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How will COVID-19 shape the future office printing landscape?

Over the past few months, working from home has become the norm for millions of British workers. As the UK slowly returns to a new normal, businesses nationwide are focused on making their workplaces COVID-secure. PrintIT Reseller invited a number of industry vendors to share their thoughts on the impact of the new normal on print

PrintIT Reseller: One of the biggest challenges for organisations and print vendors is what to do with shared printers and MFPs when government guidelines recommend limiting or restricting use of high-touch items and equipment. What will you be doing to make print accessible and safe, and protect print volumes when work returns to the new normal?

Ben Gaston, Sales Director,Toshiba Tec:“Our focus here is on end-user safety and leveraging our technological capabilities to ensure that MFPs can be accessed safely. In the coming weeks we are releasing information to our customers regarding ‘Zero Touch’ MFP experiences covering basic solutions like using a stylus, to more advanced options like providing near-field print release with mobile phones. We have also changed our preventative maintenance regimes to include deep cleaning of user access areas on our devices. The protection of print volumes is a lower priority given our focus on a wide range of revenue streams and desire to always provide help to our customers.”

David Warrington
David Warrington

David Warrington, Client Services Director,Office Fox: “The print world has always been very cyclical in its centralisation and decentralisation of print. I think the ‘new’ world will become a hybrid. One of our stronger partners in this respect is Epson, who offer a new form of technology that makes A4 as, if not more affordable than A3. This means the old argument of removing A4 to push out to satellite A3 devices is no longer valid.

“I recently helped design a return to work office that had self-contained pods – a desk with all the technology needed not to have to go to communal spaces for print/scan etc. There may also be a resurgence of mailrooms – where an individual or team do the enhanced finishing/mailing for the company as a whole, thereby reducing touch points.”

Michael Field, Managing Director, Workflo Solutions: “I think it’s important that we recognise common sense plays a major part in the plethora of changes which companies and employees must make to beat COVID-19.

“Whilst I think the touch panel is recognised as being the high touch hotspot on an MFP; there are also additional areas such as paper cassettes, toner cartridges, door latches, and of course the paper itself.

The innovation of our vendor partners has helped greatly in our delivery of solutions to our customers. Konica Minolta’s bizhub remote, and Utax’s MyPanel allow users to replicate the MFD interface on their mobile device, subject to a WI-FI connection. This allows them to utilise all copy, print and embedded app functions from their own device with no MFD touch.

“We continue to drive innovation internally and our bespoke client app is due for release later this month. It offers our clients one-touch consumable ordering, meter input and live chat, it’ll provide a one-point platform for all of our customers’ needs.

“With the steadfast support of both Utax and Konica Minolta, we are expediting further development so that customers can use MyPanel, bizhub remote and the associated mobile printing tech as further one-touch options from the app.

“The evolution of cloud printing solutions facilitate communication from those workers adopting flexible home working, and allow documents to be produced, sent securely, and collected at the MFP within a company’s print security model.

“Each new installation undertaken by Workflo, will be done by technicians wearing face masks, hand coverings and aprons when appropriate. Spray surface sanitiser is being carried by all staff and training has ensured they know how and when to use this. We are also providing branded hand sanitiser to clients which can be used to protect them when it has been necessary to open paper cassettes, change consumables, or otherwise touch the hardware.

Joe Doyle, Marketing Director,Kyocera:“Kyocera is committed to ensuring the safety of our customers, employees and anyone who uses our products.

Kyocera Joe Doyle
Kyocera Joe Doyle

Faced with the current COVID-19 pandemic, safety is even more important. As such, Kyocera offers a range of software solutions and practical tips to enable users to continue to utilise our multifunctional and single-function devices, helping organisations to get back to the ‘new normal’.

“In order to minimise traffic in areas surrounding printers and MFPs, Kyocera has made two mobile apps available that allow employees and visitors to seamlessly access Kyocera devices without spending unnecessary time by the printer or MFP.

“By doing so, Kyocera is supporting businesses to implement the current 2 metre social distancing guidelines. Kyocera Mobile Print and Kyocera MyPanel are free applications that allow users to securely access the device from their smartphones or tablets, introducing the concept of touchless printing and scanning. Moreover, we have issued device cleaning and disinfection tips to minimise the risk of transmission.”

Alpesh Unalkat, CEO,Aura: “There are a number of solutions Aura is able to provide to make print accessible and safe as lockdown is eased and work starts to return to the new normal. Whilst total non-touch is less likely when using functions such as copying or scanning from the device, we are able to introduce paper automation and workflow solutions from users’ own devices such as phones, tablets and laptops, avoiding the need to physically touch the print products in the first place.

“Additionally, Aura is supporting ‘touch-less’ solutions such as authentication via QR code, ID cards, Fobs and RFID tags to enable users to safely interact with devices with minimal physical contact. These technology solutions are complemented by adjustments to associated processes around the device (e.g. engineers equipped with PPE, engineers undertaking sanitisation during preventative and remedial care visits, cleaning schedules and parts/consumables replacement coordinated with client facilities teams etc.) to ensure users can safely continue with their work and use print technologies accordingly.”

Phillip John, Product Marketing Manager – Solutions,Konica Minolta:“Konica Minolta has a strict policy in place to protect against possible cross-infection from shared printers and MFPs. This starts with cleaning the machine, including disinfecting the panel (screen and keys), document feeder, document glass and handles of paper trays using a soft cloth dampened with IPA (isopropyl alcohol) or ethanol. Once this is done, we suggest minimising physical contact with the device. This includes using secure access (contacting our team if the user needs help getting this enabled) so users don’t have to touch the device to release a print job, along with remote access which controls the device from a tablet or smartphone and enables access to the buttons on the LCD control panel remotely.

“We also suggest the use of a stylus on the multifunction panel to keep it as clean and possible and to allow the user to avoid direct contact. Many Konica Minolta machines also offer remote scanning, so you can scan documents remotely using your smartphone.

“Konica Minolta’s eBiz secure customer portal is also in place to help with the maintenance of printers and MFPs, and again cutting the likelihood of cross-infection. This enables the review of all the devices covered by your print solution, the creation of service requests (and monitoring of the progress of those requests), the ordering of consumables to ensure business continuity, tracking of orders and service requests as well as request email updates, management of current and historical invoices, and contact with our technical support teams (again to avoid further unnecessary physical contact wherever possible).

“Inevitably a Konica Minolta engineer will need to visit some of our customers, but safety is still our primary priority. All our technicians have been issued with PPE equipment (masks and gloves) and we ask our customers to ensure their staff follow government guidelines in terms of social distancing and use of PPE.”

Clive Hamilton, Managing Director, Pinnacle Group: “We have been looking at various solutions that will allow us to manage and utilise contactless printer app services. So by being able to deploy mobile print solutions along with RFID readers to authenticate a secure print solution.

Clive Hamilton Pinnacle
Clive Hamilton Pinnacle

“We are also offering a service to all of our clients to ensure the necessary relocation of current machines in order to comply with current government guidelines as well as installing additional devices within departments.

“Implementing appropriate social distancing signage alongside monitored and regular cleaning of the machines as a service provided by Pinnacle, with staff taking a more personal responsibility for the cleanliness of the device.”

Simon Warnes, Head of Corporate, Sharp UK: “As our customers slowly start to return to their offices, ensuring that print solutions are accessible while maintaining the government’s safety guidelines will be a main focus for Sharp. There are a number of solutions that Sharp recommends to overcome the challenges that we will all undoubtedly face as we settle back in to new processes.

“In offices, printers are often grouped together (in hubs), which lead to people congregating at the same time. These are usually positioned in high footfall areas too, such as next to the coffee machine or near an entrance. Space and distancing are essential, as we well know and we are strongly recommending that these devices are moved apart and installed in more spacious areas, reducing the need for people to be in close contact.

“Authentication at a device is also seen as a potential hygiene risk as many companies require users to manually input a code or user ID when using a secure printer to release jobs. As such we are also encouraging users to authenticate at software managed printing devices, utilising door passes or key fobs – which removes the need for people to come into direct contact with the printer or MFD keypad.

“We will continue to proactively help our customers print efficiently whilst operating within government recommended guidelines; which will include printing safely in the office, the factory or the production area and more in-demand print-at-home solutions for mobile workers.”

James Pittick, Partner Channel Director,Canon UK: “It’s important that we adhere to government guidelines and keep everyone as safe as possible as businesses return to work. Following optimum cleaning and device hygiene is more important than ever and as a vendor, we see the importance of supporting our partners to supply customers with appropriate support and guidelines. For example, we recently provided partners with updated cleaning best practice and our devices can also be updated with a visual graphic to emphasise these. Advice includes using a soft cloth for regular cleaning and ensuring surfaces are dry before turning a machine back on – steps that seem simple, but are crucial in keeping the virus at bay.

Canon James Pittick
Canon James Pittick

“In addition to cleaning, we also have guidance to advise partners and customers on how they can minimise the number of touchpoints when using our devices. An example of this is using the Canon Print Business App, available on iOS and Android devices. It eliminates the need for a common touch point by allowing users to log into the MFD and/or printer to carry out requests via a smartphone. Another option for reducing touchpoints is the uniFLOW app (available on iOS, Android, and Windows) which allows for print management using personal devices. Users can securely release jobs from their personal print queue via the app. Locations can be detected using QR codes which can either be stuck to the device by an administrator or displayed on the device’s screen. A further option is Canon’s Remote Operator’s Software kit, a programme that replicates the device touchscreen on a computer instead, enabling the full function of the device without the need to access the usual touchscreen.

“If customers are unable to use an app or mobile, administrators can set up devices to release print jobs from a user’s personal queue directly after they log into the device. This eliminates the need to use the touch screen, as the login can be handled securely and safely using a proximity card. A more lo-fi, but a very safe and simple solution is to operate the device touchscreen using a soft tip stylus pen. It eliminates common touchpoints, without the need to change personal habits or install new software.”

Andy Johnson, Head of Product and Solutions Management,Brother UK:“Printing will remain a vital office function as offices and workplaces re-open and employers can ensure their people use them safely by creating instructive signs and labels and by providing hygiene essentials, from anti-bacterial wipes to Perspex screens.

“Clear signage should outline how controls are to be wiped down after use and for employees to apply hand sanitiser before and following print jobs. The same processes should also be used for other ‘high-touch’ items across the workspace, from lift controls and door handles to bathroom and kitchen taps.”

IPrintIT Reseller: It’s highly likely that a new hybrid working environment will emerge – how can print vendors meet the needs of both home and office-based workers, and ensure that print is readily and securely accessible to all?

Ben Gaston: “They need a clear strategy to service all environments – whether through technology options available, leveraging or combining multiple technologies to create more bespoke or appropriate services and they must ensure that their support is as non-intrusive or automated as possible – removing the dependency for physical site visits, especially in people’s homes.

“It isn’t feasible any more that all users need to print, the consideration is – when print is critical how can a frictionless service be provided irrespective of where that user is located and the purpose of the printing? Our customer facing business analysts have risen to this challenge well and we are busy advising many customers, helping them form IT and print policy within their return to work strategies.”

David Warrington: “Security will be key to this change, particularly in relation to GDPR. More organisations will be hosting data and information on cloud-based servers for access and I believe there will be a greater investment in telephony services/network infrastructure as a result of this. I think with home-based print, the technology is there but organisations need to think hard about the cost implications of rolling out ‘home use’ printers and technology for what will become a more office output environment. Print vendors will need to find the right marriage of technology and flexible service to accommodate this new emerging need.”

Michael Field: “I have been very vocal recently on the importance of managed print providers innovating and adopting technology as it evolves at lightning speed.

Michael Field
Michael Field

“IT Services are fundamental to MPS providers who wish to trade over the longer term. The ability to model a SaaS and HaaS platform for cloud, security and hardware requirements, certainly in my view, is a must to regain revenue lost, as businesses utilise digital technology over print.

“Innovations such as Konica Minolta’s Workplace Hub, with its embedded Edge server and necessary operating systems, allow print management software, cloud connectivity and print, security and back-up to be hosted and managed by a single managed service provider, subject to it having the infrastructure and resource to holistically manage clients’ needs. Not only will such a provider generate the well-established print click, it will now benefit from the wider support revenue. Those who are successful in achieving this will flourish and be the success stories of the future.”

Joe Doyle: “Kyocera offers a comprehensive range of printers and MFPs, ranging from large A3 departmental copiers to A4 desktop devices, ideal for the small and home office. We have both networkable and wireless devices available, with the latter proving a preferred choice for home users. Our competitive running costs and long-life consumable technology on our A4 range are proving key differentiators when choosing a new printer or MFP for the long-term, as they combine low running costs with great sustainability credentials. Kyocera designs and builds security and reliability into all our products; this is proven by the numerous industry awards and recognitions Kyocera has received by the global leading testing and research bodies for the print industry.”

Alpesh Unalkat
Alpesh Unalkat

: “Vendors such as Aura are accustomed to supporting large multi-site, multi-machine clients, including already providing hybrid print services that support home and office-based workers in addition to providing alternative print production services that enable users to generate print jobs from home and have them printed/finished via Aura offsite hubs.

“This does involve having an infrastructure that is capable and being able to support the ‘feeding/watering’ of a distributed solution rather than servicing an office. Furthermore, our own business supports a ‘print less, do more’ approach and we believe vendors should be able to support clients looking for digital alternatives to print as part of their workflow in the new hybrid working environment.”

Phillip John: “Before the pandemic happened, we had already seen a shift to providing print management solutions in the cloud. We provide all the support services – including the professional installation services, the solution itself and all the licensing. This involves taking a normal licence-based solution and moving it into the cloud, ensuring the customer does not have the headache of having to manage their own servers etc.

“There has been a noticeable move towards creating a central cloud print management solution and then enabling authorised people to tenant within that. Interestingly, we are finding that most of our print management vendors are escalating their plans and developing solutions along those lines. This should open up the market for SMB level customers, who may typically buy five to ten MFPs but do not want to invest in a print management solution (seeing it as too costly), and find a SaaS offering much more accessible.

“This is where cloud-based services come into their own. You can start controlling print without any installation of any servers at all, which is perfectly matched to both those remote working, and also those who are still office-based. By using a cloud solution, it does not matter where you are. You can choose where the print job should go and have it reported within the main database. A good example of this approach in action is with home-based workers producing invoices which need to be printed and posted. It is a simple process to delegate a print queue to somebody in the office, who can go to the machine, authenticate and release the print jobs. A print job can even be released without physical contact, meaning the only touchpoint is with the final output.”

Clive Hamilton: “By ensuring that we continue to offer an award-winning portfolio of products and solutions which are innovative and scalable and are designed to allow businesses to remain connected and secure, irrelevant of whether they are in a home or office environment. We do have great partners in Xerox and Process Fusion that offer this kind of support, through us, for our customers.”

Vox Simon Warnes
Vox Simon Warnes

Simon Warnes: “There are a number of ways that Sharp is supporting office based and print-at-home workers. We offer small and mid-range devices that are suitable for the changing office environment and also offer desktop managed devices, including home visit repairs to cater for a growing home-based workforce.

“For those home users that do not have a printer, we offer hybrid mail as an efficient way to print and post a document without the sender having to do anything other than securely upload their content online. Once the file is uploaded, the document is sent to one of three UK-based Sharp print hubs to be printed, enclosed and posted. Users are also able to use hybrid mail to create mailing lists too, allowing them to send out documents to more than one individual. Crucially, hybrid mail removes the need for the sender to handle anything directly or have a printer at home – along with the added benefit of potential postage savings of up to 40 per cent versus traditional franking.

“We are also finding that our cloud-based software solutions, such as follow-me print, are proving invaluable to support our customers’ health and safety during these unprecedented times. Follow-me solutions prevents the need for queuing, by allowing users to upload their print jobs to a server in the cloud (or on-prem) and then collect on demand from any connected printer in the building – when they are safe to do so. Home workers can also use these serverless solutions to print at home and collect in the office, when they are next at work.”

James Pittick: “To meet customers’ needs in the new working environment, you need to really understand the end-user. This means asking ‘what do they want to accomplish?’ and ‘how can we support that goal?’ At Canon, we’re providing partners with training and support to understand the new hybrid office, helping us to collaborate so we can provide end-users with solutions that are safe and accessible. As a print vendor, we feel that it is important that our partners are supported in supplying the full breadth of our device portfolio. Being agile and adaptable is growing in importance and partners can explore devices that they might not have considered before to survive and thrive. Most businesses will not have had plans in place for mass remote working, so there are several solutions they may not have previously considered that can help them operate in the new normal.

“A key example for diversification is a desktop scanner as this can help with a user’s workflow in a home office environment. Selecting products that support remote working will continue as restrictions are kept in place and businesses embrace the benefits of flexible working. Using scanners or printers that are located in the home office but are part of the office network will improve security as critical documents are kept within a secure perimeter.”

Andy Johnson: “We saw a spike in printer sales when lockdown hit as workers rushed to kit out home offices with new devices. But this has led to longer-term concerns from business’ IT leads about their ability to monitor, manage and maintain their workers’ devices remotely.

Vox Andy Johnson
Vox Andy Johnson

“This has increased the demand for cloud-connected managed print services – solutions that don’t rely on office-based servers to help workers continue to operate efficiently. Cloud-connected services that can be installed in peoples’ homes are piquing the interest of large firms, particularly in finance and law where paper processes are still an essential part of everyday operations. By ensuring all printers can be integrated into an office network, they’re enabling IT managers to manage print estates with devices in multiple locations, while helping end-users enjoy less downtime with supplies replenishment, monitoring and remote set-up.”