by Robert Palmer
I am fortunate to be able to spend a good portion of my time on the road in front of customers, vendors, and channel partners. This experience offers valuable feedback and provides insight from those working hard in the trenches. It is interesting to note that the key issues driving corporate decision making today are fairly consistent among businesses of all sizes and target markets. Of course, the ranking and priority varies, but in my experience the top IT concerns among business professionals remain constant regardless of organization type, products produced, and even the markets that are served.
Controlling expenses and reducing operating costs remain at the top of the list for just about every organization today. Any conversation focused on current business challenges usually starts and ends with this issue. The economy is a driving factor, but there are other outside variables forcing businesses to focus on streamlining operations and strengthening the bottom line.
Security is obviously a major concern for all organizations and is the primary issue for many. Security today involves everything from securing computing devices to the protection of data, networks, and processing power. These issues have become even more complex with computer processing and content moving to the cloud, and with both mobile and network devices being enabled for applications and Web-based content. Today, virtually any device that is attached to the network becomes an access point to business assets and corporate information. Security concerns are exacerbated by the promise of the fully connected office and the Internet of Things (IoT).
The remaining issues often get lumped together because they are so intertwined. Moving from paper to digital, supporting mobile device platforms and mobile work processes, dealing with an increasingly distributed workforce, streamlining workflow, and meeting the needs for globalization -- all of these are key issues facing businesses today. When you boil it all down, the primary goal for most organizations is to increase operational efficiencies and become more productive.
So, what does it all mean for this industry -- particularly when you think about transitioning from a business world dominated by paper to one that is increasingly digital and mobile? I think the most important aspect is the timeline. The transition from paper to digital is happening much faster than most people realize, and the impact to all areas of our business is likely to be greater than many expect.
The old view is that paper will be around forever. Some say the paperless office is no nearer to reality today than it was when the concept was first introduced decades ago. The other argument is that paper is so entrenched in today’s business process that it will prove difficult to remove. But office users are quickly migrating to digital display as a preferred medium for information consumption. In reality, there will always be pockets of opportunity and areas of need for the printed page, but there is little doubt that paper usage is and will continue to decline.
Suppliers are reacting to these changing market conditions in very similar ways. As print volumes continue to decline, vendors and their channel partners are investing in strategies to expand beyond print. In some cases, it is a movement toward additional services -- whether that is managed IT services, managed print, or managed document services, for example. There is good strategic reason for this: vendors and the imaging channel already have a strong service infrastructure and a service-oriented sales model already in place.
MPS has been viewed in recent years as the growth engine for the market, but the reality is that print is only a component of the entire IT infrastructure, and the overlap between IT services and MPS is a strong growth opportunity for service providers.
We are also seeing strong movement toward value-add solutions and services such as document management, content management, capture and conversion, and workflow solutions. These high-value solutions allow providers to take advantage of expertise within the document arena and leverage that in ways to grow incremental revenue. Meanwhile, some vendors are pushing into adjacent business opportunities such as 3D printing and digital signage.
The combined effect of these trends is shaping the future of our industry --most especially the future of the office equipment channel. One the one hand, businesses continue to migrate toward managed print services (MPS) as a means to gain better control over the document infrastructure and, ultimately, reduce document output costs. But increasingly, organizations are looking to gain better, more strategic value from their MPS engagements. This requires service providers to develop MPS solutions that are built around a core set of document services and solutions.
Whether it is expanding into adjacent markets or complimentary services, there is no one strategic play that is necessarily more effective than the other. What is important, however, is the ability to develop strong expertise and intellectual property steeped in process automation and document workflow. By integrating ourselves within our customer’s workflow we can solve more business problems, address specific problem areas within the IT infrastructure, and in turn drive additional revenue opportunities.
Robert Palmer is chief analyst and a managing partner for BPO Media, which publishes The Imaging Channel and Workflow magazines. He is an independent market analyst and industry consultant with more than 25 years experience in the printing industry covering technology and business sectors for prominent market research firms such as Lyra Research and InfoTrends. In December 2012 he formed Palmer Consulting as an independent consultancy focused on transformation, mobility, MPS, and the entire imaging market. Palmer is a popular speaker and presents regularly at industry conferences and trade events in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. He is also active in a variety of imaging industry forums and currently serves on the board of directors for the Managed Print Services Association (MPSA). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.