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Technology in Managed Print Services: Can you ever have too much technology?

7 Jul, 2010 By: Barney Kister, Supplies Network imageSource

Technology in Managed Print Services: Can you ever have too much technology?

I work for an organization that is often accused of being obsessed with technology and automation. In 1996, we chose to develop our own ERP system and now have a large team of developers on staff to continuously improve and expand the capabilities and connectivity of our in-house systems. We have fully automated our distribution, accounting, order processing, marketing promotions, return authorizations, business intelligence, and linked our system to all the top ERP providers serving businesses today.

So when entering the Managed Print Services market several years ago, one would expect that Supplies Network would automate the process extensively. Our CEO was told by a friend, “Whatever the quote on time and cost from the software development firm, you can expect it to take twice as long and cost twice as much!” The friend was wrong, it took five times as long and cost five times more.  And, when completed, the software did not have all the capabilities we hoped it would.

Technology and automation are critical elements in any MPS program. From the simple task of collecting meters to more advanced processes such as proactive service monitoring or supplies replenishment, technology allows MPS to become much more scalable. Gone are the days of calling for meters or even dropping by with a USB key to collect printer data.

So, to answer the question, “Can you ever have too much technology?” let’s look at two organizations going in opposite directions as it relates to technology and MPS--both feeling pain in different ways.


The first organization had gained access to popular data collection software and automated proposal tools – both good resources when used properly. The issue developed when the dealer began seeing the data collection software as the complete assessment product. Data collection tools can certainly speed up the assessment process by providing visibility on devices attached to the network and some locally attached printers.

Data collection software does not replace a walk-through of the office environment that allows for visual inspection of devices, observation of workflow, interviews with key users, looking inside devices to see what brand of supplies are being used, notes on poorly performing devices and much more. The dealer had taken this shortcut approach and was missing as much as 30% of the fleets, taking on service responsibility for devices that were beyond repair, and failed to understand the client’s workflow.

The results are escalating costs; devices consuming toner but not being picked up on meter billings, and upset end-users who now had devices that failed to meet their needs. For this dealer the silver bullet failed to kill the beast, and several of their end users are threatening to cancel contracts while other contracts are failing to meet the predetermined margins. Technology tools and automated processes help us do our jobs more effectively with “less human effort” but rarely does technology replace all human involvement.

Data collection tools, rules-based printing software and assessment support tools are invaluable to the MPS practitioner. These technologies support discovery during the assessment process, aid in the understanding of the client’s workflow, and provide numerous benefits for post sale management and billing. While the technology tools make assessments much easier to conduct, they do not replace the manual aspects of environment analysis.

“Failure to Use Technology Makes MPS Management Difficult…”

While some dealers are too reliant on technology, others fail to use it when they should.  The second organization, frequently cited as a premier hybrid MPS dealer, is failing to use MPS technology to allow their business to scale (or grow). This very successful dealer had purchased one of the leading data collection tools and had access to another through a supplier, but was still collecting meters manually in over 50% of their accounts.

It seems the sales force was very capable of landing MPS contracts, but was not comfortable with keeping the data collection tool installed. Failure to keep the software installed went beyond causing the manual collection of meters. Without automated data collection, their end-user clients controlled when toner and consumable parts were to be delivered to the printer environments. The dealer now has vast amounts of uncontrolled inventory located at numerous client sites and is not generating revenue from the client’s inventory, and has greater exposure to shrinkage. In the accounts where data collection software remained installed, the pain was almost worse due to the vast amount of email alerts generated. Without a method of filtering the alerts, the dealer turned many of them off – including low toner notifications. This dealership is still profitable but has a very high cost of operation. As competition enters in their market and the prices for MPS begin to drop, this dealer will have a difficulty competing unless several changes are made to their business model.

How much technology is too much or when is not enough technology being used? These are two questions all MPS participants should be asking all the time. The answer to the first question requires measuring how much of the developed proposal relies on un-validated information. The un-validated information can be the result of not doing a walk through at the end user’s is environment or due to reliance on assumptive values from a proposal tool.

An answer to the right balance of technology at your business may come from an evaluation of the scalability of your program.  Review your MPS business today, considering the number of devices, pages, dispatch staff, support staff, service techs and any manual processes used. Any process you handle manually will grow in man hours in parallel to the number of devices or accounts added. So if a process is a little painful now, doubling or tripling the business volume will have a profound effect. Most often, the result is a diversion of attention from growth activities to maintenance of existing business.  Look for off the shelf solutions to provide automated answers for existing manual processes.

Many solutions cost less than a single employee to deploy.

Barney Kister is Senior Vice President, Managed Print Services, Supplies Network. He has been with the company since it was founded in 1991, leading its sales organization until 2007.  Having seen the potential of MPS, he initiated the development of the company’s proprietary CARBON SiX Print Management.  www.suppliesnetwork.com.

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