The emergence of the cloud, sustainable practices, mobile printing, and AI are driving change.
Do you and your team understand the difference between print management and managed print services (MPS)? I’m not being a wise guy. There is confusion out there. The simple definition of print management comprises software and tools for tracking, monitoring, and managing printing devices and workflows. MPS is a comprehensive approach to managing a company’s document output environment, including the hardware. The objective of MPS is to optimize the printing environment to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and improve productivity.
Like all technology and services across the document imaging industry, print management software and MPS are changing and evolving. To learn how, I spoke with three industry thought leaders who shared their opinions on the latest trends in print management and MPS.
Print Management Trend #1: The Cloud
The biggest trend in print management over the past few years is the shift from an on-premises platform to a cloud platform. “Most major vendors now have a cloud version or an alternate cloud offering,” noted Jamie Bsales, principal analyst, digital transformation and smart workplace, Keypoint Intelligence.
Another cloud-based trend is the fusing of two separate product types. “You have the classic print management guys with cost accounting and cost recovery, and [others] with print infrastructure management trying to eliminate print servers and lift that to the cloud,” said Bsales. “So, onsite print servers and print queues are gone, and the requirement for drivers is gone because you can use universal drivers. At the same time, companies are adding classic cost accounting, usage tracking, etc., to their cloud-based offerings. With the advent of the cloud, those two categories have melded.”
Print Management Trend #2: New Features Just Keep on Coming
For the past two decades, vendors in the print management space have been continually adding new features that previously weren’t available in a print management platform. “Because of the cloud, the number of features that can be added is limitless,” said Bsales. “The term print management doesn’t even work anymore. Canon started using output management for its NT-ware Uniflow software, but even output management isn’t a big enough umbrella to cover everything these platforms do.”
What began as cost accounting and usage tracking has evolved into rules-based printing to transform print jobs from simplex to duplex or color or black and white to save money. Here, print management software was a cost-saving and sustainability tool. Now, print management tools offer secure pull printing, making them more of a security solution that, as Bsales also noted, “plays into the sustainability story because pages that aren’t retrieved at the device are never printed, so you have the paper and supplies savings.”
One of the latest features is support for mobile printing, which Bsales contends enhances fleet management. “Now your print management platform has remote firmware deployment, and the firmware repository, all the things you would use classic fleet management for.”
Another change within the past decade is layering in scanned workflows. “With the cloud, the sky’s the limit with what features can be added because you can layer in all sorts of processing in between,” emphasized Bsales. “It’s not just scan management and doing a simple workflow and delivering it to Dropbox or wherever. Now you can have full document processing if the company chooses to have the print job go through the cloud.”
Print Management Trend #3: A Growing Focus on Print Security
“Print security is going to become a bigger deal, and you’re going to see companies [print management software companies] start flexing their muscles in that area—doing forensic accounting, stopping intrusions, and helping people who have cybersecurity offerings to close the gap,” said West McDonald, president of the Managed Print Services Association.
Print Management Trend #4: It’s Hard to Get People to Change
With so many print management tools available and new companies entering the U.S. market, the newer players have a big challenge ahead of them. Change is challenging, and McDonald believes most people will continue to use the print management products they are already using. “How much is someone whose print business isn’t growing going to change the pieces? You run into stories all the time of people using some archaic software, and you ask them why, and they say, because it’s good enough.”
Print Management Trend #5: Workers Returning to the Office are Printing Again
With more people returning to the office or splitting time between a traditional office and working remotely, Greg Walters of Greg Walters Inc. sees a resurgence in printing, at least with the people who printed before they started working from home. Even with that, the hybrid office remains, and because of that, Walters emphasized that dealers must consider print management for employees working remotely and still printing.
“The people going back to the office are the ones who printed in the first place,” maintained Walters. “They’re the ones who use the printers, the coffee makers, and the facilities in an office, and when they get back, they’re still going to do the things they did before, and one of them is printing.”
Because of that, Walters said that print flow management should be even more important because it can save these companies money. “That’s where the opportunity is to dive deeper into these hybrid offices and the enterprise accounts and firms trying to mandate everyone to return. Those established businesses are still going to want that 15-page report for the board meeting in 15 minutes.”
Print Management Trend #6: AI Watch
Watch for intelligent document processing (IDP), an emerging technology that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to automate the processing of unstructured data from documents such as forms, invoices, contracts, and emails. IDP technology is designed to improve the accuracy and speed of document-based workflows, reduce manual data entry, and eliminate errors.
“If you can apply some artificial intelligence to a workflow or a print flow, that will enhance everything,” observed Walters. “This is going to be a stretch for print management companies to connect the dots, but there are algorithms involved in the print management solution that can be taken over by AI, and then incorporated into every single implementation after that.”
Walters also pointed out that AI can enhance the security of printed documents in the cloud, albeit with a caveat. “On the technical side, applying AI to keeping your data safe is fine, but the bad guys are going to be using AI to get in.”
MPS Trend #1: Onsite Assessments a Thing of the Past
McDonald used to do a lot of onsite assessments when he was working on the dealer side of the industry. “For the most part, they have become pretty passé,” he observed. “There is so much control you can have virtually now of managing how and what customers are printing that the idea of taking time to visit customer sites and do the assessment is pretty much dead. The available software tools to understand what they are doing and how they are doing it, along with interviews, are plenty no matter how complex the environment. With the advent of cloud-based tools assessments can be done virtually.”
MPS Trend #2: MPS is on the Decline
According to McDonald, dealers are no longer growing their managed print business with existing customers. “Any dealer looking to grow with managed print, they’re not going to,” he emphasized. “Print keeps getting cheaper every year. What we charge for pages keeps getting less every year. Existing customers, even if they’re not printing less and by some miracle have the same static volume, we’re losing revenue on those customers every year based on the change of technology—it’s getting cheaper, and cost per page is coming down.”
To further support his claim, McDonald pointed out the slow decline of 3% to 5% per year in clicks, further accelerated by the pandemic. “The only way to grow with managed print is to add net new customers,” he opined. “There was an adage years ago that said only 30% of the world’s pages are under management, and we’ve got 70% we can still go after. The honest truth is no, you can’t. The number of pages that need to be managed is already being managed. You’re not going to have to convince people anymore that managed print is a good idea. There’s a whole bunch of pages out there that will never be classified as something that needs to be managed.”
Walters offers a different perspective on MPS. He expects to see a resurgence, noting again as the people printing before the pandemic return to the office.
“No matter how you define it, there are MPS contracts being renewed,” he said. “I think print management should be part of an MPS play. It should fall under that umbrella, and MPS should fall underneath your IT stack. There are very few people doing that. When you talk to IT guys, they don’t want to talk about MPS at all. So, if you’re talking about putting in a whole IT stack into a medium-sized business, for example, roll those output devices in because they’re assets on the network. That is a good pivot point and opportunity to elevate the MPS conversation away from the machine and to the workflow.”
MPS Trend #3: Flat-Rate Billing Models Floundering
McDonald used to be the office technology industry’s biggest proponent of the flat-rate billing model. Even though he is still a believer, he acknowledged that the channel has not latched onto it as much as he thought it would. “[Dealers] already have the infrastructure in place for cost per page and, instead of investing the time in changing their managed print program, they are looking at additional ways of adding revenue into their accounts that aren’t managed print,” he said. “You have a choice as a business leader, how many things can you do at once, and the answer is very few. Dealers aren’t going to worry about the managed print piece anymore; they’re going to look at how they can diversify.”
He used ACDI’s investment in electronic charging stations as an example of how a legacy print management distributor is diversifying. “They’re doing it for a reason, and to grow, they must diversify.”
MPS Trend #4: It’s Not a Good Time to Be in the DCA (Data Collection Agent) Business
McDonald contends that the DCAs are in for a rough ride because people don’t really care about pages anymore. “I wouldn’t want to be in that business, although I have respect for what they do,” he noted. Asked if he sees that market consolidating, he said he didn’t, but what he does see is certain players falling out of the market. “Most of the consolidation has already happened,” he said. “Look at a company like ECI that bought PrintFleet, FMAudit, etc. They’ve already consolidated the big players and some of the smaller players.”