Nearly every enterprise – including commercial businesses, educational institutions and government organisations – relies on printing to support essential business processes, whether it is back-office operations such as accounting or payroll or front-office activities such as sales and marketing.
Regardless of how dependent an organisation is on printing, IT departments struggle with similar management challenges: providing reliable print services that meet organisational expectations while containing operational costs.
Too often, organisations own a broad range of print, copier, scanner and fax equipment, often from different vendors, requiring different software, consumables and supplies. Devices may often be out-dated and inefficient, and few organisations know how many assets they have, how they are being used, and how much it costs to own, maintain and operate them.
This makes it increasingly difficult to optimise efficiency and control costs, and creates a huge IT and administration headache. Organisations facing staff shortages or lacking the correct technology expertise do not have the resources and skills to keep on top of print management issues, leaving them exposed to spiralling print costs, reduced productivity and increased risk due to unprotected devices.
This has prompted many businesses to move to a managed print service (MPS) to ensure more efficient and effective print infrastructure operation and management, from the office to the print room.
A managed print environment can deliver strategic business advantage, supporting cost reduction imperatives and environmental demands along with improved compliance and reduced risk. Today, the strongest uptake of MPS has been among large enterprises (1000+ employees). Our recent research suggests that half of European large enterprises have implemented or are piloting MPS.
The emergence of independent MPS providers that offer vendor-agnostic, best-of-breed technology, software and services is promising to expand the penetration of MPS beyond the exclusive domain of large enterprises.
This channel provides an important role in delivering impartial assessment services and unbiased MPS recommendations. Services such as multivendor break-fix, support and supplies replenishment enable organisations to protect existing hardware investments rather than moving immediately to a standardised print environment.
By retaining the flexibility to add devices from multiple vendors, independent MPS providers can innovate with the latest technology and introduce new capabilities independently of any single incumbent printer or copier supplier.
While hardware vendors will have a vested interest in moving the customer to a standardised environment, most of the major MPS vendors are able to support and manage a multivendor environment at the initial stages of an MPS engagement, sweating the assets as needed.
Not many organisations operate a standardised fleet at the outset. It is therefore vital to select an MPS provider that can provide an impartial assessment of the print environment.
However, if an organisation is planning to move to a standardised environment, a hardware-centric MPS may be the best approach. This can be supplied by a hardware vendor, SI or independent MPS provider. Many hardware vendors will use channel partners to deliver MPS midmarket.
Vendor-neutral providers can often negotiate the best prices on equipment and supplies, delivering quality at lower cost.
It is in the interest of an independent MPS provider to offer the right device for the purpose, regardless of brand. While a single-vendor strategy forces an enterprise to settle for a single vendor's offer for each area of the enterprise, a multivendor strategy enables a true best-of-breed approach across the organisation.
Pricing for traditional MPS contracts is often based on minimum volumes. We have found that is the top inhibitor of MPS adoption. Independent MPS providers often use different pricing models such as pay-per-print, so customers do not pay for pages they have not printed.
Although hardware vendors have been the predominant MPS suppliers for decades, the market is at a tipping point, evolving to encompass a wider range of providers. Independent firms should take advantage, particularly if they have the resources and infrastructure to design and deploy MPS.
This window of opportunity is limited, though: the technology that enables independent MPS providers to move up the MPS stack is also available to competitors such as SIs, managed services providers and hardware vendors, which are using the same or similar technology to move down the stack.
As MPS providers look to gain further mid-market traction, we expect further consolidation in the market. Specifically, we expect hardware vendors to acquire more independent providers to strengthen their multivendor MPS delivery and service capabilities. A report is here.
Louella Fernandes is principal analyst for printers at Quocirca
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