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Bob Burnett of Brother International Corporation: “Facilitating a Dispersed Workforce”

Facilitating a Dispersed Workforce — A digitally transformed company has the technology and resources available to allow their employees to work from any Internet-connected location. We know that dispersed workforces are likely here to stay, so companies must be in a place to support this working style successfully and at a high level. Digital Transformation, including the […]

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Facilitating a Dispersed Workforce — A digitally transformed company has the technology and resources available to allow their employees to work from any Internet-connected location. We know that dispersed workforces are likely here to stay, so companies must be in a place to support this working style successfully and at a high level. Digital Transformation, including the implementation of cloud and mobile technologies, makes working from diverse locations less cumbersome, allowing for work flexibility while maintaining output levels.


As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bob Burnett.

As the Director of B2B Solutions Deployment and Planning at Brother International Corporation, Bob leverages his decades of business technology experience to lead Brother’s teams of field engineers and business analysts. He also partners with enterprises across the United States to collaborate on their unique document-imaging and workflow requests. Ultimately, Bob helps Brother’s customers simplify company-specific business processes while maximizing cost efficiency and security.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I started out my career in the Office Equipment Industry with an Office Supply/ Equipment dealer while I was still attending Highschool. At the time I was part of a career / work experience program associated with school and their electronics & science education classes. At the dealer my primary responsibilities were within the office equipment area, but I also gained experience in the office furniture and stationary business. After working for a dealer for several years (while continuing my education) I had the opportunity to join a large electronics manufacture. I was in their office equipment division where I managed their engineering teams. Twenty-one years ago, I joined Brother where I have been in the Business Machine Group in various roles and I am currently the director of B2B Solutions Deployment, Product Planning & Marketing. So fast forward forty years to today I have seen a lot of changes in the industry, but the core constant remains the same and that people and the level of support you provide your customer is what makes the difference.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Over the years there have been many leaders that I am grateful to have played roles of teacher, mentor, champion and most importantly friend to me, so I do not want to single out just one person. There have been many people both in and out of work and they have all played important parts in my personal and career development. My recommendation is to always seek out leaders that can offer diverse and well-informed advice and are willing to help guide and teach in your journey.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Two of my favorite movies are Patton and Apollo 13. I know Patton comes with some controversy but the common take away for me in both movies are leadership along with the ability to assess and adapt / develop a plan to get a goal accomplished. This is the same for business. Often when you set a plan to achieve a goal there is usually a curve ball thrown at you that you did not initially plan for. You need to continually evaluate and adjust to be successful.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

The origin of Brother traces to 1908 when Kanekichi Yasui established a sewing equipment repair business in Nagoya, Japan. His sons, the Yasui brothers, built on that heritage with a passion for quality and a spirit of independent development and launched the Brother brand in 1928. In the 1950s, Brother expanded globally. With a legacy spanning over a century, Brother continues to pursue growth and new challenges, while advancing ideas, businesses, and communities forward.

Brother’s mission is to live our “at your side” promise and simplify and enrich the lives of our customers, employees, and communities. It’s our guiding philosophy, and put simply, “at your side” is more than a motto for us; it’s the purpose we do our best to fulfill every day. For our customers, we build long-term relationships, focused on placing customers first, everywhere, every time. For our employees, we follow a set of shared values that provide an ethical compass for our business and to provide an environment where everyone feels valued by respecting individual differences and welcoming diverse perspectives. And for our communities, we are dedicated to being a good corporate citizen and demonstrate social responsibility in many ways, including corporate volunteering, donations, community outreach, charitable events, and environmental support & activities.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

The world changed in 2020. Not only how we live but how we work has changed permanently. Many trends were already occurring but with the pandemic many of these trends accelerated. These include a larger percentage of the workforce doing their job from home and for essential companies / organizations it was about keeping their employees safe while they were on the job.

To support these changes, we currently have and are working on additional solutions / technology that support the work anywhere approach to business and how to right size the technology stack for the business needs of now and the future. It is critical to have innovative solutions that support business continuity, security and efficacy in the new business workflow. I am excited about our future products and technology that will help work become more flexible and efficient and help reduce the anxiety from the blurred lines between work and home.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?

Digital Transformation is a process in which companies find ways to become more efficient and adaptable, which helps them thrive in a changing world or evolving business market. It allows companies to be flexible about how they conduct business, so they are able to make adjustments in times of disruption. Engaging in Digital Transformation can be about solving a specific problem that’s already been located or more generally identifying and improving process inefficiencies through the use of technology.

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?

Any organization can benefit from Digital Transformation. As we’ve learned so well in the past year, the best laid plans can be tossed out the window when unforeseen circumstances arise. Businesses that have undergone, or at least begun, the process of Digital Transformation are able to weather storms more easily because technology allows them to be more flexible in their work. Think about the companies that were able to pivot their working styles seamlessly at the onset of the pandemic. They had the technological apparatus already in place to make those adjustments, making them less susceptible to disruption, which is something that every organization should strive for.

In addition, Digital Transformation helps identify ways companies can be more efficient, which is something that benefits all organizations. Digital Transformation can help remedy bottlenecks in work processes with the use of technology to get more done in a shorter amount of time. For example, automation can help improve workflow by offloading lower-level tasks to machines. We see this in our own work with enterprise customers who rely on automation technology to ensure the precision of data being transported from forms to databases or other storage locations. Removing the human element streamlines the process by making sure the correct data is copied over the first time.

We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.

One aspect of our Digital Transformation work with other organizations is helping them make the transition to digital documents. We provide scanning devices and technology that result in better document management, holding them safely, in the right location, and within reach for the appropriate parties. In addition to helping with document storage, digitization also gives employees the flexibility to work from a variety of locations because a digital document can be amended from virtually any location, as long as the user has access to the cloud or the document is stored locally on the device. Helping organizations with their document processing allows them to work more efficiently and with greater ability to do so remotely, which is increasingly important in today’s work environment.

One example of this is a customer in the retail business with locations all over the country. The nature of this business is often a higher turnover in employees. Every time they hired a new employee they would make copies of all the necessary employee paperwork and express mail the documents back to headquarters for processing. This was a time consuming and expensive process that also had a security and human error risk. We delivered a solution to this customer with a network connected device that supported scanning directly to a network folder and we added the additional level of customization by deploying a shortcut button configuration to the user interface so with the press of one button all the original documents are scanned and sent to the correct secure folder at headquarters. This increased efficiencies while improving security and reduced the human error factor of sending sensitive information to the wrong location with the bonus of all the cost and time savings.

Another way we assist organizations with Digital Transformation is by helping them manage costs. Putting in place technologies that allow companies to monitor their print outputs and usage gives them the power to better control print spending. In addition, managed print services (MPS) programs oversee supply replenishment and device upkeep, which can help keep costs in check. In this way, our work with enterprises on Digital Transformation is helping them gain control over their print spend to make each dollar work more efficiently.

Print is always last on the list for busy IT professionals. Over the years we have had many customers that were either over spending on underutilized devices or they had so many different devices in their fleet that they could not keep track of all of them. Add to that all the cost of the various supplies and more too often they had supplies still sitting on a shelf for machines they no longer even had. This issue becomes even more critical as businesses are managing what their post pandemic needs are and what technology is required. For example, do they still need a large copier that is most likely underutilized that they are paying a lot for? With an MPS program combined with a proper workflow evaluation we have helped many organizations properly size their fleet with device standardization and monitoring that is distributed close to the office workgroups versus a large centralized device. As part on a full evaluation and MPS plan our teams also consider the corporate work from home user to have a complete plan for a customer’s printing and document needs. The investments made through standardization and proper sizing along with improved workflow and better supply management have enabled our customers to see ROI in a year or less.

Finally, in terms of security, we help organizations employ technology to better protect their data. For example, we offer security solutions such as pull-printing, which keeps the document on the device until the user is physically at the device and able to confirm their identity, at which time the document is able to print. This helps ensure that others are not able to steal the hard copy document and access the information printed on it. In addition, we offer and even customize a variety of solutions for our customers that prioritize security at the network, device, and document levels.

All too often we find that many of our customers do not have a document security strategy for their print and scan devices. I cannot count the number of times I have visited customer locations and while walking past a printer there were documents sitting in the output tray or next to the machine or when viewing a machine on their network the default password is still being used. These are often-overlooked risk to the business both internal and external when sensitive printed information is left out in the open for anyone to see or machine settings can easily be accessed by someone who is not authorized. We have worked with many of our customers to develop a strategy to secure who can access a machine and what features, what solutions can be used to secure a document and the workflow and finally making sure that device is secure on the network. The final and most important security item is to educate employees on best practices for a secure document workflow.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

Change management is one of the biggest challenges to Digital Transformation. It is human nature to have concerns over change. Changes to entrenched process within an organization are often met with resistance. It is critical to any technology rollout that there is also a plan for training and to get buy in from key leaders within a group or organization. You need to communicate the benefits to the business and how a transformation in workflow will free resources up to do more productive activities for the business. As part of digital transformation plan we work with our customers to understand their business goals and the necessary workflows required to achieve their goals. We assist them where necessary to help them communicate the changes and the value the change represent to the organization. Just dropping new technology or workflow on employees without the proper preparation and communication has the increased potential for low adoption and failure.

Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Facilitating a Dispersed Workforce — A digitally transformed company has the technology and resources available to allow their employees to work from any Internet-connected location. We know that dispersed workforces are likely here to stay, so companies must be in a place to support this working style successfully and at a high level. Digital Transformation, including the implementation of cloud and mobile technologies, makes working from diverse locations less cumbersome, allowing for work flexibility while maintaining output levels.

For example, office reopening is a perfect opportunity to take steps down the road of Digital Transformation, as companies will need to adjust to yet another new way of doing business: one in which employees can be co-located or remote on any given day. With the workforce most likely adopting a hybrid model moving forward, being able to save documents to the cloud at home and print those saved documents directly from the cloud on the corporate office printer helps create cohesion between the home office and corporate office by simplifying operations. We expect that these technologies will become even more widely adopted as organizations need to find new ways to make the hybrid model work for both them and their employees.

The return to the office transformation can also include changes to the office layout. One tactic we’re recommending to our customers is a balanced deployment approach to printing. A balanced deployment approach involves utilizing more printers in order to lower the number of employees at each device, which can help with social distancing guidelines that will most likely still be in effect when employees begin coming into the office on a semi-regular basis. Going hand-in-hand with balanced deployment is the implementation of mobile technologies that minimize device contact, which can increase peace of mind for employees wary of touching common surfaces. As the return to the office gets closer, Digital Transformation can help organizations make the transition with myriad technologies designed to make the re-entry, and the maintenance of a hybrid workforce, more successful.

Improving Employee and Company Efficiency — Digital Transformation allows organizations to recognize productivity snags. Once identified, companies can improve those process issues to accomplish goals. Whether that be through better document workflow, automation, or the application of other technologies, finding new ways to do things ultimately allows the company to be more productive and therefore more profitable. In addition, through the use of these new technologies, employees can work smarter and faster, making them more successful as well.

At Brother, we have an entire team dedicated to crafting unique solutions for our customers to help them meet their needs. Our team can audit an organization’s print infrastructure to locate the places that need improvement in order to enhance workflow efficiency and create solutions that can best address the issue.

Overcoming Disruption — Organizations that are able to pivot are those that are best positioned to survive. Digital Transformation allows companies to change, adapt, and find better ways of doing business. This ultimately provides insulation from the impact of major disruptive events, which benefits employees as well. A common theme around Digital Transformation is that it is not a once-and-done process. As times change and technology improves, companies continue to adapt. This readiness and ability to modify technology and processes makes enacting change due to unforeseen circumstances easier and can protect companies from the worst effects.

For example, our Digital Transformation at Brother allowed us to minimize the effects of the pandemic on our business. We were able to move our office employees rapidly to remote work and were even able to boost the amount of interaction we had with our channel partners by converting all of our meetings to an online format. Because we had the technological foundation in place to swiftly enact these changes, we were able to carry on with our operations despite the challenges brought about by COVID-19. Digital Transformation acted as the foundation for our ability to manage the changes instigated by the pandemic, and it can be helpful for other organizations as well when different challenges arise.

Managing Costs — Digital Transformation can also help companies manage their costs more effectively. There are a variety of technologies accessible that can monitor how devices and their corresponding equipment are being used. It is important that companies use their funds efficiently so they can put them to work in the best way possible to benefit their long-term goals. Wasting money is antithetical to that that process, and Digital Transformation is an important tool that can help ensure that funds are not being spent in ways that don’t maximize the benefit for the organization.

With digital transformation there can be so many cost benefits to an organization both hard and soft that the return on investment can quickly be realized. Having a complete evaluation of document processes and overall workflows are important especially as new ways of working have accelerated to the forefront due to the pandemic. We have continued to work with our customers during these difficult times to develop new strategies for their business processes and technology needs. The savings of putting a digital transformation plan in place vs. the processes and technology they currently have can quickly pay for the new technology investment.

Improving Security — Security breaches are intensely detrimental to organizations — that is no secret. But, Digital Transformation can be a perfect opportunity to evaluate current security technology and practices company-wide. Taking the time for a top-to-bottom look at security for the organization can mean the difference between spotting a vulnerability and addressing it or being the victim of a cyberattack. By using the Digital Transformation process as a way of shoring up defenses, companies can improve their security and take their company to the next level with the confidence that they are better positioned to protect themselves from threats.

In our work, we’re always championing a hard look at printer security because print devices are often overlooked when it comes to the risks they pose to organizations. As machines that are often connected to the internet, they can be breached the same as any other device, yet they are not treated with the same level scrutiny. A truly comprehensive look at security as part of Digital Transformation efforts evaluates all Internet of Things devices and addresses any security weak spots, taking steps to secure them against threats.

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

This really comes back to the idea that Digital Transformation is a cyclical process. In order to create a culture of innovation, organizations should always be looking for new ways to better serve customers and avoid complacency as much as possible. This creates a mindset within the company that there is room to improve and get better, which can help foster the growth of ideas and creativity.

At Brother, we have the “At Your Side” motto for our customers and partners. This means that we are always striving to better support those that choose to do business with us. This problem-solving mindset and focus on continuously improving to better serve have allowed us to be innovative and create new ways to serve these groups, whether that be in the form of a Partner Marketing Portal or solutions to help companies adapt to pandemic challenges.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

In business and in life it is important to listen more than you speak, one mouth and two ears. People will usually provide you all the keys you need to help them solve a problem. All you need to do is take the time to listen first.

How can our readers further follow your work?

I am a regular contributor to Business 2 Community, where I write articles on IT and technology topics. My contributor profile can be found here.

I also frequently share my articles on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bob-burnett.

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