The Evolution of MPS: A Matter of Perspective

by Greg Walters, Walters & Shutwell

Everybody has a different view, idea and opinion about the history of managed print services. It’s like trying to determine who is an American through genealogy; it all depends on your definition of “American.” In my opinion, managed print services was created as existing elements combined, coalescing into today’s common MPS image. I’ve calculated that this process, the quickening, started around 2006-2007. There were MPS pioneers years before 2007; the legendary Print Inc. comes to mind. Indeed, Print Inc. was one of the first entities to convert cartridge pricing into cost per image and sell it successfully. Revolutionary in its time, today programs like that would be nothing more than table stakes.

Seeking an understanding of the present by examining the past is worthy; unfortunately, in the case of MPS, history is irrelevant because there are so many versions of the story. There are dozens of MPS originators, each with a different tale. We don’t simply hold different perspectives on the same history, we have different histories, leading to this point in time. It can be vexing.

Those who hold the definition control destiny

One step in legitimizing a particular definition is to write its history. This is classic. For example, if all you produce and sell are remanufactured cartridges and you see MPS as the new hot thing, it is natural to claim you’ve been “doing MPS for years”; it’s a true statement when MPS is defined as manufacturing toner cartridges. Another example: When OEM “ABC” reports its MDS program incorporates MPS, relegating MPS to a subcategory, it builds perceived legitimacy.

In the end, it is irrelevant how we all got here or where we’ve been. Does it matter if electronic document management was the beginning of managed print services? Who cares if facilities management included servicing copiers, postage machines and the CRD; is this MPS? I contend that business process optimization with its workflow and systems analysis is MPS. Am I wrong? My ideas lie over your vision, which is supported by those who came before all of us. Who has claim?

Nobody has claim, yet we all have claim

It seems to me that this struggle to determine MPS roots is less about history and more about claim. The OEMs think they invented MPS, the toner remanufactures lay claim to MPS, and the FM folks shake their heads and exclaim facilities management was always about managing resources, which somehow translates into MPS. What strikes me as a bit ironic is all the people who ran from MPS ridiculed those who announced its coming and attempted to trivialize managed print services.

The details do not matter, but if you’re in the mood for some MPS l’histoire (that’s French for “history”), start with the Egyptians or go back to T’sai Lun; follow the path from papyrus to paper. Discover how, until the rise of the U.S. colonies, paper was considered “that which belongs to the house” — the house of nobility, religion or bureaucracy. Continue up to present day — an age of paper and screens, tablets and toner, crumbling power structures and writings in the sky.

Details may not be important, yet I see two significant pivot points in the evolution of managed print services: connectivity and intent.

Connectivity as an inflection point

Merriam-Webster defines “inflection point” as “a point on a curve that separates an arc concave upward from one concave downward and vice versa.” In other words, it is the point at which change occurs. When our devices became part of a network, we inherited the ability to ask, “What happens before you copy these documents?” Think about it: We didn’t just care about copying on both sides, three-hole punch, covers, inserts or job-build; we needed to know more than walk-up requirements.

This was a toe-dip into the processes before and after our machines and an introduction of workflow analysis in the imaging industry. It was the beginning of “thinking outside of the box” — an inflection point. Not all of us recognized the workflow and document process opportunities; indeed, if any sales training mentioned or focused on this extended vision, it was leveraged to pull hardware sales. Connected copiers gave us entre into the IT world. Granted, the door wasn’t easily opened and often it was slammed in our toner-smudged faces. Still, digitally connected devices forced the issue, elevating copiers from a purchasing staple onto the IT guy’s desk. Of course, in most cases we sat at the IT guy’s desk for 60 months or so, relegated to the “I don’t want to, but I am required to work with” pile. IT folks didn’t like us all that much at first.

The second and more acute pivot point: intent

Merriam-Webster calls intent “the act or fact of intending — the planned outcome of your actions.” This is a bit more sensitive an issue manifesting in many MPS programs. What is the “intent” of your MPS program? We all say, “Reduced costs,” but then again, when was reducing costs not part of any value proposition? The Catch-22 of managed print services and reducing costs equates to reducing clicks, which in turn lowers the number of machines in the field. So was our intent truly reducing costs, or was it just something we said, knowing that hardware would follow? Is our intent simply to install more hardware?

Again, consider the move to digital. Sure, it made sense to have a copier print directly. Think about the changes that occurred when we removed, in theory, the process of printing before copying. We captured clicks away from printers. Although a digitally connected device could mean condensing the number of devices, our intent was not to reduce the number of machines or images pushed through those machines. How many fax-capable, connected copiers sat next to a stand-alone fax and a single-function printer?

Another example is selling color. Yes, retention is increased when content is presented in color. And yes, color advertisements are more attractive to the human eye than items printed in monochrome. But was it our intent to increase brand awareness by flooding the market with color inserts? Was it our intent to increase attendance at corporate picnics? Did we intend to turn corporate bulletin boards into kaleidoscopes of useless fodder?

No. Our intent was to sell color machines and increase the volume of the more expensive and profitable color images. Our intent was to capture more clicks.

Two points in our history which support the current and future version of MPS: the connected device and the secular change in intent.

Historical study has the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. I bet if MPS had flopped, nobody would be racing to manipulate history or claim they invented MPS.

There will be — or there already has been — a third inflection point. Is it content to the cloud, BYOD, iPads or Apple TV? I think the point is already here. I know the base elements exist and are about to attract and build something familiar yet never seen before. Perhaps the business process optimization organizations will lay claim to MPS — who knows?

The big question is: Where will you be? Will you be selling the benefits of color or riding the third wave of innovation?

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