Cloud computing is everywhere, but one of the last places many people thought to look was in printing. However, with the advance of mobile and wireless technology, there is less and less need to tie document production to one particular networked machine in one specific location - and in fact, in the long term it might be a disadvantage.
Alex Ward, commercial director at distributor Midwich, says the time is ripe to start talking about the growing cloud and mobile print opportunity. Importantly, cloud printing makes the print function as a whole far more flexible and applicable in a range of situations - shortcutting the route from document capture to document production and back again.
"It's something to talk about and to re-engage with end users about. Obviously printing has been around for many, many years - and this is something that enables you to position the printer as a different device," he says.
If you're a mobile professional working for a larger corporate, Ward notes, it can eliminate the need to carry large bundles of pre-printed documents on spec.
Instead, the user can access documents stored in the cloud, then transmit the information to a cloud-enabled printer - only printing out the documents as and where they are required. Sometimes, as they say, less is more.
"And resellers will be able to sell this as a service, whether it be to a hotel chain, restaurants or wherever. If you need a document, it could be a PAYG-type solution for end users who want that service but are not necessarily prepared to buy it in," he says. "It broadens the offering from a cloud point of view - it all becomes a much bigger opportunity."
What the vendors say
The key as always, Ward points out, is to choose the printer and platform based on the customer's internal and external, present and future needs. Does it standardise on Apple, and have a BYOD policy, for example?
Other than that, a choice of cloud-ready printers and suitable apps is available from a wide range of vendors and developing all the time. We talked to Midwich's vendors for the lowdown on the mobile print opportunity with specific reference to cloud.
Mark Ash, general manager for the print division at Samsung (pictured, below left), notes that it is partly about the blurring of boundaries between printing as a consumer, for example from home, and printing as an employee of an organisation, for example from an office.
One of the key factors that is accelerating this convergence is mobility. As wireless and mobile technologies go on advancing into every corner of our lives, it is only natural that printing the documents on which we rely for everything from airline ticketing to sales invoices is following along for the ride.
Customers are asking - and increasingly expecting - to be able to print anywhere, from any device, he confirms.
"Users have all these devices, but most people have not been printing from them," says Ash.
So the thing for now and into the future is to smooth that path further for the customer, and that involves incorporating a number of mobile-focused technologies now emerging in usable forms that can achieve that dream.
"The latest and greatest technology we're about to launch is near field communications (NFC) wireless," adds Ash. "We have the first NFC-enabled laser printers in the world."
Samsung has two NFC-enabled printers that the channel should watch out for, he says: the Xpress C410W (pictured, below right) and the C460W. This means that printing on the go can be contactless as well - achieved with a tap or even a wave of the mobile phone, for example.
Device-agnostic platforms are important, he notes - although he says that the best experience may still be via pairing a Samsung mobile or tablet with a Samsung printer. Also, devices will soon appear that are bi-directional - that is, the mobile device can not only talk to the printer, but the printer can talk back.
This means, says Ash, that users will be able to send a document or a photo from the printer back to the mobile device, for example, for integration with business intelligence applications perhaps.
Kiran Sangheera, senior B2B product marketing manager for print at Samsung, says the channel -- as well as end users -- is already asking how to move into this brave new world of print - not least because many of the newer offerings not only mobilise print but facilitate long-term productivity improvements and cost savings. "Everybody wants information instantly, and on demand as well," she confirms.
Andy Johnson, product and solutions manager at Brother, agrees. Along with the increased mobility offered through the popular Google CloudPrint and Apple AirPrint offerings in particular, the specifications of the devices are also rising and improving - the traditional speeds and feeds, as it were. It all goes to underline the improved efficiencies the printing function can now offer any size and type of customer, he suggests.
"We have a new 100-page per minute machine," he offers.
Johnson says Brother's SMB-friendly portfolio offers cloud functionality via Brother's own iPrint&Scan app, as well as Cortado, Google Cloud Print and Apple AirPrint.
As well as the ubiquitous iDevices, their technology supports Android-based devices, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and the Kindle. The Brother app is supported on the vendor's entire UK range of mono lasers, colour lasers and inkjets. He suggests VARs look at the J4000 series in particular.
One advantage of cloud printing, he says, is that there is no need for print drivers or PC connections.
Instead, users can print easily from mobile devices or remote PCs over wireless networks, and scan or print documents over the web, directly to any suitable printer.
"Depending on what platform you're on, we have a solution," confirms Johnson. "And though they have not necessarily been looking at the green side at all, now the market is recovering the customers are moving back in that direction."
So it is partly about boosting productivity by encouraging more efficient use of technology - mobilising the print function and printing wherever you need it and only when you need it. Follow-me technology can also be bundled in, and many customers are interested in that, for the right price.
Matt Searle, partner channel director at Canon, says the drivers of adoption are there. Canon's Office Insights survey of 1,671 business users across Europe clearly points to growing demand for mobile or wireless printing, including cloud. About half of the employers surveyed provided staff with laptops, 20 per cent provided smartphones, and nine per cent tablets. Thirty per cent more respondents worked remotely than a few years ago.
Fifty-one per cent would like to send scans to cloud, and 73 per cent of the office workers surveyed said they find wireless printing or scanning has improved their productivity. About 33 per cent of organisations were allowing staff to connect to work using their own mobile devices. This proportion rose to half for small organisations.
Overall, 63 per cent of staff at organisations where BYOD was permitted actually did use their personal devices.
"Cloud printing is embryonic but we have all the support, including compliance with mobile printing standards. Google Cloud Print is supported by a significant proportion of our devices, including our PIXMA and i-SENSYS devices, and Apple AirPrint is supported on some. And there is a range of proprietary mobile printing and scanning apps for ImageRUNNER and the i-SENSYS range," Searle says.
A managed print services (MPS) environment can of course incorporate all that functionality, scaled to suit the organisation's particular needs. And the Office Insights survey suggests that at least 24 per cent of users may benefit from education and training - a value-added service that lets the channel grow revenue.
"Dealers are in a prime position to support their customers in implementing mobile," Searle adds. "For all resellers, mobile printing offers an opportunity to increase their revenue and on the back of that, offer digital or mobile cloud-based services. Printing is a very important part of that."
Canon also just released the CaptureOnTouch Mobile Tool Kit for iOS and CaptureOnTouch Mobile SDK for Android, which should enable resellers to develop apps for things such as batch scanning on the vendor's imageFORMULA document scanners, shared via cloud apps or predefined office workflows.
Steve Mitchell, group product marketing manager at Kyocera UK, says it has its own mobile print app and is firming up Kyocera Cloud Connect support in the UK on selected MFPs.
"I think there is a lot of paranoia about the issue, and about devices having access to the corporate network," he says. "The answer is to go by the individual business needs."
"Cloud Connect will be free to download and basically enables the user to link to his or her cloud access, with [cloud file storage apps] Google Drive or Evernote at the moment and eventually perhaps SkyDrive and Dropbox," he says.
One advantage of cloud is being able to capture all kinds of information and data and store it in a central repository. Kyocera is also announcing support for Apple AirPrint.
Cortado Workplace, of course, is available as a free download including 2GB of cloud storage, from the Cortado website. Supported by freeware such as universal scanning app PaperScan, most users will be able to print on the go via cloud services.
"We believe the corporate cloud phenomenon is now moving ahead at quite a pace," Mitchell says. "We are also looking at services and hosting, as well as apps, with some of our partners."
Security is an issue that people often raise in conversations about cloud, and not without reason. However, Mitchell points out that the security that is needed depends on the product used and the environment where it is being used. To put it another way, it depends on how secure the information or documentation needs to be - and that will define the solution that is ultimately applied.
Graham Lowes, UK marketing director at Oki Systems (pictured, right), agrees that many feel cloud security is a concern, especially at a time when US surveillance is in the headlines nearly every day.
However, he feels that business is quite sanguine and sensible about cloud security. After all, documentation that must be secure can easily be encrypted before being sent over the
airwaves, as it were.
Cloud apps and services can be particularly beneficial to small businesses, Lowes notes, enhancing their agility for much less cost. And Oki is increasingly moving into the cloud printing space, with a B2B focus that reflects its product portfolio.
Alan McLeish, product marketing consultant for Oki, says the vendor is currently focusing on Apple AirPrintready devices, for Apple's iPhones, iPads and iPods, as a result of customer request.
"It works extremely simply - you just select a function, open the document on the iPad, and forward that to the [AirPrint-enabled] printer," he says.
Why AirPrint? "If you're talking about the broader market, there are a number of ways to connect to a platform, most of which require an app," McLeish notes. If the user is already standardising on something else, though, the obvious answer could be Google Cloud Print - and Oki will soon have product for that too, he hastens to add.
"There is definitely a lot of interest," he confirms. "Especially with BYOD."
What the analyst says
Louella Fernandes, principal analyst at Quocirca (pictured, right), says there is "definitely a lot of interest" in mobile printing and related functions - although offerings can seem rather nebulous still.
That said, apps such as AirPrint have been around for some time, and MPS may be one practical way in for many customers that will result in cost savings, she suggests.
"For cloud printing, I think there will be benefits but I think there is a lot of reluctance because of the security impacts. So at the moment, it might be the more on-premise solutions that are sold," she says.
Apps such as scan-to-print and print-to-email are definitely burgeoning as there are easily observable productivity benefits. Follow-me printing, on the other hand, is only taking off slowly - perhaps as result of its perceived costliness.
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