I travelled to Hewlett Packard‘s UK HQ in Bracknell, Berkshire today for an update on its strategy concerning the architecture, engineering and construction sector. My previous interactions with the company included the 2010 launch of its ePrint & Share service supporting large format printers (see post) and I was hoping to hear about some significant developments regarding its cloud-based storage.
However, it was a touch disappointing. While it was good to meet up with some familiar faces (HP’s Phil Oakley spoke at the Be2Awards earlier this year, and I renewed contact with some journalist friends), I had been anticipating the release of an application programming interface, API, that would ultimately allow users of third-party online collaboration platforms (eg: 4Projects, Aconex, Asite, BIW, plus Autodesk’s Buzzsaw – post) to print and share drawings from these “private clouds” as well as from HP’s own online storage system. Certainly, in Copenhagen last year I understood that HP would be talking with third party vendors so that HP printer users might upload, scan and share drawings direct to their preferred platform provider.
However, some nine months later, it seems this is still on the “wish-list”. HP remains focused on small- and medium-sized businesses that need modest file-sharing facilities to share CAD files with fellow project team members. Professionals working for larger firms, or on larger projects, employing non-HP-hosted solutions “in the cloud” will not be able to use the new touchscreen interfaces of HP’s latest web-connected printers to collaborate with their colleagues – at least, not in the near future.
I looked more closely at the HP touchscreen and at the PC-based navigation to see how users might select which files they shared. If a user had access to numerous different files, choosing files from the touchscreen would involve a lot of scrolling and/or a good memory for the exact file name. The PC-based interface was better insofar as users had some search capabilities (they could search for files issued to them by date, or by particular users or companies, for example), but it fell short of the advanced search capabilities of existing SaaS-based solutions. I also asked about audit trail functionality (eg: who issued what to who, and who opened what file and when), and – again – provision remains limited, at least in comparison with SaaS collaboration systems.
HP seemed to regard email and FTP as the principal competitors to its cloud-based storage (despite SaaS-based solutions being around since the late 1990s). While this may be true for many SMEs, there will be many projects which have deployed various third-party online tools, from simple plan-room systems to sophisticated workflow and document collaboration services (and the above-mentioned main providers each have tens of thousands of end-users). With these, supply chain partners won’t (yet) be able to use HP’s printer touchscreen and forthcoming mobile device interfaces to print and share their files. HP’s marketing talks about the mobile, web-connected, collaborative world, but – at the moment – HP printer users are restricted to using HP hardware and related HP print services. Not really all that collaborative….