Mobile computing is killing the printer

color_printer_downEvolve or withdraw – these are the choices facing print providers in 2013. Their traditional business model is in decline; hardcopy revenue is declining (despite three years of economic recovery) and in the third quarter of 2012, equipment sales for Xerox, Lexmark and HP all declined by at least 10%. These are two trends that are being proliferated by the explosion of mobile computing.

In contrast, IT spend is increasing. Forrester predicts that IT investment for 2013 will be $2.06 trillion (USD), with software being the single largest ‘general’ category at $542 billion. Software is also where the most amount of change in technology is taking place, says Forrester.

Computer equipment contributes $404 billion and PCs are still the single biggest sub-category. However, market growth for PCs is shrinking, despite the launch of Windows 8. The lion’s share is being taken by tablets – specifically the iPad. In the US SMB market, according to TechAisle, 66% of company owners and presidents and 50% of sales executives use tablets at work.

Goodbye to paper

What we are seeing is paper replacement. This is not the mythical paperless office, it is an office that is looking for ways to use less paper and the IT market is more than happy to oblige, whether print manufacturers like it or not.

So how does a managed print provider evolve to support macro trends in IT? It’s simple: they need to incorporate software that supports business workflows.

Taking tablet/print integration as an example. Most manufacturers have done a good job of creating a client-less print application that allows users to print document from their mobile device. This is not necessarily a great way to reduce wasted paper, however in conjunction other software, the view starts to change. Integration with digital signature software (Adobe Echosign for example) creates situations in which waste paper is removed from a process via digital version control and digital authorization. If you still need a hardcopy for records, you can use your mobile print application.

What about shared access to documents and content? If we operate under the context of a company having a document hub, which employees connect to with ‘end user devices’, there is huge opportunity for paper reduction using what some people refer to as Print to Glass.

SharePoint is arguably the most popular content sharing mechanism available today. Most multifunction printers (MFPs) have a connector that allows scanning to SharePoint, and tablet printing is becoming easier with Office 365 and secure desktop connection applications. In some environments, a user will authenticate at an MFP (often with a card swipe) and have permissions-based access to a SharePoint file structure. With options to classify the document being submitted, that person can scan a paper file and have it land in the relevant collection for shared access. With a very simple software connector, your copier is transformed to a gateway to your digital document hub.

Let’s go a step further and assume that the file being submitted to the hub requires signed approval before it can be used further. Rules in content sharing applications alert specific people when a document is placed in a collection. If approval is required, typically the document is printed, signed and re-scanned back into the collection (sound familiar?). However now it is possible to have digital signatures provided and managed by software. Now the approver can access the document on their tablet, sign it digitally and have it dropped back into the collection as a new version, at which point the requestor receives an alert. The process is quick, uses less paper and compared to a paper-based process, runs a far lower risk of information being lost or confused.

There are a number of moving parts to this scenario, making it important to be supported by someone who is a) competent in delivering and integrating each component and b) is not going to lose all of their revenue by helping you print less.

Is your managed print provider looking to help your business or are they just interested in you buying more printers and toners? Make sure you ask the right questions.

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