Not a copycat

Despite the industry call to arms to digitise everything, the print industry may not be pushed to the sidelines as quickly as the digital transformation gurus would have us believe.

David Rozzio, HP Inc (Karolina Komendera)

Print firms have been living on borrowed time, or at least you might think so if you’d been reading anything in the tech press for the last 20 years or more.

The paperless office was originally to have been brought about by desktop PCs, then the internet, then laptops, then smartphones, then tablets and – most recently – the cloud.

The decline and fall of a print and imaging business – Kodak – is taught as economics 101 to demonstrate the madness of not embracing our all-digital future.Paper and printing is the past, cling to it at your peril.

Robert Janssen, Ricoh SA Robert Janssen, Ricoh SA
And yet printing is still with us, and some studies are periodically wheeled out to show that we’re printing more now than ever. But, there’s a growing realisation that the future is a bit more complicated than even that. What we’re slowly learning, as the IT industry as a whole matures, is that tech is as affected by changing trends as anything else. Just as Sony is producing vinyl records and Kodak is back in the film business, so ebooks are reportedly falling out of favour with young buyers who prefer the printed product.

What goes around

“We need to start thinking in cycles,” says Ricoh SA’s director for direct channel operations, Robert Janssen. “Print isn’t dying, because there’s a social aspect to it. Just as in Europe, banks are opening physical branches and in the US, Amazon has bricks and mortar shops, we’re seeing people interested in really old-fashioned technology like duplicators again.”

What’s interesting about print, Janssen says, is that trends aren’t as globalised as in other industries.

Frans Smit, Rectron Frans Smit, Rectron
“In different countries, there are different drivers. In The Netherlands, no one wants colour printers anymore, everyone wants black and white,” he notes.

“It’s bizarre, I don’t know who’s in front or behind in the cycles anymore.”

Conversely, in South Africa, the falling price of colour laser printers is still a key driving force in the market. It’s not the only one, though, and as new technologies and prices appear, they drive new trends.

“What we’ve seen is a shift in the way people use printers,” says Frans Smit, head of sales, Rectron. “Where you used to have a small A4 machine on your desk, you now have an Office Automation (OA) machine doing three times what that one does, it looks better and is the same size. So we’re seeing the move into OA as it becomes more affordable.”

More so than many other areas of IT, however, vendors around the table seem confident in their ability to differentiate against each other and, as a result, a variety of sometimes conflicting themes come up.

Jimmy De Waal, Canon Jimmy De Waal, Canon
For Smit, the move to entry-level OA drove A3 sales, but Canon’s head of marketing, Jimmy de Waal, says he’s observed the opposite among his customers.

“The beauty is that we all sell differently,” De Waal says. “The market is stable, but it’s moved from black and white to colour, from A4 to A3 and now back again. The printing industry is becoming so diverse in all segments. In our view, it's one of the most exciting times to be in printing.”

Managing it all

Gavin Meyer, Itec SA Gavin Meyer, Itec SA
“Our customers are getting smarter and smarter,” adds Ricoh’s Janssen. “They’re pushing us into different businesses and structures, from scanning to invoicing to SAP integration. There’s complexity, but we have to meet it.”

What everyone does agree on, however, is that the move to Managed Print Services (MPS) is real and well under way.

“We’re seeing a large shift to MPS,” says Gavin Meyer, executive director of Itec SA.

“For us it works because it can remove a lot of a customer’s pain points. It’s about moving away from focussing on the box and the basic output on a page, and gives you the ability to bundle services with intelligence behind them, which will allow an IT department to make decisions.

“A lot of the software in those bundles is directly linked to workflow and moving away from the traditional desktop and copier kind of environment.”

The key to MPS, Meyer says, is the intelligence in the network, using analytics to understand what a business really needs and make more efficient use of the available resources. That means giving an IT department the ability to reduce its device footprint.

Jamie Scott, Datacentrix Jamie Scott, Datacentrix
“A lot of people would think it doesn’t make sense for us to be reducing, optimising and printing less,” he says. “But I think that’s our job right now, to take on that responsibility.”

Jamie Scott, general manager for technology at Datacentrix, agrees, and highlights the upside to taking on that job.

“There’s a lot of interest in MPS right now,” Scott says. “In its purest form, MPS makes printing something a business can totally outsource, from the supply of hardware and installation to the maintenance, management software layer and automated delivery of consumables. Everything can be outsourced, and it’s something IT departments are happy to give away because they can see the cost benefit, and it’s one less thing for them to worry about.”

Growing footprint

As the MPS landscape has evolved so have the degrees to which companies are happy to outsource their print and imaging needs.

Nancy Dreyer, Kyocera Document Solutions Nancy Dreyer, Kyocera Document Solutions
“The beautiful thing about MPS,” says Canon’s De Waal, “is that everyone has a different idea about what MPS is. We’re differentiating and in doing so, we’re driving the market forward as we compete with each other. And our customers are educating themselves, they’re now asking for MPS solutions because they’ve heard that they’re out there.”

That’s not to say that each vendor has a single approach to the market.

“MPS is about the customer, not us,” says Kyocera Document Solutions SA’s COO, Nancy Meyer. “Our role should be to challenge the customer and act in their best interest; to ensure they’re getting true return on investment and are hitting their objectives. We have to constantly manage that relationship and be honest about it. If the pain point for a customer is cost, we need to get the cost down. If it’s security, we need to focus on that. We have to train our sales people to have big ears.”

The shift from unit sales to trusted consultant is one that has been a clarion call across the whole IT industry for a decade, but specific skills are required to be successful in that quest.

Jeremy Pather, Nashua Jeremy Pather, Nashua
“We talk about adding services and finding new ways to generate revenues and engage with our customers as hardware becomes commoditised,” says Jeremy Pather, product marketing manager at Nashua.

“The landscape has changed, we’re not just dealing with the IT people in a business any more. We’re talking to the finance people as the costs change from capex to opex and managing cashflows. Technology is changing at such a rapid pace as well, and the speed at which we’re turning out new technology makes managed services preferable; customers don’t want to invest in technology that will be redundant in 12 months.”

Richard Stainforth, HP Inc Richard Stainforth, HP Inc
Once an MPS solution has been deployed with all the bells and whistles of networked intelligence and clever dashboards, though, do customers really change their habits? Or is a printer still just a printer? After all, in the most recent ITWeb survey on the subject, the feature considered most important when making a purchase was the ability to print on both sides of a sheet a paper – a far cry from the sophisticated potential of printers today.

"HP Inc. has been making the shift to ‘Everything as a Service’ for some years," says local MD David Rozzio. “Customers want flexibility. There are more and more requests coming from customers, but we need to push them and educate. They’re focussed on their core business, but if you provide the right solutions or predictive analytics, customers will use it as long as there’s benefit.”

Selling the benefits can be tough, but all agreed that it’s part of the move to digital transformation of the workplace, although that’s not generally how customers think when making a print purchase. They like their sales pitches fairly simple and, on the whole, know what they want before they even call in
a reseller.

“Our first aim is to get the printers down. Let’s outsource the fleet, then we can start having the full ‘digital transformation’ talk,” says Datacentrix’ Scott.

Beyond paper

When low-cost, desktop 3D printers began to appear in the market, it was assumed that companies involved in traditional printing would see them as an opportunity to recover some growth and quickly build out new product lines. That hasn’t happened, and even HP Inc.– which does have some high-end
industrial 3D printers – doesn’t see much crossover in the usecases.

“Blended reality, where physical and digital exist together, is where the printing world is going for office use,” says Rozzio. “However, 3D printing isn’t the same world. It’s a manufacturing process.”

“We’ve looked at 3D printing,” adds Itec’s Gavin Meyer, "but it's not in the same space. The word is the only similarity, it’s just not somewhere that we see ourselves in the future.”

Printer on lockdown

For the most part, printers are a key part of an office network and the journey to full managed print services began with workgroup printers many years ago.

As recent malware attacks have proven, however, cyber criminals are becoming more adept at attacking non-PC devices, raising security concerns for the print business that haven’t been front of mind until recently.

“Traditionally, IT departments have been very concerned about laptops and computers, but they assumed the printer was safe,” says HP Inc.’s OPS category manager for South Africa, Richard Stainforth. “The responsibility is on us to ensure that the security is there at the hardware level, so that you can automatically shut down devices behaving unusually, for example.”

“We’re winning a lot of business based on security,” says Canon's Jimmy de Waal.