How MFPs Are Being Adapted to a More Decentralized Workforce

The shift to remote work during COVID has sparked many unforeseen changes in the way we work, and the way we need our technology to work for us. We’ve now been talking about hybrid work for over two years, and it’s finally here. We’re actually doing it. I’m sure we have a lot of learning as we continue to adjust, but the distributed workforce is definitely here to stay.

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As opposed to 2020 when we were making people remote, now we’re putting people back in the office and facing new challenges in order to maintain productivity and protect our data. Supporting a hybrid workforce of remote and in-person employees means investing in collaborative and flexible technology. For example, cloud computing allows all employees to access the same data and documents, no matter if they work from home or in
the office.

One of the biggest impacts COVID has had on the office equipment market is its effect on print volume. According to Keypoint Intelligence, total print volume will not return to pre-pandemic baseline; it will be down 20% from that. As people return to the office, while only a percentage will be going back full time, the need for a variety of equipment and seamless workflow solutions will only increase. Post-pandemic, we believe customers are going to be looking for better ways to work on all fronts, and printing workflow and security will be at the forefront.

We are also anticipating a future state of work in which it will be necessary to measure print/document activities from home and office locations, reduce IT infrastructure and costs along with an evaluation of hardware fleet requirements, and ensure that the document and print infrastructure is secured, regardless of location. Organizations cannot have unauthorized access to devices, and company content must be encrypted throughout all stages of use to the output device.

Therefore, we can only see the MFP continuing to evolve into a quasi-business hub as we continue to adapt to customer needs. For example, while hardware itself no longer makes up the majority of technical priorities for SMBs, your printer is still where all information is managed, distributed and used from a central point. The difference will be how MFPs will work for a more decentralized workforce and provide customers the opportunity to do more online. We need to create a printing environment that is connected to the cloud and uses a secure, mobile platform to allow a truly digitized workflow, accessible wherever you are.

This push into truly connected hardware, software and service will become even more important, where document management and processing are seen as a holistic service. Connecting these data points will not only provide a foundation for digital transformation, but also increase reliability, quality, and productivity. As a result, MFPs continue to become more and more sophisticated, evolving with customers’ dynamic needs. Most MFPs sold today are truly connected “digital I/O devices” that offer a host of remote service, self-diagnostic and even predictive analytics features that we must promote to be more relevant to the future workforce.

Another emerging trend brought on by the pandemic is the fact that customers are now accustomed to remote monitoring and support of their MFPs. Today’s MFPs offer freedom from on-premise assets, and the installation of printer drivers and secure access. IT admins also have more control over printer access rights by seamlessly connecting to their Microsoft 365 environment, which offers a simple and secure printing experience for Microsoft 365 users.

Focus on security

Security threats continue to be a concern for businesses of all sizes, creating an environment where customers are increasingly and rightfully worried about security. Failing to keep up with current digital security trends can cost your business time, money, clients, and even your reputation. As more and more security breaches occur, many businesses are now turning to a zero-trust approach to security. This means trusting no one when it comes to accessing your business’s network, equipment, digital documents, applications, and other technology.

Hackers get smarter every day and they are not afraid to try different tactics to accomplish their goals. 2021 saw the highest average cost of a data breach in 17 years, with the cost rising from $3.86 million to $4.24 million on an annual basis, according to IBM’s 2021 Cost of a Data Breach Report. The devastating time and cost it could take to recover from a single attack could determine the fate of your business. While network-connected devices such as MFPs offer end users tremendous opportunities for collaboration and ease of use, these same endpoint devices are attractive targets for hackers. By exploiting a security vulnerability in a connected device, a skilled hacker can expose an entire network to data theft, business disruption and financial turmoil.

Today’s MFPs can deliver top-notch security through security information and event management (SIEM), which offers the ability to:

  • Identify threats and adhere to data compliance requirements.
  • Allow IT administrators to respond immediately to any security incidents.
  • Receive improved reporting, log collection and analysis.
  • Apply the latest encryption technology with Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3) support. This protocol strengthens the security of wireless LANs.

Authentication is another way to make sure MFPs are only accessed by authorized users and to track any suspicious usage should there be any type of security breach. And beyond that, you can provide customers with their own personalized user interface (UI) screen, in which they create and access customized UIs that suit the way they work. Users simply authenticate at the MFP and select desired language, background, applications and more.

Taking advantage of the cloud

Cloud computing is already ingrained into your everyday life. Think Spotify, Google Drive, LinkedIn, Instagram. And now, enhanced by the last two years of remote work due to COVID-19, it’s taken over your work life too. Integrating the cloud into printing digitally transforms how you conduct your service business. Today, you can offer customers seamless secure access to their applications from the MFP control panel. Users seamlessly connect via a single authentication by establishing a “trust relationship” between the identity provider (IdP) that manages the authentication information and the cloud service in advance.

Bringing the cloud to your client’s print environment allows them to focus on more business-critical tasks. Not only are printers accessible and usable from anywhere, supporting full mobility of staff, businesses also realize higher security levels and greater data protection, reduced expense and less pressure on internal IT resources. While many businesses have moved their IT infrastructure from on-premise to the cloud, many companies are still missing the critical final piece of the cloud computing puzzle: cloud printing. We expect usage to increase this year for the following reasons:

This solution enables employees to print anything, anywhere, from any device (as long as they have an internet connection), without requiring different print drivers or to be connected to print servers that are specific to different printers. The most obvious benefit of this is its general mobility. It can offer the flexibility of location-independent printing, while simultaneously unburdening IT from the complexity of needing to manage a myriad of print drivers and print servers. Basically, it offers more freedom for less work.

Instigating cloud printing services is an easier option than you might think and it will make life easier than you can imagine. Users no longer have to deal with infrastructure and software management as updates of software and servers are automatic, without IT teams having to get involved. Organizations are also increasingly taking advantage of the ability to manage their print infrastructure via the cloud using services such as Universal Print from Microsoft, a subscription-based service that runs on Microsoft Azure and fully supports Office 365.

The elephant in the room – what is happening with A4 and A3?

While all the considerations above are bigger than the strategic considerations of where to place A3s and A4s, the debate continues, driven by customer needs and preferences. No one believes A4 will take over A3. And while it used to be acceptable to have a mix of both in the office, in order to work better, consumers need to work with the same device. They are not going to settle for an A3/A4 disconnect; if printing to A4 it absolutely has to have the same look and feel as printing to their workgroup copier.

We see long-term growth in A4 — it is great for the small or even home office, with easy delivery, a small footprint and the ability to self-install and maintain. And although we’re seeing a decline in A3 product, we are also seeing an increase in office solutions and workflow. Customers are getting smarter about hybrid environments and demand print management capabilities. Dealers are being required to develop entire managed print strategies for clients to maintain their hybrid needs and provide the ability for anyone to move anywhere.

In terms of choosing the right machine, we are seeing shifts in demand in the market, including preferences for A4 machines in certain environments, but also a return to more centralized printing. While the A4 offers lower cost and a smaller size, it also offers similar user functionality to A3 MFPs. However, use cases matter — A3 devices are perfect for a central reprographic area due to the continued changes in office layout as a result of COVID-19. But there is a trend in the higher-end segment A4 MFP. Similar to A3 but in a smaller A4 package, these devices have basic finishing capabilities and are likely to be big sellers.

And while businesses today are thinking about all the above in 2022 and beyond, they are also considering their carbon footprint and what changes they can make to reduce it. So how can offices can go green and protect the environment? Transitioning to an electronic document management system can help restrict paper usage to essential documents and reduce paper waste. Investing in one, multifunction printer to replace your scanner, copier, printer, and fax machines can also significantly reduce your energy usage and carbon footprint.

There’s never been a better time to seek more than just a hardware refresh of your portfolio. It’s critical to ensure you select the right equipment and work with a provider that has the right set of printing tools and a collection of office technology that caters to the vision of how we are seeing the future of work evolve.  

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Dino Pagliarello is Senior Vice President, Product Management and Planning, for Konica Minolta. He is responsible for Konica Minolta’s portfolio of industry award-winning office and graphic communications technology within the U.S. He leads a team of product planning and marketing experts that bring new products to market, from multi-functional printers for the office to high-end industrial printing equipment, overseeing the complete life-cycle of these devices.