Apps are doing more than just adding value to the latest technology.
As remote and hybrid work arrangements become the norm, anywhere-anytime access to information and functionality is expected. As a result, phone and tablet apps for MFPs, copiers, and printers have gone from cool to nice-to-have to essential for daily operations. Apps are no longer faddish software gadgets. They can run MFPs and even dictate entire jobs. Some vendors believe the best way of adding benefits to dealers and their customers is through apps that help customers automate at least a portion of their document workflow. Interestingly, no “hot” apps are going to change the game but if dealers, their service techs, and salespeople don’t use the apps available for the machines they sell and service, they are a step or two behind the competition.
When it comes to MFPs, the definition of an “app” can be broad because some apps only expand the capabilities of an MFP. Some help your service techs keep tabs on customers’ devices, know print volumes, supply levels, a device’s maintenance/service history, and maybe even diagnose a problem and determine upcoming needs without standing in front of the device. Service calls will become less frequent because a) many machines are more reliable than just a few years ago, and (b) because there is a lot of value in having a tech arrive on site who knows what is wrong and has the needed part in their car. Service like that can seem not just proactive but magical to a customer. Chances are the folks under, say, 40 probably have a pretty good handle on using apps and are leveraging the broad interconnectivity enabled by the cloud.
Apps on the Rise
Statista, a global supplier of statistical data, shows there were nearly 3.5 million apps on Google Play, 2.2 million on Apple’s App Store, a paltry 669,000 in Windows Store, and a mere 462,000 in the Amazon Appstore by the end of 2021. Some of them are on the phones and tablets of your sales and service teams.
So what apps are making sense for dealerships and their customers? Glad you asked.
“Some of the most important apps for MFP dealers and their customers are apps that allow information to be sent to or pulled down from the cloud,” said Chris Markowski, director of technology portfolio management, Ricoh USA. Apps like this are essential given the rise in remote and WFH (work-from-home) employees who pull data from the cloud to use in a report or presentation printed in the office while its author is on their way to work. Equipment vendors see the power and potential of apps that ensure end-customers can get the most out of their MFPs, copiers, and printers by integrating apps into every product and often allow customers to run MFPs and other devices remotely.
Some of this is merely convenient, but new apps can also streamline set-up, a useful tool for remote workers when using an unfamiliar machine for the first time. Or maybe, one they have forgotten how to use. An interesting aspect of the hybrid-work model is that as employees return to the office, they will face machines they may not remember all that well. An app-based approach can reduce re-learning time while easing the burden on IT staff. Now, workers need only learn the app, not the equipment, and can later pull up the app as a refresher.
Lest you think the pandemic-induced shift to WFH to be a temporary aberration, consider the number of companies who expect hybrid-work environments to become the norm. Akisa Matsuda, associate director of software product marketing at Sharp Imaging and Information Company of America, cites an AT&T study that indicates many employees may spend only 44% of work time in the office.
“Organizations are being forced to invest to support hybrid-work models and will need to maximize the quality [and efficacy] of employees’ office time,” affirmed Matsuda. “Apps and services are becoming critical to maximizing the value of the office. This increases the pressure on dealerships to increase product and service diversification efforts and create new opportunities for becoming irresistible partners to customers.”
The balance though is difficult. Apps still cost time and money to create and test. “The industry is still struggling to figure out the best way of providing customer access to the MFP apps they need and whether to offer them free, charge a fee per app, create packages, charge a one-time fee, or offer a monthly subscription,” said Markowski.
Knowing More is Good
Still, for dealers and service techs, knowing about looming problems provides an advantage. It can mean more efficiency on calls that take techs to the homes of customers’ employees to see why an MFP is putting streaks on a page. A remote diagnosis over a phone app could limit that journey to one trip. Such knowledge is one of the key reasons vendors see remote diagnostic apps as important for dealers and sales reps and service techs.
While remote diagnostics is vital for service, apps can also be crucial for sales. Imagine having an app that shows a sales rep when and how a customer consistently exceeds the recommended monthly page volume on a device. The rep may then be able to recommend a machine better suited to the customer’s print volumes. Such connectivity has been available for high-volume digital and offset presses and even some finishing equipment for several years (via the internet, not the cloud), but now the cloud and the preponderance of smaller machines inhabiting offices make apps a superb tool for dealers. Knowing more is always a good thing.
“A powerful remote diagnostics and configuration application, along with predictive analytics, can enable dealers to resolve issues before they become problems,” explained Manny Sahu, technical product manager at Toshiba America Business Solutions. Because service techs usually know the nuances of the machines they support, they may be able to diagnose an issue before the covers of a machine are opened, shortening the time for the service call and increasing customer satisfaction.
Of course, apps and the cloud can be both good and bad. While service apps can reduce costs and improve service profitability, one result can be fewer on-site visits. While customers appreciate reduced downtime and dealers benefit from improved customer satisfaction, reducing on-site visits can call into question dealer charges for service contracts.
The Once and Future App
The connection between office equipment and apps is not going away, and office machines—as you well know—generally need less care and feeding than they once did, so dealers must begin positioning their businesses for the future. Apps are the harbinger of this.
Will more apps (or more capable ones) empower dealers? Very likely. They may also provide opportunities to demonstrate and implement solutions dealers’ customers should have. Take security, a topic you can’t get away from when printing and the internet are involved. Ricoh has numerous software engineers focused on security, ensuring this key need becomes part of the company’s applications and MFPs.
“Being cloud-native and having built-in security features, many apps don’t require on-premises software or solutions,” noted Toshiba’s Sahu. For dealers, their customers, and service techs, this raises the bar on security, assuming the apps are kept up to date as security threat levels rise. Still, no matter how strong a security app may appear, it must keep ahead of everything the bad guys do.
“Apps and services to enhance network and data security continues to be critical,” agreed Sharp’s Matsuda. “App-boosted hardware security is important to combating relentless cybersecurity threats.”
“App development is an evolving process that needs to be tied to urgent, pervasive customer needs,” concluded Ricoh’s Markowski. It is up to dealers to work with their vendors to determine the MFP apps, from security to training to diagnostics that will be most critical to customers.
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