By Robert Palmer
Not that long ago, businesses operated in what could best be described as a centralized office environment. Information was basically collected, created and assimilated at the very top levels of the company and flowed down through the organization. In terms of documents and printing, it was very much a “print and distribute” model. Information was printed in hard-copy form, then distributed to recipients who had little means to interact with or work with that information, except to go back to the top and start the process all over again.
That all changed with the emergence of the Internet. Individual knowledge workers became empowered, and information flowed both from the top down and the bottom up. At the same time, content creation moved from being very structured and departmentalized to being much more collaborative in nature. Documents and content moved closer to the user, and information became much more fluid in terms of how it was consumed and distributed.
From a printing perspective, offices moved to a “distribute and print” model, where content was distributed electronically to individuals who could then interact with that information before printing. The process remained paper-intensive, but pushing the information closer to the user increased the value of the document and fostered the beginning stages of a “print on demand” model.
Today, everything has changed. Mobile technologies and cloud solutions permeate business processes. Individuals have instant access to information, and mobile technologies keep us in constant touch with our business resources and content. The office is rapidly moving to a fully enabled “consume on demand” model, where individuals consume (view and print) what they need when they need it and where they need it.
We have yet to see a full transition to on-demand digital consumption because paper is still entrenched in many of today’s business processes. In the near term, offices will operate in a “hybrid environment,” where paper and digital content continue to coexist. This is likely to be the case for quite some time — despite a growing number of companies pushing directives to go paperless. Still, businesses and their employees have embraced mobile technologies, and we are witnessing rapid changes in the way individuals now interact with their business information.
The linear approach to MPS
There has been plenty of discussion as to how the shift to digital and mobile technologies will impact paper consumption. It is a debate that continues to rage and, regardless of which side of the fence you are on, most tend to agree that office printing will decline in the future. Printing is not dead, but there is little doubt that businesses today rely less on paper-based workflow and will continue to do so in the future. If that is true, how will the imaging channel evolve as the core of our business continues to erode?
The evolution of the channel is well under way; it began with the convergence of copiers and printers and continues today through the ongoing transition to managed print and document services. Today, MPS is implemented more or less using a linear approach. Most providers focus on print management and reducing the costs of print. Too often, that is where the customer relationship begins and ends: helping customers save money on paper, ink and toner. If other process improvements are targeted, they typically occur later on in the engagement, after the print optimization phase.
This linear approach puts restrictions on the long-term customer benefit of MPS. At the same time, it limits opportunities to expand beyond print into other value-added services and solutions. Why is business process optimization traditionally viewed as an upsell for MPS? It really is not all that surprising. Dealers and service providers — even those that have been selling MPS for years — tend to take the path of least resistance and focus on what they know or what has been successful in the past.
We all understand that the market is changing, but expanding beyond print services means developing new sales tools, talk tracks, educational programs, compensation plans and even a completely new business model.
As previously mentioned, businesses are already transitioning from the “distribute and print” model to the “on-demand” model. Many are struggling with issues relating to digitizing content and automating certain business processes that revolve around paper. The convergence of paper and digital formats is changing the way information flows through the business — and how a document environment is structured is key to managing that process effectively. The fact is, the imaging channel is in a prime position to help guide businesses through that transition.
A new MPS model
MPS should not be thought of as simply a means to an end. To be truly effective, managed print services should drive productivity in all areas of the business, which is an ongoing process that requires a complete understanding of your customer’s document environment and a strategic plan for future business objectives. If your customers are looking to optimize the print environment, how might those changes impact other strategic objectives in areas such as document workflow, content management, security and paper-to-digital conversion?
Meanwhile, the transition to mobile devices sits right at the heart of all of these processes. Are your customers looking at mobile workflows as their business evolves? More importantly, are you including mobile solutions as part of your approach to MPS? Most dealers today are either evaluating or already offering mobile print solutions, but there are so many other areas in which our industry should play an active role, such as mobile capture and mobile document management, to name only a couple.
Today, managed print services are basically used as an entry point for advancing further into other document and business processes, but given the fast-moving changes occurring in the business environment, this approach is losing its effectiveness. After all, print itself is a document process, so it makes little sense that printing (or changes to the print environment) should occur independently or ahead of changes involving other document processes.
Instead, MPS should be built from a core set of solutions that address all areas of a business’s content-related needs: print management, document management, capture and automation, document security, etc. Print optimization and process optimization should occur concurrently and in a complementary way in order to achieve the best results. At the same time, an MPS solution that is geared to drive efficiencies throughout the document environment is a real differentiator that can separate you from competitors and create sustainable customer relationships.
Content, not printing
We all know that paper is entrenched in many business processes today, and it will take time to transition those related applications to digital format. Printing is still a viable business function in many cases — and in fact may be the most viable, depending upon the application.
Nevertheless, printing is on the decline, and the downward trend is likely to accelerate as mobile and cloud technologies continue to improve. Competing in today’s market is extremely difficult with print volumes and supplies profits shrinking. If your MPS strategy is focused solely on capturing more pages, will that be enough to sustain your core business for the next five years?
There is a lot of talk in the industry today about the need for dealers to expand their MPS capabilities. The long-held opinion has been that MPS should be implemented in stages, starting with managing print assets and moving into other document solutions and managed services. The historical approach has been to leverage the MPS customer relationship as a stepping stone into areas such as managed document services, managed network services (MNS), BPO, ITO or some other non-print-related, revenue-generating specialty. The problem, of course, is that many providers fail to move beyond the typical “Stage 1” services.
The time has come for MPS providers to focus on the core areas of document and content management, lead with those areas and begin to look at printing as one of many business processes that require optimization. For many dealers and providers, this will mean investing in new solutions and new solution partners. For most, it will mean significant changes in sales, marketing, infrastructure and business models.
If you are not already involved in these areas, it might seem a difficult step to take. However, there is little doubt that offices today are influenced less by the need to put marks on paper and more by the need to create an effective and sustainable electronic document strategy. Managed print services helped office equipment dealers stay relevant as office printing transitioned from a necessary business function to an area primed for streamlining and cost reduction. Moving forward, MPS needs to evolve to allow these same dealers to not only survive the migration from paper to digital format, but thrive from it — and, in fact, help facilitate the transition.
This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of The Imaging Channel.
About the Author
Robert Palmer is an independent market analyst and industry consultant. With more than 20 years of experience in the printing industry, he has covered technology and business for prominent market research firms such as Lyra Research and InfoTrends. He was managing editor of the Hard Copy Observer for six years and more recently served as director of office document services for Photizo Group. Palmer recently formed Palmer Consulting, an independent consultancy covering the imaging market.