Following its acquisition of Samsung’s printing business, HP said it aims to reinvent and replace service-intensive copiers with superior multifunction printing. It argues that copiers are outdated, complicated machines with dozens of replaceable parts requiring inefficient service and maintenance agreements and that customers are frustrated with the number of visits needed to keep machines functioning.
Is this how the channel views the status quo?
PrintIT Reseller invited a number of resellers to voice their thoughts.
Colin Griffin, Managing Director, Blackbox Solutions said that Blackbox has seen a trend towards multifunctional devices that print, copy and scan and he believes that standalone copiers are probably on their way out as they are simply less convenient and lack the features of modern MFDs.
Stuart Bowmer, HP MPS Director, ZenOffice agrees: “The traditional photocopier has been superseded by newer multifunctional technologies offering the end user additional functionality to just copy.
“The trend we have seen is the transition from single function devices to multifunctional technologies, developed for single users to workgroups of over 30 individuals with standardised operating systems, supporting a plethora of custom designed apps (not too dissimilar to what we have seen in the mobile phone market over the past nine years),” he added.
“However, I’d argue that the ability for businesses to copy and print documents is anything but outdated. We still see huge appetite among businesses to print and copy documents and our business continues to grow as a result,” Griffin said.
Griffin pointed to the fact that at work we may be surrounded by screens, laptops, tablets and smartphones – but people still like to hold a printed document in their hands. “Print is a vital component of most office environments,” he said, adding that a recent survey by Epson found that 64 per cent of respondents preferred to read documents on paper, in part because it offers the advantages of sharability (53 per cent) and the ability to easily edit and annotate documents (41 per cent).
Griffin contends that the copier industry has seen much innovation recently, from the incorporation of mobile, wireless and cloud print features, to touchscreen interfaces, internet connectivity, print management software and email distribution. “Leading printer Manufacturers have integrated new technology which has improved the flexibility and usability of MFDs to fit in with modern working practices. Further technological innovation in the print sector is certainly to be encouraged, but I think this will reinforce the role of print in offices, despite overtures in favour of the paperless office,” he noted.
Copiers are absolutely not outdated, complicated machines according to Julian Stafford, Director, Midshire Northern. “They have changed beyond all recognition to become the heartbeat of the modern office and workplace,” he said, adding that whilst they undoubtedly have more functions than ever before they are now easier to use, as they have become highly intuitive.
“The industry is changing with a move to more A4 machines,” he said, predicting placements will increase, giving people access to a personal multifunction device, reversing the trend of rationalisation witnessed over the last ten years.
Speed of change continues to increase
“This is being driven by smaller footprint devices with significantly reduced running costs, matching the standard A3 devices,” Stafford added. “A more sophisticated and IT savvy user also demands more than just a copier/printer. The new generation of MFPs deliver more functionality than ever before. The speed of change and development is continuing to increase. It’s a really exciting time for the industry.”
“Copiers allow a high quality output at a very competitive price and much of this is achieved by allowing individual parts rather than whole assemblies to be replaced, keeping costs affordable,” he said.
Matt Goodall, Service Director, Office Evolution. “Many printer style solutions offer attractive prices but these rarely materialise and end users end up paying vastly more for their prints and copies. Photocopiers have a proven track record of affordable costs,” he added.
Joe Doyle, Marketing Director, Annodata also wholeheartedly disagrees with the assertion that copiers are outdated. “People have spoken about the paperless office for over 20 years now but we’re yet to see it in practice. Aside from their copier functionality, MFDs today can perform an incredible array of services, from simple things like scanning to email or folders, through to redacting certain key words in documents containing thousands of pages. Manufacturers invest millions each year on R&D to make them faster, smaller and easier to use,” he said.
According to Kevin Tunley, Sales Director, Midshire Group, the latest range of MFPs bear little relation to the old photocopiers. “They are an intrinsic part of any modern office, working as a central hub for inputting information, transmitting data, printing and storing information in the cloud. They also produce copies,” he said.
He added: “Currently the HP product fills a position in the market place, but the company will have to improve its supply chain in order to compete effectively with other established manufacturers who have solid experience in supporting dealers in the managed print sector.”
“The actual copy function is only one of many tasks a multifunctional can perform,” said Clive Hamilton, Group Managing Director, Pinnacle Complete Office Solutions. “These systems now form a vital bridge between the paper world and millions of electronic documents that often reside on document management systems, on site or in the cloud.
“Modern multifunctionals are the hub of any organisation for document workflows and bear more resemblance to networked computers in terms of security, productivity and convenience through apps and workflow automation,” he added.
Service and maintenance
In response to a question asking whether or not copiers have dozens of replaceable parts requiring inefficient service and maintenance agreements, Bowmer said that the answer depends on which side of the fence that you are sitting on. “A straight answer to a straight question would be: have we seen an increase in the number of parts that can be replaced by the end user? The answer is yes. But why is this?,” he stated.
“The reason is actually to improve the end user satisfaction and to increase service delivery. Rather than waiting for an engineer to turn up, order the parts, then visit again to fit the parts. The customer can simply swap out the affected parts and the device is back up and running. Waiting upon the engineer who then needs to order the parts can take 2-3 days versus 2-3 minutes,” he explained.
“The number of replaceable parts depends on the unit in question,” Griffin said. “Some of the Samsung units we supply have as few as seven replaceable parts so they are very straightforward to maintain, but we also supply high volume printers which are naturally a little more complicated. We’ve invested in staff training to ensure we’re able to service and maintain high volume machines and we’re one of few local suppliers to offer this service, which certainly gives us an edge in the niche but profitable high volume sector.”
Like any reseller, Blackbox offers service and maintenance agreements and Griffin argues that they have highly efficient structures in place to ensure responsive servicing for all clients. “We’ve made efforts to automate and streamline the maintenance and servicing as far as possible. Our aim is always to provide a great customer experience and we have a number of initiatives that give our clients more control over their service requests and provide greater transparency and flexibility,” he explained.
All Blackbox engineers and technicians have access to a wireless portal, enabling them to log, track and request parts and stock in real-time, speeding up maintenance and repairs and minimising equipment downtime. And there’s also a customer servicing app that provides a range of functionality, such as enabling customers to order replacement toner cartridges, request a visit from a service engineer, or submit their meter readings.
“We’re also soon to launch Service Accent, a dedicated web portal which provides a platform to log and track service jobs,” Griffin said. “Customers will be able to log all service work and monitor progress, view service and order history and raise orders via the internet, simplifying the current process and giving our clients control over their business.”
The number of replaceable parts doesn’t impact on the end user. Stafford says that a fully managed device offers fantastic levels of reliability with no user intervention required. “Our customers want to focus on their core business and not have to worry about changing drums, maintenance kits etc.”
He added: “Our managed print service offers a four-hour response from a qualified technician carrying a full stock of parts so we can effect a timely repair. Devices have become incredibly reliable and economical to run, we expect continued improvement with both for the foreseeable future.”
“Copiers do have a long list of replaceable parts,” Goodall admitted. “But by replacing parts individually when they reach their service limits, the customer gains full benefit from each part, which again keeps costs low,” he said.
“Printer style solutions often require you to maintain a stock of cartridges and items in your office meaning that in most cases you have paid for your prints and copies before you have even made them and in addition to this when a machine is replaced, users are often left with a surplus of cartridges and user replaceable items for which full value cannot be regained,” he added.
“Copiers have some replaceable parts but again, through the technological advancements made, parts need replacing far less often than they did years ago,” Doyle noted. “Also, when things do go wrong, often the user is able to fix the problem themselves by using the simple instructions provided or even by using videos embedded into the system itself.”
He added: “These machines are often working for hours every day, performing vital tasks, so it’s to be expected that every now and then they need to be serviced and maintained to keep them in top shape.”
Tunley also concurs that current MFPs do have numerous replacement parts. “But these have reduced over the past few years and in our experience, the number of machines in field ratio to engineers, has steadily increased, which shows improved reliability in spite of the wider number of tasks that these machines are now performing. I will be interested to see how the reliability of the HP product compares when there is no third-party on-site support,” he said.
“Most multifunctionals now work with modular components and consumables that can be exchanged in minutes,” Hamilton added. “Service delivery is optimised to such an extent that engineers can attend to devices in four hours or less. In most cases, customers are up and running the same or next day. Maintenance agreements can include spare parts, labour, toner and other consumables for complete peace of mind. All the customer has to add are the two Ps – paper and power.”
Frustration about servicing
Griffin insists that frustration about servicing is not an issue among Blackbox customers. “We make every effort to ensure a responsive approach to servicing to minimise downtime for our clients,” he said. “If a machine isn’t operational it’s a quick way to lose business, so we ensure that we sort out any problems as quickly as possible.”
Blackbox servicing teams fix 98.3 per cent of problems during the first visit to a client’s premises “And we have a central warehouse to provide parts to our technicians as quickly as possible, Griffin said, adding that this is helped by the fact that the Samsung products it supplies are incredibly reliable, reflected by a Which? report last year which named Samsung the Best Printer Brand 2015 and Most Reliable Printer Brand 2015.
“The reliability and simplicity of Samsung’s devices was one of the reasons cited by HP as a key factor in their decision to buy Samsung’s print business,” he commented.
“Understandably, people are never happy when a machine breaks down,” said Doyle. “But with servicing scheduled regularly, this can be kept to a minimum. Our call centre staff are trained to resolve the majority of issues over the phone. When an engineer does need to make a visit, they’re given a time slot and all of our cars are electronically tracked so we can keep customers informed as to when they’ll arrive.”
Stafford also disagrees with the contention that customers are frustrated with the number of visits needed to keep machines functioning. “That’s not our experience, our data shows that copies between calls have increased dramatically in recent years,” he said, adding: “All our manufacturers including HP, have made great strides to improve reliability in all areas. Our customers are benefiting from the improved productivity and reduced costs these improvements have delivered. We don’t envisage these improvements slowing down anytime soon.”
Bowmer said that with the recent development in technologies and new strategic approaches to the delivery of service, ZenOffice customers have seen a significant reduction in the number of service calls. “It is not unusual for customers to have as little as one to two service calls per year on such a device,” he explained.
Goodall agrees: “A proactive company such as Office Evolution schedules preventative maintenance calls which allow many issues to be addressed before the customer is even aware they exist. In addition, onsite supplies can be replenished and future calls scheduled along with any customer questions being answered at the time,” he said.
“We find that most customers appreciate the preventative calls and these dramatically reduce the occurrence of breakdown calls,” he said, adding that the company still sees a huge transfer of customers’ print from purchased print solutions to a managed MFP, both saving money and adding convenience. “Just this month, a major international office furniture manufacturer replaced its fleet of MFPs with us and is phasing out individual printers that are not supported, due to the cost implications,” he added.
Tunley said: “We pride ourselves on providing response times that the printer industry can only dream of. Our feedback says that customers are willing to pay for the service that we offer as a managed print provider. They like to feel that there is support available and that they can rely on us to solve their problems quickly and efficiently.
“Planned preventative maintenance is an equally important part of the service we deliver. It’s proven to help us prevent breakdowns for customers and means we don’t lose that human interaction that in my opinion is an essential part of delivering a personal customer service,” he added. Due to the modular component design of the Xerox systems, a visit is not always required,” Hamilton said. “Often faults can be rectified remotely, either over the phone or via remote dial in. When there is a need for a visit from a Pinnacle or Xerox engineer, customers tend to be kind and welcoming.”
In conclusion, Hamilton shared some additional thoughts: “It is evidence of a lack of understanding on the side of HP to think that there is something like the copier or A3 marketplace. Modern vendors and dealerships in our industry are experts in managed print services and document management systems, often getting involved in workflow automation and document security. Of course it is important to ensure that the hardware is robust and intelligent enough to be able to meet these requirements but ultimately entry to this market can only be achieved through longstanding expertise and service delivery through, well established and proven channel partners.”