Can the COVID-19 pandemic spur innovation in the print industry channel?
Almost two thirds of respondents to the latest Quocirca COVID-19 business impact study indicate that the pandemic could create new opportunities for product and service innovation. Channel partners should act now to prime their businesses for the “new normal”
A catalyst for innovation amidst declining office print volumes
Historically, pandemics have sparked waves of innovation and societal change. Today, COVID-19 is accelerating the adoption of automation and digital collaboration, as remote working becomes the ‘new normal’. Some of the world’s biggest brands, such as Twitter, have already endorsed the idea of home-working ‘forever’. Greater workplace flexibility can improve productivity and inclusivity while also supporting sustainability targets by reducing commuting, the need for office space and the associated impact of heating and lighting buildings.
If working from home becomes business as usual, it will be a significant threat to already declining office print volumes. Although this could be displaced to some extent with increased printing in the home, this in itself introduces new challenges – including security, managing consumables, auditing and monitoring print costs and efficiency.
Print vendors and their partners will need to steer their businesses forward by adjusting their products and services to address the changing printing and imaging needs of customers. Fortunately, many print industry vendors and resellers recognise that the crisis represents an opportunity for product and service innovation. In Quocirca’s latest COVID-19 Business Impact survey, 65% agreed that the pandemic could spur innovation in their business.
Opportunities for the channel
The channel in particular could be a lifeline proactively accelerating sales for OEMs. To achieve this it needs to evaluate new business models and develop or enhance cloud services to support digital transformation. Quocirca’s Print 2025 study already revealed that traditional vendors and their partners were losing influence in favour of those with IT-centric expertise. As such, channel vendors must consider potential new partnerships and collaborations particularly around cloud and security as these issues become more critical to purchasing decisions.
The print channel must be proactive in taking steps to leverage their agility and responsiveness and prime their business for the new normal. Offering new products and services to support both the office and home environments could include:
- Integrated hybrid workplace services. Distributed teams need support for new hybrid working practices with some workers at home and others in the office. Support requirements include initial provisioning of equipment (printers, laptops/PCs, screens, VoIP systems etc.) along with ongoing supply of consumables and recycling and document shredding services for instance. Existing device-as-a-service offerings already go some way towards this goal and can be tied into MPS agreements.
- Enhanced collaboration services. As teams become more dispersed, integrated collaboration tools will enable seamless communication between remote and office-based teams. Interactive screens and other visual communication solutions are already offered by many MPS providers as part of their wider offerings.
- Expanded cloud-based services. Public cloud platforms provide easier accessibility and uptime than most organisations can provide through their own dedicated platforms. Cloud-based print management can audit and track usage in the home for approved connected home office printers alongside office-based devices.
- Next generation MPS fleet deployment. As businesses consider the new post-COVID workplace, many will be looking at how best to implement a cost-effective balanced deployment of devices that maximise employee productivity. As workers gradually return to the office, businesses will be following social distancing guidelines and minimising the use of shared devices. Opportunities to re-evaluate printer fleets and transition from a centralised A3 MFP to a distributed A4 printer deployment model may help reduce the device to user ratio. Channel partners have an opportunity to be proactive in such engagements to develop new propositions that can adapt to changing requirements.
- Support for digital transformation. Quocirca research has already shown that MPS is viewed as an enabler for digital transformation. For distributed teams to work well together, information needs to be digitised to enable automated workflows. Channel partners are well positioned to design and deliver services to bridge the paper to digital gap.
- New propositions around contactless printing. Pull printing which enables print jobs to be released through smartcard authentication, for instance, will address the increased need for contactless/touchless technology in the office. Smartphone-based apps, voice controls or Bluetooth tokens can be used to free up print jobs to print at a specific printer, so the user only has to touch their own device.
Channel partners must be proactive; those that remain reactive may not survive the current crisis. No one can say with any certainty what the new normal will be, nor if the working from home trend will see a marked change in printing habits on return to the office. What is certain, is that the print sector has received a wake-up call and action must be taken to address the opportunities around cloud, digitisation and security.
With long-term vision and reinvention in mind, the COVID-19 pandemic may create more nimble and agile industry players that can embrace new ways of working and thinking and pivot to new business models.
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