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COVID-19: Our expert panel gives us their insight into……

….the impact of the coronavirus pandemic as it continues to play out. There will undoubtedly be long-lasting implications to the economy and businesses worldwide. This issue PrintIT Reseller explores to what extent has the print and IT sectors been impacted, how are vendors adapting to fast-changing new market conditions and where future opportunity lies?

PrintIT Reseller: How much of an impact has COVID-19 had on your business?

Mike Barron, Managing Director, SYNAXON UK: “SYNAXON UK is a community and the very real and human challenge that the pandemic has presented to all of us has only served to underline that fact. Everyone has really pulled together, and we have actually seen a surge in activity and interaction between our members and our team. We ran a virtual meeting of our SynMSP group recently and it was a big success and we’re holding daily team meetings over Google Hangouts – and we know a lot of our members are doing the same. We have seen an uplift in our Central Trading distribution business and even higher use of our EGIS stock ordering platform.”

Emma Davies-Carolan
Emma Davies-Carolan

Emma Davies-Carolan, Director of Marketing Europe, ECI: “As a global business, we knew we needed to act quickly to minimise disruption and maintain business continuity. Within days of the restrictions being announced, we’d successfully moved the European team onto virtual platforms as part of our ‘work from home first’ policy. “Of course, some existing customers and prospects needed to focus on prioritising their own response to the crisis – a decision we were fully supportive of at ECI. Luckily, cloudbased systems have been in higher demand, meaning many customers are now finding our products more essential than ever.”

Phil Madders
Phil Madders

Phil Madders, Managing Director, PAE Business: “Although it seems to have been going on forever in terms of the business cycle, it is relatively early to assess the full impact of COVID-19. The obvious changes that we have already made are: the entire business has moved to working from home; Teams has become a crucial collaborative tool, we seem to almost live on; and customer-facing activity in terms of sales and to a lesser extent technical support has reduced dramatically. However, we have focussed on improving our back-office systems and reviewing new product offerings for the channel as we look forward to returning to the ‘new normal’.”

 Mike Nelson
Mike Nelson

Mike Nelson, Senior Vice President, PFU (EMEA) Limited: “Ours is a very international business. We sell our scanners in more than 140 countries in EMEA alone, so not being able to travel and visit our customers is a challenge. As for COVID-19 then it is the health and wellbeing of our staff, partners and customers which is foremost in our minds and in this then sadly no company can expect to escape with no impact at all. Hopefully for us and for others this will be minimal. Business is likely to dip for a while but our mission to enable the world’s flow of knowledge has become even more important in these difficult times as remote workers need access to the information locked up in paper records in their offices, so we expect opportunities too.

“We have continued with our hiring plan and recently welcomed two new team members who have joined us remotely and can only meet their new colleagues on video calls. It must feel very strange for them but they have adapted well and are already making a difference.

“Interestingly, we’ve seen sales growth for our ScanSnap products, because these help personal productivity and can help organisations adapt to the new working environment we find ourselves in.

“Organisations of all sizes have been forced to undergo some form of digital transformation in just a couple of months, something that might normally have taken a few years. In this new world, digitising paper to enable remote collaboration is an opportunity that can have a profound impact on how a business is able to operate.”

Rod Tonna-Barthet, CEO, Kyocera: “The last two months have seen some unprecedented changes to traditional business practices. As with most organisations, we have been affected in a few different areas, such as our ability to provide the education sector with the latest print devices due to the closure of schools and universities.

“Fortunately, we are an extremely adaptive business with a wide-ranging service offering which has ensured we have been able to continue helping business to not just survive, but to thrive in this situation. Demand for print hardware may be down, but we are making up for this in increased demand for our IT consultancy, content services and unified communications (UC) offerings.”

Jeremy Spencer, Marketing Director, Toshiba: “We pivoted very quickly to a remote working model, maintaining all key technical support and administrative functions with no loss in customer support functionality. Our business continuity planning has meant that our customers and partners have had full visibility of all of our business functions and support throughout the changing situations we have all been facing.”

James Reed, Managing Director Endpoint Solutions UK & Ireland, Tech Data: “The initial spike in sales of laptops, inkjet printers and other products for use in the home has been quite well-reported and we certainly saw a surge in activity there. We also saw a lot of early activity from public sector. A number of commercial IT projects have been put on hold out of necessity as there is no-one in the workplace, but the overall level of business has been pretty much as expected. We have had more requests coming in for finance options and credit as our customers and their end-user customers look at ways to ease any additional pressure that they might see on cashflow.

“Operationally, it has been quite interesting. We switched to home working a few days before the UK lockdown was imposed and we were already geared-up to do that as a business. Our warehouse has stayed open but with strict distancing rules and hygiene protocols. A big impact has been on events and here, we took the decision very early on to go virtual where possible.”

Martin Randall
Martin Randall

Martin Randall, Sales and Marketing Director, Vision: “A considerable one, as I’m sure is the case for everyone in our sector. Whilst we are proud to be supporting many essential services including NHS Trusts, during lockdown our service revenues more than halved. Coupled with this decline in service, I don’t think you could experience a tougher environment to sell in. We made some strategic changes within sales that resulted in achieving roughly 50 per cent of our budgeted figures in April which, given the circumstances, we are pleased with.”

Martin Fairman, Managing Director UK&I, Lexmark: “Like most businesses, the COVID situation has posed some challenges – not only to the way we work, but also how our customers operate during this period. Our priority is to ensure our staff are safe, whilst supporting our partners, through online education and the latest Lexmark technology to help ensure customers receive a seamless service.

“Many have not been in the office over the last couple of months, however as we work with many NHS Trusts and retail customers in the UK, it has been imperative that we were able to adapt to ensure the same standard of service during this critical time whilst protecting our employees and our customers.”

Liam Fitzgerald, Head of UK Distribution and Reseller Sales, Brother UK: “The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the business ecosystem and we have all felt it to some extent. The printer market is changing rapidly and our business is embracing it, ensuring our teams are at the side of our channel partners to meet significant shifts in customer demand without any interruption to the service levels they rely on.”

Clive Hamilton, CEO, Pinnacle Group: “A huge amount of impact in various ways from learning to WFH as a group and learning to try and support our customers who are still trying to work in some fashion; but also to understand how to sympathise with those who are not able to, also generally learning to cope and deal with a very fluid situation which changes daily and weekly.”

Anna Muskett, Channel Director EMEA, Kodak Alaris: “The global pandemic has had a significant impact on our business and the marketplace in which we operate. Much of our manufacturing is done in China, which has brought supply chain management to the forefront. Initially, there were some delays delivering orders, however we are now getting that back on track due to our manufacturing sites re-opening and running at nearly full capacity. We’ve managed to increase our scanner production from 40% in March to nearly 100% which is a great achievement. Our secondary supply chain partners are also beginning to normalise, although we continue to monitor this very carefully in certain regions to ensure we can support the business.

“As expected, overall demand for products and services has slowed down and we have taken steps to mitigate the short-term impact of that. However our performance in the financial year ended March 31 was strong; mainly driven by an increase in demand for capture solutions from sectors including healthcare and logistics which have been pivotal in this crisis.”

PrintIT Reseller: How have you adapted your business to address fast-changing new market conditions?

Mike Barron: “Everyone at SYNAXON UK was already geared-up for home working and doing that for at least two days a week anyway, so in that sense, we’ve hardly needed to change anything. We have just added a few more regular meetings and updates into the cycle to make sure everyone feels in touch with developments. We have also made sure that we have fun and keep up morale by introducing a Monday Munch Club, where staff are encouraged to take a break, have some lunch, and chat about anything other than work. This normally involves a challenge, such as baking or creating something over the weekend.

“In terms of meeting the needs of members, we’ve been working hard to try and ensure we can give them access to the product categories their customers need and we’ve been making doubly sure that they know we are here and ready to help them in every way we can.” Emma Davies-Carolan: “Like most businesses, we’re regularly reviewing workloads and resourcing levels to ensure the balance is right – with essential work taking priority.”

Phil Madders: “The main changes have been the transition to remote working. We had already invested in a flexible working infrastructure so the transition to home working was straightforward and painless. The team have embraced the new way of working really positively and the disruption has been minimal.”

Mike Nelson: “With our entire workforce working remotely, we are finding new ways of doing business and have recently started offering a range of virtual training sessions and workshops to our customers and partners. These provide a regular point of contact with our channel partners and allow us to help them identify and close business opportunities.

“We’ve looked to continue with a business as normal approach as much as possible, adapting where necessary. For example, in mid-June we will be launching our new and improved SP line of devices. We would normally mark a new product with partner launch events, but to adapt to the new circumstances we now plan to run a webinar – for which we’ve already had 200+ sign ups with six weeks to go.”

Rod Tonna-Barthet
Rod Tonna-Barthet

Rod Tonna-Barthet: “Our technologies have always been about providing individuals and organisations with the best tools and the right guidance to ensure they are achieving their goals. As part of this we are strengthening our core portfolio of managed service solutions, including our IT consultancy and unified communications (UC) services. These are available to all of our customers, whether they are channel partners, end-users or public sector organisations.

“Consultancy in particular has become increasingly important in recent weeks and will continue to be so as organisations plan their next steps. We have adapted to suit this growing need and are working closely with customers so they can properly define the correct architecture and solutions necessary to help them maintain a sense of continuity.

“Once this has been established, we can work alongside their teams to ensure they achieve their goals efficiently. These are usually related to increasing productivity through technological innovation, improving UC capabilities by ensuring all staff are better connected, and helping organisations to become more sustainable.”

Jeremy Spencer: “We are seeing greater interest in our IT services, which allow organisations to run seamlessly from home. Solutions that optimise processes, whether financial, administrative or HR related, for example, are also proving popular as they invite users to obtain greater efficiencies and simplify complex workflows.”

James Reed
James Reed

James Reed: “Aside from WFH, we have not had to change too much. One challenge has been trying to make sure there is enough stock to meet the surges in demand we have seen for certain product categories. Everyone in the channel recognises that we are all in this together and we are all seeing similar challenges. We are working with our vendor partners and our customers to find the best solutions for everyone.”

Martin Randall: “When we implemented a new ‘working under lockdown’ sales strategy we did so with the belief that we were making short term adjustments, rather than long-term adaptations. The focus has been geared toward restructuring agreements to deliver savings, assisting home workers, and an increased focus on digital transformation to enhance business processes and support remote working.

“Regardless of the COVID-19 developments, no doubt elements of this strategy will continue, especially digital transformation. We were already successfully supporting many clients in this area and seeing an increase in interest… this will only continue to accelerate as businesses recognise the importance of streamlining processes and enabling remote working for unforeseen circumstances.”

Martin Fairman: “We have been working closely with our partners to understand the impact this has had on their business and the challenges they are facing. Lexmark’s Channel MPS service offers data and analytics capabilities that enable our partners to manage and monitor print fleets remotely, perform predictive analysis that eliminates printing downtime and manual intervention, as well as providing great insight for continuous improvement. We are also in the process of familiarising our partners without enhanced and service upgrades as we are acutely aware this is not the time to be upgrading print estates, so this will enable our partners to make additional margin during the months ahead.”

Liam Fitzgerald
Liam Fitzgerald

Liam Fitzgerald: “Vendors and resellers alike are adapting their businesses to meet the rush for home office devices and remote solutions. Without IT teams or engineers on hand, customers want new ways of diagnosing and resolving technical issues for their employees and we’re providing free Remote Panel licences to enable partners to monitor their customer’s printer remotely without the need for engineer visits, by remotely diagnosing and resolving printing and scanning issues.

“While print volumes have dropped in some sectors, they have remained constant across the grocery market and in some areas of public sector. We have adapted our logistics processes and capacity to ensure our resellers can serve this demand by supplying the devices they need quickly, while closely managing our ink and toner replenishment cycles to ensure any downtime is kept to a minimum. Collaboration between vendor and reseller is vital if the end-user is to get the best outcome.”

Clive Hamilton: “We adapted our business relatively smoothly in dealing within the new environment which we find ourselves working in. The first thing we did was to reach out and understand what our customers’ pain points are and how we could support their requirements to enable them to continue with work as effectively and efficiently as possible.

“Pinnacle were in a good position to respond to these requirements because of the services and solutions which we can offer over and above print. One of the biggest challenges however was how quickly and agile we could be to support our customers’ needs. Although an early concern for our legacy MPS business was page volumes dropping, we could still support our clients’ home working requirements so they could also adapt to this fast-changing market condition.”

Anna Muskett: “The past few months has seen us focus heavily on ensuring the safety of our people. Fortunately, home working is very much ingrained in our culture, so extending this across the business hasn’t presented too many challenges. We have also taken additional steps to protect our global service teams. We have increased our use of remote monitoring and service to ensure we keep customers up and running and continue to provide essential service in locations where government mandates permit.”

PrintIT Reseller: How optimistic are you about market recovery, do you think there will be a new ‘business as normal’ and where do you see the most opportunity in terms of services and solutions?

Mike Barron: “Everyone wants to see business recovery quickly when we come out of lockdown and we certainly feel positive about the prospects. As for ‘the new normal’, we will have to wait and see. I think what this experience has taught us is that we do all depend on each other; it will be important to keep on supporting each other as commercial activity starts to ramp up again. Managed services and cloud will be even bigger opportunities going forward – customers will be able to see the value of having back-up, security, voice services, networking and apps all managed for them by expert providers even more now.”

Emma Davies-Carolan: “As ways of working have changed, our HR team has become far more focused on employee wellbeing and keeping the team connected, alongside our employee social committees who’ve organised a number of virtual events, from quizzes to Friday drinks.

“The crisis has also given us the opportunity to embrace cross team working and support company-wide development via online Q&A sessions. We’ve also adapted the onboarding process and existing learning and development programmes such as our global sales onboarding and leadership training.”

Phil Madders: “I think we are in for a tough 2020. What I can confidently say is page volumes will be down significantly in April and May in the UK market as there is no-one in the office to produce a document. I expect this means there will be an acceleration away from the reliance on the printed page to other sources of revenue. Business Analytics, Document Management and opportunities which we support. The recovery time will depend on the length of the lockdown. If it continues into July or August the channel will look very different to the one we have today.”

Mike Nelson: “The market may never be exactly as it was and we are expecting to see significant changes to working practices. We’ve learnt in the last few months that with the right technology we can all work away from the office, so we will likely see the fast tracking of digitisation and back-file conversion projects to reduce the number of documents companies are storing physically in their offices.

“From a vertical perspective – we may see a similar pattern as companies look for ways to make their document management processes more resilient. In recent years we’ve seen the accountancy sector digitise as a result of the making tax digital initiative, and paper heavy sectors like legal may follow.”

Rod Tonna-Barthet: “We are actually very optimistic about market recovery, as organisations will need trusted IT consultancy more than ever to ensure they can maintain business continuity both during this crisis and through any other similar situations in future. Many are now racing to build digital IT Services, all offer our channel partners processes, operations and supply chains, so that they can continue to do business now and in any future periods of disruption. Organisations will have to look to strengthen their existing partner ecosystems and consider forming new partnerships to help them respond to these new market conditions quickly.

“At Kyocera, our solutions are underpinned by comprehensive disaster recovery and business continuity services, so we are in a good place to guide businesses as they look to rebuild following this crisis.

“As far as ‘business as normal’ is concerned, agility and adaptability will be key, and below are where we see the key opportunities lie:

1 Process transformation and document flows: By taking previously manual or cumbersome processes and transforming them into digital workflows that can be deployed regardless of time or location where customer and suppliers are based, we can dramatically reduce the time to action in areas such as agreeing new projects, contract negotiation and signing or paying invoices.

2 Digital infrastructure on demand: Cloud-based IT that can be scaled up and down and remotely managed 24/7/365 will depend on highly resilient and flexible cloud service infrastructures that can quickly respond to new business opportunities whilst protecting the organisation from outside threats and attacks.

3 Connected teams: The ability to connect employees, partners, suppliers and customers quickly and securely so they can work seamlessly on video, voice and mobile telephony platforms and maintain productivity regardless of their size or location.”

Jeremy Spencer
Jeremy Spencer

Jeremy Spencer: “Clearly, the new normal will involve a change in approach for many businesses, and the embrace of technology we have seen over the last month will continue apace, so we expect great demand for the IT services we provide, as a result. That said, we also expect a pick-up in print solutions for home and workgroup use to reflect changing work practices.”

James Reed: “It is too early to predict what the ‘new normal’ will be and we would not want to make any assumptions in this respect. Certainly, as we start to return to normal levels of activity, we would expect end-user customer organisations to be reviewing their approach to IT and to things like home working, collaboration and the cloud.”

Martin Randall: “A new ‘business as normal’ is inevitable, the question really is how close will that be to what it was pre-pandemic and how long will it take to get there? There is lots of discussion around more home working and whilst we will possibly see more of this when the pandemic is behind us and we have our new ‘normal’, I can’t envisage it will be such a dramatic shift as is being discussed in the media. People want and need face to face interaction, more likely the new ‘normal’ will be a slight increase in home worked days.

“Whilst writing, it is too early to comment with any certainty over the timescales of returning to ‘normality’ but when lockdown starts to ease we’ll (hopefully!) see positive steps towards this every week.”

Martin-Fairman
Martin-Fairman

Martin Fairman: “We believe the market will eventually recover as businesses go back to normal and offices begin to reopen, however, the landscape will certainly have changed. Businesses will have to evaluate their current processes and understand which processes proved inefficient during the lockdown period. From our perspective, we expect to see businesses investing in technology which enables staff to work efficiently using digital tools and cloud storage for document and print management.

“As we begin to look ahead to a new normal, businesses will be looking to future proof their processes and effective digitisation will be at the core to this solution.”

Liam Fitzgerald: “The market should begin to recover as businesses return to work but the rise in homeworking is likely to be here to stay. Customers working remotely will demand more from their printers and resellers will have a significant opportunity to sell more A4 devices, while employers will need greater remote capabilities. Managed print services will have an important role to play too as companies strive for the cost efficiencies and service reliability associated with standard MPS solutions but delivered for home-office devices across a remote workforce.”

Clive Hamilton: “We are very optimistic with the market recovery, however, we believe it will return slower very much depending on how the safety aspect of work is managed within industries. We do think there will be a return to business as normal, but feel it may be a more hybrid model of the situation we currently find ourselves in, meaning that more services and solutions will be needed by businesses to enable them to cope with an increase in employee agility, more automated management processes, more cyber security resources and more integrated digital solutions, including document management services and unified communications. The future we believe is bright. Stay safe all.”

Anna Muskett
Anna Muskett

Anna Muskett: “I believe we will all have to adapt to a new ‘business as normal’ and Kodak Alaris is well positioned to do that. Our products, services and solutions are designed to enable organisations to fast track their digital transformation. With remote working in many sectors predicted to continue for some time, speeding up the time and removing some of the steps required to accurately capture data and get information into business processes so it can be actioned, will become even more important and critical in enabling businesses to operate in this ‘new normal’ way.

“Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation (RPA) and machine learning will continue to change scanning requirements. Our offerings include INFuse our smart connected scanner which is a partner-centric solution; usage based pricing; cloud-based software and managed services including fleet management. We also see opportunity within the low volume production scanning market and will be launching an updated series of scanners later this year. Among other things this will meet the requirements of customers needing smaller devices in more locations to enable employees to operate safely within social distancing rules.”

PrintIT Reseller: What are you doing to support partners during this unpredictable time?

Mike Barron: “We’re making sure we keep in touch with them – and that they know we are here to help them – not only to get through this unprecedented time, but also to help them build for the future. It’s a good time to reassess, share ideas and to learn. We’re encouraging them to interact, explore and learn as much as possible – and of course, we’re supporting them in whatever way we can as they look to support their own customers.”

Emma Davies-Carolan: “We’ve been very focused on helping customers with additional support requirements or financial concerns by providing flexibility around payment – we want to be there for customers, now more than ever, with increased engagement and support.

“We have recorded a number of webinars, hoping to offer customers as much support as possible during the crisis, and of course our support team remains on hand to assist with any product queries or issues.”

Phil Madders: “We have waived all charges for training and integration projects to improve their knowledge and capability using our solutions, as at present, even furloughed personnel can join training sessions without breaching the rules of the Job Retention Scheme. We can offer this type of support remotely and in self-paced online training courses, which is of course ideal for the new remote workers. We are also focussing on keeping our online services available and our technical engaged to support our customers who are reviewing and improving their back-office systems and product portfolios during this period of hiatus.

“In terms of product innovation, we have worked with the partners at Perform IT to modify the floor planning module of MySalesdrive. This means our dealers, who use the tool for print assessments, can share it with their customers to assist in planning the new office layout for compliance with any guidance issued by the Government for safe distancing at the workplace. The customers will have access to the program completely free of charge for four weeks – which we expect will give them enough time to create and implement the new office layout. We hope the customers will appreciate and value the support they received from their supplier in what is a difficult time. The program is cloud-based and can be utilised without the need for anyone to visit any premises, they just need the floorplans to upload. This will be available from the middle of May.”

Mike Nelson: “Ours is a channel business and we need strong and engaged partners to succeed. We have increased our level of online webinars and have seen record numbers of channel partners attending. Our sales teams, who are all ECM certified specialists, are busier on the phone than ever helping to progress business and keeping Fujitsu and ScanSnap scanners flowing through the channel.”

Rod Tonna-Barthet: “Like many of our customers, our channel partners are having to work their way through various challenges. They need to rapidly recover any lost revenues and be able to adapt quickly to new opportunities, and this is something we are here to help with. End users are now urgently requesting access to the latest UC technologies and secure cloud services to ensure they can remain agile and competitive during this difficult time. Therefore, our partners need to have the right combination of solutions and services ready to meet their specific requirements.

“To ensure we can support all our customers within both the public and private sectors, we have developed a range of channel-ready solutions that can be customised and easily integrated into any existing infrastructure. This means our dealer partners will be able to provide everything customers need, no matter the complexity and all ‘under one roof’, so they too can begin their recovery and start reconnecting with their customers to drive new sales. It will take a collaborative effort from all involved, and we are here to make sure the process is as smooth and successful as possible.”

Jeremy Spencer: “Throughout these unprecedented times, we have been supporting our channel partners with news and updates from our service and business operations and also with regards to training and development, both from ourselves and our partners. Our close association with the APS has meant that we have been able to offer webinars and online content that have provided guidance, support and development opportunities. We look forward to getting out and seeing them on the other side of lockdown!”

James Reed: “Everything we possibly can from – as we have outlined above – trying to make sure we optimise stock levels to meet demand and providing alternative options for finance and credit. As a trusted advisor to the channel, we’re here to help in whatever way we can and in the short-term that means working with our vendor partners to support our customers and doing our best to make sure they can manage their way through the present situation and emerge stronger and ready to evolve and grow.”

Stuart Sykes
Stuart Sykes

Stuart Sykes, Managing Director, Sharp Business Systems UK: “At Sharp, we wanted to support everyone involved in our business with resources that continue to develop their knowledge of our products and the technology we use. We’ve relaunched Sharp Academy to our staff, channel and dealer partners
– Sharp Academy is a Europe-wide web tool that provides training programmes so that people can learn everything there is to know about our technology products.

“We’ve also teamed up with our IT division, Complete I.T. to provide our staff with access to Mi Crow, where they can take bite-sized courses on things like the Microsoft Suite, business skills like leadership and management, and even courses on improving their mental health.

“We are also still committed to delivering our service to customers and partners classed as essential businesses. While the majority of Sharp is now working from home, some of my committed colleagues are still out in the field and aiding the national interest by supporting those businesses. We’ve been ensuring mission critical operations such as the temporary hospital NHS Nightingale North West (Manchester Central) and many other sites across the UK have printing equipment.”

Anna Muskett: “We switched our annual partner summit to a virtual event in April and have planned a series of webinars designed to keep partners engaged throughout the year. We have a huge focus on partner enablement this year. We are committed to our channel and will continue to provide market development funds, best-in-class partner resource management systems, marketing collateral, training courses and product certifications to enable them to better support their customers. It’s important that our partners are aware of how the Kodak Alaris portfolio can support businesses in these challenging times so we will also be adding more capabilities to enable partners to sell software solutions.”

www.synaxnco.uk
www.ecisolutions.com
www.fujitsu.com
kyoceradocumentsolutions.co.uk
www.toshibatec.co.uk
www.techdata.com
www.visionplc.co.uk
www.lexmark.co.uk
https://paebusiness.com
www.brother.co.uk
www.pinnaclegroup.co.uk
www.alarisworld.com
www.sharp.co.uk

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