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This month, our panel debates the challenges and opportunities presented by the digital world.

To what extent has changing customer demand, technology and competition impacted on your business to date?

Phil Jones, Managing Director, Brother UK

Phil Jones, Managing Director, Brother UK
Phil Jones, Managing Director, Brother UK

“The key thing is the very liquid nature of the landscape we now operate in and how much you have to be on your toes as a leader.

“There seems to be so much changing so quickly and influencing all elements of our personal and business lives. You have to ensure you’re ready for it and constantly readjusting what and how you do things to respond to the changes. Not changing for change’s sake, but really understanding which elements of sector, technological or customer advancement you need to respond to, in order to stay relevant.”

Jason Cort, Director of Product Planning and Marketing, Sharp

Jason Cort, Director of Product Planning and Marketing, Sharp

“Changes in the workplace have been evident for some time. The ‘paperless’ office has been a concept widely discussed since the early ‘90s, but, in reality, adoption of digital services that encompass the complete document lifecycle, particularly in small to medium-sized businesses, has a way to go before reaching maturity. It’s clear businesses have a desire to work digitally and change. For example, the way we communicate using email is almost universally adopted. However, as businesses organically transform, new challenges present themselves.

“In our ‘digital world’ the volume of information is growing exponentially, along with the expectation that business will be more responsive to customer demand. Additionally, security, compliance and traceability are becoming major concerns for business, particularly when managing digital information. Underpinning these demands is an expectation that information will be available anytime, anywhere and to any device.

“Larger companies have been able to address these challenges more readily, having substantial IT functions. Now, we are beginning to see strong demand from SMBs who want the commercial advantage that larger firms have enjoyed for some time. Much of this demand is driven by the challenges already mentioned, but also by technology that is mature, readily available (vis-à-vis cloud), well understood and trusted.

“On a personal level, we find that clients increasingly expect complete solutions to manage their document processes, not just the hardware element.

The challenge for us is to become a solutions and services-led company where the hardware plays an important, but only partial, part of the overall deliverable. Our competitors face the same challenge and opportunity, so competition is strong and businesses are evolving fast. Furthermore, as customers seek end-to-end solutions beyond print, the competitive landscape is enlarged into non-traditional areas for the vendor to contend with.

“With sight of this transforming market, Sharp has looked within to re-evaluate our vision; how we go to market; how we organise ourselves to capitalise on previously silo technologies; the skills of our people; and the partnerships necessary for us to continue to be our customers’ trusted partner.”

Nigel Morris, Marketing Director, Beta Distribution

Nigel Morris, Marketing Director, Beta Distribution
Nigel Morris, Marketing Director, Beta Distribution

“Technology undoubtedly brings some great business benefits. Much greater efficiency, lower costs of trading and a wealth of information at your fingertips. At Beta over 60% of our business is now transacted electronically and that number’s on the up. The real danger, however, is that as easily as business appears to come your way, if you’re not careful, it can just as easily disappear. A business relationship based solely on the remote exchange of data misses the one key ingredient of a successful business – talking to your customers. So although we welcome the benefits of e-trading, we continue to make good use of the telephone and ensure that all our Account Managers are in regular contact with customers.”

Mark Ash, Head of Print, Samsung 

Mark Ash, Head of Print, Samsung
Mark Ash, Head of Print, Samsung

“Today, the increasing demand for mobility is entirely changing the ways in which we work. People don’t want to, or have to, be confined to their desk. They can be fully mobile, accessing their work via the cloud and working from any device.

“This has had a massive impact on Samsung and today we’re fully committed to the Connected Workplace, whereby all devices are connected both in the office and out, to ensure we’re meeting this customer demand. It means that our entire print product set integrates with the rest of our offering and has brought Samsung together as a business as a result.”

John Marks, UK and Ireland Programme Marketing Manager, Canon 

John Marks, UK and Ireland Programme Marketing Manager, Canon
John Marks, UK and Ireland Programme Marketing Manager, Canon

“Canon is continuing to develop the services that its customers need to achieve their business goals. We understand that digital capabilities are increasingly important to driving their success.

“For example, Canon’s Business Services division is embracing digital communication channels to meet the expectations of its customer base. Customers are increasingly requiring instant access to information in an omnichannel, multi-site work environment.

We aim to address their challenges and provide innovative business services, whilst still supporting their existing print-based channels. In this sector, digital transformation is our customers’ ambition.

Yet, during this transition, hybrid print digital solutions are required as paper is still very applicable, albeit to varying degrees. We work with customers to make an efficient process that brings together people, process and technology.”

Toni Gibiino, Marketing Director, RDT

Toni Gibiino, Marketing Director, RDT
Toni Gibiino, Marketing Director, RDT

“The traditional channel, from a reseller perspective, has some way to go before I’d class it as fully evolved in terms of repositioning itself in the mind-set of IT decision-makers. Suspect finance agreements, pushy sales people, price-led engagement – these memories don’t just disappear overnight.

“Simply changing your strapline to ‘Managed Print Service Provider’ isn’t fooling anyone when your service offering is the same as it was previously. We need to appreciate that prospects/customers want to do their own research and find you when they’re ready, not when your sales team comes knocking or when a salesperson decides it’s time to upgrade the lease. The document management businesses that are going to prosper are those that accept they need to change to meet the expectations of a much more knowledgeable buyer. These changes need to address processes throughout the whole business – the way sales and marketing engage, your digital footprint and your ability to offer a service beyond the hardware.”

Andrew Smith, Technical Director, Annodata

Andrew Smith, Technical Director, Annodata
Andrew Smith, Technical Director, Annodata

“The industry has been talking about the paperless office for years and while some businesses have gone paper-free, the majority still depend heavily on the printed page. How paper is used has not been static but has changed radically; where previously it was used as a standalone way to communicate the written word, today its use is integrated with digital communication at nearly every stage of an organisation’s operations.

“The costs associated with the physical materials and the valuable office or archive space taken up by printed documents mean printing is a relatively expensive activity, especially when compared to digital communication, which in many ways is simpler and more efficient. Paper does still have one significant advantage – its flexibility and the speed with which users can access content. It is often faster to shuffle a range of different papers into order and to read information than it is to organise the same documents clearly on a computer screen or handheld device. Paper has become more of a tool for personal consumption of information compared with digital, which is now the primary way to communicate information between two or more people.

“The change in how we use paper has resulted in its partial decline. Gartner estimates that sales of print devices and consumables in 2019 will be as much as 30% lower than today’s levels and, in recognition of this, we have had to realign our targets and our approach. In the same way that the use of paper has become integrated with digital communication, we now offer a broad range of services to capture and support the document management lifecycle, incorporating mailroom and scanning services, document workflow services and mobile devices.”

What do you see as essential to actively manage the journey to digital excellence?

Phil Jones: “The key thing is to ensure that you have a ‘digital first’ strategy wherever appropriate, and also to understand where it adds the most significant value.

“Not every process benefits from being digitised, as some of our customers have demonstrated to us in the way they deploy our technology. Prioritising where you can have the biggest impact is key, then ensuring that the new process actually improves the old one in some way. Otherwise, it may not be worth doing.”

Jason Cort: For many companies, digital transformation can be a daunting prospect. Get it right and there are clear benefits – improvements in efficiency, increased flexibility, compliance, customer experience and, of course, cost savings. A poor implementation, however, will have a significant operational impact since information is the lifeblood of most businesses. Although we are all becoming more technically savvy, culture change is the biggest challenge. SMBs in particular cannot afford major business disruption. In order to successfully transform to digital working, the following are essential: • Be flexible. You cannot force technology to fit if a particular document process doesn’t justify it;

• Put digital thinking at the forefront of the business’s change planning;
• Understand clients’ working practices – their market, challenges, structure, environment and goals;
• Keep it simple. Address the fundamental problems fist, for example unstructured data, before moving to complex workflows;
• Ensure management and end-user buying. The project will fail without it;
• Break the implementation into manageable, measurable projects. This engenders confidence in both management and staff, ensuring adoption and removing culture barriers. Risk is also reduced;
• At every stage, measure the return and process suitability. Adapt if necessary.”

Mark Ash “Technology, People and Processes. On the technology side, significant investment in R&D is essential to ensure your product offering injects innovation, excellence and integration. An experienced and collaborative team is crucial, as the pace of change is faster than it’s ever been; we need to adapt quickly to integrate. The right processes are essential, too, and they need to be simple and effectively governed.”

John Marks: “Flexibility, tailored solutions and enhanced connectivity are key enablers for creating the best digital experience. As the capabilities of digital devices continue to rise and prices continue to fall, sensors, mobile phones and other gadgets are digitising lots of information that was previously unavailable.

“No matter how much data an organisation has, it is important to keep information easily manageable. Flexibility is crucial to help our clients to make decisions regarding their data flow as quickly as possible and to avoid paralysis and getting mired in figures and facts ahead of their business objectives. “We’re focusing strongly on how to empower organisations to take control of their critical data and convert it into meaningful information in order to deliver exceptional customer experience, gain competitive advantage and meet regulatory compliance.

“We also know the key is having a really clear understanding of the business processes and how they can be tailored to fit the customer. Canon invests significant resource into designing and planning the implementation of solutions to deliver cost-effective and value-added services. We use industry standard project management methodologies to ensure our solutions deliver digital excellence.”

Toni Gibiino: “I see it as a combination of factors. Take the whole business on the journey; it’s not just one person’s responsibility. For example, having 50 employees on social media sharing the business’s content engages a vast network of potential clients.

“Understand your target audience and how they engage online. We have more tools than ever to analyse and nurture business opportunities. Don’t be afraid to make the investment, and be patient – you’ll see an ROI.

“We’re all still learning when it comes to digital, so take risks, be agile in your approach and keep measuring the results of your activity. You’ll eventually find a framework or a formula that suits your business and prospective customers.”

Andrew Smith: “Digital services are only as strong as the network and infrastructure they are delivered with, so we have invested heavily in our technical capabilities. The acquired and organic development of our infrastructure has enabled us to enhance our cloud hosting and mobility services to pre-empt and support changing demands from customers. The combination of a ‘service fist’ ethos, technical skills and great partnerships are all key ingredients to achieving digital excellence.”

How have you transformed your digital capabilities to both reach new customers and grow the value of existing ones? 

Phil Jones: “The key thing was a major investment in a new responsive website and content management system which grows our capability to personalise the user experience on our site much more than in the past.

“It’s been a big project on a European scale. However, we’re nearly there in terms of deployment, so this should give visitors a much better browsing experience across all screen sizes. We’ve been using Livechat and social media for a couple of years now to meet the changing requirements of customers to communicate with us using their preferred method of communication. In our contact centres, we’ve seen a big shift from the verbal to the written form, whether it be social or email, underpinning the general trend.”

Jason Cort: “We have a clear strategy to continually transform our digital capabilities for both existing and new customers, which is embodied in our new vision ‘To transform the way organisations engage with information through connected technologies’. This vision will steer us in the customer value we offer and how we go about delivering this.

“In order to reach new customers and keep the dialogue going with existing customers, Sharp is investing in key digital platforms for CRM, Web Portal, Marketing Automation, social/business media channels and all-important digital content, such as video, animation, blogs and gamifiation.

“Our most recent European strategy included new hires for managed content services, managed print services and solutions and learning, to accelerate our transformation to a solutions-led business. From a software perspective, the Optimised Solutions Portfolio is built on best-of-breed applications designed to deliver digital solutions to both existing and new clients. Most notably, Cloud Portal Office is designed to transform working practices in SMBs by delivering ‘real world’ efficiency improvements.

“Sharp’s heritage in technology and adaptability makes it uniquely well positioned to offer this service to new and existing clients. An immediate benefit of our reorganisation is a strengthened integrated office proposition, which includes a corporate boardroom collaboration solution integrating BIG PAD interactive white boards with mobile devices, MFPs and the Cloud Portal Office content management application.”

Nigel Morris: “To guide us on our digital journey we hired a Digital Marketing Manager, who has been with Beta for over a year now. A digital strategy is an essential part of our future plans; our challenge is to make sure that it is relevant to the needs of our business. “There has been a degree of debate about whether social media is a legitimate part of a business-to-business relationship. At Beta we are now very active on all social media platforms and it forms part of our overall marketing strategy.

“As does our website. As a trade business, we don’t necessarily want to attract high volumes of end users or be high in the rankings, but we do want to know who visited our website, which pages they visited, whether they placed an order and so on. We have recently upgraded our website, which has an improved customer experience at its heart. All businesses know they have to embrace the digital age; the key is to identify which bits are relevant to your business and which will improve your customer relationships.”

Mark Ash: “We’ve focused heavily on app development and integration, to reach customers old and new. Our partners can integrate Samsung devices into existing working environments for potential customers and can also enable current customers with their migration to cloud-based smart technology.

“This approach is revolutionary. A great example would be an app we developed that integrated the tablets on a business’s Samsung MFDs to their in-window digital signage system. This demonstrates both the capacity and flexibility of Samsung and our partners.”

John Marks: “We’ve invested significantly in applications and infrastructure on behalf of existing and new customers in order to deliver best-in-class digital capabilities, both onsite and through cloud services. Our office digital solutions portfolio is ever-increasing; we have strengthened our products, solutions and services divisions significantly to respond to our customers and the evolving trends in digitalisation. Our customers trust us to deliver their inbound and outbound data through multichannels and this investment ensures we keep them at the forefront of technology in this space.

“Understanding the market we are evolving in is also important. For example, we recently conducted research into current SME and SOHO (Small Office Home Office) trends across Europe to understand their digital needs and tailor our services accordingly.

“From this, we believe that rather than seeing IT as a barrier, SMBs and SOHOs should see digital transformation as a way to reduce the amount of time spent on technology processes so that they can focus more time on value-added tasks as a means to improve productivity. Using a digital approach to managing information also helps to control costs. We have implemented the research findings in our services to SMBs. We have also started reaching out to new markets. 3D printing and network visual solutions are two examples of how we are extending beyond our core market to unlock new ones.”

Toni Gibiino: “RDT has always been innovative in its approach to market but we’re just about to take it to the next level with a huge transformation. Not only are we re-branding the business to give it greater online presence, but we’re re-inventing our value proposition and the methods by which our sales people engage with prospects.

“With marketing-led activities we’ll be nurturing opportunities and feeding sales-ready leads to our customer-facing workforce. It’s about taking the whole company on the journey, so part of that development process has been a significant investment in training our staff to ensure we’re all delivering a consistent message.”

Andrew Smith: “A key focus for Annodata is to use our expanded offering to cross-sell into our existing customer base. It is important to remember that our customers are on as much of an evolutionary process as we are. The development of our business to go beyond print follows that of our customers, so a central part of our business plan is to build within our existing customer base.

“However, we do not just have an objective to replace old ways of working from our existing customers, as cloud-based services have created entirely new types of activity. Collaboration tools, mobile devices, data access and storage now mean that organisations can operate in entirely new ways. The speed of innovation means organisations continually have to refine their technology and look for ways to improve and this has created a market open to new ideas, products and services. We have to go out there and use this momentum for innovation in the market to win new customers.”

What changes have you made/ are planning to make to transform the way you work with customers, suppliers and employees? 

Phil Jones: “With a more ‘instantaneous’ world, the velocity, variety and volume of information we are handling continues to grow, so getting big insights from big data is key.

“For some years we’ve been cleverly using data in the background to drive intelligence and predictions around future regional and vertical demand, as well as to understand better how the weekly movements in demand via our channel respond to the activities we undertake.

“This has been a real winning pattern for us, turning information into intelligence. It was a massive project to begin with and it took over twelve months to get it into the shape we wanted. However, we now have an authoritative bible of our customer profiles and behaviours that we can put to work on future business development initiatives.”

Jason Cort: “We have various strategies in progress to ensure we work with customers in a more consultative way, extending our reach beyond hardware focus in order to identify processes that would benefit from our solutions. Customers are engaged both externally and through active account management to ensure they understand the scope and the benefits of the solutions we offer. “The Optimised Managed Services offering highlights our full spectrum of services and solutions, from managed print through to managed content and visual solutions.

“From a European perspective, the Optimised Solutions Portfolio consolidates our relationship with key suppliers ensuring strong business partnerships which drive best value and service for clients. Sharp increasingly uses its own solutions, which in turn increases awareness amongst employees. New learning programmes, coordinated centrally, ensure all staff are fully trained as new solutions are developed.

We are also reappraising our own IT provisioning to ensure it delivers the workplace environment and experience commensurate with our vision for people and customers alike.”

Nigel Morris: “As a business we are heavily involved in technology products. Our product mix is changing year on year, with products to support the data storage requirements of businesses of all sizes, from a simple desktop device to a dedicated data centre solution, accounting for a larger and larger proportion of our business. These products require a different sales approach to the more traditional print products, but, as in the case of digital marketing, we have hired industry expertise to lead our future strategy.”

John Marks: “Our customers are absolutely everywhere in the workplace and we’re helping to transform their workplaces. Whether that’s bringing international teams together or cutting down on demanding paperwork, Canon is opening up new possibilities for a more efficient future for organisations. We’ve built a digital platform team to bring together all the disciplines associated with paper and digital solutions and services. This has allowed us to bring expertise and skill sets together in a single joined up approach to transforming our customers’ communication channels.

“We recently introduced technologies, such as 3D printing, MREAL – Canon’s fist mixed reality technology – and a range of connected products and cloud solutions, to the European market. The exciting thing is that we are only just scratching the surface with a lot of this technology. The applications that we’re working on are genuinely changing the way retail, industry and education works. But there’s so much more to come from these technologies.”

Toni Gibiino: “We are aligned to go live with our new strategy in late January. Fortunately, all our suppliers are already on that journey. Xerox, one of our key strategic partners, is a prime example of how to transform businesses digitally and they have been a good sounding board for us.

“You only need to search the term ‘managed print’ on Google to see an army of landing pages picking up every conceivable term a buyer/decision-maker could wish to find. We typically deal with corporates/enterprise businesses so our customers on the whole are quite receptive to working with us to improve their internal processes through the digital exchange of information.”

Andrew Smith: “We need to ensure that we are able to match the changing demands of the print market and go the extra mile to wrap our service around our customers’ requirements. We’ve been preparing our infrastructure for additional services, such as unified communications and managed hosting, and in 2016 we expect to ramp up service delivery. We are very heavily focused on how we can align our business, people and services to meet clients’ demands, while achieving supply chain value and effective delivery.”

Generation Z is coming of age and will shortly enter the workforce. These true digital natives are the first generation to be raised in the age of smartphones; they have never lived without social media; and are used to accessing information instantly from the palm of their hands. How is your business preparing to sell to (and recruit) tomorrow’s tech-savvy buyers/workers? 

Phil Jones: “It’s really interesting because the buying process is now so complex, in researching, shortlisting and final decision-making. You’ve got to take care of all the various touch points along the way, which requires a lot of work and planning. Understanding the entire journey is key, for all generations, who all have changing expectations around availability, convenience and service. It’s a very dynamic sales cycle – at times demanding – so being in a state of readiness is key for all businesses regardless of shape or size. “From a workplace perspective we rolled out a new intranet on Microsoft SharePoint, which gives us more opportunity for collaboration and information sharing. Layering on an internal social network, Yammer, has led to more online sharing internally and general chatter between colleagues has been increasing as news becomes more accessible.

“As the whole world becomes more social, you have to be in the conversation as a leader and a brand. Gen Z see this as mandatory, so it’s important not to be left behind. As the workplace begins to move in favour of Gen Y and Millennials, established ways of winning customers may not work and new ways of developing business will need to emerge.”

Jason Cort: “By 2020, over a quarter of the global workforce will be from Generation Z. If businesses, regardless of size, do not develop new solutions, hardware or software with transformation in mind, they will miss out on recruiting and retaining top talent.

“Sharp is developing solutions that the new generation will expect in order to fulfil their daily tasks. One example is Cloud Portal Office which provides instant access to information, anytime, anywhere, to almost any device. Providing such a service is already a challenge for many businesses since many of the current service offerings are not designed for business use. A major challenge, however, is that tech-savvy employees may use unauthorised systems in the absence of a system provisioned by their employer, leading to loss of control over business critical information. “Sharp’s connected technologies allow workers to collaborate and contribute seamlessly in a complete digital ecosystem, which incorporates the use of mobile devices and enables BYOD, something that Generation Z employees should find completely natural.

“And we continue to invest in digital tools and make changes aligning with our core vision, which will help to make the working environment more equipped for the arrival of Gen Z.”

Nigel Morris: “Our business employs a very wide age range, from newly qualified graduates to people with industry experience. We believe this combination will ensure that our business evolves and keeps pace with the changes being brought about by the digital age.”

Mark Ash: “Tech-savvy millennials lead heavily connected personal lives and will expect their working environments to offer the same technological experiences that they have at home. To recruit these ‘digital natives’, businesses will need to ensure that workplaces live up to their expectations: technology will have to be more cutting edge than ever before to compete with their demands; all devices will need to be connected; and documents will need to be accessible via the cloud to enable mobility.

“We’ve already anticipated this demand through our approach to market; we’re fully committed to the Connected Workplace, app development and to mobile integration. Generation Z will no doubt pose a challenge, but ultimately their demands will revolutionise the way we sell and the workplaces of the future.”

John Marks: “Increasingly, we are seeing dynamic, mobile workforces within companies, so collaboration, communication and the technologies to support them are very important. “In order to create solutions that meet the needs of these workforces, we have a European innovation team that works with new technologies Canon is developing to discover best practice for how these solutions can be used in real work environments. These technologies are then combined with existing capabilities to bring together services that address our customers’ current needs and future ambitions. We often hold innovation workshops to showcase our latest services and technology and find out where our customers’ businesses are going and how our solutions can support them.

“Internally, Canon UK is also transforming by implementing new tools to develop the skills of our employees. For example, the HR department set up a ‘Creative Hub’ with the objective of sharing knowledge gained by top executives during training with the rest of the management team.”

Toni Gibiino: “A lot is made of Generation Z and sometimes I think there is a tendency for people to exaggerate the impact it’ll have on business. “I approach this in a simple way. As a marketer, your prime aim is to understand who your target audience is, their motivations and behaviours. When you understand these three variables, it’s no different to creating a plan to target a ‘C’ level audience or an IT Manager. We’ve already seen phenomenal video content growth, infographics and short form social content to accommodate the needs of Generation Z. The only thing I see changing is how we deploy content, as technological development will always evolve to help the willing business.

“In the era of digital disruption you need to be agile to be successful.”

Andrew Smith: “The big change in the coming years could well be a cultural shift and acceptance of ‘digital fist’. For example, unified communication tools have been around in some form for a number of years but have never really taken hold in organisations. While this has in part been down to tools that are not as convenient as their marketing suggests, a workforce that has grown up in an entirely connected world will likely be the cultural shift needed for organisations to accept unified communication and other collaboration tools fully.

“The cultural acceptance of continuous communication from any device in any location will also likely fuel more mobile and flexible working conditions and, as the workforce becomes more naturally techsavvy, user acceptance of new tools should speed up and be more easily achieved.”

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