by Greg Walters | 3/9/16

It’s been almost a year since I’ve written about copiers here at The Imaging Channel. During that time I’ve been in the field, in the IT realm, watching office print disintegrate from the end user side of things.  It isn’t 1999 out there; companies are not buying big, 11×17 copiers as they once did and end users are not printing emails or recipes by the thousands anymore.  On the good side, end users don’t hate printers or copiers as much. Unfortunately, that’s because end users hardly, if ever, think about print.  To them, toner on paper is approaching irrelevancy.

Can anyone deny that this niche is in the midst of historically turbulent times?  We’re witness to the transformation of an industry embedded in the fabric of modern living.  Every person in the business world recognizes the copier and printer as foundational tools of the trade. Our industry is all over the world, but that world is changing, transforming daily away from the mundane, away from slow processes and away from paper. We see the results of this movement in the way our OEMs are fracturing: Xerox is splitting, HP has split, and Lexmark is disintegrating. The Big Three of American office automation are shattering into stars.

This turbulence affects the independent channel as well.  Merges, acquisitions and the entry of investment groups tell the tale of a smaller, less-populated landscape. Indeed, as the manufacturers fight for their lives, how can the independent reseller manage?  Should you jump into the fray, slapping a “For Sale” sign on the front door?  Should you shutter the place and simply get out?

I’ve noticed a peculiar thing: it seems those who haven’t made the jump to services or sold out are hunkering, if not doubling, down on the traditional model — betting on “black” or “red.”  The industry is now filled with voices from the past, conjuring up warm and fuzzy statistics around how “print is not dead” and the industry is vibrant and alive. Like the Pied Piper, they’re leading some further into that deep, dark cave of yesteryear with promises of sustained print and increased copier placements.

Well, I’ve seen firsthand file rooms once stuffed with documents now transformed into office space or lounges. Like you, I’ve attending earnings calls from the OEMs hearing quarter after quarter reports of dire news. And like you, I’ve been looking for ways to beat the decline.  From MPS to water delivery; from print server elimination to enterprise mobility management.  What is it going to take to save the industry?

Will it be more A4 devices?
Can ink instead of toner increase the number of clicks?
How about label printing?
Can seat-based billing stem the tide for all of us?
How long do we wait for managed services to get traction?

I say none of the above: “red.”  I say all of the above: “black.”

The Sun Also Rises
Ignoring the current crop of lemmings, I’ve come up with three alternative offerings that shouldn’t upset your existing business model, while edging your way out of print dependency.

Software as a Service — You’ve heard of the cloud. The easiest way to consider cloud-based software is to imagine a billing model sold by monthly subscription. The software is not installed at your customer’s site, so your client pays per user (or another unit) for the use of the solution. Your customer never owns the software. In this case, the software provider sells you a license/seat/unit at a cost, you uplift and resell to your client on a monthly schedule.  Because the solution is cloud-based, there is not an extensive installation process; indeed most deals can move from a proof of concept to sale in hours.
Also, unlike software of old, cloud-based solutions do not demand a high degree of local support. Many of our EDM packages are quite “heavy,” requiring trained support and certified sales staff.  Most cloud-based systems are simple to install and fall into an app-like user experience where the user is self-taught.
It is a great model and a good example within our niche is a company called Intellinetics.  Their solution includes a bit of hardware and puts document workflow management into the cloud.

Technical Outsourcing — More enterprise and midsized organizations are bringing management of their output devices in-house, supporting everything from toner delivery to on-site services with internal staff.  This can get expensive. Why not propose outsourcing the on-site service to your team of technicians?  Your technicians can augment the existing team. To be fair, this is not a radical step — the facility management folks have been selling outsourced technical support for decades.  Your better prospects are going to be looking for more help with their printer fleet than their copiers but as the number of copiers in the field dissipate, following the trend is a good idea.  Capitalize on your existing strength. How about reaching out to VARs and put together an alliance for service?  We know those guys don’t like those dirty printers.

TeleHealth — Now we’re going to stretch your horizons, just a bit.
My journey over the past months has introduced me to the deepest secrets of technology in healthcare.  Beyond printers and copiers, the challenges in patient care are daunting. Consider the regulations, massive amounts of information, patient-facing services, security, software upgrades and hardware refresh IT departments across the country take on every day. The environment is dynamic and in some cases, there are no standards established. As healthcare and clinical professionals are stretched, everyone is looking to apply technology in order to save time and bring as many medical assets as close to the patient as possible – no matter where the patient resides.
Enter TeleHealth. For most here in the imaging niche, telehealth is new and different. From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website: “Telehealth is the use of technology to deliver health care, health information or health education at a distance. Common applications include: teleradiology, in which test results are forwarded to another facility for diagnosis; continuing professional education, including presentations by specialists to general practitioners; and home monitoring, a supplement to home visits from nursing professionals.”

Specifically, professionals utilize carts providing video interface and data exchange between the patient and healthcare providers.  These carts comprise of an integrated set of components: PC, video monitors, power supply, ports, keyboards, mice, etc.  Think of a PC on wheels.

This is where I think we can fit.  If your team has the knowledge and talent necessary to assemble a copier and finisher then connect to a network with scan/fax, capabilities, you possess the expertise required to assemble these platforms.  Managing a team of five temp laborers, I built 50 in a day.

One company to look at is CapsaSolutions. These folks sell the physical carts and can help with sourcing the component parts as well. But your best contacts for putting this solution set together are your healthcare customers. There are no standards and it seems that every hospital or network has their own idea about what will work for them in telehealth — some are designing and assembling carts on-site.  They could use some help and there isn’t a better time to become an expert in telehealth — there aren’t any.

Remember that old adage, “where there is mystery there is margin”? (I personally loathe the saying).  Well, there is plenty of mystery over in healthcare technology. If building carts isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of areas in need of your proven talents. So there are three, off the top of my head, recommendations. You may call me crazy, but the time for conservative prudence is past.

One More Thing: The Product Development Discipline
Any one of your OEMs or larger software companies employee product development managers. These folks are in charge of bringing new products to the company and possible to market. It is a process that includes market study, financial analysis and product viability. Products and services are designed, tested and vetted before hitting the sales team. Sometimes PDMs bring to market a sizzler, like the iPad, and sometimes the process springs forth the “Mopier.”  The point for you, the independent dealer, is to apply some discipline and study towards whatever you think you might want to do in the near future.  Truly, you don’t have all the time in the world to make changes and bring something new to the market.

I recommend the work done by a company called Sequent. You won’t want to dive too deeply into the Product Management framework, on a basic level, it might be worth getting their book.
The time is now, but you’ve got to be thoughtful.  The wheel is spinning, and slowing down.  Don’t bet on red or black — the ball is going to fall on green. Wild.

Twitter
LinkedIn
Facebook
Greg Walters

Greg Walters

is an entrepreneur and founder of the notorious destination site TheDeathOfTheCopier, where he comments on all things imaging, the rise of managed services and the advance of business technology. A prolific writer and frequent speaker, Greg shares his passionate, unique – and often provocative – view of technology and people, addressing the impact of digital on 21st century business. His 2014 book, Death Of The Copier, offers a controversial summary of the early days of Managed Print Services and the not-so-distant future of the hard copy industry. Reach out to Greg at greg@grwalters.com.