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Looking ahead to 2021, insights from our industry experts

2020 has been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has been turned on its head and despite news of a potential vaccine breakthrough, the likelihood is that coronavirus will be with us for some time to come. It’s fair to say that the impact on businesses in every sector will be far-reaching and this will define many key business decisions in 2021

“The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly provided the impetus for an acceleration to digital working,” said Catherine Kennedy, Partner Marketing Manager, Intuitive. “If employees aren’t in offices and can’t print, we will need to find innovative ways to keep business processes running. We are aware of some employees who been overcoming this by printing out batches of work to take home and process. However, this isn’t an ideal long-term solution, and also has implications for data security too.”

With the trend for remote working undoubtedly set to continue, Kennedy believes print providers will need to increase their understanding of customers’ processes and spot opportunities to innovate. “Print resellers have an ideal opportunity to work with their customers on digitisation projects, but where are the broken links in business processes that could be automated? Print management dashboards visualise printing data, identify print hotspots, and show areas where large volumes of data are being printed or scanned. By using this data, print resellers can work with their customers to identify manual processes that can be automated,” she explained.

A recent poll of over 60 UK print resellers at the ITS reseller conference in October 2020 found that 63 per cent thought that traditional print reports are a thing of the past, with access to visual, interactive print data a must.

“As resellers look to grow their revenues as print volumes decline, analytics will provide an opportunity to expand solutions out to other areas of the business for example in enterprise content management and process automation. Print management dashboards are a vital tool to help print providers differentiate their current offering to customers and win more business in 2021,” Kennedy concluded.

Emma Davies-Carolan
Emma Davies-Carolan

A challenging year
Emma Davies-Carolan, Director of Marketing EMEA & APAC, ECI Software Solutions says that this year has been challenging for field service and MPS businesses, with the pandemic dealing a number of blows no one could have predicted at the start of 2020.

“Following a switch to remote working back in March, MPS businesses have had to significantly adapt throughout the course of the year to meet changing demands and ensure customer requirements continue to be met,” she said.

“OEMs have probably taken the biggest hit as people are not buying devices in the same quantity as they once were. These manufacturers typically also supply large enterprise customers whose staff are more likely to work from home indefinitely; whereas we’ve seen small and medium sized businesses returning back to the office environment earlier. Of course, the pandemic has impacted all aspects of business, definitely leading to less usage at the office and potentially more usage at home. We’ve seen our print services customers around the world adapting to this and pivoting support to customers at home who in many cases are still very actively printing,” she added.

Davies-Carolan said that ECI is encouraging customers to use all of the technology available to them and is continuing to build more automation into its products to help dealers to streamline service and supplies deliveries.

“There’s a huge opportunity there for forward thinking dealers who are willing and able to embrace new systems and not settle for the status quo and how things have always been done. Being nimble and able to pivot quickly is key to survival and growth, especially now,” she said.

Looking ahead to next year, Davies-Carolan thinks there will be a big focus on customers looking to print efficiently no matter the location of their team. “Also, the service in MPS is still, and will always be, at the forefront of a customer’s mind. Buying printers and toner can be super easy – the real value-add comes from the excellent service provided by dealers. They want their printer to just work – this is likely to be even more important now.

“While there is undoubtedly a trend towards reduced reliance on paper, there are industries, professions and roles that will rely on printing for a long time to come. There are smart things dealers can do to ensure their operations are as environmentally-friendly as possible, such as ensuring technicians have a smart route, that they only go out once to fix a machine, and other tactics like that which can help to reduce the carbon footprint,” she continued.

Looking ahead to next year, Davies-Carolan predicts that customers will require ECI to help monitor and manage a growing number of devices in the field to ensure that they’re able to derive more value from the increasing amount of data being produced to ensure their business is running as efficiently as possible.

PaperCut. Steve Holmes
PaperCut. Steve Holmes

Remote working will continue
“COVID will define many key business decisions in the first quarter of 2021, even if a vaccine is made widely available. Remote working will continue and will become part of the new norm – so from a print perspective, that means looking at how to make it secure, cost-effective and accountable when staff are not in the office,” said Steve Holmes, EMEA Regional Director, PaperCut.

Given that remote printing from desktop printers is estimated to cost 3-5x that of networked multifunction devices, Holmes argues that companies need to focus on this issue now if they’re going to bring print costs under control. “Meanwhile, companies that have yet to adopt a print management strategy should do so in order to better secure documents shared from the office and printed at home, to ensure that remote printing is secure and, of course, to reduce their print costs. It is important that the print best practice adhered to in the office is followed when working remotely. Therefore, vendors should work closely with their channel partners to help them educate their customers on the subject of remote printing, and the challenges that it brings, and what solutions are available to help them bring control and discipline to remote print.”

COVID has accelerated digital transformation plans – including planning for transition plans to more nimble, flexible, cloud-based print solutions and Holmes expects to see this continue well into the new year. Holmes sees cloud-based print as an exciting development as it will provide companies with a better insight into onsite and offsite print, making it easier to manage, provision and control.

“It took time for companies to fully realise the impact that unmanaged print has on their business and their bottom line. We think a process of education is now needed to stress the importance of managing remote print. The challenge – as ever – is how to encourage and support behavioural change outside of the workplace.”

In order to address that, PaperCut will be working closely with its channel partners to help them ensure that their customers are able to support distributed working environments effectively. “Key needs for our partners will be to provide secure and seamless print options to customer staff working remotely, while guiding them on remote print best practice. Otherwise, there’s a real danger that print costs could spiral with the increase in home printing versus centralised office printing,” he warned. “That is a problem that could be set to grow; while the percentage of documents typically leaving the office may be fairly small due to vigorously enforced print rules, with distributed working becoming the norm, the number of documents printed remotely – and the risks that come with it – will increase exponentially. By working together, we think that’s a challenge that can be overcome.”

More broadly speaking, Holmes said that COVID hasn’t just impacted organisations’ digital transformation plans, but it has impacted the print industry overall. “As we move into 2021, OEM, reseller and portfolio consolidation will characterise the first half of the year. While disruptive, this of course presents as many opportunities as it does challenges; not least, the opportunity to develop deeper relationships and drive mutual growth to benefit not just the industry and the print ecosystem, but also for meeting the ever-changing needs of the customers our industry serves.”

He added: “With so much to think about – ensuring your business is COVID-resilient, your staff are safe and you can deliver business continuity to your customers – there’s a danger that print will fall a long way down businesses’ list of priorities. This could be a serious error, given that print taps right into the heart of board level priorities like security, cost reduction and environmental impact. Ignoring print now – whether it’s remote or onsite – could set businesses back just as they’re trying to recover from the significant disruption COVID caused to their business earlier this year.

“We also have to think about the number of print devices being sold into the workplace in the post-pandemic world. Businesses are of course encouraging staff to work from home and are moving to smaller, more suitable, premises. This will have an impact on the number of devices they need; some devices may be removed from the fleet, and businesses may choose to ‘sweat’ their existing print assets rather than invest in new ones. While there is value in that, over time it introduces risk; the security and productivity benefits of newer print devices soon outpaces that of older ones, leaving companies trailing behind their competitors with outdated equipment while also making them more vulnerable to malicious attacks and online security risks.”

Phil Madders
Phil Madders

Resilience and resourcefulness
After reviewing his predictions for 2020, Phil Madders, Managing Director, PAE Business admitted that he could not have been more wrong! “I missed completely that we would spend several months in lockdown, even more time banished from the office, resulting in page volumes, by our calculations, across Europe dropping by 74 per cent at its lowest point.”

On the other hand, what has been brilliant is the resilience and resourcefulness of the channel. “No sooner had PPE become a thing, than I received about three emails a day from the channel offering me a whole suite of protection,” he said, adding: “Our partner in Germany, Perform IT added a COVID-19 module to mySalesDrive auditing solution so our dealers could offer a professional back to the office consultancy service to their customers. It provided measurements for safe spaces, and visualisation of sanitising stations and one way systems. It was launched within 12 weeks of lockdown and ready to use just when companies needed it. It proves the old adage where there is challenge there is opportunity.”

Speaking to the opportunities in 2021, Madders said: “The office space is changing – there will more flexibility about where people work. Work reliance on cloud-based solutions and after years of centralising print, there will be a move to decentralising print as the shared office facility be it a coffee machine or an MFP will be less popular. This will be achieved by audits reversing years of consolidation on centrally placed devices to printers in bubbles – by team or department. What will not change is the desire to manage the expanded fleet centrally so MPS will still be centre stage, and cost per page will still be the favoured method of billing.”

Madders says that data management will be even more critical and accessing it from wherever you need it, will be paramount in most organisations’ thinking. “Analytics and dashboarding will move into most products as a core piece which in turn will drive organisations in one of two directions. They will either need to engage in one all-encompassing suite of products, which covers all aspects of their business and has central reporting, or adopt their current infrastructure by positioning a dashboard layer across the organisation which pulls information from the different data silos and combines it one company-wide dashboard. We are working on several projects with the second approach as companies are reluctant to bin everything at once. This is also an opportunity for our channel as dealers can deliver this service to their customers. All this will be delivered to a marketplace that will require greater flexibility and innovation from their suppliers and that will bring new challenges to the channel,” he

Moving onto challenges, Madders said: “The pandemic will be written about everywhere so I will acknowledge it as a challenge, but leave it to others better qualified than me to deal with it. The challenges for a channel specifically related to the new marketplace that I see are twofold. The first is delivering new flexibility to supply agreements – be it an MFP or a software solution, given the upheaval most organisations have faced this year, they will be looking to be able to react quickly to their normal workplace or market being disrupted through a lockdown or restriction. They will look for agreements where they can switch off or reduce costs temporarily to deal with cashflow or capacity fluctuations. This will challenge the creativity of the channel, but I am already seeing flexible (short) terms being offered on hardware, and dealers using SaaS models to build in the ability to respond to a change in circumstances for their customers. The second challenge is how to remunerate the sales person.”

PAE Business has been working with true SaaS pricing since 2012. Its user management software can be supplied on a month to month basis, deactivated in one customer and moved to another at any time without penalty to the dealer or the customer, if the dealer agrees. It is not tied to Mac address or limited by the number of activations. Madders says this is the ideal model for this market. “The major discussion we always have when a dealer first embarks on building a recurring revenue, is how do we pay a salesperson? It cannot be on a share of profit if you are renting a piece of hardware for a short term.

“It could be on contract value – but if it is a short-term rental then the contract value will be lower so you need many more to make the commission attractive to potential recruits, and it takes time to build. The other question is the type of skills required to sell a recurring revenue offering maybe different to the more traditional sales approach. These are just some of the challenges faced by our channel in 2021, he said.

 Simon Chapman
Simon Chapman

2020 has been a real challenge in the business world and on the back of this key innovations like the Fever Detect devices have assisted both employees and visitors to get back on with the new normal. Simon Chapman, Managing Director, Fever Detect said that the company will continue to modify its offering to keep assisting staff and visitors to get back to their offices and feel safe, productive and most importantly to do more business.

“Going forward as more venues reopen and events and larger gatherings begin to be allowed, Fever Detect will look to offer the Premium Print Model, that can quickly take an individual’s temperature, capture facial recognition via its software and print a sticker to confirm that a person has normal temperature upon entry,” he said.