5Gby Ed McLaughlin, Innovolt

Have you ever made the statement “If I knew then what I know now, I would have … .”?  I know I have, and each time I was regretting not seeing changes that would impact something that would have altered the success of a situation.

5G trials are underway across the world, and early results tell us that consumers and enterprise will soon benefit from blazingly higher speeds and substantially reduced latency, but the biggest impact to change will not be in the obvious world of mobility. It will be in business processes. That is why you need to start getting prepared.

Let’s look at some of the impacts the new internet standard will have, and why it will transform print.

Cutting the Cord

The blazing speed of 5G has an obvious benefit for mobility, but the biggest impact will be with Fixed Wireless Access (FWA). This is not a new concept, but relatively impractical until 5G launches. This new standard with throughput speeds of 1Gbps and more and with latency as low as 1 ms will transform the need for fixed infrastructure. The promise of the cloud will finally be realized. If you are well along in the IT services area, let’s hope you have a great partner and haven’t tried to go it alone. The concept of paper in a business process will become too cumbersome and slow to even be considered. Does this mean no more print? No, but the priority of office print and its value will take another hit.

The only fixed line solution that could compete with 5G FWA would be a true fiber to the premise solution, and the cost to roll that out would be huge. Conclusion? Say goodbye to the cord.

Big Data Benefits

Our decision-making processes are fuelled by data. When properly used, the enormous amounts of information harvested from hardware and software can be tremendously powerful. It can create a true competitive advantage and lead to much higher efficiency. 

Big data, in fact, keeps growing. IDC tells us that the digital universe will reach 44 zettabytes by 2020 with each employee generating 1.7 megabytes of new data every second. This volume of data would be nearly impossible to harness with current standards, but with 5G, businesses will have the power they need to process and respond. This article titled “How Will Businesses Benefit From 5G’s Superfast Connectivity?” from 5G.co.uk explains:

“Vastly improved throughput will allow organizations to move huge volumes of data around quickly, minimizing disruption and downtime. Cloud-dependent employees can download files of all sizes without impacting resources – and rapidly too, meaning attention can be directed to more pressing tasks. It is also expected that 5G will be able to dynamically alter its uplink/downlink configuration dependent upon what business users are trying to do; meaning uplink-dependent businesses will not be disadvantaged.

“When data is available so quickly, it can be used to influence decisions more quickly – meaning businesses are able to react properly to fast-changing circumstances. This is relevant to most modern enterprises, but it’s especially pertinent in fields like trading, where low latency is essential.

“This kind of responsiveness will help companies better serve clients and customers, while also creating better collaboration opportunities with partners – domestically, but even more so globally.”

Relief on the Infrastructure 

All this increase in data creation and requirements for connectivity leave companies with two options: Leave things as they are and suffer the consequences of slowing everything down, or invest in handling the volume. 5G FWA has a significant advantage over on-premise fiber. Once an area is enabled with 5G FWA, any business can purchase a router from their provider. They simply place it in their offices, and they are off to the races. The move to the cloud will take off. This frees up space, speed and most of all budget. 

What Does All This Have to Do With Print?

Nearly everyone is finally in agreement that the decline in print volumes is permanent. It began around the year 2008. The drop off was only noticeable because we finally had a year without growth. Many felt that it was the impact of hard financial times and that it would bounce back when the economy picked up. The economy did, but the prints didn’t. What became obvious was that the financial conditions were only a catalyst to the decline that would have occurred anyway. It was the availability of a much faster internet standard (4G), and the introduction of a new mobile device, the iPhone. This new technology enabled a rapid deployment of faster, easier and less expensive processes. 5G has the ability to improve the network and process changing capability by a factor of 20X. To imagine that the business processes and information sharing that frequently use print will not be impacted is unwise, to say the least. When you factor in the change in print demographics, there is more room for concern. For example in 2008 the relationship in the office between mono to color prints was an astounding 100,000 to 1. Today the relationship of monochrome to color prints is down to 5 to 1. The growth curve is over.

So What Do We Do?

Well first of all, being forewarned is being forearmed. Start making meaningful changes in your business. Nearly every dealer that I speak with tells me that most, if not nearly all, are achieving the profit metric in the “model.” Either everyone is really, really good or the model is getting too easy. I’ll suggest the latter. Most dealers’ service departments are still registering around four calls per day per tech. We need to get better, much better. The old standards will hurt us moving forward. Find ways to automate as many processes as possible and look for call reduction methods. 

Become more account centric. I have been listening to dealers and OEMs go on about being in the services business for the past decade or more. The truth is that it has just been a way to dress up our transactional reward mechanisms and behavior. We get what we reward and we reward transactions. The consequence of this is an industry account retention rate of 80 percent for some, and 88 percent for a few. We don’t know our accounts. If we are not renewing at least 90 percent of our accounts in a mature industry we are going backward. The real benchmark should be closer to 95 percent. I have heard those defend this renewal rate saying that it doesn’t consider the new business we are developing. True enough, I’ll bet even money that some are doing 12 percent net new business, but I’d lay 5-2 odds that it is not at an equal or higher price point than what you lost. 

Learn how to partner. Most dealers like to go it alone; control their own environment. The bigger you become the more you begin to realize that is not a good use of your money, and will slow down your learning curve. Knowledge and understanding will be the competitive advantage in the faster moving new world, and customers will not wait for you to catch up. Find partners to work with, and help expand your services offerings. It will save you valuable resources, and allow for faster digestion of new methods and ideas. These are the real competitive advantages. This is particularly true in the new vogue of IT services. If these new standards are going to have an impact on print they will be even more disruptive to IT services. If you are standing alone facing even more capital investments without the scale to pay it back, you could be facing serious issues. Partner! Partner! Partner!

It is not the end of a business; it is the end of a method of doing business. If we prepare and position ourselves, future opportunities are even more rewarding than now. The big question is, do I have time? The answer is yes, but not much. 5G will start rolling out in about two years. Plan for full implementation in about five years. Are you ready? The changes that we have seen in recent years have been exciting and the ones around the corner are even more so.

At least now you can’t say, “If I only knew then what I know now!” 

Ed McLaughlin, Innovolt

This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of The Imaging Channel