Cloud Enables a New Print Services Model, But It’s Not One Size Fits All

Movement toward a hybrid working model and the corresponding adoption of cloud-based technologies will significantly alter the way print is deployed and managed. The need to support the hybrid workforce is a driving force behind the widespread interest and adoption of cloud-based print management tools. Capabilities such as remote monitoring, management, configuration, and support are expected to become even more important as businesses seek to develop stronger IT policies for remote or at-home employees.

At the same time, cloud is enabling a vast array of alternative office printing services, allowing organizations of all sizes to take advantage of subscription-based print-as-a-service models. In a recent report titled IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Imaging, Printing, and Document Solutions, IDC predicts that by 2024, 60% of organizations will move to a subscription-based model for print and print-related services to support the needs of the hybrid workforce.

Cloud migration and the ongoing movement toward “anything as a service” are not new. These trends were firmly entrenched well before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the transition to a hybrid workforce has accelerated demand for software as a service (SaaS) and strengthened the desire among companies of all sizes to move to a SaaS-based (or pay-as-you-go) business model for IT services. The combined effects of these trends are expected to foster increased demand for a broad range of subscription-based print services in the near term.

Indeed, IDC predicts growth in subscription-based print services across all company sizes and vertical segments. In the enterprise sector, where MPS is already highly penetrated, organizations are quickly migrating toward what IDC calls “next-gen print infrastructure-as-a-service platforms,” which is essentially a menu-based approach for managed print as a service. We view these platforms as critical to supporting the broader, more strategic needs of the enterprise.

Meanwhile, a host of new print service offerings are being made available to SMBs, the majority of which have not yet moved to MPS or some other form of contractual model for print. Driven by the need to support a more distributed workforce, businesses are looking at subscription-based programs that could include some combination of printing hardware, supplies, and break/fix services packaged and delivered under a flat-rate, monthly billing cycle. Many of these “bundles” include everything needed to equip remote employees, including laptops, monitors, IT services, home office printers, and 24 x 7 support, all packaged together in a device-as-a-service (DaaS) offering.

As a result, IDC expects this alternative print services model to further encroach on the traditional MPS space. For quite some time, we have predicted strong growth for MPS in the SMB sector, driven by improved channel engagement and the packaging of cloud-based tools and programs that could be delivered by office equipment dealers and other MPS providers. Research continues to show strong pent-up demand. IDC concluded a study last year that looked at the impact of the pandemic on future buying decisions. Data from that study shows that almost half of those companies not already under MPS are considering a move to some form of contractual print service. Interestingly, many of these customers are not just planning a move to traditional MPS. In fact, respondents indicate a fairly even mix between MPS, MPS-as-a-service, or some other form of subscription-based print service or bundle program.

Matching Needs to Customer Persona

As the shift toward subscription-based print services gains momentum, it is important to recognize that companies are all at different stages in their cloud migration journey, with different ideas of what needs to be supported within a cloud-based print services platform. Some will be more influenced by outcomes and/or benefits such as factors around usability, customer experience, and financial concerns. Others will be more technology driven with needs that could vary from simple, secure pull print functionality to a full-fledged print management solution. Meanwhile, some customers will simply be looking for more effective ways to equip remote workers with devices and service plans that meet current needs.

Companies are struggling with the many challenges associated with enabling a productive hybrid workforce. Print is only one of a series of complex issues when it comes to creating a secure and effective IT environment for remote and at-home workers. In these early stages, there is risk in trying to move too quickly, forcing systematic changes to current infrastructure with little to no understanding as to the impact to existing workflow and processes.

Moving to a cloud-based print services model is an effective way for organizations to achieve convenience, consistency, and productivity through a platform that can scale and grow along with individual, and company needs. Start small, create a tailored cloud-based services approach, and focus on specific areas where your customers need help.

Robert Palmer is Research Vice President with IDC's Imaging, Printing and Document Solutions team. He is responsible for written research, forecasts, and analysis in multiple practice areas covering managed print services, document solutions, business workflow automation and optimization, and hard copy transformation. Palmer's research also includes a particular emphasis on the office imaging channel and transformational strategies and technologies impacting the future of the office imaging market.