The Channel Evolution: Times, Strategies & Devices Are Changing

When it comes to serving up business printing solutions, solution providers need to remember that hardcopy has a soft side, too. The channel is evolving. Partners are selling and delivering more complex software and services – in addition to hardware – to maintain their status as a trusted IT partner and to grow revenue.

The traditional print VAR, sometimes known as a BTA dealer, knows printing better than anyone. They live and breathe imaging and they know exactly how much their clients print and when. And they are instinctively attuned to how those needs translate into printing hardware and supplies. Managed print services (MPS) represent a significant complementary opportunity to existing print hardware sales that can lead to network, storage and other end-point managed services as well. Taking a look at the need for a partner to strive for total customer ownership makes managed print services even more appealing — and more lucrative — for those willing to adapt.

Many channel partners are already in the midst of transforming their businesses from transactional resellers of products to purveyors of recurring-revenue services like managed print. Researchers at IT training and advocacy group CompTIA Information Technology found that 86 percent of managed print services providers expect to see their businesses grow over the next 12 months. It’s a fact that solution providers can make more profit on managed services like MPS than any other pure resale business model. Still, many services providers struggle with building recurring revenue streams that result in incremental increases in profitability. That’s because a managed service is more about sales than technology. The product is just a catalyst.

The 2112 Group has studied the dynamics behind the IT services transformation for several years and has examined the characteristics that predict the success of one services partner versus another. Those who bolster their current bill of fare with managed print services as a way to move their business deeper into the world of recurring-revenue services are familiar with two essential rules of the services game that must be obeyed: Have a plan and always be selling.

Seems simple, right? And yet the channel is littered with partners who failed at one or both of these imperatives in the midst of their services evolution. In order to succeed, channel solution providers need a growth strategy in place.

Services providers need to focus on areas like client retention, customer service, competitive differentiation and pricing, net-new sales efforts, horizontal upsales to the existing client base and overall attention to the base of recurring revenue fueling the services practice. If the subscription revenues are not growing, the partner is, most assuredly, not growing either.

Any organization contemplating a venture into practice areas such as managed print services understands that planning will be required to build success in recurring-revenue services — that’s all part of the evolution. But the addition of a new services-oriented go-to-market model doesn’t need to be a withering experience.

Xtandit, one of Europe’s most successful — and progressive —managed print and IT services companies, which was named Xerox Managed Print Services Partner of the Year for the past three years in a row, knows how to change with the times. For the past 15 years, Xtandit has been rocketing past its legacy as a traditional reseller of printers and copiers to become a powerhouse of cutting-edge document management solutions and managed print services. It’s because they had the right plan and strategy in place to transform.

We’ve said for some time that the IT solution provider’s true value lies in business services, not in technology. A partner’s ability to speak the language of business — to engage both C-level executives and line-of-business managers more on process and outcomes and less on tech specs — is at the heart of the services evolution in the channel. IT services partners have long needed a seat at the business table.

MFPs — no longer just a device, but a growth engine

Software and software-driven services represent significant opportunities for solution providers looking to augment their print services practices with high-margin, high-value offerings that target clients’ specific business challenges. These expanding possibilities are made possible by the new breed of multifunction printers (MFPs).

These smart peripherals do more than just print, scan and copy. Today’s MFPs sport network connectivity, onboard processing power and embedded applications that put them at the heart of important IT initiatives like document management, collaboration, knowledge management, mobility and enterprise security.

Partners ranging from traditional BTA dealers to value-added IT resellers to MSPs can leverage these tools to build out their printing portfolio and layer feature-rich services on existing print engagements. The secret: develop such services with real business solutions and business outcomes in mind.

Here are four ways in which MFPs have evolved, and ultimately helped partners turn print hardware into deeper engagements and increased revenues, all while helping customers improve workflows and simplify work:

• Integrating Workflows. The goal of any valued managed-print relationship is the integration of hardcopy and digital workflows. The embedded software capabilities in MFPs let partners link networked peripherals and capture documents for the organization’s enterprise content management systems. This integration maximizes the intelligent print environment, but setting it up and maintaining it requires deep knowledge of the client’s systems, processes and goals. Integrating document workflows through print software is an excellent value proposition for the print services partner.

• Going Mobile. The BYOD trend has introduced millions of user-controlled mobile devices into the business IT environment. Employees carrying Android, iOS, Blackberry and Windows Phone-powered devices want access to printing and imaging equipment just like their wired colleagues. This challenge presents another software-enabled opportunity for partners to configure networked MFPs to work with wireless devices and cloud services to allow mobile printing. The result: a solution that improves employee satisfaction and efficiency across the client’s organization and solidifies the partner’s position as a provider of tangible business outcomes.

• Layering Security. Heightened awareness of vulnerabilities and stringent regulatory compliance requirements have put IT security concerns top of mind. The intelligent, connected nature of today’s MFPs makes them powerful and vulnerable to many of the same exploits that target other infrastructure assets such as servers, storage arrays and networking hardware. Moreover, the nature of the data being passed to and from printing and imaging peripherals is among the most sensitive in the enterprise. To account for this, partners need to be well-acquainted with the print management and device-level software designed to safeguard these critical assets. Functions such as user ID and access controls, network authentication, encryption and storage management are implemented, managed and maintained through purpose-built embedded security tools. Partners need to be familiar with these applications and customize protection strategies that meet the needs and concerns of each client.

• Custom Applications. Beyond the basic onboard software capabilities in today’s business-class MFPs, manufacturers are opening up their APIs on embedded systems to allow service providers, systems integrators, resellers and ISVs to deliver high-value custom applications. These software implementations target specific business outcomes in unique client situations and represent the ultimate value-add for print services and solutions partners. Partners can work with clients to develop custom apps that integrate document management and workflow with existing customer relationship management or enterprise resource planning systems. Through custom apps, documents can be optimized for enterprise search efforts and routed to a variety of cloud services such as such as Microsoft’s SharePoint Online, Salesforce.com, Box, Dropbox and Google Drive.

In the hands of a services provider that understands the customer’s business challenges and strategies, MFPs open opportunities for deeper engagements, increased sales and recurring revenues, higher retention and, ultimately, better business outcomes for both client and partner. Today’s evolved MFPs present new opportunities to build on the infrastructure and to integrate improved processes.

The market is evolving — there’s no preventing it. Channel partners are adopting new managed services opportunities and MFPs have capabilities that extend the possibilities within an existing client relationship. Despite the high satisfaction and the obvious trends toward managed services adoption, much opportunity remains for partners who have yet to engage in managed print services.

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of The Imaging Channel.