Managed IT adds value for customers needing more than toner and paper.
Monday morning. First thing. The customer bouncing off walls on the other end of your phone is flustered because all the printers, copiers, and computers in her law firm refuse to do anything more than turn on. Her network has crashed, which must be your fault because your company installed three new MFPs on her network last Tuesday. You tell her you’ll look into it and call in your crack staff to get their take on the matter. Suddenly, you are being dragged into the realm of managed IT, and you haven’t even had your second cup of coffee yet. Buckle up!
As a technology provider your dealership is well positioned to take a key role in supporting (aka managing) your customers’ IT needs, and you can be pulled in whether you like it or not. It seems like a great idea, but the caveat is that adding managed IT to your repertoire is not a plug-and-play proposition. Deep expertise and fast response are critical and come with steep learning curves. Strategically though, providing managed IT services can deepen relationships with customers in ways that make them more reliant on your company. This can be a good thing, especially now. More on that in a moment.
Managed IT is a somewhat broad term for the support and maintenance of the networks of computers, printers, scanners, and copiers installed at your customers’ businesses. Making it all work used to be relatively straightforward, but now, it requires significant expertise to keep everything working. It’s not uncommon for one firm to have different providers for telephony, office machines, computers, internet services, and more. And when anything fails, the finger-pointing begins.
To ease the pain, some dealers turn to an OEM. These manufacturers have anticipated the need and developed tools, services, and processes that offer various levels of managed IT. Konica Minolta, for example, acquired All Covered some years back to provide dealers with IT services capabilities as a third-party provider. The advantage here is that a Konica Minolta dealer can use All Covered to provide a deep level of IT services without having to acquire and support the expertise required.
“If we hadn’t added managed IT, we’d have been out of business in the early 2000s,” relates Van Seretas, managing partner at Premium Digital Office Solutions in Parsippany, New Jersey. “We began with document management services, then shifted into managed IT by working with Konica Minolta and All Covered. Now, my sales team can sell copiers, printers, postage equipment, managed IT, and voice-over-IP telephony. All Covered handles the IT side. But because we can bring in the customers, it has given us extra depth and made us a one-stop shop.”
Other dealers have taken on IT services themselves. Dave Moorman, president of managed IT services at Novatech, says his company added managed IT as customer needs arose. The company had already developed significant expertise, and Moorman and his team added services to keep pace with their customers. This can be a good strategy, but it’s not for everyone. The needed skill sets can take significant time and resources to develop, and the right people are not necessarily easy to find.
“You have to hire people who have developed managed IT for multiple firms,” affirmed Moorman. “It is one thing for a person to have been the IT guy for one company, but quite another to set up managed IT for 100 companies, each with unique requirements, and that all demand immediate support when something goes wrong.”
“No matter how you do it, it’s a matter of crawl, walk, sprint,” added Premium Digital Office Solutions’ Seretas. “It can be fatal to take on too much too soon because it is quickly apparent if any of your team doesn’t know what they are talking about or is unable to remedy a problem.”
“Even when you start slow, you can hit your limit in just a few months,” added Troy Olson, owner and chief business development officer at Les Olson Company, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. A dealer for Sharp, HP, and RISO printers, the company specializes in managed IT, spanning a full range of associated services. A third-party solution through an OEM is one way to begin, but that may not necessarily provide the best fit for your business. Olson suggested starting with dispassionate advice tailored to your company and its customers from a consultant specializing in this area.
The difficulty for a managed IT newcomer is that a customer can easily make demands that outpace the skill sets of a dealer’s technicians. A local town government, for instance, where you’ve placed half a dozen machines, may decide they need a network and want someone other than a local volunteer to make it all work. This seems doable until town meeting records, tax rolls, school department, property assessments, library, and public works projects all need to be searchable and on the same network, which now includes 57 copiers, printers, and scanners. Several departments also require password-protected public access with security and two-factor identification for credit card payments.
“Everything is connected,” said Olson. “It is hard to just dip a toe in the water.”
Be Ready for Trouble
Overconfidence in the light of such requests, along with the vagaries of the technologies involved, make carrying cyber insurance essential. This is partly for simple human errors, but also for things that are totally out of a dealer’s control. For example, consider a customer’s network is breached and data were stolen or held for ransom. Your company may be able to fix the problem and block further intrusion, but damage has been done and your company can still be on the hook for some of the damage because your dealership was managing the IT processes. Even if the customer has cyber insurance, your company was still involved in IT support. So someone—probably your customer’s attorney—will come knocking on your door seeking to recover losses.
Managed IT for a Changing World
Making managed IT more complicated are the changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that A4 and A3 page counts declined when more people began working from home and were cut off from the MFPs and copiers down the hall. Remote work suddenly became commonplace, yet many companies lacked a remote-ready infrastructure. As meter counts declined, managed IT for out-of-office staff became a bigger concern—and created an even greater opportunity.
The immediate business challenge for your customers has been ensuring secure remote access for employees. Some dealers, like Les Olson, were well positioned to help its current clients, as well as adding new opportunities.
“Having a mature, well-rounded IT offering during the pandemic has been a real blessing for our business,” said Olson. “It helped offset the decline in page counts that came from more people working remote.”
A key shift for dealers that already provide managed IT services is how to support companies looking for ways to work more efficiently while cutting costs. Most know they need to outsource IT services, so looking to a coper/printer dealer with which they already have a relationship makes a lot of sense to businesses already considering it but which had not moved in that direction.
“We spent a lot of time working with existing clients to leverage the tools we had in place for them,” recalled Keith Adams, vice president of IT at Les Olson. “It was mostly a matter of configuration because our product stack included elements that facilitated remote work. Still, we spent quite a bit of time assisting clients with video-conferencing tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom.”
The scope of the COVID-19 pandemic took many people by surprise. “People went home in about two weeks, and it took some companies time to get people up and running in a work-from-home environment,” noted Novatech’s Moorman. “For example, one wrinkle was fewer firewalls, which made information much more accessible. This drove a big increase in customers wanting to move information to the cloud.”
The cloud was an obvious solution, but for many companies, it was important that information be readily searchable and that various firewalls were still in place. “Unstructured paper documents that can’t be searched are not effective in a remote workplace,” said Moorman.
The cloud is driving both document and IT solutions for hybrid work models—ones in which workers split their time between offices and working from home. “This drives a push toward digitizing the workplace,” said Moorman. “Content management systems will become an expected part of managed IT.”
Sure, you have to invest in the software and people to support a content management system, but when you are able to offer it to a couple hundred customers for whom you are solving the evolving challenges of remote working, the payoff and differentiation between you and your competitors can be quite compelling.
Money on the Table
There is definitely money on the table when you add managed IT to your dealership’s offerings. To be sure, it is more involved than rolling out a new line of copiers, and the sales cycle is longer and more complex, but there is real value in being able to do more for your customers. Interestingly, your sales team may not even have to talk tech with customers, although some sales guys may have a broad enough comfort zone to take it on. The key here is teaching sales and service reps questions to ask that can open doors for more technically inclined people who may be better suited to evaluating a customer’s network. Assuming your team has the ability, one approach is to offer a free (or deeply discounted) network evaluation to identify any weak points.
But before you get there, do your homework. Find out what your customers’ challenges are. Spend time investigating software they are using so you can figure out what is best suited for them. For example, most companies use Microsoft Office 365. It’s a good suite, but it can be somewhat inscrutable at times. There are managed IT solutions you can provide to help customers get the most out of this ubiquitous product.
Olson recommends having a dedicated sales force. This can help, especially as technology changes because no one wants to suddenly find themselves incompatible with systems or software being used by their customers. A knowledgeable sales team can help by proactively addressing potential problem areas.
Even if you don’t have dedicated IT pros, your regular sales or service people can ask customers how their network is configured, what is done to ensure a network against intruders, how they monitor or prevent copying, printing or scanning of documents that contain sensitive information, or what steps they take in event of a network failure. It’s okay to ask if they have an onsite IT manager and find out what they have to say. The list of potential questions can be extensive, so it may be better to ask only a few at a time. Above all, find out what a company is doing now, where they want it to be in, say, two years, who is providing the support, and if it extends beyond copiers and printers to the network. With that information in hand, one of your company’s technical teams (or does he mean a member of your company’s technical teams can get involved to see if there is a fit for your company. As noted above, though, avoid going in too deep and too fast.
Whether you have dedicated teams or not, Olson also recommends being on the lookout for quality people. He encourages looking at both sales and service talent so you know who is out there because you never know where you’ll find someone right for a particular role.
Developing and providing managed IT services is a strategic move, a long-term play that adds value over time, and can transform your company from a copier/printer dealer into a managed services provider that sells office equipment. This makes your company more valuable to customers, with the side advantage of making your dealership stickier, meaning it will be more difficult for customers to take their business elsewhere. It may be relatively easy for a company to decide they prefer to get copiers, printers, and scanners from someone across town, but if your company also controls their IT, severing a relationship is more involved and challenging. In short, managed IT makes your company a more valuable partner to all your customers. It may be a security blanket for them, but it’s an opportunity for you.
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