il-fede - Fotolia

Managed print services gaining ground

Managed print services have been around for a while but they are being taken up with increasing enthusiasm by customers

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: MicroScope: MicroScope: Tap into wearables

Managed print services has been heavily touted for a number of years by many print and copier vendors but how widely is it being adopted by channel partners and how much demand is there for it among enterprise and SME customers?

Carlo Longhi, director & general manager, Indirect Channels UK & Ireland at Xerox, says the adoption of MPS is growing across enterprise and SME markets. Growth in the SME space is outpacing the enterprise space, he notes, “as more customers in that area look for more enhanced value, efficiencies and productivity rather than a standard cost per page contract based upon simple technology”.

James Pittick, director of B2B indirect sales at Canon UK, agrees there has been a “significant adoption of managed print services (MPS) within the enterprise market” with many customers now considering adding workflow solutions to improve their current service. As for SMEs, there has been a notable move from traditional and basic print services to MPS, partly as the use of cloud-based solutions increases.

There is growing awareness that SMEs can use MPS to reduce capital expenditure and improve cashflow and avoid the daunting cost of buying a fleet of devices, says Mike Mulholland, head of services and solutions at Brother UK.  And there is a recognition that it puts them “in a better position to manage print budgets, as it can provide long term visibility of expenses and reduce the likeliness of hidden costs”.

He adds that it is “essential” for Brother to provide MPS solutions via channel partners. “Together we have the skills to help customers in identifying where the most productive investments can be made by working alongside them to carry out system audits,” Mulholland remarks. “This collaborative and consultative approach helps us and our partners to make the most appropriate recommendations for customers in the long and short-term”.

Jamie Brothwell, print general manager at Exertis, has a slightly different perspective. Despite the benefits of MPS, she argues that “in reality, it isn’t as widely deployed as expected. IT resellers tend to stick to what they know and concentrate their efforts in other areas of the market. On the other hand, copier dealers are making in-roads into this market based on their expertise in selling service contracts”.

Pittick at Canon believes the as-a-service model is becoming increasingly important for organisations as they try to get control over the cost of print. Trying to manage a complex print service can be a real drain for businesses, he observes. The as-a-service model helps ease the burden on IT staff and resource so they can be deployed for more valuable tasks.

Jay Prakash, product marketing manager at Sharp, agrees that as-a-service is definitely growing, adding “from our perspective it is a necessity. The number of pages printed by businesses is reducing year on year, and vendors recognise they need to look at different business models to capitalise on new revenue streams. As-a-service is an opportunity to do this”.

Longhi at Xerox says the penetration rate of as-a-service is mature across the vendor’s partners but “some partners are slower to invest for the future and we continue to support them to understand the commercial model, investments required for the future and the enhanced document related services to support their customers’ digital transformation journeys”.

The growing popularity of the MPS and as-a-service models is leading to a convergence of technology and a choice between printer resellers, copier dealers and service providers as routes to market. But which is the best? Perhaps understandably, vendors are reluctant to endorse one over the other. Longhi argues that all three “play a vital role in the delivery of MPS to enterprise and SMEs. We see differing expertise, investments, knowledge and requirements from each of these channels”.

Pittick is equally diplomatic. “All three channels are important routes to market and each channel offers its own benefits to customers,” he says. Traditional print partners and copier dealers are starting to develop their own businesses, form alliances, or acquire companies “to enable them to offer the as-a-service model to their customers. The reverse is also becoming true as managed service providers are looking at ways of adding print services to their portfolios through alliances or acquisition”.

Convergence is reflected in the way print vendors are targeting copier dealers which Brothwell at Exertis has personal experience of. She claims the distributor “has been very successful working with print brands that have taken a managed service proposition to the copier channel. We are seeing more and more consolidation of brands and partners which provides strength within larger organisations but has also yielded a number of new start-up organisations in the dealer channel”.

While the debate currently centres around print and copying, there’s a wild card being thrown into the mix in the shape of the growing popularity of the other (sometimes neglected) function in multifunction devices: scanning.

Prakash at Sharp says the rise in scanning is feeding electronic formats, so there’s an expectation from vendors “to be more effective in understanding workflow solutions that can be introduced to optimise an MPS”.

He believes there is the potential for the scanning function to play an important role in transforming processes in areas like accounts payable or the mail room “and remove tedious, time consuming and repetitive daily tasks. Offering this type of complete package to businesses will be essential as digital transformation continues in the workplace”.

Xerox’s Longhi says that as scanning grows in popularity over copying there is an opportunity for vendors and channel partners “to take advantage of customers looking to transform their business with the adoption of a leaner and more efficient, workflow-based document strategy”.

There are challenges and opportunities for the channel “to demonstrate unique solutions to business problems and realise incremental revenue and profit for those efficiency gains”. He predicts services contracts will need to continue to evolve and partners will need to ensure they build charges for scanning into customer contracts, alongside the other services and solutions they are providing.

Pittick at Canon observes that as scanning becomes more popular, more customers are “moving from managed print services to managed print and document services”. This provides further opportunities for the channel “to develop customer contracts in line with the growing requirements. Customers want to work with providers that can offer a service that covers all aspects of their document lifecycle including input, management and output”.

Read more on Managed Print Services