Does Managed Print Service have a Cloudy Future?

posted by Greg VanDeWalker on Thursday, March 01, 2012

Cover Story from the March 2012 Issue of ImageSource Magazine

For those of us who love technology… can we be transparent for just a minute? We always love the next shiny thing that comes along, right? We also think that everybody else is excited about that shiny thing, and that customers will want to buy that shiny thing? This is the trap we find ourselves in and it stems from the simple axiom that customers buy solutions to problems, not products aka shiny things. 

MPS, Solutions & the Cloud
So before we get too deep into the cloud and Managed Print Services (MPS), I think it would benefit all of us to back up for a moment and talk about the cloud in general. To help with this discussion I had the opportunity to interview Tim Berglund, founder and CEO of the August Technology Group out of Littleton, Colorado. Tim is a technology consultant who is in demand worldwide to speak at various events; he is an O’Reilly author in addition to being a speaker on the highly esteemed “No Fluff Just Stuff” tour in the United States. When I asked Tim about how the cloud will impact MPS, without missing a step he said, “If a solution provider is doing his job the right way, the customer shouldn’t even know about the cloud. The customer simply wants things to work—they don't want the 'cloud.'” 

Solution providers can get caught up in the details of the technology we are providing and assume the customers are as excited as we are. They often aren’t. Berglund stressed that “the cloud is not new. When you consider companies like Amazon, and others, you quickly realize this paradigm has about a decade under its belt.” The cloud is certainly growing at a rapid rate and is getting much attention. And yes, it will have an impact on print, especially when mobility is factored into the discussion, but Berglund went on to stress that solution providers “should focus on the customer's business needs and provide solutions, not products.” 

In addition, a solution provider needs to look at the cloud from two perspectives. First, what cloud services can the solution provider use within their own business? Second, what cloud service can help with customer engagements? So with that in mind, let’s start with solution providers. 

If solution providers are going to sell cloud solutions, it would make sense to be a user of cloud solutions first. Nothing shows confidence in a product or service more than when you can look the customer in the eye and say, “We use XYZ ourselves, and it works great.” There are many types of services available for the solution provider; I would like to focus on just one; remote monitoring. 

Remote Monitoring Services
Remote monitoring is an essential piece for any solution provider regardless of what your channel heritage is. Whether you heritage is voice, IT, or output devices, remote monitoring is a must to deliver high quality service. It also helps pull cost out of your delivery model. In the early days big, expensive remote monitoring packages were sold to solution providers with an expensive infrastructure attached to their upkeep. This reminds me of The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google by Nicholas Carr who described this switch to the cloud. His basis of the analogy explained was how in the early days of power generation every manufacturer had their own power plant on premises to run the machinery. Today, for the most part, power is so effectively distributed and available that it makes no sense for the typical company to have its own power station. So goes computing today. I was speaking to one executive, from an output device remote monitoring company, last week and he said that “remote monitoring is now available from 40 different providers in a cloud model compared to four years ago when it was only an on premise solution sold by three companies.” 

Another benefit of the cloud solutions is that each provider will add certain value on top of the exiting solutions so you, the solution provider, have an expanding product offering not just a cost savings. As always, there are some good reasons for an on premise solution, but for the typical solution provider those reasons are getting smaller each day. 

Distinct Opportunities: From a customer perspective there are two items I would like to mention as cloud opportunities:
1) Document Management
2) Mobile Print 

Document Management
When it comes to document management, cloud or no cloud, there is still a very large and very profitable opportunity in the SMB space. Even though document management in the SMB space is not new, there are not many companies selling it effectively. MPS is at a point of maturity that commodity players are in every city selling nothing more than a low cost per page (CPP) with no value adds and calling it MPS. When a market gets to this point some of the value sellers start to lose confidence and begin competing on price. Document management is a way to differentiate.

Think about how the CPP discussion goes with a customer when they have four proposals from various solution providers. All four have about the same CPP with all the vanilla SLA commitments, blah, blah, blah. But your proposal is about being able to do all the same SLA items the other competitors offer AND reduce one of their business processes from 7.3 hours to 12 minutes. The customer does that process approximately 54 times per month. Document management can do these types of things for customers. Who cares about the CPP when you can deliver that kind of value? 

What the cloud brings to the paragraph above is a lower cost structure plus other value adds around security, back –up, storage, etc. Mr. Berglund mentioned - customers want the solution. They really don’t care how you reduce the business process from 7.3 hours to 12 minutes. They just know you did and it works. From the solution provider perspective, the cloud is helping deliver those solutions more effectively than on premise solutions. 

Mobile Print
Finally mobile print is going to experience big growth in large part because of the cloud. With the mind boggling growth of smart phones and tablets people are on the move now with more data at their finger tips and they will want to print something immediately. That could be their home office, hotel, coffee shop, customer office, plane, you name it. The marketplace is not delivering this kind of print flexibility at scale and the OEM’s are frantically trying to come up with the right solution. The problem is; it’s not easy. As one would imagine security is very big factor in this discussion.

I was recently at the 2012 Lyra Imaging Symposium, where HP talked about their mobility print strategy. They are taking a 3-legged approach 1) ePrint Mobile Print Locations; 2) ePrint Enterprise; and 3) Public Cloud. The primary difference between the three levels is security. HP is not the only one with a mobile strategy; each manufacturer as well as other print related organizations is trying to build its own solution. My point to the solution provider is to strategize with your vendor partners to determine the best approach for you to bring the cloud to your customer’s mobile print strategy. Apple sold 37 million iPhones in just the last quarter of 2011 alone. Combined with all the other smart phones and tablets, the demand for mobile is a huge opportunity! 

VARs and MSPs
MSPs have another opportunity for using the cloud within their organization; it lies in managing the pages in an MPS contract. All MSPs use some type of professional service automation (PSA) tool to manage their business. One of the challenges with PSA tools as they relate to MPS is that they either have no ability to handle page contracts or are very elementary in their ability to handle MPS fleets. In order for an MSP to handle complicated contracts they will need a more sophisticated system to process the complexities.

It is impractical and unaffordable for most MSPs to buy a page-centric ERP system. Some of the ERP systems do have a cloud version of their main platform. This allows an MSP to utilize the functions needed to manage pages, price per page, credits, groups, and other critical information, all via the cloud and at a reduced cost.

In conclusion I have one simple admonition; never lose sight of what you are trying to do. Fix customers' problems.


Reprinted with permission from ImageSource Magazine.

About The Author

Greg VanDeWalker, Senior Vice President, IT Channel and Services, is responsible for strategic vision and performance for the IT and Unified Communication financing business units as well as Collabrance LLC, the GreatAmerica master managed services provider. Prior to joining GreatAmerica in 2003, ... read more

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