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Home working here to stay?: our expert panel share their thoughts…

Coronavirus looks set to have a lasting impact on office use and it’s very likely that home working is here to stay. In a survey conducted by the Institute of Directors, 74 per cent of close to 1,000 company directors said they would be keeping increased home working after coronavirus. Furthermore, more than half of those polled said their organisation intended to reduce their long-term use of workplaces. What opportunities does this present for the print and IT channel and how can vendors help customers meet the needs of the new normal?

PrintIT Reseller: The pandemic saw individuals and businesses making distress purchases of products to support enforced home working. With home working likely here to stay, is there now an opportunity to provide customers with technology that is fit for purpose in the longer-term?

Clive Hamilton,Managing Director, Pinnacle Group:
“Yes, absolutely! We think that supporting all our customers with all their agile workers, whether it be at home, on the road or in hot stop offices, is vitally important in driving collaboration, innovation and new services that the customers may need. The new services Pinnacle offers to cover these customer requirements include: IT Services, Cyber Security Services, Device-as-a-Service, Print-as-a-Service, Document Digitisation, Cloud Content Management Solutions and Supplies for Service at Home.

Michael Field,Managing Director, Workflo Solutions:
“I think we all accept that rush decisions can lead to long-term difficulties. However, the pandemic left little room for manoeuvre when it came to transitioning staff to home working. Workflo Solutions were able to pivot quickly and align our services to meet the demand for print, communication, and IT services for home users. We see no reason that existing technology specifically that with a cloud platform, cannot be tailored to meet remote working practices.

Colin Blumenthal
Colin Blumenthal

Colin Blumenthal, Managing Director, Complete I.T., part of Sharp:
“Businesses need to review their overall IT strategy and ensure it is fit for their new ways of working. Traditional working methods, like nine-to-five in the office five days per week, will permanently change due to the pandemic. As an IT partner we need to make sure that our clients have the correct technologies to thrive in our collective new normal.

“Some of the key areas to consider here include: an agile cloud telephony system, the right endpoint devices and screens, and a great video conferencing experience – one that is aligned to the appropriate office productivity and data sharing cloud software and platform. These will help guarantee the right data and applications are delivered to the right people, with the right security, and with the right speed of access.”

David Warrington, Client Services Director, Office Fox:
“Absolutely, we saw an increase in A4 MFDs by over 250% YOY. Initially a lot of work from home employees simply used what they had, after a month or two clearly the ‘who pays for this?’ question came up.

“With a lot of ‘normal’ office equipment contracts’ minimum charges coupled with having to expense employee consumables, costs quickly spiralled. The landscape has changed and we need to change with it – businesses still need to be able to control costs in or out of the office. Rather than single point failure and cost control this has now been decentralised, which as a service provider is absolutely a challenge, but with that gives us more opportunity to redesign our offering and make it fit for purpose in the new normal.”

Sam Elphick, Sales Director, Lex Business Equipment:
“Definitely. During the first lockdown we reached out to our MPS customers to offer a consultative approach to solve their issues regarding at home printing.

“Some were able to take advantage of cloud solutions and other applications which allow for printing from home – to the office, where if it was to be posted out etc., post room staff could then organise. However for those employees who needed an at home print, scan and copy solution – we provided Lexmark A4 devices, which are low cost and a small footprint too. Our customers appreciated our ability to add these to their MPS agreements and we offered the same level of service.”

Mike Mulholland, Head of Services and Solutions, Brother UK:
“The hybrid workforce, where companies will create a fluid employment model with colleagues working at home, in offices and in co-working spaces, will provide new opportunities for vendors and partners to work together to meet the transformation in how businesses operate.

“Homeworking will become a permanent fixture for many and rather than sitting at the kitchen table, people will want more comfortable and sophisticated workspaces, creating greater demand for business grade printers, second and third monitors, ergonomic laptop risers, supportive chairs, microphones and more.

“And rather than providing a purely transactional opportunity, an increasing number of employers will want these products wrapped up into managed service bundles that will enable them to extend their responsibilities in to the home for not just technology, but for security and health and wellbeing.”

Martin Roberts, Managing Director, Neuways:
“In terms of ensuring technology is fit for purpose at home in the long-term, there is work to be done. While we have navigated the transition to remote working successfully, the gathering of technology together to enable it was a bit of a rush for many businesses.

“One thing a business needs to implement quickly is the flexibility to move from remote working to the office, with a focus on using devices that enable this. Compact devices are important for travel and for taking up less space when you’re working from home. Laptops can obviously do this, but the key is for everything to link together.

“If we’re not careful, cyber security can be neglected. With more people remote working, there’s a greater opportunity for people to sit outside of the corporate IT security fence, for example, if they’re not using company VPNs or do work on their personal devices. As a business, we use Microsoft 365 applications to ensure everything is backed up and seamlessly linked – it helps make things easier for our employees to stay productive.”

Steve Holmes
Steve Holmes

Steve Holmes, EMEA Regional Director, PaperCut:
“It is not just an opportunity, but it is essential to the recovery of the economy that the channel works with organisations to help provide staff with the equipment and solutions they need to facilitate hybrid working, as many businesses will offer their staff the options of working from the office and/or working from home.

“Prior to COVID-19, the hybrid working model was slow to take off – despite its recognised benefits – hindered as much by mind-set as it was by technology. But the pandemic has fast-tracked the hybrid movement, and finally it is going to be the norm for millions of formerly office-bound employees. Given the environmental and productivity benefits it delivers, it’s right that the rush to embrace hybrid working is being accelerated, but a large part of its success will hinge on the solutions offered to staff being fit for purpose. That means the channel advising customers on solutions and services that deliver enterprise-grade performance, productivity, security and resilience, rather than interim or ‘make do’ solutions.”

PrintIT Reseller: A decentralised workforce brings additional procurement, cost control, IT governance and security challenges for IT, how can vendors help?

Clive Hamilton:
“The new services portfolio (mentioned earlier), that Pinnacle has invested in, supports this question. By using the contracted new service provisions that we have to offer, we can assist companies with the procurement, cost control, document security and management of most work from home/agile workforce requirements.”

 Michael Field
Michael Field
Instagram: chriswattphotography

Michael Field:
“I have been involved in various round table events and have written many channel articles on this subject recently. I believe that remote working will be viewed with less promise post-COVID. Aside from the additional pressures of procurement, cost control, governance and security; one must consider the fundamental change in workplace relationships. Many organisations’ success, including my own, is built upon the foundation of the working relationships between staff members.

“Whilst collaboration is possible through platforms like Teams and Zoom, processes are slowed and it’s far more difficult to act on body language and direct communication. Team members’ motivation comes not only from financial remuneration, but also for the love of the business and for those with whom they’ve formed friendships, often over many years. I fear it will prove very difficult for businesses who rely solely on home working to retain staff and to achieve an environment where staff flourish and grow.”

Colin Blumenthal:
“A good IT partner will be able to offer cyber security services that will help secure the endpoint device – regardless of whether the device is in an office, or in a decentralised home or remote working environment.

“Robust acceptable computer use and data protection policy documents should be established and communicated to all team members to ensure the correct governance is in place, alongside appropriate training so all users are aware of and adhere to good computer and data security practices. Procurement and cost control should continue to operate in the same way as when the workforce was centralised.”

 David Warrington
David Warrington

David Warrington:
“Something we have always endeavoured to do which seems obvious but often overlooked is simply to ask why and how? A lot of IT procurement has been based on historic activity, i.e. this is what I bought three years ago, now give me the latest version.

“Never has true solution delivery been more relevant than it is now, remote methods of service delivery is absolutely made possible by technology as well as secure cloud-based applications and storage. The final piece to this is the ability to provide flexibility in agreements that will likely need to change. This flexible approach to procurement whilst still providing the same levels of support, is something we have worked hard on over the last nine months and is now showing its value in the business we are writing.”

Sam Elphick:
“In the realm of print, I believe it is important to have a clear understanding of the functions, solutions and tools that are available on the devices – a lot of the obstacles such as those listed can be mitigated by ensuring these are properly used. Print quotas per user, reporting and tracking are all great ways to ensure budgeting, as well of course as having clear running costs.”

 Mike Mulholland
Mike Mulholland

Mike Mulholland:
“Distress purchasing of entry-level home tech led to an exponential rise in assets and destinations that IT teams have had to manage. This has naturally created some blind spots, with IT leads having less control over connected devices’ security settings, while having less oversight of maintenance requirements and costs.

“We’re helping IT managers to manage this transformation and take control over their decentralised print estates by using managed print services. We extended our MPS offering with devices ideal for home working, helping IT managers to regain oversight and control. Meanwhile, we’re also providing other helpful software packages for our devices – including our free Remote Panel solution, helping partners to carry out remote diagnostics and repair of devices at distance.”

Martin Roberts:
“If systems aren’t straightforward or there is difficulty in using them, people are going to take advantage of shortcuts and start bypassing essential security procedures that can put themselves and their employers at risk. We must make sure families working on the same network at home are given the right protection so that we don’t risk the contamination of the corporate data network through other family members’ online activity.

“It’s tricky, the home network is shared and won’t have the same level of security as an office’s business network. Businesses need to look at their security, as their on-premises tools won’t necessarily work as intended when their workforce is remote working. Systems might have been set up in haste last spring, but it is worth going back and reviewing what your business has in place to stay safe, no matter what location employees are working in.

“One example would be to look at Zoom when masses started using it last year. Initially, there were lots of hacked meetings, as unwanted visitors caused havoc. This was due to the default settings that were in place for meetings, which were eventually changed by Zoom themselves. However, the lesson to be learnt from this particular example is to review. It was the mass movement of people onto a new application that they were not fully knowledgeable in, that resulted in a number of the hacks.”

Steve Holmes:
“The channel probably recognises that hybrid and WFH isn’t a ‘working lite’ alternative to being office-based. It is going to be the norm now, so it is essential that the channel works with its customers to talk to them about solutions and options that offer the flexibility needed to support different work locations and environments, while also addressing their procurement, cost control, IT governance and security challenges.

“Whether we’re talking about devices, services, online resources and security, none can be compromised, or productivity and security could be impacted just at a time when many businesses are starting on their path to post-pandemic recovery.

“Staff working from home, and the calibre of the tools they use, will play a major part in kick-starting the economy. To help facilitate this, we’ve been working with our channel partners throughout the pandemic to help them ensure that wherever their customers are printing from, it’s as safe, secure and as environmentally responsible as it is in the workplace. Aiding them and their customers with this goal, is PaperCut’s Mobility Print, a free BYOD solution that enables easy local printing from iPads, iPhones, Android, Windows, Chromebook and Mac devices.”

PrintIT Reseller: In order to make print perform in the long-term, remote workers will benefit from business-quality printers, automatic supplies replenishment and proactive service; while IT will demand tools that will enable them to manage, monitor and control print across both the home and office environments. Is it time to extend traditional MPS contracts to include home offices and how can OEMs help partners to deliver?

Clive Hamilton:
“As previously reported in PITR, Pinnacle has worked with the Xerox Managed Print Service tools to create a fully managed print/managed document service ability for companies and their home workforce. Offering total management, reporting, auto supplies and service delivery.”

Michael Field:
“I think the market is fortunate that fleet management software has been cloud focussed for some time now. Software such as 3manager, allow us, as a service partner; to monitor performance, deliver pro-active consumable supply, and view usage levels easily and seamlessly. Print management solutions, such as PaperCut; offer a top-level control mechanism for both client and provider, to ensure document security, access control, reporting and print control across all networked devices.

“With many customers now using hosted servers on the likes of Azure, it has become simple for them to extend network capacity for home users. Connectivity options including MPLS & VPN provide further abilities.

“When it comes to technology, there are very few restraints. The question is can OEMs produce hardware as reliable as those currently designed for office space, in a footprint small enough to fit even the tightest home office. If so, I think we can all look forward to revenue streams sustainable over the long-term, regardless of working practices or location. If you’re mobile, so are we.”

Stuart Sykes
Stuart Sykes

Stuart Sykes, Managing Director, Sharp UK:
“Working behaviours have changed across the country as a result of the pandemic and all suppliers must reconsider their offering to support customer needs. Print vendors are facing a situation where workforces are no longer centralised – where one MFP could serve a whole office, the same number of employees now need more flexible print estate and support. Whilst workforces split their time between office and home, the traditional office print set up is still required but with the ability to also print at home.

“MPS fleet design is the first area to be considered. Traditional centralised fleets predominantly included A3 MFP and satellite A4 models. While these are still needed, A4 models will now be needed by some at home – for example those working with detailed contracts in finance and legal departments. For some home workers, a standard ‘home printer’ would be sufficient for their needs, although these types of devices are not traditionally included in print fleets. However, for other home workers a more robust A4 device would be required.

“In these cases vendors need to scale their support for employees at home as if it were an office. Some devices will need engineer support, to be monitored by the organisation and kept secure. OEMs need to provide vendors with the scalable products and solutions so that they are enabled to meet the changing demands.”

David Warrington:
“Absolutely and thankfully we have OEM partners that recognise that. The A4 market is one many OEMS walked away from in favour of more profitable A3. A4 became a necessary evil rather than a true business offering. It has meant some of our partners have fallen behind as a direct result while others such as Epson and HP have taken advantage of the swing by providing the business technology to satisfy this requirement.

“We have actually picked up a lot of traction by not just focusing on consumable delivery and service, but in physically powering the technology. It is still a grey area for business but it is almost becoming the norm now for my clients to ask about energy usage. Their employees have seen a dramatic uplift in energy bills since being at home more and this is a big concern. Being able to provide ink-based technology that runs at 95% less consumption than older laser tech has been a huge and I have to say surprising win for us.”

Sam Elphick
Sam Elphick

Sam Elphick:
“Indeed, our home working clients have given fantastic feedback about the Lexmark Go Line printers, particularly how easy the devices are to install, their small footprint and usability. Obviously the difference is the running costs on these devices is higher, but up to now our clients have accepted this, but it would be good if OEMs could come up with a solution which combats the costing differences for this grade of machine.”

Mike Mulholland:
“Delivering MPS solutions that support home working is a natural step forward for the print IT sector.“To help partners deliver MPS systems suited for home working, we added small office and home office devices to our MPS portfolio in June last year – offering free remote installation for partners’ customers. This extension of our MPS is designed to seamlessly integrate into existing setups, giving IT managers oversight of all devices, whether they’re in a central office, or independent from where people work, directly meeting the needs of a dispersed hybrid workforce.”

Martin Roberts
Martin Roberts

Martin Roberts:
“For supplies and consumables to be delivered to different home addresses for employees would be beneficial. Thinking about our customers, if their employees need to buy consumables and supplies, then that multi-account management system is necessary – that clearly shows their spend and who is buying what equipment etc.

“If we had really good account management tools that would give users insight into their spend and enable them to easily manage the replenishment process – that would be incredibly useful.”

Steve Holmes:
“When the pandemic kicked off, companies with robust contingency plans to support hybrid working should have already reviewed their MPS contract to ensure that it covers home-based devices, or at least renegotiated their MPS contract to include it. In line with this, they should have already updated their print policies, too. Failure to address these critical areas runs the risk of taking us back to the dark ages of unmanaged print and all the problems it presented; spiralling print and consumables costs, an increased carbon footprint and, of course, patchy print security.

“Given the excellent progress that so many companies have made in bringing control to their print in an office environment, it would be disappointing to see all of that unravel because they have overlooked the impact that working from home will have on print.”

www.pinnaclecos.co.uk
www.workflo-solutions.co.uk
www.sharp.co.uk
www.officefox.co.uk
www.lexbusiness.co.uk
www.brother.co.uk
www.neuways.com
www.papercut.com

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