by Jon Hafey

Like most any nascent product or service, the gap between early adoption and user acceptance is narrowed through technology advancement. This maxim is certainly true in the case of managed print services (or MPS, as it is commonly known throughout the multifunction product sector).

With the capability to electronically capture an organization’s print output via meter readings, MPS began to take shape in 2000. As this technology evolves, service providers more efficiently and effectively secure user information that was previously cost-prohibitive to collect manually. Effective data collection facilitates the development of analytical and assessment tools, allowing for more in-depth cost analysis.

Securing such data informs MPS providers on the true cost of ownership for copy, print and fax devices, thereby assisting them in implementing more successful customer installations. This information additionally allows customers to make more informed decisions about their print fleets.

Since 2000, consistent metrics and strategies have surfaced, fostering more effective fleet optimization and right-sizing as well as employee-to-device ratios and other strategic initiatives for successful customer and provider implementations. The evolution of electronic meter collection has further assisted providers in leveraging user data for integration into additional back-office systems. This has led to more efficient toner monitoring and delivery, service tracking, billing, data analysis and overall management of customer print fleets.

Using technology to collect data provides credible information with which to analyze — whether obtained directly from a print device, print server, computer or mobile device — or map the customer environments while doing a physical or virtual walk-through.

Although much MPS strategy centers on the hard, visible costs of larger companies, smaller companies also benefit from the convenience these solutions provide. Companies large and small alike prosper from working with a single provider versus interacting with multiple vendors.

Moreover, outsourcing services related to print, copy and fax devices to trained MPS professionals affords end users the convenience of just-in-time delivery service for supplies and remote monitoring for preventative maintenance and scheduling. Such services greatly reduce capital and operational expense while improving the end-user experience.

Typically, a provider would need processes and tools to effectively collect and analyze a customer’s print data. These tools may range from the use of paper, pen and a floor map to more sophisticated tablet technology that can synchronize electronic meter data with physical GPS coordinates on floor plans.

As data is collected and examined, MPS professionals analyze the information, develop cost profiles for the assets, detail the total cost of ownership, then provide a current state — or baseline — analysis of the customer’s current print fleet. Once a baseline is established, the process of improvement may begin. Results of the MPS program will be measured against this benchmark in the future.

Although it is relatively easy to collect and analyze data with the advancement of meter technology, when it comes to a successful MPS deployment, the implementation process is paramount for success. However, without the benefit of having proven practices and processes in place to communicate the new print policy, manage the customer workflow and efficiently execute the day-to-day details, an MPS deployment is destined for failure. Integrating technology and leveraging automation rather than relying on people for everyday management improves accuracy, decreases response time and reduces overhead and waste while enhancing customer profitability.

Obviously, every MPS deployment is much larger in scope than simply replacing a faulty device or two. With the proliferation of MPS, many providers convey a “we can do that too” sales approach, often overstating their own capabilities or setting unattainable customer expectations. There are often many moving parts in an MPS engagement, so it is critical to provide documentation to appropriately manage customer expectations, clearly define deliverables and mitigate as much risk as possible. Having a clearly defined and documented scope of work creates an expectation level for both entities while establishing a clear path for success.

A key element in the evolution of MPS is the just-in-time delivery of supplies on a device-by-device basis. Rather than having a stockroom full of backup or even outdated toner supplies, remote monitoring provides real-time intelligence while calculating when devices will require toner replenishment. As a result, providers “learn” usage patterns by tracking previous use to automatically predict when to ship toner.

This type of analytics is much more accurate than relying on “toner low” warnings devices give, as this indicator has proved to be very unreliable. On the other hand, a just-in-time delivery model facilitates the direct shipment of toner to the end user to help ensure uptime. Leveraging technology rather than “the human element” increases reliability and accuracy while reducing costs for both the provider and customer.

Much like the hospitality and restaurant sectors, service is also vital for any successful MPS implementation. Since MPS has been embraced by larger organizations, it is increasingly important to have national and even global service management capabilities and technicians who are trained on the equipment being used. Often local providers are restricted by a limited service reach and have difficulty implementing reliable MPS programs for organizations with multiple locations.

As small, midsize and large businesses all have distinct nuances, providers must address these varied needs by dispatching trained technicians for on-site repairs, device maintenance and performance analytics for all customer assets via one point of access.

As important as it is for the provider to use this information, it is equally important for the customer to have transparent access to the same data so collectively the two can work together toward ongoing fleet improvement and issue resolution.

Like smartphones and tablets in 2000, MPS was also a newly minted concept. At the time, the service was almost exclusively for large businesses. Today — much like smartphones and tablets — MPS has become mainstream, a common practice for organizations across all business segments to successfully manage a workforce’s (sometimes unwieldy) print, copy and fax needs.

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of The Imaging Channel.

About the Author

Jon Hafey has spent his 15-year career in the MPS sector and currently serves as director of MPS business development for Toshiba America Business Solutions. In his current role, Hafey oversees a national team of business development managers who leverage their experience and expertise to expand MPS business by directly engaging Toshiba Business Solutions and independent dealers as well as enterprise customer channels. He is responsible for developing new strategic partnerships, alliances and alternative channels to increase Toshiba’s hardware, software and solutions sales efforts. Prior to service in his current role, Hafey was director of MPS programs and service delivery at Toshiba.