New Dawn Rising: Dealers Speak Out on Managed Content Services

People have been talking about what lies beyond print and traditional document management solutions for years. Theories, conjecture and war stories have been as plentiful as the beers over which they were shared. Then, in mid-2013 Gartner made a bold statement, “Managed Content Services’ Time Has Come.” Here we are three years later, and I wonder whether today’s top dealers agree?

Opportunistic or Opportunity?

“MCS is a comprehensive package that rationalizes, streamlines, and optimizes business communications by providing customers with consultative help, software, and implementation,” according to Gartner. As definitions go, it’s expansive for sure.

With its wide-reaching context, it’s important to pay close attention to the fulcrum upon which the definition pivots, shifting the focus from documents to business communications. For years, the industry had been steadily retooling its talk-track to encompass the more holistic concept of “documents.” Now, MCS challenges us to expand our attention to the entire spectrum of business communications. Can this broader reach build upon existing foundations or does it further dilute precious focus?

While OEMs have armies of people and deep pockets to explore such new horizons, dealers have been successful through focus on customer acquisition, retention, and cash flow. Is this a nuanced evolution dealers can ill-afford to court or substantive next step not to be missed? Is it too far reaching to think dealers could tackle such an upgrade in strategy? Heck, have dealers even heard of MCS?

Bill McLaughlin, EVP and CTO of Atlantic Tomorrow’s Office is skeptical of the “hype machine.” “[It] sounds like another marketing genius came up with this, just like when they started calling [co-location] and distributed computing ‘the Cloud.’”

Kevin DeYoung, CEO of Qualpath, believes “we have taken something that already exists and called it a new name. Our nature, because of industry heritage, is too centered on an image; content exists in many places within business processes.”

Others believe it is a very real opportunity. “MCS is a viable vertical within our industry,” counters Steve Cain, MPS Director of EO Johnson Office Technologies.

Jeff Gau, CEO of Marco explains that, “As industries grow so does their need for compliance, efficiencies, and the ability to report on metrics. In a paper environment, all three of these areas pose challenges.” And therein lies the opportunity.

Despite the lack of curb appeal for the name itself, DeYoung agrees there is an opportunity. “This is true business process optimization that goes beyond documents. It’s very, very broad. It could mean going paperless or designing new apps; it could mean you focus on business drivers or focus on IT Infrastructure; or it could mean that you focus on knowledge workers or all of the above. It’s all over the place.”

When asked if MCS is all hype or has substance, dealers were quick to look past the name. So it would seem that a rose by any other name would, indeed, smell as sweet.

What Does It Take?

Research, time and again, has shown that transformation takes commitment of focused personnel, financial resources, and conviction that the cause is worthy. But what does it take for a dealer to be successful, practically speaking?

Gau recommends that you should “implement MCS at [your] company if [you] haven’t already. Like our customers, we face the same challenges and by implementing MCS, we can share firsthand results with our customers. It also allows your company to become great at MCS and be able to provide firsthand experiences with prospects — to ‘eat your own dog food.’”

McLaughlin likes to keep it simple. “Hire the right person, put them in the right place, give them the resources to succeed. It’s like a three-legged stool; if you’re missing one of the legs, the stool falls over.”

To avoid that risk, Cain says, “Acquire the right company for the right reasons. [Acquiring] a startup base [of business] will help you through the rough patch, as well as help you to understand MCS [more fully].”

Either way, Gau suggests that you “take the time to evaluate MCS before making your decision.” Everyone agrees that talent and infrastructure will be your greatest costs in the business, and you certainly want to make an informed decision when it comes to whether — and how — you should approach MCS.

The Road Less Traveled

Should dealers get into MCS to hedge their bets on declining print profits?

“There is no question that the print world is still necessary, but when a business implements MCS it allows them to go to what I refer to as ‘paper-light,’” Gau explains. “More often than not, businesses print documents or reports … [and] MCS gives the company the ability to save, search, and archive [communications across the business].”

Of course MCS is more than software or services as discrete units of sale. DeYoung contends that MCS “transcends document storage, indexing, and retrieval,” adamant in his belief that today’s “dealers have to learn how to evaluate business processes. I think [you] have to find something that fits the personality of [your] business and just center on that; you could get lost with all the places you can go with [MCS].”

DeYoung isn’t convinced dealers will choose this path. It’s “not because the indirect channels are incapable, it’s because it’s about sales efficiency. Regardless of what is being written, print volumes are not decreasing like the Titanic was sinking. OEMs keep coming up with new things to displace old things while dealers cannibalize the channel with better transactional methodologies for the end-user. As long as these type of sales efficiencies exist I’m not sure the indirect channels will truly adopt MCS today. Someday, but in my opinion not today. As long as other items in their product/solution portfolio are growing they won’t seek this out,” DeYoung clarifies.

It’s not for everyone, and it’s certainly a road less traveled at this point. According to Gau, “You need to have someone in your dealership that wakes up in the morning thinking about MCS. By making it a line of business and putting someone in charge to manage it, [dealers can increase] the chances of success.” Not many dealers are willing to make that level of commitment to MCS.

Just because it’s a road few dealers are willing or able to travel doesn’t mean it can’t be successful. Hopeful, McLaughlin believes more and more dealers are making this transition. “Atlantic does everything as a managed service,” he said. This means that the core concepts of the customer approach and business model are engrained in the culture.

“It’s consultancy, not equipment and not consumables; it’s knowledge, and it requires smart people with experience who understand business,” says DeYoung.

McLaughlin cautions not to be lulled into a sense of nostalgic sentiment thinking that, “promoting an SME from within is the way. Successful dealers have sales teams that can identify the opportunity (or pain), as well as why.”

The dealership can be successful “if the dealership is willing to invest in the resources needed to be successful in MCS,” emphasizes Gau.

Three Years Later

Here we are, three years after the bold prediction that Managed Content Services’ time has come. Leading dealers have embraced the new reality of “managed everything,” but each has its own philosophy and approach to MCS. Some are skeptical, reticent to believe dealers steeped in documents can ever transition. Whether marketing gimmick or the new name of the game, all agree that opportunities abound — hopeful about this new dawn rising in the east.