As 2020, the year that will be best remembered for the global pandemic, draws to a close, PrintIT Reseller invited a number of leading channel vendors and distributors to share their thoughts on what 2021 will hold for the print and IT sectors
Simon Chapman, Managing Director, Temple Knight
At Temple Knight, it’s been quite a year of change and not just for the obvious reasons. We have celebrated our 35th year trading in what is a very competitive arena, we have grown both our sales team and changed our business focus to adapt to how the world has changed in the last 12 months.
To continue our transition and in order to gain a larger marketplace, we will be offering our thousands of valued customers both hosted telecoms and mobile solutions. It is clear that the working world has changed and we plan on being a big part of that, whilst still keeping our commitment to an unbiased consultative approach to all the services we offer.
Looking ahead to next year, the business world will evolve at great pace with many sectors wanting to keep workers at home as they can obtain the same level of work but without the costs of a large central office. With others championing the return to the office, the challenge will be to find products and services to assist both types of customers.
With our dedicated staff and strong relationships we have forged with our partners, we are hopeful that 2021 has every chance of being our biggest and best yet. The biggest concern we have is if there is a continued lockdown and what this will do for overall business confidence. There is also a clear challenge with Brexit, and assisting customers who are in Europe and Ireland.
Paul Wheatley, Sales Manager, Pinnacle, part of the Ethos Group
With the pandemic being at the forefront of most people’s minds, particularly at the start of the year, cost savings and tighter control of budgets will be the main driving force for change in 2021.
Remote working and digital transformation will be key drivers as the industry carries on the transition throughout the year, with technology playing a large part of the strategy for evolvement.
We are helping our clients to focus on keeping their business running in the most efficient manner possible, by delivering a transformation roadmap for the essentials; supporting people, safety, cyber and security, cost control and asset management, taking care of employees and customers.
As businesses rethink how and where they conduct operations, our industry continues to move forward. There are four strategic areas to focus on: recovering revenue, rebuilding operations, rethinking the organisation and accelerating the adoption of digital solutions.
The way people now work has changed and has significantly impacted print and document managed services. Remote working – which stood at five per cent of the working population in January 2020 – has now soared to 60 per cent and is now recognised as an accepted and flexible way of reducing costs and managing work life balance. During lockdown there has been an unprecedented acceleration of cloud-based technologies and the digitisation of capabilities.
Companies need to consider key investments across remote collaboration tools, mobile cybersecurity tech, accessible HR tools, wellness and workforce training programs for professional development and upskilling. Opportunities are abound in areas such as work from home devices, managed print services and app-based workflows, there’s a new way to work, and we’re accelerating that now.
We are confident in our ability to join the dotted lines, not only across print, but from other business segments like comms, cyber security and document workflows, securing a market advantage with a one stop approach to our clients’ requirements by delivering end-to-end solutions, all from one suppler.
Michael Field, Managing Director, Workflo Solutions
I consider it naïve to think that any of us can predict what 2021 will bring for managed print and IT service providers. COVID-19 has driven digital transformation at great pace, overnight a WFH model was forced upon businesses throughout the UK. The infrastructure of managed service providers was tested, and those who successfully delivered in a time of client need, will move in to 2021 with momentum, and a proven ability to expedite change.
Personally, I believe that more flexible working practices will appear. With office-based working yet again becoming ‘normal’, although it will not be unusual to see a hybrid model where employees spend a percentage of their working week at home.
This breeds a fantastic opportunity for vendors who had the foresight to invest in an infrastructure capable of offering, not only managed print services, but also managed IT solutions, capable of driving digital transformation. I fear it may be too late for those who did not.
Technology will continue to accelerate, driven by the learnings of COVID-19, with clients expecting a holistic service offering. Allowing flexible, secure, and nimble working practices.
2021 brings a real and tangible opportunity for forward-thinking, technologically advanced, and service dedicated vendors to benefit from the lessons learned in 2020. I, for one, am excited to see what the new normal looks like. But more importantly, ready to grasp the opportunity it brings.
Nigel Allen, Marketing Director, ASL
Normally when I submit this, I review what I wrote last year and look at others to see who was closest to reality. I haven’t bothered this year.
At the time of writing we are still in a situation where the health of the nation is paramount, the economy has started to fail again after some encouraging signs, and local lockdowns are in force. For ASL the fact that we are nationwide and focus on the SME market, this does help balance out our business.
In terms of 2021, even if a vaccine is found and rolled out, over six months people are used to working in a hybrid manner and businesses are getting much better at managing and accepting the remote worker.
If you look at the analysts such as IDC or Gartner some of their predictions are focussed on the larger corporates, not the general SME market. I see an increase in the demands for effective IT solutions including improved unified comms, as people move from just being happy that they can communicate with others to improving cost and efficiency.
2020 has caused uncertainty in business like never before and there will be more demand for flexible contract solutions to enable the customer to have a degree of downsizing if required. It is a difficult one to offer but those who do find the right solution will be the winners.
Generally there will be employees returning to their common practices and habits, including printing. Although there was a huge increase in the amount of Teams and Zoom calls initially, I believe that people miss the benefits of face to face meetings which does drive printing demand. In some industries there is still a demand for large documents to be printed and circulated, where you have a remote workforce services such as web2print where the documents can be uploaded, printed and despatched within 24 hours will see new customers requiring their services.
Above all else, whatever happens in print, we will all be glad to see the back of 2020 and really hope for a different new year!
David Warrington, Client Services Director, Office Fox
COVID has undoubtedly changed the way forward within the channel in a number of ways. I am seeing a significant rise in home working being a permanent change rather than a temporary one as first thought. The knock on to this being increased A4 sales over the traditional workgroup A3. The decentralised approach to print hasn’t necessarily reduced print/scan volumes it’s just shifted.
2021 will certainly be the rise of the home worker and the challenge for business and the channel is to find a way to manage the expense and accountability as easily as a traditional office environment. We will be seeing more subscription and dare I say it consumer style agreements that allow more flexibility than ever before. Remote staff will need all the technology that was available to them in the workplace but at home – this also brings in additional questions; who pays for the additional power needs? Home office set-ups?
Document security (particularly those with a heavy GDPR responsibility)?
For those offices still running in the pre-COVID way I also believe a decentralised approach will come into play. The old images of groups of employees chatting round the MFP will more than likely be a thing of the past. I see more self-contained working bubbles taking their place, so the larger 70-80+ workhorse machines will be replaced with more portable 20-30 devices strategically located within those bubbles. The positives for MPS is that it has always been a dynamic and commercially aware channel. For those that see the opportunities for growth, I firmly believe profitable and sustainable business is out there, maybe in a new form but still there none the less.
Steven Hastings, Channel Consultant, Armor Print Solutions
I feel that the impact on print volumes during 2020 and the changes in working practices caused by the migration from the office will continue to force the evolution in the solutions and services we offer. In particular, the printer hardware-led strategy that has been at the core of traditional managed print services for vendors and dealers, will become less and less effective as businesses will not be prepared to be investing in new hardware fleets until absolutely necessary. Additionally companies and organisations will need more flexibility and less stricture in their contracts during ongoing uncertainty.
What this will mean will include the need for shorter term contracts, more flexible ‘as a service’ offers with a mix of new, remanufactured and refurbished devices, extended service warranties offerings as companies will require to keep their printer fleets active for longer but will still need them maintaining and managed print solutions that allow for a blended fleet of multiple manufacturers that can be managed securely across a less centralised and more distributed workforce.
In addition to the obvious cost and value considerations, environmental issues and sustainability will increasingly become a priority for organisations when selecting their suppliers, the technology they choose, and who they partner with to source their services. Offering reduced waste to landfill and recycling programmes is already an expected requirement of any product-led solution and the necessity to provide sustainable solutions will only increase.
Not a single business will be untouched by the environment in the coming years and climate change will take an increasing toll on operational resilience. As such, environmental matters will continue to move up the agenda as businesses must take ownership of their impact and will be expected to play a more involved role in wider efforts to reduce carbon emissions. In the face of such a massive challenge, and as consumers grow more concerned about the environment, organisations and suppliers both small and large must start to adopt a more sustainable business model.
I am extremely confident that our industry will continue to evolve to meet these new demands during 2021 and beyond.
Al Coyne, General Manager, Print, Exertis
I believe that 2021 will continue to see more challenges and opportunities for the print market as we start to recover from the impacts of COVID which has seen a reduction in sales across the board in 2020 as well as stock shortages.
I think we will continue to see an increase in sales via e-tail platforms for consumer/SOHO products which end-users are using more of due to agile working conditions. Customers will also look closer at the TCO messaging as opposed to perhaps the initial up-front cost on the printer as more people work remotely. Our vendor partners are bringing out many new products and schemes to enable more efficient working and we are also seeing products being targeted around new markets such as personalisation and customisation which generates new revenues.
As a business we are continually focusing on where we can add value and we will be adding more services to our product portfolio to enable more resellers to offer services outside of simply product supply. I also believe that different flavours of MPS will become more popular within the IT resellers as well as consumers at home, with offerings from Epson such as Print365 and ReadyPrint becoming increasingly popular.
Sustainability is becoming more of a focus for Exertis as well as our print partners. We are seeing this with examples such as enhanced longer warranties and refillable ink solutions providing ultra-low running costs and reduced waste. Products too are becoming increasingly compact with smaller footprints and contemporary designs which fit neatly into most workspaces and homes using less electricity etc. and creating less waste.
At Exertis, we continue to invest in our people and our specialist print team is expanding further to support the reseller channel with any enquiries they may have. As previously discussed we are now working in a closer partnership with our supplies business to ensure that we are offering a one stop shop for our partners, offering a full suite of technology and office products.
Mike Barron, Managing Director, SYNAXON UK
Managed services will continue to be a huge and growing opportunity. This is especially true now that there is going to be a greater inclination to allow and encourage home working and with that, a recognition that the office IT guru (whether it’s their specific role or not), won’t always be on hand to fix any problems that might arise. Businesses will need to find a way to monitor and manage every aspect of their IT – applications, networking, security, and print.
This will be a very new concept to smaller businesses, so I’d expect good growth in the SMB and micro market for managed services – and I’d expect this to be provided mainly by ‘local’ resellers. While the concept of providing a ‘remote’ service means that the person providing the IT support and expertise could be just about anywhere, smaller businesses still want to be supported by experts who are local to them.
I think there will also be a quite distinct opportunity in providing what I’d describe as a ‘distributed’ kind of managed service i.e. one that not only provides monitoring and management of on-premises IT, but also of the equipment and systems used for home working. That’s a completely new area but one that I know several MSPs are looking at.
Separate to this, I think we will also see a continuation of the trend towards the use of finance leasing to fund equipment purchases. This has advantages for all concerned – for resellers it’s great as they get paid almost immediately. It also makes for ‘stickier’ customers who will be thinking ahead and looking at renewing their tech in two or three years, when the contract period ends.
It’s hard to say exactly what the challenges and concerns will be or, more to the point, how serious they will be. The wider impact on the economy of the COVID-19 crisis is going to be the focus – and we just can’t tell how deeply that will affect markets at the moment. There will probably be some kind of rebound of economic activity once the crisis is finally allayed, but it’s what happens after that initial spike that will be most telling. The bigger the impact on businesses, the longer it will take to recover.
On the positive side, I do believe that IT has a big role to play in helping the UK’s businesses to recover. To take some of the strain off them and help them make use of new technologies and services, such as the cloud, remote working, and managed services. While there are always going to be two sides of the same coin, I firmly believe we should look to the opportunities rather than the challenges. There will be plenty of work to do for resellers that are ready and genuinely want to help customers.
I also think channel communities will be increasingly important in 2021. We have seen through this crisis just how important it is for teams and partners who have common interests and challenges to keep in contact and share their hopes, fears, and experiences. But we have been deprived of that personal, face-to-face interaction, and we are all really starting to miss that now. When the shackles are finally taken off us and we can safely meet again, I think we will see a new-found enthusiasm for networking events and community activity.
That said, I think we have also seen just how much we can get done.
James Reed, Managing Director – Endpoint Solutions UK & Ireland, Tech Data
As ever, the opportunities and challenges tend to be two sides of the same coin.
In the current climate, there is huge and sustained demand for any IT product that can enhance productivity in the home. The challenge for the industry is meeting that demand because it’s not just there in the UK and Ireland, the pandemic has accelerated demand globally. This is something we are helping our customers to manage and on the whole, that’s going well, and while I’d envisage the situation improving as we move into 2021, our advice continues to be plan ahead and order as early as possible, so that you can manage customer expectations sensibly.
Further opportunities will emerge from the accelerated acceptance of home working – particularly with respect to the supply of productivity accessories, the provision of service and support, the management of devices and ongoing supply of consumables. Interestingly, we have also seen higher levels of interest in energy-efficient and eco-friendly products, including tank printers, and I’d expect to see that continue to gather momentum.
Obviously, everyone will be concerned that the current situation does not perpetuate and extend too far into next year. That said, when we start to see a full return to work, there may be a further shift in priorities, and we may need to consider that as one of many possible situations that may develop. I think contingency planning will be really important, both for channel players and vendors, and we’re already working with many of our suppliers and customers to prepare for a number of different scenarios for the year ahead.