With 2020 upon us, predictors of the future have moved the future a decade further out. What will the world look like in 2030? More to the point, what will the business office look like? Where will it be and who will use it? All the best predictors agree tomorrow’s digital office will differ greatly from today’s. Analysts foresee the death of the physical office and the rise of a more dispersed and independent workforce. “Office” is defined by connectivity, office hours by the deadlines clients and customers impose. “Business” becomes one or more persons delivering services to one or more clients. Small business rises while the corporation-as-workplace declines. That’s Office 2030 in a nutshell. The next question is, how will you be best provisioned to succeed?
Print infrastructure moves to the cloud
Analyst firm IDC reports that 80% of businesses’ compute infrastructure will be deployed in the cloud by 2021. Further, IDC predicts that most companies, large and small, will provision their digital infrastructure in multi-cloud environments. That’s the where of the foreseeable future. How about the what?
Infrastructure demand is expected to continue to shift from hardware-centric systems to complete workload-enabling solutions — the key word here is solution. SMBs will prosper by purchasing key business systems as a service. And XaaS (that stands for “anything as a service”) is always cloud-based. It’s a brilliantly sensible idea that comes with a built-in downside. The more popular cloud-based services get, the heavier internet traffic to and from the cloud becomes. As it is in our cars, so it is with our digital highways — too much traffic is slow traffic with too many accidents.
Welcome to the edge
The word “edge” conveys the value of the concept: at its heart, it’s a matter of practicality. Do your computation where your data is generated and where your equipment lives. Don’t make it take that long, sometimes slow, sometimes dangerous internet journey to your data center and back again before it has operational impact.
Doing it on the edge is a keystone of the Internet of Things (IoT), of course. It’s why and how those devices we increasingly can’t live without operate. It’s the best way we have going forward to increase the efficiency and security of our decentralized business landscape. It saves time and reduces the possibility of data theft or loss. It is also a way of helping to decrease increasingly stodgy internet traffic — a business decision that’s akin to choosing to take the train or carpool to work in order to reduce carbon emissions while having some productive or relaxing time on your commute.
Learn to love the edge
If you provide services to small or large businesses, you are likely experiencing customers asking about the possibility of receiving your services without requiring a lot of expensive on-premise servers, not only in the headquarters but also in branch offices.
When it happened to us, it made us consider a number of questions: What computational tasks needed to happen at the individual equipment installation? What data could be separated and treated as archival rather than operational? What system data needed to be collected and considered to assure maximum system availability and performance? Where should and could individual classes of data be used, and where and how might they be stored?
These questions led to the classification of data types and tailoring the ways the product dealt with them. It also led to the development of a lightweight server appliance to live at the network’s edge — allowing services to continue in the case of internet outages, but also computed locally and sharing only metadata to the cloud.
It forced a disciplined understanding of what each component of the product does, what it needs to be effective, to be reliable, to be available and to be secure. In other words, those customer questions were a gift that gave us pause about the future of our product — what it should and could do in times to come.
Solutions-as-a-Service changes everything
Tech pundits are telling us that edge computing is the answer to many, if not most, of today’s pressing business process questions. For the foreseeable future, solution providers should be asking themselves, “Am I positioned for the cloud + edge wave or am I dependent on on-premise servers? What business-critical processes do my customers need that can be done locally? How does the move to the cloud + edge impact my business model? What’s in it for me?”
The lure of cloud-based services for customers cannot be ignored. The cost savings are just too considerable, whether it is office tools like Microsoft 365 and financial software to large ERP or content management systems. Customers are moving to the cloud and they expect, and in many cases, prefer to run their business from the cloud. So, shouldn’t their print infrastructure be cloud-based too? The most recent Quocirca Print 2025 study indicates that customers do not expect to purchase print systems from traditional print vendors in the future. Instead, they are looking to vendors who provide cloud-based IT solutions in general and print is just one of those IT solutions. Our industry is not seen as being up to date regarding cloud solutions, but the good news is that is changing. But it also requires a change in how you do business. Spoiler alert – there is good news there too.
You already have a customer base to work with, and if your customers are not already asking for cloud solutions from you, they may be asking for it from somebody else. For customers that felt print management solutions were out of reach as too costly or too difficult to manage, cloud-based print infrastructure changes things, allowing you to offer both print infrastructure and a print management solution all in one. As cloud-based print infrastructure and print management comes as with lower costs and friendly subscription pricing, it is an attractive solution for a broader market.
Traditional print management solutions may be too complex for some dealers, as they involve an investment in learning how to sell, design and deploy. Cloud-based print management solutions eliminate that hurdle; they can be hosted and supported by the print management software provider, leaving it to the dealer to simply sell the benefits, or work with a value-added distributor. With cloud-based solution portals, dealers have one online resource to manage all their customers. When customers want to add new or replace printers, it is easy to do so. Deployment time is reduced dramatically, leaving more time to focus on gaining new customers.
Larger enterprise customers may already be using on-premise infrastructure and print management. They too are looking to gain from cloud-based services. Whereas small businesses may benefit from a multi-tenant cloud service, a larger enterprise may want their own, single-tenant service. From the dealer’s perspective it doesn’t matter; the print infrastructure and print management solution provider they partner with handles it all. For dealers who typically limit services to SMB, the potential market just got larger.
You don’t need to be an IT person to sell cloud-based print infrastructure and print management. All your customers need to know is that it is possible to do cloud-based printing without a VPN. An edge device is on-premise, and like an internet router, it sits in the background doing its thing quietly and inconspicuously. If your customer is concerned about cloud security and data privacy, they can rest assured that all job processing is done locally and document data never travels to the cloud. Only the metadata related to the document travels to the cloud and they get all the security benefits of print management like secure device access and pull-printing for example.
The print industry continues to be a challenging and rewarding place. Most of us wouldn’t have it any other way. It does require taking on challenges, reading the market correctly to make the right bets and listening to customers. Today, that could mean adopting cloud+edge print infrastructure and print management solutions.
In 2030, well — who knows?