In HP’s recent Q2 earnings conference call, President and CEO Dion Weisler commented on “the work we are doing around marketing to stimulate printing demand. We are shifting our marketing efforts from marketing printers to marketing printing.”

For decades, the key buying criteria and differentiators in printer marketing were about the hardware and the traditional Big Four: speed, print quality, reliability, and price, with reliability often leading that list. Today, for printer buyers, comparable speed, print quality, reliability, and a competitive price (on hardware and supplies or measured as cost per page) are the jacks in a “Jacks or Better” game because the industry’s major OEMs, inkjet- or laser-based, all offer printer hardware that is extremely competitive in those major buying criteria – if you don’t, you don’t even get up to bat. In the same call, Weisler noted, “A key to success in competitive markets is product differentiation and innovation.” So the differentiators in printer marketing now are way beyond the traditional Big Four, are tailored to the needs of the users and buyers/influencers in the enterprise, and are aimed at enabling printing. OEMs have to satisfy the concerns of at least three critical buying influencers in the enterprise:

• Users – who communicate their output needs to IT management and Finance/Administration; users are principally concerned with how easy it is to get the end product (printed paper) in their hands from whatever computing/communications platform they have. Almost every user these days carries a smart phone and uses it for business applications

• IT Management – their needs are focused on system/network/applications compatibility, reliability and ease of hardware management and measurement, and a need that pervades the IT function today – security

• Finance/Administration – understand and reviews the needs of the IT and user populations, but is principally concerned with minimizing and managing print-related costs

If successfully differentiating printer hardware offerings means surrounding the print platform with software and services that satisfy the buying criteria of the primary buying groups (and better enabling printing), then we understand why on June 2, HP announced new software that simplifies printing from mobile devices on a corporate network, and new IT management analytics tools to understand and optimize printer fleets for better performance.

“Our customers need print infrastructure that gets their employees working even more efficiently,” said Edmund Wingate, head of JetAdvantage Solutions, HP Inc. in a prepared statement. “Today HP is delivering new tools for IT managers to improve mobility, management and security so that printing is fast, reliable and sure to boost productivity.”

In a call with analysts, HP’s Scott Steel, head of print services tools and infrastructure, explained, “we continue to invest in platforms and software that are going to make the experience of the customer better. … we are very focused on the customer experience … (and) the investment that we're putting in to make sure that we're driving both the IT and the end user experiences. We see those as different and evolving.”

“Our framework around innovation is really focused on three prongs,” said Wingate, which he described as:

• Solutions, which includes Jet Advantage software and some of the innovative technologies like Page Find

• HP’s presence as a local player, as HP has a direct presence in many countries. “That's one of the areas that we really focus on,” he said.

• Business intelligence. Wingate explains, “because we're a global player, because we have a certain architecture to the way we deployed our technologies, it allows us to actually extract much more insight from those (about how customers are using print).”

Mobile – Becoming the Core Computing Platform

Wingate says, “[everyone recognizes] the appreciation for the need for mobile print. What is changing, though, is ... it was a convenience that you would allow end users to print from their mobile devices. … More mobile devices are being enabled for corporate apps. It's not just bring your own device to support email. It's bring your own device to support all the business apps that enterprise customers are using … because enterprise IT is enabling those apps on to the devices.” He adds “Now it's bring your own application device. … mobile OSs are becoming the core computing platform for a number of end users in our accounts.”

“What's happening now is a really big shift,” Wingate points out, noting that whereas users would previously have had a PC and a mobile device, now it is more common to only have the tablet, which comes with a mobile OS that doesn’t naturally connect to network environments for printing. “(Easy mobile print connectivity for printing) was a luxury, it was nice to have,” he said. “It is an absolute necessity now.”

Besides simple print access, Wingate explains that information control is a critical issue, saying that while some customers only want limited print connectivity for mobile devices, “there are others saying hey, my entire employee base is mobile.” Those customers, he says, don't want to lose control of the information by having users go outside the network, wanting everything to stay in the network, including printing. So, seamless access for mobile devices to print within the network architecture is an idea whose time is come, for convenience, productivity, and, control.

Powering that seamless access is the new HP JetAdvantage Connect, which enables mobile devices to print to corporate network printers with a “simple, intuitive PC-like print experience,” without additional apps or complex paths such as sending an email to the print queue. In JetAdvantage Connect, print job rendering and spooling is done on the mobile device (as it has been done traditionally on PCs), eliminating dedicated servers, and IT can leverage the same HP admin tools used to configure and manage PC-based print infrastructure.

“In many ways, it's probably about time,” Wingate comments. “The processing capacities of these mobile devices have accelerated to the point that, frankly, they rival the processing capacity of personal systems and PCs. Why not render the job just like we do in many pull print applications? It really leverages (the) unused processing capacity of the mobile device … (and) allows for a native print experience.” HP JetAdvantage Connect supports Android now with iOS device support coming later in June, and support for other mobile platforms will be added later.

With so many users now having simple print access to the network, security naturally becomes a bigger concern. In the announcement HP also debuted improved security tools for printing from mobile devices:

• HP Access Control Secure Pull Print — makes the print authentication capabilities of HP Access Control available as a standalone offering at a lower cost, so IT has the same monitoring and protection features for mobile device print jobs as they do for PC-based print jobs. Wingate says, “Pull print is a security solution. (IT is) not always interested in deploying quotas and rules and the job accounting, they just really want to have the security of pull print ... Well, (this is) a pull print only version of HP access control. It's simpler, but also it's half the price,” he adds.

• HP Access Control 15.2, integrated with Jet Advantage Connect, has been upgraded, adding support for the latest security protocols — enhancements to transport layer security and 256 cosigning for new applications — and the ability to use pull printing across IT environments with multiple domains. HP explains that some companies have multiple divisions with different network domains and the upgrades make the deployment of a pull print solution easier in multiple domain systems.

In addition to mobile devices, HP recognized the substantial presence of Chromebooks in organizations such as education by introducing the HP Print for Chrome App, which enables local printing for Chromebooks and has been updated to support use with the Google admin console. Wingate notes that it isn’t just education anymore for Chromebooks. “Enterprises are adopting Chromebooks. Some surprisingly large accounting firms are actually deploying Chromebooks instead of traditional PCs.” HP says this update gives IT departments a streamlined way to deploy and manage the app across large fleets of Chromebooks.

Managing a fleet of HP printers gets easier for IT with the entry of HP JetAdvantage Insights, which the firm claims is an easy-to-deploy cloud management tool providing access to printer fleet data for customers with self-managed or partner-managed print environments, aimed at giving them info to maintain these printer fleets with greater efficiency. HP says it is available for U.S. customers, with broader availability in the future.

Better Tools for Managing MPS and Understanding Printing

For its managed print services customers, HP unveiled a set of business intelligence tools designed to give customers a transparent view of their printer fleet, along with predictive modeling to help prevent potential problems before they occur. The company claims these tools empower customers to make informed decisions, in partnership with HP, to ensure that their printer fleet is optimized for productivity, security and cost effectiveness. HP says it is employing big data analytical strategies in the monitoring and evaluation of printer fleet usage and behavior to enhance the customer experience with MPS account services including:

• HP Device Control Center – interactive fleet management with real-time device status and location information, provides a fleet view, device action tools, and data on-demand for improved visibility and manageability of devices, easy self-service capabilities for fleet modifications, customer tailored fleet views to visualize what is important and deep dive into information

• HP Instant Fleet Insights – an advanced analytics to model, predict and optimize performance for predictive and preemptive services identifying device issues before they occur, reduce device interventions, continuous improvement of device performance, identify root causes quicker for improved fleet performance

HP says these tools are available to all HP direct Managed Print Services customers at no additional cost, in addition to existing services

• Strategic Account Reviews – with tools to communicate the value IT is delivering to company and bottom line, improve strategic decision making with data insights and real-time information, and the ability to visualize the business impact of proposed fleet changes with “what if” scenarios

• HP Device Connect - securely gathers in-depth print data for improved fleet manageability via a secure gateway, provides rich content for analysis, remote trouble issue remediation, and predictive services

Summing up the announcements, Steele said they are about "mobility and the change. We want to make mobility (printing) … ubiquitous in the environment.” He adds that, with big data, "we're driving a different customer experience through our big data business intelligence.”

Making Printing Easier

Did you get the memo about the fact that it isn’t about the hardware anymore (mostly, anyway)? If you are HP, success can be measured by pages printed – and toner/ink consumed of course, and it behooves you to remove any obstacles that might get in the way of anyone wanting to print anything. As they say, people print, not printers, so, for those that want to print and those that manage it:

• Make it easy to print

• Make it easy to monitor, support, and manage printing

• Make it easy to understand and assess, evaluate, and track print costs and activity

• Make it secure

Makes sense to me, and it likely will to those involved in printer buying too.

John McIntyre
John McIntyre

serves as a senior analyst for BPO Media. With more than 40 years of experience in the printing industry as an analyst, product developer, strategist, marketer, and researcher, he has covered the printing and supplies sectors for prominent market research firms such as Lyra Research, InfoTrends, and BIS Strategic Decisions, and served with major OEMs such as Samsung, NEC, and Diablo Systems/Xerox. McIntyre is the former managing editor of Lyra’s Hard Copy Supplies Journal and has conducted research and consulting engagements examining issues such as market and business strategies, product positioning, distribution channels, supplies marketing, and the impact of emerging technologies. Follow John on Twitter @John2001S