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Print predictions 2021: Our industry experts offer their insights (Pt 1)

12 months ago when PrintIT Reseller invited the industry to share their print predictions for 2020, it’s fair to say that no-one could have predicted the global pandemic that impacted every industry and business sector. Now as the year draws to a close, here’s a selection of some of the best-known OEMs’ thoughts on what 2021 will hold for the print and IT sectors

Joe Doyle, Group Marketing Director, KYOCERA Document Solutions:
Customers are in business continuity mode; focused on cost curtailment, remote working and maintaining essential operations. As the restrictions ease and business picks up in 2021, their attention will shift to recovering revenues, rebuilding operations and accelerating digital transformation.

In a short space of time organisations have adapted to survive. Some are thriving, many are struggling and all have had to enable remote working, adopt new business models and invoke business continuity plans. Next year, companies will increase their use of tools such as Microsoft Teams to ‘sweat the asset’ and extract maximum value from it by combining it with things like their existing telephony systems to boost productivity and efficiency. Also, in the rapid rush to online tools such as MS Teams and the Google Suite in 2020, more companies will be looking for additional tools to back-up and restore the data that is stored on these platforms but which is not saved by the platform itself. We also believe that the move to the cloud will be accelerated, with companies needing to optimise and attain all the benefits that the cloud brings, even quicker.

Staying with IT, organisations will need to focus their attention more on their core competencies so will look to work with companies for professional services, utilising managed service providers as ‘virtual’ team members to support them with their new IT projects and goals.

Organisations will look to balance their print fleets so as to accommodate greater numbers of employees home working on a more fixed basis, so we’ll see more A4 devices being shipped. At the other end of the scale, production print is set to grow with demand for inkjet increasing significantly in 2021.

Finally, the rapid growth in the amount of information being produced within organisations and the way it’s being managed is impacting directly on organisational efficiency, employee productivity, IT infrastructure complexity, and most importantly, profitability. With many organisations downsizing their workforce in 2020, 2021 will see them needing to automate processes and information structure through utilising content services. Content services is about removing manual processes, replacing them with a streamlined digitised workflow that integrates into other systems, such as CRM or enterprise resource planning (ERP). It can help lower costs, improve customer satisfaction and massively improve the efficiency of an organisation.”


 Jason Cort
Jason Cort

Jason Cort, Director of Product Planning and Marketing, Sharp Europe:
COVID-19 will continue to accelerate the decline of print. The slow decline in demand for print has been tracked over a number of years. Those within the industry were convinced that this would continue throughout 2020, long before the pandemic. Like everything, COVID-19 has impacted this area also, with the growing move to remote working leaving offices requiring significantly less print support. This is driven by pragmatic, behaviour-led changes among employees such as becoming accustomed to reviewing documents on PC screens, using digital signatures or documents provided electronically as meetings shift from in person to in video.

The impact of COVID-19 has taken declines from a cost-led, conscious business decision and compounded them by a behaviour-led change which is happening far quicker than previously predicted – and will certainly continue into 2021.

IT services will continue to benefit. While print continues to decline, the pandemic has led to a boom in demand for IT services, as companies have been forced to move business processes to online platforms. This includes everything from meetings and sales calls to collaborative tasks and finance. Over the past few years, this shift has been collectively termed ‘digital transformation’, and was previously seen as a long-term project for many SMBs. However the pandemic has ensured that this transformation became an immediate priority for businesses in 2020 to complete, in order to support remote working as effectively as possible.

This has proved to be a significant advantage for the IT services industry, as businesses now require a wide range of services to keep themselves operational. Video conferencing platforms for meetings, like Zoom, cybersecurity plans to protect a wider array of devices, and cloud-based documents to help with collaborative working are just some of the services that are now required.

Rush for diversification to bring more acquisitions. From a business perspective, the decline in print and the clear advantage the pandemic has offered to IT services has laid bare the need for diversification within the print industry. It has become a necessity to offer a range of IT services that go far beyond traditional print. Businesses are increasingly looking for a singular IT provider that can meet all their needs, from print to security and PC support. This will provide the catalyst for an uptick in the number of acquisitions of IT service providers by larger companies looking to add this diversification to their offering.

Customers look for reassurance and confidence. Understandably, the pandemic has left businesses concerned about financial commitments, and this will lead to a thorough review of spending. Where there is already a contract in place, services are likely to continue as normal. However, when the time comes for renegotiation there is bound to be a completely different set of needs from the customer. This can be a positive for sales teams, and should be used as an opportunity to reinforce relationships with customers and to showcase the range of additional support they can provide.

Customers are looking for a holistic offer, but also a trusted, recognised brand that provides peace of mind that they will be able to offer support despite the turmoil of COVID-19. For a time, small businesses relied on local IT suppliers to provide support – we are now seeing the ground shift on this, as business leaders look to trusted names that are perceived as more robust and able to offer continuous support in uncertain times.

Home office provides boost for inkjet and direct mail. On a positive note for print, there has been an acceleration in the adoption of inkjet printing which is a reversal of a trend from last year. While business inkjet has continued to struggle, inkjet print technology has benefitted as it is more suited to the home devices that have enjoyed a huge increase in sales.

There has also been something of a renaissance for commercial printing in support of marketing outreach. Direct mail has seen a resurgence during the pandemic as marketers look for alternatives to email which capture customers’ attention.

 Phil Jones, MBE
Phil Jones, MBE

Phil Jones MBE, Managing Director, Brother UK:
Predicting the future right now is a difficult business. With millions remote working, offices gathering dust and technology supply chains cleared of stock, the market has seen a temporary boom. But this may well fade as stock availability dictates revenues over the next two quarters.

The huge location shift from office to home will create new opportunities for the channel. People will want more sophisticated technology at home and resellers and manufacturers must adapt their business models to provide it.

Demand will grow for business-grade devices, such as small footprint printers with A3 capability and automatic document feeders, as it will for cameras, specialist lighting and microphones as employees soup-up their personal offices to meet the needs of online meetings.

Subscription and service models will change how businesses equip their people. More firms will want to subscribe for their devices, while large managed print service contracts will need to cater for a new geographical spread of fleets, leading to more asset tracking and remote management – the concept of centralised print standing aside for distributed print in smaller internal workgroups or thousands of homes.

Employers will have a big responsibility to ensure the home office set ups of their people are fully risk assessed, which may well lead to a boom in demand for all manner of accessories, such as laptop and monitor risers, to prevent the potential aches, strains and pains of poor working posture.

Social isolation is a growing problem that remote workers experience and the re-configuration of the office headquarters is already being thought about to facilitate catch-ups between colleagues, which people will want as a pay-off if they are to invest in a commute. In a future world of hybrid working, the transition from home to the workplace will be about making sure the technology is seamless and the design lends itself to facilitating the casual conversations that underpin culture.

Within all this movement, there will be significant opportunities for upgrades as businesses begin to take stock of how their remote workers are operating in reality. To fully capitalise, it will all be about your ability to serve this new landscape. Waiting for things to go back to how they were at the start of the year is likely to cost dearly. The quick re-design, re-position and re-purposing of what you do and how you do it will ensure you keep revenues flowing in 2021.

Debbie Callaghan
Debbie Callaghan

Debbie Callaghan, Marketing Manager, RISO UK:
RISO has always recognised that a partner programme that delivers success for all involved is key to business. It’s why two years ago we introduced a tier-based programme that sees partners given additional sales, marketing and technical support in line with the particular tier they are on.

It’s proved to be an attractive option for our partners, who have worked with us to grow their own success. It is important for that ethos to continue into the future for the print industry to thrive against a somewhat uncertain economic backdrop.

We believe that the public sector will play a fundamental role in the resurgence of print over the coming months. From healthcare to education and from central government to local authorities, print is an essential method of communication, now more than ever, with direct mail playing a major part in everyday operations. In fact, during the last few months, vital messaging has been communicated by central government through direct mailings, as the best way to ensure it was received by all households. Also it is a known fact that messages resonate better and are more effective visually when printed, and also many people either prefer print or do not have access to the internet or to a printer.

Potential partners have foreseen this trend and many have recently contacted RISO, attracted by our product offering, our unique partner programme and support, and our proven expertise working with public sector organisations.

The public sector is being forced to further examine areas for cost savings and they must justify more than ever a spend on printed materials, no matter how intrinsic they are to the overall marketing and communications mix.

This is where RISO’s unique cold inkjet print technology really comes into its own. With the lowest running costs on the market, award winning reliability and fast speeds of up to 160 ppm, the RISO ComColor range of printers gives our partners access to print solutions that help expand their revenue opportunities.

Our bespoke approach in terms of delivering savings across total cost of ownership makes for a compelling proposition, and one that partners can really get behind and sell into their own customers.

RISO gives print managers and procurement teams the evidence that they need to show that print does not have to be on expensive paper and that there is an alternative to costly outsourcing. Indeed, the versatility of a RISO printer such as the ComColor FW or the ComColor GD9630 means they can print more, including posters, newsletters, letters, and information sheets, for a fraction of the costs of a more traditional way of printing, and in colour, further enhancing engagement with the recipient.

People are taking the opportunity to rethink how they operate and what they actually do. In this environment, there’s a real opportunity for RISO to work even more collaboratively with its partners to thrive and move forward into the next exciting chapter.

Martin Fairman
Martin Fairman

Martin Fairman,Managing Director UK & Ireland,  Lexmark:
Lexmark anticipates a significant increase in SMBs moving print to the cloud. IDC research has shown that by 2021 one-third of companies with fewer than 500 employees will have adopted structured print and document management policies supported by cloud-based software. The global pandemic is accelerating this trend and it is critical that we equip our partners to capture this growing demand.

This year dealers have become all too familiar with the challenges of onsite fleet management. In addition to being costly and time-consuming to deploy, and a hassle to service and reconfigure, partners have faced access issues and employee safety concerns due to the pandemic. Our partners have shown increased interest in Lexmark Cloud Fleet Management (CFM) to overcome these obstacles.

Lexmark CFM empowers partners to maintain the entire print infrastructure of their small and medium-size customers from one integrated tool. Lexmark cloud-based device management makes it easy to configure Lexmark printers and keep them up to date with the latest recommended firmware. Lexmark printers can be managed from anywhere in the world without the need to go onsite or be on the same local network.

From the time we launched CFM, third-party printer monitoring was the number one request from our partners using it. We have now delivered this significant enhancement, which allows partners to remotely collect data from third-party as well as Lexmark devices.

But we aren’t stopping there. Lexmark continues to update our cloud offerings – Cloud Print Management, Cloud Fleet Management and Cloud Connector – to enable our partners to deliver value-add function and differentiated experiences to their customers.

 James Pittick
James Pittick

James Pittick, Partner Channel Director, Canon UK:
In 2021, the acceleration of change will continue at speed. Opportunities will be present for the partners that have embraced diversification, for those who looked to sell IT services and a broader range of products alongside their traditional print portfolios. To support these efforts, partners will need to invest in the right talent and training programs to support these changes.

Products such as smart MFP devices and home scanners should continue to do well, as print partners look to embrace wider product portfolios that support the hybrid workspace. Technologies such as the private and public cloud, and devices with strong security offerings will also be critical to success in the current market, as workforces are dispersed and require secure and mobile ways of working. The increased demand for ‘as-a-service’ type solutions will also likely continue in 2021 as customers continue to seek flexibility from their technology partners.

Flexibility and having a strong understanding of the new hybrid working environment will continue to be hugely important throughout 2021. The hybrid workspace throws up lots of potential issues, from how to control print spend, quality and most importantly data. Partners that can offer genuine help in these areas will be able to form deeper relationships with their customers. Partner businesses will need to examine their support infrastructure and ask themselves, ‘how do you deliver customer service and how can you continue to add value?’

Not directly linked to the pandemic, but sustainability, and strong credentials, will become ever more important throughout 2021. Sustainability significantly rose up the business agenda in 2019, through to 2020 and it’s continuing to gain momentum despite the implications from the virus. It is important that print resellers have a robust plan in place to support sustainable efforts for continued growth.

In terms of challenges, supporting access to quality prints will be a major area for most businesses. Some industries, such as architecture, require high quality prints to function smoothly. Partners that operate in verticals such as these will need to have a process in place to serve customers smoothly and safely, ensuring that output remains as uninterrupted as possible.

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has brought about a readjustment of print volumes. There are still opportunities for print, but where these opportunities can be found has shifted. The challenge for partners is accessing these areas. Some sectors, such as commercial and signage, have seen demand soar, while the desire for high-end print in other sectors, such as public, healthcare and construction, has remained. Print resellers will need to take a tactical view of the marketplace and challenge themselves to move beyond their traditional comfort zones.

Part two to follow next issue.