers. Among the most popular of those is one that doesnt allow documents to be printed until workers wave identification badges to signify theyre actually at the printer. Say goodbye to printouts that never get picked up.
Coons said Perceptive Software has recently taken advantage of a lot of the great software skills here and assigned them to Perceptive-based projects.
Rooke emphasized that change is inevitable for the company.
As we move into the solutions space, its quite exciting, but it wont stay constant, either, he said. The things they will evolve into five, 10 or 15 years down the road will be quite different than what we have even today.
For any technology company to survive, you have to stay flexible and listen well. If you get tied to your past, that can be a real problem for your future.
Lexington, he said, represents both the past and the future.
Were making some significant investments in the Lexington site here, so were not going anywhere, he said. Were trying to update it to our current needs and make it a more attractive place to work.
At the same time, were making investments elsewhere in Kansas and other sites.
Lexmarks software acquisitions
Lexmark has acquired five software companies since 2010. To describe what each specializes in doing, the company offered the following examples of how the software could be utilized by a health care provider.
Perceptive Software: Everybodys probably experienced the situation where a doctor refers you somewhere else for a diagnostic test, said Ken Woodruff, Lexmarks health care industry director. Its like youre starting over. You have to give them your ID card, insurance card, contact information, medical history, etc.
Perceptives enterprise content management software allows organizations to capture documents once and then instantly pull them up elsewhere, he said. So if the diagnostic provider is part of the same organization, the software lets the documents bridge individual systems to be available elsewhere.
Pallas Athena: Consider the process of how health care providers deal with patient finances.
Youve got many steps in the process and many individuals involved taking care of various parts, Woodruff said.
To become more efficient, companies today might manually draw flowcharts showing each point in the workflow. Pallas Athenas process mining software examines the process electronically and automatically offers a pictorial view of how that process is working, he said.
You can see each step in the process and where the bottlenecks occur, he said.
Also, consider emergency rooms, he said. Other software from Pallas Athena would let hospitals understand wait times and how to reduce them.
Brainware: The Brainware software, which is now called Perceptive Intelligent Capture, automates what might have been a manual paper-intensive task. Consider the accounts payable department of a health care provider.
A typical hospital might be dealing with thousands of bills every month, all coming from many different suppliers, Woodruff said. What Perceptive Intelligent Capture is really good at is ... automating the process of scanning in invoices and automatically entering data into the system they use to pay the bills.
With that work automated, organizations can take advantage of early-payment discounts and avoid late fees.
ISYS Search: As doctors review your medical history, its likely your records are stored in many different systems. And what if your doctor wants to look up the latest medical research on the best treatment for your condition?
You may have one system that has all the lab results performed, Woodruff said. Another might contain other family history, and another may contain medical research articles.
ISYS software, which is now called Perceptive Search, automatically goes out and pulls information thats relevant from all these different systems and presents these to a user so they can very quickly see a complete picture.
In the case of a lab report, it could show youve already had a certain test so its time to try something different.
Nolij: Nolijs software is exclusive to higher education, so a health care example isnt available, Woodruff says. But among the features of its software is automatically matching data and uploading it to student information systems to eliminate data entry.
Scott Sloan: (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @HeraldLeaderBiz