Brother July2018by Dan Waldinger, Brother International

Ask anyone who manages or works for a small or medium business (SMB), regardless of the industry, and it is likely he or she will agree that we are in a new era. The culmination of rapid changes, the convergence of technologies, security and privacy concerns – these and other elements have developed a new worldview for all companies, at all sizes. As trusted partners to SMBs, you know better than most the significant ways that document and imaging needs are changing, as are the technologies available to meet them. 

Mobile devices have made “anywhere, anytime” possible, with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and Device-as-a-Service (DAAS) making waves. The Internet of Things (IoT) across home and work is changing employee expectations. With the potential for other disruptive advancements, such as artificial intelligence (AI), some purport the document imaging industry is a “dinosaur.” While fully digitized offices exist, a hybrid balance between digital and paper is the reality – and it is certain to continue for the office of the future.

Customers’ expectations are growing quicker than ever before – we are past the age of simply upselling with numerous “nice to have” features. Customers seek document and imaging solutions that work smarter, faster, more efficiently, more reliably and more securely for their companies – every time. The entire workforce should be able to access, share and print documents from whichever device, wherever and whenever needed. And they need to know that information is kept secure throughout the process. Quality, speed and nimble adaptability are key for every job and workflow, regardless of the size and the workspace. Transparency is paramount and is now considered standard. 

In the end, customers just need it all to work – and have a partner ready to help them adapt to the changing demands of the market so that they aren’t caught off guard.

The changing needs of SMBs 

For SMBs especially, it is important to offer customization for their particular needs, paired with the ability to manage documents across formats – not just print them. That blend of high quality paper output, together with a range of paperless solutions, can help you counsel your customers on how a hybrid system – both digital and paper processes – can consistently improve workflows.

When meeting with a new or existing SMB customer, there are several topics and questions worth covering. If they don’t get asked, bring them up. Some of these might include:

• How can we help support the BYOD trend?

• Is a consumption-based PaaS/DaaS (print/device-as-a-service) model best for your needs? 

• Do I need everything resident on-site, or can I usually have sufficient coverage with something cloud-based/available on-demand?

• What is required to have true end-to-end security? 

• Can office equipment enhance, not impede, the open and collaborative workspaces my employees want? 

• Is it possible to integrate everything – across legacy software systems, apps and devices?

Dealers can expect to encounter requests like these more frequently – and should expect other tough questions to arise as well. When the questions do get asked, take them as opportunities through which your expertise can shine, even to the most in-the-know and longstanding SMB customer. Understand the products, how they can be scaled and what other elements can be woven together to create a truly impactful solution that is tailored specifically to the customer and the company, not just the broader vertical or industry. This holds true whether it is for a small, annual check-in or a full-scale, ground-up project.

Understandably, that can even mean going beyond the “box” – the physical product. Managed print services (MPS) are evolving quickly and have become perfectly positioned so that you can continue to excel with your SMB customers in new ways, advancing both your business and theirs. Less worry and physical hardware concerns for them can mean greater control and bolstered profits for you. And MPS can go beyond printing – consider other office-related services and expertise that you may already have and can be baked into a service agreement.  Moving the focus away from the “box” to a managed content services approach will make for a more a much more robust strategic discussion with your customer.

Smaller hardware, bigger bang for your buck 

With office sizes changing and even being nomadic in nature, both the single unit and cross-system design aspects of printing and imaging setups will need to align without diminishing returns. It is possible to have a growing blend of on-site solutions that are versatile enough to handle the common, daily workgroup jobs, together with a custom setup on-site for one-off, limited productions, or even a separate MPS arrangement. A compact printer-pod approach, with an efficient footprint will not only help maximize placement, but can also increase use, and offer a more appealing and friendly look to match an office’s design. On-the-go offices can benefit from mobile printing, electronic stationary and other technological shortcuts – think about the back office, warehouses, or a customer’s team in the field.

While A3-capable devices have long made sense for providing robust coverage for large format printing needs, a shift away from A3 to A4 is occurring. SMB customers have realized that A4-sized technologies are sufficient for their workgroup needs and can support how their businesses operate today. These smaller footprint models provide the consistent reliability, efficiency, power and security of many large, full-scale systems but with low total cost of ownership (TCO). These A4 devices provide the opportunity for customization into multiunit setups key for workgroups or fitting in particular space constraints. When assessing the A4 options in the market, look for devices with real-world durability, ease of use, high-cycle production, cloud/mobile access and a host of at-the-ready options and upgrades that add value for you and your customers. You should also consider how to layer in preferred third-party applications and custom elements, whether they are from the customer’s IT management team, or your own agreed-upon setup. Ultimately, the goal is to better fit office spaces, bolstering and complementing SMB’s existing printing hardware and solutions to meet the needs of increasingly on-the-go employees. A4 in the SMB market represents a transition that is real and here now and will continue to open new doors. 

Looking ahead to tomorrow’s SMB needs 

And what may be in store for offices of tomorrow, particularly for the SMB set? The truth is the future is already underway with today’s customers. Printing and imaging are integral pieces in that puzzle now and can continue to evolve with the right combination of hardware technology and software abilities. 

To the cloud

Expect secure document access and management via the cloud across users’ multiple locations and devices. Being able to rapidly (and securely) disseminate documents – from the first scan to the final print – will be even more critical. For example, implementation of web-connected accessibility can make for fewer steps and processes, with enhanced efficiency. Near Field Communications (NFC) and card readers will see more active use in work environments (and beyond, with payments, etc.). Fingerprint and facial recognition in phones and tablets have potential to be used throughout an office, and augment existing password/encryption protocols. All this will stack atop ongoing encryption protocols, Active Directories and more. The end goal will remain — to be sure documents and their data are routed to whom and to where they’re intended, every time.

Increased demand for software/app integration 

Also, be prepared for what may be a growing number of requests to have app integrations and tie-ins that will provide access and adjustment controls over machines, such as MFPs and scanners. When assessing options for your customers, be sure to consider partners with open and intuitive solutions interfaces that enable securely opening the devices’ features from a web application and setting functions directly from an existing document management workflow. Integrations will be expected in SMB offices, thanks in part to increased customer connectivity, device variety and even more remote IT staff and support. 

Software and apps will be the true core of any device, allowing for easier growth and long-term viability by SMBs. A secure communications and control link for remote and direct machine-to-device access can build better workflow management and end-user experiences. Device accessibility through storage sites and apps – think Dropbox, Google Drive and others – will be ubiquitous. Software’s key advantage, especially for printing and imaging, is keeping hardware fresh, active and ready for what is next, all with minimal productivity downtime. Hardware remains the foundation for many solutions, but it needs to be consistently woven together with secure, ready-for-upgrades software to maximize results.

Success = remaining flexible in a fluid industry 

This is not all to say that every SMB office and user you encounter will adopt all the new technologies and fresh services you can offer. A new era never immediately eliminates the needs and processes that have been traditionally used and upheld. “One size fits all” will continue to rarely do so. As such, it is best to look ahead at the future through the lens of today – it can better prepare you, and your SMB customers, for creating a balance that will last. 

Dan Waldinger 
Brother

This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of The Imaging Channel.