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Looking to the future: Part one

COVID-19 has presented a number of unprecedented challenges to organisations in every sector, however it has also opened doors of opportunity for print and IT vendors to innovate. PrintIT Reseller invited a panel of industry leaders to share their thoughts on business post-pandemic

PrintIT Reseller: COVID-19 sent 2020’s business plans, goals and ambitions into a tailspin; what are your business’ hopes and plans for the rest of this year?

Frank Hulshoff, Director Rent, Demo & Marketing, Flex IT Distribution:“Flex IT is in the unique situation in that the products and services we offer can help companies deal with the fall out of the COVID epidemic. Circular IT products proved to be the go-to solution for many companies who needed to scale the home office workplace for example, and circular IT proved to be the best investment. We expect this trend to continue as many companies are experiencing and appreciating the benefits of circular IT for the first time now.”


Steve Holmes, EMEA Regional Director, PaperCut: “COVID-19 certainly wasn’t on anyone’s 2020 business plans, and some businesses will come through it stronger than others given the pandemic’s impact on different industries. Our core business remains strong, and we’ve been doubling down on delivering solutions that provide better ways of printing during this period of remote working and business recovery.

“Not to be overlooked during this recovery period, is the importance of our relationships with our valued channel partners. Their unique relationships with our customers mean that working hand in hand as a partnership has never been so important. By doing so, we can ensure that we’re giving them the support they need to address their customers’ needs.

“Last but not least, we recognise that the power of PaperCut is in its employees, so we’re paying close attention to their wellbeing and looking for ways to offer needed support. While no-one has a crystal ball into what the future holds, our hope is that we’ll exit the pandemic with the same size or bigger team than we started.

“We know there will be some obstacles ahead in the next six months, but we believe that being agile, responsive and paying close attention to our channel and customers’ needs, will ultimately ensure that PaperCut continues its market-leading growth over the next 12 months.”

Martin Randall
Martin Randall

Martin Randall, Sales and Marketing Director, Vision: “Following acquisitions in our FY19 and key new business wins in the first half of FY20, when we reached the halfway point of this financial year in March, we were on course for record growth of over 30 per cent.

“The impact of COVID has been tough, but with the good work done in the six months leading up to March, we are fortunate that YOY results won’t see a decrease. In terms of the rest of the year, in addition to business secured from an increased focus on enabling remote working and supporting businesses to achieve the COVID-secure office, we remain optimistic that September sees a greater return of people to the workplace and in turn the start of a more notable upward trend in volumes.”

Phil Jones
Phil Jones

Phil Jones, Managing Director, Brother UK: “I hope the rest of the year allows us all to re-establish some stability and certainty, though how realistic that is depends on whether there’s a second wave of coronavirus and how that’s managed. Ideally, a more stable environment means we can get back to the rhythm of life and the rhythm of business – delivering good outcomes for the economy as a whole and for people in their day-to-day lives.

“Over the past month, we’ve seen how colleagues that have returned to our offices at Brother UK have enjoyed the familiarity of having something that resembles their old routine, albeit in a more flexible way than previously.”

Emma Davies-Carolan
Emma Davies-Carolan

Emma Davies-Carolan, Director of Marketing, Europe, ECI Solutions:“Like all businesses we have had to re-evaluate our processes, goals and targets in keeping with the ‘new normal.’ Luckily, cloud-based systems have been in high demand as entire organisations or specific growth areas of businesses have looked to move operations online during the pandemic. If anything this meant our customers were now relying on our software and solutions more than ever.

“Customers have been able to easily scale up or add on new modules or users to our solutions like e-automate – which has provided peace of mind for those concerned about a sudden surge in customer demand or who have had to alter the way they work.

“We’ve been able to conduct all of our implementation training online or via video calls and our customer service representatives remain on call to help resolve any issues customers might be experiencing.”

Phil Madders
Phil Madders

Phil Madders, Managing Director,PAE Business:“That the situation becomes clearer in terms of people returning to work and commercial activity in offices restarts at some level. We can see from page volumes going through the devices managed by our customers that print volumes are severely reduced on normal levels in the UK. The rest of Europe has increased but it is still nowhere near pre-COVID-19 levels. Our plans are fluid at present so we can react accordingly to the changing circumstances we find ourselves in and the impact of any second wave or continued absence from the office through working at home becomes clearer.”

Clive Hamilton, Managing Director,Pinnacle: “We need to be more focussed than ever before in giving support to our clients in all areas of their business to help drive retention, diversification and growth in the remaining part of 2020.”

Michael Field, Managing Director, Workflo Solutions: “COVID-19 impacted our lives in ways which no-one could have predicted. But our business plans, goals, and ambitions remain steadfast. We have worked hard to bring together the fragmented managed service market, and to offer clients a holistic solution, one which delivers greater value than that of its individual parts.

“Strategic employment and intelligent acquisition, allow us to offer end to end services. Enabling digitisation services for archives and records, managed print and workflow solutions, on-premise and cloud document management solutions, IT managed services, migration, back up and disaster recovery.

“COVID-19 has shown us just how quickly our world can change. To me, it’s shown us that we must move at an even quicker pace. August 2020 has seen Workflo appoint five new staff members; covering managed print, print production (PPD), data centre management, and to support our growth, credit control.”

Mike Barron, Managing Director,SYNAXON UK: “Our view is that COVID-19 has simply accelerated changes that were already taking place. We’re adapting to that, of course, and in turn accelerating the progression and development of our overall value proposition. We’re placing an even stronger focus on managed services, which now becoming increasingly important for most of our membership.

“The pandemic has accelerated the move towards home/remote working and cloud adoption and that’s increased demand for managed services such as back-up/recovery, network management, cybersecurity and, of course, print.

“We have responded by launching an updated framework for SynMSP, with the aim of encouraging more MSPs to join. It offers new members access to an extended series of community events, tools, and learning resources, which they can use to develop their competence and capabilities. We identified four key challenges that new and developing MSPs face right now:

*How do you become more competitive in a busy marketplace?
*How do you find the right solutions and opportunities to grow sales and become more profitable?
*How do you optimise your resources and identify best practice?
*How do you measure yourself against others in the channel?

“The programme is designed to suit every MSP, whatever stage of development they have reached. By bringing committed business leaders together to share best practices and new ideas and learn from each other, the new framework will deliver even more value. We have an exciting programme of events planned for the year ahead, starting with our National Member Conference and MSP Festival in September (which will be entirely virtual) and continuing with a whole series of exclusive SynMSP meetings, workshops and webinars.

“We’ve also made it even more attractive for new members by offering them a 50 per cent discount for the first 12 months – a total saving of £900. New members benefits include: Improved margins and efficiency from day one – access to highly competitive pricing and purchasing support – from O365, cybersecurity and services to hardware & consumables. An interactive programme of events, real world and online – showcasing new opportunities and trends, knowledge exchange and peer learning, alongside extraordinary networking. Customisable, fully-realised quarterly marketing campaigns – designed for lead generation and brand promotion. Access to a closed chat groups – for the exchange of information, recommendations, business opportunities, advice, guidance, and experiences (both LinkedIn and Facebook).”

Nigel Allen
Nigel Allen

Nigel Allen, Marketing Director, ASL Group: “Obviously this crisis has had a huge impact on all businesses and has made everyone review costs and plans to ensure that the ongoing business is sustainable. The good news is that the recovery is in progress and although business is nowhere near the levels we previously had, we can see enough progress to be optimistic.

“The core of ASL’s business is SMEs throughout the country, not just focussed on London and other large cities. This has meant that many of these businesses have been the first to get back into their offices and therefore printing volumes have jumped up. However our prediction is that over the course of the year they will reach a maximum of 80-90 per cent of ‘normal’ volumes.”

James Pittick, Partner Channel Director,Canon UK: “First and foremost, our plan is to make sure we have the right technology and processes in place for our partners and customers to support them through their return to work plans. Given the constantly evolving nature of this crisis, it is important for our business to be agile. Our broad product range is here to help partners and businesses plan to make the hybrid workplace work long-term.

“Diversification is a key pillar of our partner programme, and we are focusing on helping partners to diversify their offerings and continue to expand into selling services throughout the rest of the year. We have been working very closely with our traditional hardware resellers to help them integrate software solutions into their sales pitches, repositioning themselves as end-to-end service providers.

“We have also invested heavily in tools and training for upskilling via a webinar series and learning pathways hosted on our partner portal. With topics such as remote working, sustainability, and security we want to help partners to understand ever-evolving client needs, and how they can adapt their business plans to meet these demands.”

Stuart Sykes, Managing Director,Sharp UK: “The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly had a huge impact on businesses across all sectors and markets, and we like others will continue to focus on adapting to the changes the pandemic has created.

“Of course, our main priorities are the safety and wellbeing of our teams and supporting our partners as they too take on this journey. This is an ongoing focus of ours across the business, as we continue to deliver the best possible results for all our valued customers, no matter the setbacks.”

Alpesh Unalkat, CEO, Aura: “Aura was formed in a COVID world when it launched in March 2020 through the acquisition of Karlson and Intevi in a deal led by a management team that previously ran the workplace technology business within Capita (a FTSE plc). Our value proposition was formed early 2019, long before COVID-19, and focuses on ‘reimagining future workspaces’ through connected solutions that integrate workforce and customer experiences at home, in retail outlets, in shared collaboration spaces and in offices.

“COVID-19 has simply accelerated the workspace-of-the-future discussion and Aura is very well positioned both as a thought leader and solutions provider. Our business plans, goals and ambitions have benefited from the customer awareness that COVID-19 has brought, especially as our business revenues are split 50:50 between our collaboration and managed print offering. We are seeing gathering momentum in customer activity and our hopes and plans for the remainder of 2020 are to conclude an acquisition that we are working on, to recruit further high quality talent into the business and to see a continuation of the focus on future workspaces from new and existing clients.”

 James Reed
James Reed

James Reed, Managing Director UK&I – Endpoint Solutions, Tech Data: “The pandemic put everyone in the channel out of their stride initially, but I think that over the last few months, everyone has adjusted and while they may have reset their targets to some degree, they are starting to get back on track.

“That is certainly the case with Tech Data. Our ambitions for the year are largely unchanged. Some areas of business – such as cloud, client devices and home printers, for example, are now growing faster than expected. Others have been slowed due to project work being delayed or adapted to suit new working practices, but we are starting to see this pick up again.”

PrintIT Reseller: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future and your business’ ability to pivot and adapt your services to accommodate new workplace requirements?

Frank Hulshoff: “We are very optimistic. We see that circular IT is becoming an ever more logical choice for companies when they invest in IT hardware. The quality, price and importantly, the positive impact on sustainability goals are triggering this trend.”

Steve Holmes: “One of the advantages of our agile approach, is that we have the ability to anticipate and respond to market and customer changes dynamically. Being able to develop intuitive solutions on a broad range of devices, operating systems and infrastructure platforms ensures we can deliver a wide range of functionality to support a vast array of market and business needs.

“Since COVID emerged, we’re hearing more from customers about how their priorities are having to evolve in order to overcome their business challenges. Questions such as “How do I reduce or recover my costs?”, “How do I ensure my workplace is safe for my teams?”, “How do I support a workforce that is now distributed and works remotely?” are all questions top of mind for business owners returning to their new norm. We see these business challenges as an excellent opportunity for both ourselves and our channel to add real consultative value around solving these customer pain points

“During the COVID period we have also ensured we remained relevant with our customers and broader ecosystem; now more than ever, we need to continually innovate to deliver the services and solutions that they need to ensure their success in the post-COVID world. As an example, we took the opportunity to completely overhaul our sales and technical certification training for a remote audience. As a result we have seen enrolment and pass rates around the globe increase by a factor of three compared to the prior year.

“Additionally, we looked for ways to help our partners become even more relevant in the new remote world. We developed a new channel focussed software platform to gather actionable insights into our partners’ customers’ print environment, enabling them to identify device faults and warnings, initiate remote device configuration and changes, view service contracts and have the ability to link directly into their software stack for remote changes. These new tools are provided as a complimentary benefit to our partners and are a great tool to initiate those deeper consultative customer conversations.”

Martin Randall: “Whilst this year has presented a greater challenge than most of us have ever experienced, dealing with change and overcoming adversity in business is of course not a new concept! It’s vital to remain optimistic and only by doing so can we adapt and overcome the challenges presented. We’ve already made great progress in adapting our approach and I have no doubt that our team’s collective desire, energy and positivity will see further progressive transformation.”

Phil Jones: “Our business is well-placed to adapt to the outcomes of the pandemic. As a vendor, we not only provide enterprise-level office printers, but also home office, mobile and labelling devices, which means we’ve done very well throughout lockdown, as people have had to quickly equip for working at home. We feel confident that the breadth of our product and services portfolio can fit the shifting working patterns we can see emerging.

Emma Davies-Carolan: “For some businesses previously reliant on in-house hardware such as servers or confined workspaces, there’s an array of logistical and practical considerations that’ll need addressing before employees can return. The potential for localised, smaller scale lockdowns are also causing concerns for businesses who may suddenly be required to temporarily close their doors to employees.

“I’m confident that we’re well prepared across the organisation, especially following the success of our ‘work from home first’ policy which we implemented at the start of the pandemic. We’ve successfully moved the ECI team onto virtual platforms while ensuring business continuity and great customer service. It means moving forward the team has more flexibility in where they can work from, allowing us to adapt when needed to.”

Phil Madders: “We are very optimistic that our core offering brings a lot of value to our customers, and we are working on a couple of new product initiatives to leverage the opportunities that will arise with the new workplace requirements.”

Clive Hamilton
Clive Hamilton

Clive Hamilton: “We are very optimistic about both the future and Pinnacle’s ability to react to the changing market place in which we live and work. For me it’s about speed of action in terms of dealing with new solutions and technologies for our customers and making sure all the staff are on board and trained to deliver these professionally and seamlessly. We have spent the last five months learning new products, new technologies and services that can support our clients in the new world.”

 Michael Field
Michael Field

Michael Field: “As Alphonse Karr wrote in 1856’s ‘A Tour Round My Garden’: “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.”

“I have always been vocal on the importance of managed print vendors innovating and adopting technology. COVID-19 has merely been a catalyst in expediting the process. Home working has posed many challenges to businesses and organisations of all sizes, technology has raised its hand and delivered the answer to problems.

“As an independently owned organisation, we have always been nimble. We have adapted quickly, strategised and developed Saas and Haas models which deliver the flexibility our clients desire. As Microsoft Silver Partners, we can utilise cloud services and migrate operations to an Azure platform for business continuity.”

Mike Barron
Synaxon UK : Mike Barron

Mike Barron: “We are most definitely optimistic and positive about the future for SYNAXON UK and its members. SYNAXON UK already had a work from home policy in place and the pandemic has simply turned that into normal everyday working practice for us. We have been running regular online meetings with members and we have seen them adapting too. They seem to have made the transition to operating an almost completely virtual structure quite easily and they are settling into that way of working now.

“There are still some challenges of course – infrastructure products and client devices still need to be physically shipped, unpacked and installed. But most of the technical work can now be done in advance or remotely now. It’s highlighting the benefits of remote and managed services, which is why we are redoubling our efforts there and also providing an extended value proposition for new and developing MSPs.

“We do foresee a need with SYNAXON UK – and we’d expect members to be the same – to bring our teams together in one place from time to time, and we’re already putting plans in place to do that. Our team can now access our premises safely, so they can choose to work in the office for part of the week and hold meetings there. While that’s starting to happen, we need to make sure everyone is comfortable and feels totally safe. I think it will be some time before we can simply expect everyone to turn up at an appointed time and place to take part in a physical meeting. In the interim, I believe both SYNAXON UK and our members can cope very well indeed working remotely and occasionally using doing site visits and using office facilities, when it is really necessary and/or beneficial.

“Events will be a little different. It will be interesting to see how our virtual conference goes; I believe we will get a good attendance and response, because everyone knows and understands the value of networking and sharing ideas and best practices that it induces and enables – and the only way to do that right now is virtually. For events in particular, I think everyone will be pleased when we can go back to being physically present in the same location.”

Nigel Allen: “A few years ago, ASL invested in developing and acquiring other businesses which offered other services such as unified communications, commercial & industrial print as well as IT services. It is these areas that have shown more resilience during the lockdown and with companies moving to a more hybrid office approach, the ability to help companies with the additional IT demands and unified communication requirements provide us with excellent revenue streams that are beyond office printing.”

 James Pittick
James Pittick

James Pittick: “This pandemic has caught everyone by surprise, but in terms of business changes, it’s accelerated requirements that we felt were already underway. For a long time, we have supported our partners’ ongoing evolution to selling services, and we made diversification a core pillar of our partner programme when we relaunched it in 2018.

“We have a broad technology portfolio at Canon including scanners, desktop SFPs & MFPs, and LFPs, which leaves us well placed to support customers as they implement hybrid working plans and processes. We have also developed a campaign around device touchpoint awareness, which provides partners with guidance and best practice on how to minimise the use of common product touchpoints to increase safety across multiple working environments. Alongside the touchpoint awareness campaign, we also have a business transformation campaign. This campaign helps partners to incorporate agile working messaging into their digital transformation proposition, helping them support customers no matter where they are on their journey.

“We have also explored technology partnerships and have a strong range of cloud-based offerings that are well-placed to meet evolving workplace requirements. A good recent example is Canon working at the forefront of Microsoft’s Universal Print initiative, a solution where organisations no longer require on-premises print servers or to install printer drivers on devices. Customer-centric initiatives such as these mean partners can feel secure that they are able to offer customers a broad suite of best-in-class solutions, to support a vast range of needs.”

Stuart Sykes: “We remain optimistic about the rest of 2020. At Sharp, we feel well-placed to be able to pivot and adapt how we can support our partners to meet the requirements of the post-COVID workplace. Over the past few years, we have been evolving and building a wider portfolio of technology to help businesses more than ever before.

“This ongoing evolution is part of our mission to help customers create their own workplace of the future and match the emerging trends we constantly monitor. Recent data from Quocirca shows that there will be a 96 per cent increase in demand for collaboration services, and an overwhelming 89 per cent increase in businesses looking for cloud digital workflow solutions. We are well-placed to provide solutions in these areas, which are of increasing importance as businesses aim to ‘come back better’.

“Our efforts here will be underpinned by the support of Complete I.T., a market leading IT support services provider acquired by Sharp last year. This strengthens our position to offer customers a full package of business technologies; from cloud working, collaboration and workflow, to visitor management and remote working.”

Alpesh Unalkat
Alpesh Unalkat

Alpesh Unalkat: “We are optimistic but also realistic about the future. Our business has already pivoted and adapted to accommodate new workplace requirements and so we are optimistic about our agility and capability to innovate.

“We are realistic, however, about how new and existing clients’ own businesses adapt and change given COVID-19, which will be driven by a range of factors including sector, maturity and culture. However, overall we look forward to ‘life beyond COVID’ as it has meant that all businesses are reviewing how they operate and communicate using technology and this fits extremely well with our proposition.”

James Reed: “Definitely optimistic. We were able to adjust quickly and indeed, went into lockdown before the directive came. We have been able to operate normally ever since that time and we’ve recently started a phased and entirely voluntary return to our re-configured workplaces. That’s going well, but we don’t expect to have everyone back and working in the office for some time to come. Indeed, like many organisations in all sectors, we expect to have more people working from home more often in the future.”