The modern office depends on automation - photocopiers, printers, fax machines and the like. Besides creating a sociable environment for co-workers to chat and gossip around as they wait for their printouts or faxes, these machines make the most mundane of tasks simpler, and save vast amounts of time. Photocopiers not only make copies but also enlarge and reduce document sizes, sort and staple and print on both sides of the paper in colour. This is a far cry from the days of blotchy printouts in purple ink that no one could read. Office automation is a booming business and that is why there is an entire pavilion dedicated to advances in the industry at Asian IT Expo '97 when it opens tomorrow. One of the largest distributors of office automation equipment in the Asia-Pacific region and an exhibitor at the show is Inchcape Repromac Office Products. Based in Hong Kong with over - staff, the company serves the local market, China and Macau. In 1995, a branch office was established in Guangzhou to expand the business into southern China. The Guangzhou office services Konica customers within the mainland and takes orders for products in Hong Kong. Inchcape is known throughout the region for superior after-sales support. Care and servicing of office automation equipment is a major part of the business. Its joint-venture company, Nanjing Inchcape Repromac, was established in 1993 to provide sales, after-sales and marketing services for Konica office products. At this week's Asian IT Expo, Inchcape will be showcasing the Konica 7050 Digital Copier. While it may not be the mother of all digital photocopier/printers, it certainly comes close. The 7050 prints 51 copies per minute. This faster-than- a-bullet-train speed is possible because of Konica's twin- beam laser technology. Printing at 400 or 600 dots per inch (dpi), the 7050 prints 256 tonal gradations, ensuring documents meet the most demanding standards. The printer/copier supports a wide variety of network operating systems. Canon is also exhibiting, its newest line of printers. The BJC-4300 Series brings the latest printing technology to the home or small office. Utilising Drop Modulation Technology and Photo Ink, users can print in either crisp black text, or true photo-quality colour. The printers also come with an optional IS-22 Color Image Scanner Cartridge, also transforming the printer into a colour sheet-fed scanner. Another exhibitor, Hua Han Industrial, shows that office automation does not just mean printers and copiers. Representing Duplo of Japan, products such as the Digital Stencil Duplicator, Auto Collating and Booklet- making system and Auto Letter Inserter all come with leading edge designs that are also user-friendly. Another fascinating piece of technology that will change the way people use computers - and even the way business is conducted over the telephone - is speech recognition. One local company, InfoTalk, is a member of the Hong Kong Industrial Technology Centre's Business Incubation Programme, which is designed to help hi-tech start-up companies get on their feet. The team at InfoTalk has over a decade of experience in speech recognition technology and has recently launched VoiceTouch, the first over-the-telephone speech recognition system that understands continuous speech in Chinese and English. Continuous speech has been the goal of speech recognition software for several years. Speech recognition software used to force a speaker to leave brief pauses between each word, or what developers called 'discreet utterance' which made users of the software sound like robots. New technology now enables users to speak normally. VoiceTouch can be applied in many ways, from automated customer services, financial transactions, phone banking to voice-activated dialling and automatic call routing. VoiceTouch currently understands Cantonese, Putonghua and English. This is definitely 'wave of the future' stuff. As businesses continue to adopt these new technologies into their everyday work habits, people will be spending less and less time with the mundane and getting on with more important matters.