Digital transformation is critical to business growth.
Digital transformation (DX) means different things to different people. In the dealer sphere, the DX focus can be a combination of driving a customer’s DX and a dealership’s DX. It extends beyond PDF-ready documents merely going digital to on-premises services and cloud access.
Over the past two years, mega-dealer Marco Technologies has invested approximately $5 million in market transformation efforts. “We have digital technology at our fingertips,” observed Chief Executive Officer Doug Albregts. “Our market approach is to create value by being more innovative and easier to do business with.” This approach impacts how many of Marco’s 1,200 employees conduct their business.
The Minnesota-based dealer doesn’t use the DX abbreviation, according to Albregts. Ironically, perhaps, it doesn’t use as much paper anymore, either. “We’ve moved away from paper and spreadsheets to using smart apps that help us to manage our business,” he added. The CEO’s operating model is about creating “a whole ecosystem with the customer,” he noted.
Impact Networking, LLC in Lake Forest, Illinois, near Chicago, calls it MDX, “which stands for ‘managed digital transformation,’” explained CEO Frank Cucco. “Everything we do is managed, whether it’s on a 36- or a 60-month lease.” Developed about a year ago by Jon Evans, the dealer’s vice president of MDX, the initiative has been very successful, according to Cucco.
Some 53% of Impact Networking’s revenue—an estimated $180 million last year—is generated by IT and cyberservices, Cucco reported. “We started it as a software and business technology department,” he recalled. Eight years later, Evans took the MDX concept and ran with it.
“Performing assessments is the foundation of our managed approach,” noted Evans. “It has worked wonders, transforming our culture and business processes.”
Betting on IT
According to Evans, it can be challenging and risky for SMBs to find, hire, and train talented people. Then, there’s this to consider: “Unless they’re properly managed, DX initiatives fail 70% of the time due to cultural and change-management issues,” he added. “Do they really want to roll the dice on a multimillion-dollar implementation?”
A partner like Impact Networking can manage a customer’s digital transformation and align their goals. “We strategize together and help build a roadmap to the necessary technologies,” said Evans.
The discovery process comes first. Impact Networking asks about the customer’s revenue goals, for example, and growth plans: Are they planning on opening five new locations in the next four months?
Using its sprint methodology, the Impact Networking MDX team dives in and presents deliverables in six to eight weeks at an assessment cost in the five figures. Some customers request ongoing consultative services and support for long-term alignment and ongoing agility. In these cases, they may sign on with the dealer for a three- or five-year contract.
Up north, Marco, the largest IT integrated solution provider in the United States, has locations in 12 states, some 4,500 customers, and 2022 sales that approached $415 million. Like Impact Networking, nearly half of Marco’s revenues are generated by IT services, while 55% come from the document side of the business.
Despite the timing of some of these changes coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic, Albregts said there’s not necessarily a correlation. However, “COVID was a catalyst in our cross-selling strategy for IT and voice services,” he admitted, which has helped to make the digital experience easier for Marco customers.
Cucco at Impact Networking cites the pandemic-imposed problem of software silos: To better automate and make processes more efficient, many customers moved away from their legacy core systems and bought a lot of software during the COVID lockdowns. Cucco said that consolidating all these varying, modernized systems poses a challenge.
Evans agreed, adding that storing data in real-time is a crucial need. Easy access to what he calls “data lakes” is critical, citing a video streaming example: “Remember when Netflix used to send DVDs through the mail?” he asked. “Some of our customers have no memory of that!”
Within Marco’s SMB customer base, too, younger buyers transact differently. “Our customer portal is a storefront that gives them all the information for their account in one spot,” said Albregts. Perhaps they need to:
- Find out about contracts? Check.
- Get updates on service issues? Check.
- Add to the existing lease? Check.
- Buy something through the portal? Check.
It’s fast; it’s easy; it’s convenient. Marco partners with GreatAmerica Financial Services to facilitate the painless process, which has application programming interface (API) software that allows two or more computer programs to communicate.
Situated 400 miles to the southwest, the management team at Impact Networking agreed that customer portals are critical to enhancing data visibility. “Any time you use automation and can remove friction with the customer, you can charge more,” stated Cucco. “That’s why consumers pay more for convenient food delivery from companies like Uber Eats and Grubhub because it’s relatively frictionless.”
Internally, one high-tech initiative is Marco’s Data Intelligence Group (DIG), which was implemented in 2021. Six to eight people are dedicated to data analysis and focus on workflow. DIG employs Microsoft’s Power BI Dashboard to access data quickly and make suggestions to account representatives using a proprietary customer portal that uses cloud-based software from Salesforce, Inc. “We are driving more analytics into the business,” stressed Albregts.
Besides DIG, robotic process automation (RPA) is another technological change inside Marco. Used for some of the dealership’s more mundane tasks, employing robots to perform some actions has increased overall efficiency, and it frees up many employees who can then work in areas that more directly drive growth.
“We’ve trained four ServSoft bots to do some repetitive-processing work related to financing and credit applications,” revealed Albregts, who expects the robotics tech to migrate into the customer pricing quotations area this year.
“We expect to see dividends from our market-transformation investments throughout 2023,” he added confidently. “ROI [return on investment] should show up in qualitative measures such as customer satisfaction, acquisition, and retention. We believe we’ll be able to drive organic growth of 5% with expense efficiency gains that we have not fully realized how to measure.”
DX is a No Brainer in the Production Print Space
Digital transformation (DX) is touching all corners of the print industry, including the commercial and in-plant segments, where some dealers find a wealth of opportunity, especially with software that accelerates a print shop’s digital transformation.
Ben Parker, director of sales at Rochester Software Associates, finds it amazing how many in-plants still have not embraced digital transformation. “It becomes a control issue for some people,” he said. “But who’s in control if the average print job requires 20 or more steps to get out the door? That’s not efficient.”
Plus, the nature of doing business has changed. Emailing and phone calls have almost become obsolete modes of communication; people want to order online. “And, they won’t wait four days for a 10- to 15-page color document order!” cautioned Parker.
The software can drive production devices with near-touchless automation, another example of digital transformation. “Our solutions understand equipment configurations and paper specifications for print jobs, whether in color, stapled, or spiral-bound,” he explained.
Parker acknowledged that even though RSA is a software developer, it is print-centric. “We are all about helping customers increase volumes and move the medium forward,” he noted. “That’s where the automation comes into play—doing more with less. What if we can remove six to 10 steps from your customer’s process? How much does each step cost?”
While that figure is somewhat difficult to calculate, conservative estimates put it somewhere between $10 and $15 per step, which adds up over time.
According to Bill Donnelly, senior marketing and campaign strategy manager at Ricoh USA,
“Transformative software fits into the production wheelhouse. Ricoh looks at organizations holistically to identify potential ‘breaking points’ within their manual or homegrown processes.” Selling web-to-print is only one part of a total e-commerce solution. He recommends dealers ask prospects if they need real-time estimates, the ability to make changes to jobs on the fly, and the need to change job status and amend the ticket easily.
“COVID led to a lot of acquisition activity among PSPs [print service providers] because they wanted to show growth on balance sheets,” noted Donnelly, citing post-pandemic research findings from Keypoint Intelligence. In 2022, he said these firms had to execute on that, which means dealing with different CRM and workflow systems. Software solutions such as Ricoh ProcessDirector and its Avanti Slingshot print MIS workflow automation can help to streamline print production and business operations.
“ProcessDirector’s open architecture allows it to communicate with all systems to make intelligent data decisions,” he explained. “And Ricoh Supervisor features real-time analysis of press performance.”