Five Ways Imaging Advances Are Helping SMBs Compete

Technology advances have enabled small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to overcome many advantages of scale that once were exclusive to large enterprises. The web expands market reach. Mobile devices speed communications from the field. Automation boosts quality and productivity while cutting costs.

Imaging technology advancements contribute to this trend. Here are five ways imaging technologies help SMBs compete more effectively.

1. Smarter printing

Rationalizing print needs often isn’t a top priority for cash-strapped, lean-staffed SMBs. That can be a problem. Most companies underestimate their printing costs by about 40 percent. The average business actually spends about 3 percent of annual revenue on printing, making it the third largest expense behind rent and payroll.

Many large enterprises have gained control of their printing activities by engaging with manufacturers for managed print services (MPS). Initial installations typically generate about 30 percent in cost savings, while relieving staff from print-related activities, boosting productivity and freeing them to focus on the business. For many firms though, it’s the sharpened visibility into the print operation and resulting improving management control that is MPS’s real prize.

SMBs have largely missed out, because they haven’t been a cost-effective target for most MPS providers. But that’s changing. More and more dealers are offering MPS to their largely SMB client bases — sometimes in conjunction with a manufacturer — leveling the playing field for SMBs.

The process begins with an assessment of the print installation — an effort that is valuable on its own, whether part of an MPS contract or not. The assessment looks at print volumes on various devices, device ages, the efficiency of device locations and other factors. These data feed a plan for managing the current fleet and for bringing in newer technologies that are less expensive to maintain.

Once enacted, the SMB gains efficiency by managing a single contract, while the MPS provider manages everything print-related, from clearing paper jams, to ordering supplies, changing toner and servicing equipment. Costs are controlled by rightsizing equipment, for instance, installing centralized production printers with their lower cost-per-page, to handle larger jobs. And visibility is gained with dashboards that present data on who is printing where and when —  intelligence that can lead to more printing insights down the road.

2. Digitally transforming the workplace

Let’s face it — since the advent of the web, most businesses have been going through a digital transformation. Some just plan for it more than others.

SMBs have been somewhat disadvantaged in this transformation. A central tool for digitizing work processes, the enterprise content management (ECM) system, has traditionally required professionals to install, program and maintain it, an expense too great for many SMBs. These systems are valuable not only because they store content in many digital formats for easy retrieval, but because they can automate many document-related processes, such as gaining approvals.

With ECM out of reach, many SMBs rely on inefficient paper-based systems. According to a 2016 AIIM survey, poor content management practices result in taking too long to find content (for 62 percent of respondents), duplicated efforts (52 percent) and insufficient re-use (46 percent). Adopting a digital work process not only improves staff productivity, it lowers costs by reducing printing, the costs of supplies like paper and ink and space requirements for storing physical records.

Fortunately, there are some technologies that are bringing ECM technologies more in line with SMB budgets.

First is the latest generation of ECM systems that are riding the consumerization wave. Complex systems that traditionally required professional expertise are beginning to emulate the user-friendly apps on mobile devices and laptops. So newer ECM systems enable easy use and programming by non-IT staff, while packing power comparable to large-scale enterprise systems.

Then there is the cloud. Storing content on a third-party cloud system eliminates the complexity of integrating and maintaining an on-site electronic storage facility and helps control costs, as users pay only for the service level they need.  And one-touch scanning controls allow paper documents to be easily digitized and filed to popular web applications, such as Dropbox, Quickbooks and Salesforce.

With these advancements, SMBs can truly manage their digital transformation and become more efficient organizations.

3. Working smarter 

“Working smarter” means finding ways to reduce tedium and boost productivity by automating routine tasks. It’s one thing to install state-of-the-art MFPs and ECM systems. It’s quite another to reap the full benefits of their automation capabilities.

Dealers can help by learning about their customers’ work processes and offering ways to automate them. In the past, such work was the realm of system integrators with considerable IT expertise. But that’s changing. Many basic workflow activities can now be automated easily in a user-friendly ECM system or with off-the-shelf MFP apps, which work much like smartphone apps.

Apps can address a wide range of workplace activities from the general, such as scanning directly to specific document repositories and translating scanned documents into other languages, to the specialized, such as securely sharing medical patient information. And that’s part of their beauty —  they can automate your customers’ unique workflows.

4. Enabling the remote workforce

The need to support a remote workforce is building from every corner and constituency. More employees work remotely than ever before. Sales and service reps continue to seek greater productivity on the road. And who doesn’t seek access to corporate resources with their personal mobile devices at some point?

What’s more, remote access can benefit employees and SMBs alike. Studies show that telecommuting boosts worker productivity and satisfaction, limits absences and saves money for the business — an estimated $2,000 per remote employee, according to one study by a Stanford professor.

Interestingly, printing and scanning continue to have roles in mobile business processes. In “Mobile Devices and the Impact on Print,” InfoTrends reported 95 percent of consumers and 67 percent of business users want the capability to print from their mobile devices. Indeed, phones and tablets enabled with the Mopria Alliance’s mobile printing standard print more than 1 million pages daily, including classroom homework, email, medical records, coupons, event tickets, boarding passes, reservations, recipes and other documents.

Dealers and SMBs who embrace these mobile technologies will tend to have access to a better employee pool, and to have a more satisfied and productive workforce than mobile laggards.

5. Minimizing cybersecurity threats

Anything that is connected to the internet can be a target for cybercriminals, and with increasing demand for access from mobile devices and the Internet of Things, the number of connected devices is growing exponentially.

SMBs are clearly in the line of fire. Forty-three percent of cyberattacks target small businesses, according to, and 20 percent have been cybercrime victims, according to Microsoft.

The average cost of a data breach is $3.6 million, according to a Ponemon Institute study. Add in loss of trust when customer data is compromised, loss of competitive edge when trade secrets and pricing strategies become known, and you begin to see why 60 percent of small companies go out of business within six months of a cyber-attack, according to GEM Strategy Management.

Printers and MFPs are among the vulnerable, always-on network endpoints that cybercriminals target. Securing the print infrastructure is a complex challenge. Read more about “The Security Threats That Lurk in Your Office — And What to Do About Them” in the June 2018 issue of The Imaging Channel.

Remember, cybercriminals work full time at getting a half step ahead of security alerts. In response, SMBs and dealers need to take advantage of services from partners who work full time at staying a step ahead of cyberperps.

A more competitive SMB

SMBs use information technology — and imaging technology — to gain a competitive edge. Helping them do that gives dealers a similar competitive edge, contributing to a virtuous circle that transforms them from vendor to valued partner. And that’s a good place to be.

Tracey Koziol

This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of The Imaging Channel.