By Greg Walters
“The God Machine,” a science fiction novel written in 1968 by Martin Caidin, is the story of a cybernetic technician who is one of the brains behind a top-secret government project determined to create artificial intelligence. The project he is working on becomes sentient and attempts to take over the world (of course). The work is one of Caidin’s earlier endeavors and a theme he returns to in later years, penning “Cyborg” (which became the foundation for “The Six Million Dollar Man”). Caidin may not have been the first to illustrate the biological/mechanical connection, but he helped popularize the concept of machine and humankind meshing together: the ultimate convergence.
Fast-forward a few decades, and the likelihood of a human surviving and thriving with bionic enhancements is not so far-fetched. Indeed, jaws and skin have been “printed” for months now. Denying a convergence of man and machine is foolish.
The convergence of human and machine, the biological and mechanical, is the result of a confluence of innovation, technology and social flows destined from the beginning. This motion is unstoppable. Unstoppable. In addition to the high-thinking, man/machine convergence, we’re starting to see the impact of all things converging.
Consider the way connectivity, manufacturing, software development, business, society and, yes, even managed print have converged into a borderless, almost transparent solution.
Connectivity once meant landlines, fax machines and phosphorous display screens. The transition from patch cables to twisted pair to cell to the wireless world of connectivity went from unique to ubiquitous, converging into a single, globally available platform. Someday very soon, the world’s population will have the opportunity to be completely connected.
Invention-to-market cycles have compressed from decades to years to months to even releases in beta. Design, manufacturing and marketing have all converged into an almost instantaneous process. The convergence will continue as advances in nanotechnology, materials and 3-D printing are made over the next decade.
Software and hardware
Custom programming development was measured in years and often required perpetual maintenance. Off-the-shelf, PC-based packages reduced the go-to-market time frame but were expensive. Today, cloud-based applications are designed and brought to market in weeks — and, more often than not, in a version that is easily updated … for free.
Floors of A/R clerks processing invoices, credits and payments have transitioned to the electronic presentation of invoices and electronic funds transfer payments. In business, multiple processes are converging into steady streams of information and activity.
Society and life process
At one time, having a collection of friends was driven geographically, which was typically a result of family, occupation, etc. If you had a dozen good friends — people you spoke to every day — you might have been considered social. Today’s convergence allows for friendships across time zones and around the globe. In the 1970s, work and home life were separate and compartmentalized. Today, the convergence of work life and home life is nearly complete, boiling down simply to life. The once strong lines between work and play are blurring at an escalating rate.
When you think about it, we represent the epitome of convergence in the business world, starting with typewriters and moving on to carbon paper, Wite-Out and mainframes connecting to line printers; then condensing to PCs and impact (then laser) printers; then on to networks and centralized printers; then to big copiers/MFDs. We’ve been active participants in the meshing of output (marks on paper) with input (scan and capture) and indexing with content. The once separate print, copy, fax and scan functions are now merged into all-in-one devices like MFPs and MFDs (I’ve forgotten how these two are distinct).
Today, talk of “managed network services” as the wave of the future, comparing MPS and MNS as two separate and distinct entities, is all the rage. Indeed, most discussions around all our services illustrates both a siloed view and bolt-on approach. For example, we’ve got technology (hardware) to which we attach electronic document management (EDM). Most of the time, we separate managed print services from copiers, espousing how we “have MPS on our printer fleets and CPI on our copiers” when both device types output images; our customers do not care about our definition.
The same holds true for managed network services and managed services. To our clients, they are both the same. Indeed, it has been my observation that high-thinking companies roll even managed print services in as a managed service — imagine that. They recognized the convergence before we do.
Great descriptive — now what?
So the worlds of business and home life, hardware and software, and machines and biology are colliding at breakneck speed on quantum and galactic scales. It makes for great cocktail party conversation, but how do we maintain a living and sustain a business in this maelstrom? Here are some ideas:
You may not see things the same as I or your prospects do, and understanding the great convergence is almost incomprehensible. Be that as it may, admitting you don’t see everything is progress. Look into your world and that of your children. Do you read email on the road when once you hadn’t? Do your kids actually talk on the phone or text? Have you hired a few of those so-called Millennials? Chances are your prospects are experiencing the same issues as you.
Holistic view of your clients’ world
We’re all in this together. Responding to your customers’ requirements with a price list and order pad is nonsensical and exposes you as a simple-minded purveyor of yesterday. For some prospects, this is a perfect — if not unfulfilling — effort. Enjoy. But the truly sustainable business relationships are broad in vision and succinct in execution. Explain your position in the big picture and boil it down to your clients’ level, uncovering relevant approaches in solving business problems. Forget about monthly payments, the competition or finding the pain. Your prospects should already know their pain, you have no competition, and when you answer questions with visionary suggestions, price falls by the wayside.
Proactive and self-directed knowledge transfer
You’ve heard this before: “Never stop learning.” No other time in history has this phrase meant so much and the application been so accessible. Devour information on purpose — any information — online, with friends, in your dealership and with peers.
Talk the talk
From industry conferences and client lunch and learns to the “bond-and-rapport” stage of professional selling, simply discussing the convergence elevates your conversation beyond copiers, the benefits of reman toner cartridges and printing — setting the table for a truly visionary discussion. Weave the conversation together with an empathetic perspective flowing into real-world business applications.
In the end
We’ve been part of a societal convergence all along. Technological convergence? We helped usher in the office productivity revolution of the 1980s, the acceleration in the 1990s and, finally, liftoff in the new millennium. And it all started with selling copiers door to door.
But what of this brave new world of convergence and the business systems operatives in the trenches? Can any of us survive the machine? In the end, isn’t convergence simply filling in the space between silos, erasing every barrier?
This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of The Imaging Channel.
About the Author
Greg Walters, senior correspondent for the Business Transformation Center, is president of Walters & Shutwell, the mobility, communications and transformation consultancy as well as the president of the Managed Print Services Association. During an IT sales and services career that has spanned a quarter century, he helped turn a large West Coast VAR’s struggling managed print services practice into a highly profitable business. Walters started his imaging career in 1999, working with Oce, Panasonic and IKON. A prolific writer and frequent speaker at industry events, Walters considers himself a “Contrarian Technologist”; someone with a unique and provocative view of technology and how to sell it in the 21st century.