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The New Frontier: Taking Advantage of the Fully Connected Office

3 Mar, 2015 By: Jennie Fisher

As mobile and cloud technologies continue to permeate day-to-day business processes, the office of the future is starting to take shape. Not that long ago nearly every business function revolved around paper and paper-based workflow. Today we see a steady progression of digital technology combined with macro trends, from mobility to Big Data, changing that.

The office environment of today is more fluid. Knowledge workers demand 24/7 access to business-critical information, which is putting significant pressure on content delivery and security systems. We are moving to a world where businesses focus less on document management and more on information or content management. This is a significant threat to a channel that relies on printing as a primary revenue source.

At the same time, businesses are dealing with several emerging trends that promise to further disrupt the traditional work environment and open new opportunities. The Internet of Things (IoT), which refers to the interconnectivity of essentially any device with a built-in interface and an embedded operating system, has serious implications for the office environment as well as for the imaging channel. As we have seen with the intelligent MFP, future connected devices will have the ability to self-monitor, provide updates and notifications based on user preferences, receive automatic firmware updates, and most importantly, collect usage data throughout the lifespan.

“Big Data” is another opportunity that seems to be a buzz in the industry today.  Leveraging big data to drive business intelligence is a growing concern among organizations of all sizes. The data gathered in an IoT-enabled office environment could be used to track and count basically anything, identify when devices need to be repaired or replaced, and establish usage patterns to drive efficiencies and productivity. Imagine how valuable this data could become to dealers who are managing the IT environment for their customers.  Envision the security risks all of this connectivity, mobility and additional data bring to small business customers—an undeniable opportunity where imaging dealers can add value.

The Hybrid Dealer

Given these overarching trends, what does the imaging channel need to do in order to serve a customer base that is growing less dependent on print? Perhaps more importantly, how can dealers take advantage of the connected office to drive greater value and grow their own business? For the most part, the answer lies in the ability to diversify. Dealers have the opportunity to expand into areas that require a strong service infrastructure and may or may not have anything to do with documents. It is all about the intersection of IT and print!

As we have discussed in previous articles, “Hybrid Dealers” are driving new business opportunities by developing core competencies in areas such as document workflow, business process, and IT infrastructure. Providing Managed IT Services, in particular, is not only driving net new business for many dealers, it is also allowing them to increase wallet share within existing accounts. Brian Bakkila, Manager of NetSmart, the Managed IT Services division of Applied Imaging, agrees. “It has been a natural progression for Applied to move into Managed IT Services,” he says. “To have one hand to shake when you move into fulfilling all of your customer needs on the digital and IT side is     a real differentiator.”  

Bakkila explains that existing customers who are already under a per-click contract are quite open to the idea of pursing additional IT services. “We basically go in and say, if you like what we have been doing for you on the print side in terms of our service capabilities and response times, we can provide that same level of service in other areas of your business.” In addition, Bakkila believes that the imaging channel is in a unique position when it comes to Managed IT Services because of the inherent service infrastructure combined with the ability to sell under a services-based model. “The conversion from an IT sales model to a managed model has been rather slow for typical IT resellers,” he says.

The Solutions Conversation

Providing high-value, high-margin solutions is another area where Hybrid Dealers are separating themselves from competitors. In our industry, the word “solutions” has become an overused and overhyped buzzword. In recent history, the term was most often applied to document management or scan/capture applications built around the MFP. But as explained earlier, most businesses today are struggling with content-related issues that extend far beyond the document.

To address real customer needs, the solutions conversation needs to begin with content management and workflow automation. Debra Dellaposta, President of WPS Solutions, suggests that the difference is subtle, but it is an important distinction to make. “We have never been able to get a foothold by approaching an opportunity with document management,” she says. “For us, it is always about content management and information management. We stopped approaching customers from the print angle or the document angle long ago, and we started leading with solutions to help customers develop a content strategy.”

This is perhaps the most important attribute of a Hybrid Dealer—the ability to recognize that hardware, while important, should not be the primary path to the customer. After all, the hardware will inevitably be included as part of the solution. Instead, you want to be viewed as a trusted advisor with core competencies and expertise to solve real-world business problems. “We went out and trained people around workflow analysis,” Dellaposta adds. “We decided that we don’t want to come in and sell new MFPs, we want to look at how we can help you best get your work done. It is really more around information workflow. In the end, the hardware gets pulled along, often times with more gross margin. With this approach, you’re not getting comparison shopped because it’s part of a whole solution.”

Jeff Boate, President, PERRY ProTECH, sees solutions as important. His company provides a number of solutions, including workflow, security, MPS and Managed IT—and puts high value on “close-to-the-device solutions”. “The device has to be central to the solution—it’s ubiquitous in any sale at PERRY. I want our reps to be thinking, ‘How much more efficient and valuable can I make the device to their business.’” 

Security Concerns Present Opportunity

Security is another top-level business concern for most organizations, and it is one that unfortunately has gone largely untapped by the traditional office-imaging channel. As the gatekeepers of the document, the office equipment channel would seem to have an important role to play in helping customers manage secure access and distribution of information. “One of our key discovery points with a prospect is exploring their actual compliance measures with regard to security,” says Applied Imaging’s Brian Bakkila. “We are using this to drive solutions and to make sure that we are servicing the customer’s full needs.”

PERRY ProTECH sees security as such an important issue, they offer both network and physical security services to their customers.  “Cyber security will dominate in 2015,” says Boate. “From Target to Sony and Home Depot—we’ve all learned that as businesses, we need to be more careful about what we allow in our networks. As customers allow employees to add devices, there are more holes where someone can penetrate. We become their security consultant.”

Inflexion Point

The imaging industry has reached an inflexion point. While print is entrenched in many business processes, the role of print as a business function is changing. Some argue that the transition from paper to digital is a slow process, and many have yet to see significant declines in print volumes. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that print will have a diminished role in the connected office of the future, and most organizations are already focused well beyond printing when it comes to driving process efficiencies and increasing productivity.

The transition to MPS has helped to sustain the market for printed pages by allowing providers to capture transactional pages normally printed on competitive devices. But as we all know, the transition to MPS will not grow the market for print. In fact, quite the opposite is true: most MPS engagements are designed to help businesses optimize their print infrastructure and uncover ways to reduce unnecessary printing.

Shoring up the core business of print while investing in adjacent opportunities is certainly a sound business strategy. Already, there are numerous examples of dealers that have successfully made the transition. Whether it is Managed IT Services, workflow solutions, security, digital signage, 3D printing, or some other new line of business, the Hybrid Dealer is actively transforming the identity of the imaging channel. The Hybrid Dealer is well positioned to take full advantage of The New Frontier.

Join Jennie Fisher and leading dealers for an insightful session on the Hybrid Dealer at the ITEX Expo held March 10-12, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Full event agenda at itexshow.com, and company info at http://www.GreatAmerica.com

About the Author: Jennie Fisher

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