Workflow and Document Solutions Will Drive Next-Generation MPS

by Robert Palmer

As the market for MPS continues to evolve it has opened up a wider array of opportunities for vendors and service providers. Businesses today are looking to gain greater value from their MPS engagements by expanding beyond print to address issues such as business process optimization, workflow automation, and content management. Key to addressing these opportunities is a broad range of service capabilities built around a strong document solutions portfolio. 

A rash of recent announcements underscore the growing importance that document workflow and intelligent print management solutions will play in the future of MPS. Konica Minolta, in particular, has been very active promoting new partnerships and expanded capabilities for various embedded solutions. On May 22, Konica Minolta and Notable Solutions announced the immediate availability of NSi Output Manager on Konica Minolta bizhub MFPs. NSi’s Output Manager is an integrated print management solution designed for office and enterprise environments that provides features such as secure print capabilities, job accounting and tracking, and rules-based printing. 

Shortly after, Konica Minolta made two similar announcements.  On June 2, the firm announced the release of Nuance Equitrac intelligent print management software and eCopy ShareScan document scanning and distribution software for its bizhub MFPs. The latest releases of Nuance Equitrac Office and Equitrac Express 5.2 offer several enhancements, including support for iQueue, which enables enterprise-wide printing without the need for dedicated print servers. In addition, Equitrac users now have the ability to release print jobs from a web browser using a PC or a mobile device. Equitrac Version 5.2 also includes increased device support for up to 25 bizhub MFPs for its Smart Print capability. 

Nuance eCopy ShareScan 5.2 is a document scanning and distribution solution that converts paper-based information into secure digital documents. New features include the Email and Folder Watching Service, which captures electronic files and documents by monitoring network folders and email addresses. This allows customers to expand eCopy ShareScan workflows to include electronic documents, files, and images from virtually any source — including mobile devices, email, MFPs, or scanners that are not on the supported device list.

Later in June, Konica Minolta unveiled the launch of Prism PrintPath for small- to medium-size businesses (SMBs). Developed jointly with Prism Software, PrintPath is similar to other intelligent print management solutions, providing features such as job tracking and accounting, secure print capabilities, and rules-based printing. 

Xerox expands MPS services

Xerox has also been very active in the solutions space, announcing a host of new services for its MPS business built around a core set of document solutions. As is well documented, Xerox is among the industry leaders in transforming its business by shifting the focus away from products to services. This transition, which began in earnest with Xerox’s acquisition of ACS and continues with a complete revamping of brand identity and go-to-market strategy, has resulted in its services business now accounting for more than half of the firm’s total revenues.  

A big part of Xerox’s strategy is focused on helping customers manage and leverage business-critical information. With its latest announcement, Xerox has honed in on this tactic by providing solutions that are intended to help customers analyze, assess, protect, and leverage their most important information assets. Indeed, managing the massive amounts of information in today’s business climate is a growing challenge, made more difficult by factors such as the ubiquitous nature of the Internet, emerging mobile technologies, and the convergence of paper and electronic content. 

Xerox’s latest services build on its three-stage strategy — or what is commonly referred to at Xerox as the three planks of MPS: assess and optimize, secure and integrate, and automate and simplify. The first of three new services is Xerox Secure Print Manager Suite, which is powered by Nuance Equitrac. Features such as user authentication and secure document release provide customers with advanced print security measures. At the same, the solution provides control and reporting capabilities, such as job tracking, chargeback and accounting, and rules-based printing and routing without disrupting existing IT infrastructure. 

Xerox has long been a partner with Nuance and has offered Equitrac as an embedded solution for its customers for quite some time. Xerox admits that there is little difference in functionality with the current version of Equitrac as part of the Secure Print Management Suite. However, a new licensing model allows customers to buy only those software modules that are needed, with the ability to scale up as required. In addition, the customer is billed only for those devices that are currently active. This is a significant change in business model for both Xerox and Nuance that will reduce the up-front investment required and should help to broaden the application and usage of Equitrac software. 

Workflow automation

Xerox’s MPS strategy remains focused in the areas of process improvement and workflow automation. The firm has introduced two new services leveraging its NewField IT technology that are designed to help customers analyze the way content moves throughout the organization and to uncover opportunities for driving process efficiencies.    

Xerox Document Analytics Services basically tracks and analyzes printed documents to uncover how, where and why documents are used. Data is collected from a variety of sources, including devices, print jobs, and audits of paper trails for both filed and unfiled paper. This information can be combined with actual client interviews for further insights into document usage and printing behavior. Based on the findings, Xerox can provide a host of services and solutions to capture information, digitize content, and improve document workflow. 

Xerox Workflow Assessment Services evaluate how documents move throughout the customer organization to provide insights for creating more efficient processes. According to Xerox, this three-tiered service begins with a high-level assessment of document and device usage. Once this is understood, the second tier of the service leverages document analytics to connect the printed output to the people and processes behind that demand. This helps customers identify areas for improvement, which leads to the third tier of the service that provides a more detailed analysis of document workflow. 

Workflow assessments will play a critical role in future MPS engagements as the market continues to migrate from print services to content services. Many businesses understand the need to revamp existing business processes. But while they see the direct results of inefficient paper-based workflows they often struggle to identify the proper solution. The tendency is to embark on a top-down reengineering of individual processes with little consideration as to the impact on productivity. 

Sound familiar? Many traditional MPS engagements have suffered a similar fate because the focus was squarely on lowering paper consumption and reducing the cost of print. Meanwhile, workflow assessments will play a valuable role in helping customers build a strong business case for process optimization.

Information management: The new frontier

Today’s office environment is rapidly evolving with significant changes occurring to business process and workforce dynamics. Organizations are actively pursuing digital strategies to take advantage of mobile technologies and applications, cloud enablement, and data analytics to optimize work processes and drive better business outcomes. 

Not that long ago, workflow was basically defined by paper-based processes. But in today’s business climate the focus has shifted from managing documents to managing information. The ability to organize, access, and manipulate information for use in a wide variety of applications and form factors is key to success. Because content can originate from and be dispersed to anywhere within the digital ecosystem, security is also a major concern. Balancing the requirements for instant access to information while securing data and protecting content integrity is a significant challenge. 

So, how does all of this fit within the parameters of next generation managed print services? Consider the various components that have been discussed in this article: content management, paper-to-digital conversion, workflow automation, content security, and business process optimization. For many organizations, the network MFP is the most logical starting point for digitizing content and automating workflows. As a result, process optimization will continue to be a point of emphasis for businesses and providers alike as MPS continues to evolve. 

At the same time, addressing each of these areas requires a sophisticated set of software and services integrated into a single solution. MPS is emerging as a centralized hub for integrating additional document solutions and services to address a much broader array of today’s business challenges. 

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of The Imaging Channel.

INFOGRAPHIC: The Challenges of Managing Business Critical Information (Click to see larger)