The Voice & the Guardian

At Canon Solutions America, the customer isn’t just right—they’re also innovators

As the eternal saying goes, the customer is always right. But Canon Solutions America takes the saying one—or many steps—further. The customer isn’t merely right. They’re instrumental to organizational development. Just ask Pete Kowalczuk, the company’s current president, who was promoted from executive vice president of enterprise services and solutions in January 2018.

Pete Kowalczuk Canon Solutions America
Pete Kowalczuk, Canon Solutions America

Kowalczuk joined Canon Solutions America in 1984, when the small subsidiary he worked at, Ambassador Office Equipment, was bought by Canon, along with three other dealerships. To this day, they function together as Canon Solutions America, Canon’s business-to-business sales organization that services, sells, and supports a range of document-imaging hardware products and software solutions created by the company. Those include Therefore, IRIS, and uniFLOW, among others.

Canon Solutions America also brings in third-party software solutions to help round out its portfolio and address various customer needs. The printers, scanners, fax machines, hardware, and other products range anywhere from $2,000 to several million dollars.

So, there’s the surface-level financial relationship between Canon Solutions America and its customers: the subsidiary sells equipment and is responsible for its upkeep via an ever-evolving break/fix service. Thus, it benefits Canon Solutions America to do right by its clients.

“The better we do, the better measurable key performance indicators we can offer,” Kowalczuk says. “It allows us to be more proactive in how we approach our customers, which allows us to be more productive.”

But the bedrock of Canon Solutions America’s ethos goes beyond simply being transactional. As Kowalczuk explains, the company’s goal is to be both the voice and the guardian of the customer.

“When you think about it from a voice perspective, you have technology and needs that are constantly changing for our customers,” Kowalczuk says. “We’re the tip of the spear. We’re the first line to the interaction with our customers and getting their feedback—understanding what they need, what they want, what our products do well, what they could do better.”

Once Canon Solutions America has the appropriate information from a customer—whether it’s feedback about an existing product or something brand-new they’d like to see—it gets sent to Canon’s research and development (R&D) organizations in Japan, Netherlands, and Germany. From there, R&D reaches out to customers for more feedback and then uses it to improve the current product line.

“We push a lot of updates for software and so on through our current products,” Kowalczuk says. “We don’t just wait for the next generation of product to come out to improve. We’ll take customer feedback and improve it as we go. More importantly, we’ll use the information about our technology and what the hopes are for the customer to improve our product line long-term and come out with new products. That’s how we become the voice of our customer.”

In terms of guardianship, Canon Solutions America has strived to protect its customers at all costs, especially as security threats have evolved and become more Byzantine since Kowalczuk arrived at the company.

“Security is the be-all and end-all right now,” Kowalczuk says. “At one point, seemingly no one cared about it. Then there was a news report that came out and everyone worried about the data on multifunction device hard drives, so we were very proactive in providing a number of different options. We also provide a white paper about hard drive encryption, so people fully comprehended how we went above and beyond what the industry was doing at the time. We also offered a number of alternate ways to get rid of the hard drive.”

To put it bluntly, times have changed. “Those were the simple times,” Kowalczuk recalls with a laugh. Now, due to the increased complexity and likelihood of data breaches, Canon Solutions America educates its customers on the five pillars of security it offers and how those offerings help to mitigate security risks.

“It depends how much they want to get involved—how much they believe security’s going to impact their business,” Kowalczuk says. “Obviously, when we get to larger customers and get involved with documents that are much more sensitive, security becomes a bigger issue. We have a multitude of software products that are both Canon-owned, such as uniFLOW, which helps protect customer prints by requiring someone to badge in or authenticate the device. Unless you badge in, you can’t print from those devices. That helps prevent confidential information sitting out on a printer or multifunctional device. We educate from that perspective.”

In addition to Canon-owned and developed products, Canon Solutions America offers several third-party solutions for added protection, including Vera, which focuses on cloud-based data security, as well as Box, which comes with a fireproof system of information governance.

“Governance is a key element to security,” Kowalczuk says. “Customers want the ability to demonstrate who touched that document, who saw that document, and who had access to it.”

Finally, Canon Solutions America has an alliance with a cybersecurity firm that it can refer its customers to if they want even more protection and options, which results in more guardianship. But Kowalczuk is hesitant to take credit for that initiative. As with just about everything at Canon Solutions America, the idea started with the customer.

“They’re telling us that this is what we need to embrace even further,” Kowalczuk says. “We’ve been taking it to the next degree because, from our enterprise services and solutions production customer council, we learned that some of our commercial print customers have evolved into transpromotional printing or commercial printing or medical printing. We sat in a production council meeting with them for three days and they kept coming back to us, ‘We want to get into medical printing. We want to get into financial printing. How do we get there?’ That’s why we have the cybersecurity specialist relationship.”

As for the future, the constantly evolving technological landscape makes it difficult to predict where the industry will go regarding both products and cybersecurity. But whatever happens, Canon Solutions America will be ready.

“The good part about Canon overall is that we’re always investing in technology,” Kowalczuk says. “We’ve been a top five patent holder in the US for a long time. And with me stepping into this role, I’m excited to drive an agenda even more focused on our customers and our employees. That’s the root of our success. We’re going to continue listening to our customers.”

Photo: Canon Solutions America

Empowering Women in Leadership

At Canon Solutions America, Pete Kowalczuk’s work goes beyond helping its products and customers grow. Several years ago, the president of Canon USA’s customer service organization started Women In Leadership Levels. When Kowalczuk was asked to join, he gladly agreed.

“It’s been an excellent program for us as we expand and create more committees focused on providing women more opportunities to grow and develop,” Kowalczuk says. “One of the key programs that I was a chairman of is the Women In Leadership Levels mentoring program. We’re now in our third year and have enjoyed a lot of great success.”