With a distinct list of needs spanning workflow automation and security to document lifecycle management, small to medium-sized business (SMB) aspirations for comprehensive managed print and document management rival those of large enterprise. The harsh reality of those aspirations, however, is that the cost of today’s most sophisticated solutions makes them largely inaccessible to the segment.
But a happy ending is still possible, according to key finance, distribution, service and OEM players within the channel. Offering a 30,000-foot view of the MPS ecosystem, they reveal that a strategic mix of creative approaches put enterprise-grade solutions within reach at more conservative SMB-sized budgets.
Understanding leading SMB needs
Devising winning approaches to that happy ending are only possible with a solid understanding of an SMB’s leading solution needs. Following are the foundations of SMB program success that substantially contribute to operational efficiencies, risk mitigation and cost savings for these small but mighty players in the field.
Having a keen appreciation for the clear resource and financial limits of this sector subset and offering solutions that streamline its business operations is primary. The linchpin of that streamlined operations need is workflow automation.
“The labor market is incredibly tight,” says Rogers Coxe, chief operating officer at Dove Print Solutions. “Labor costs continue to go nowhere but up, making it increasingly hard to fill positions. For this reason, SMBs are seeking workflow automation solutions, and digital processes are ripe for streamlining.”
As an extension of those digital processes, data security is paramount. As critical information cycles through SMB-managed print and document management systems, so too must the SMB’s proportionate attention level to the solutions they’re deploying. The more digitization prevalence, the more important end point security becomes — from printers and copiers to PCs and network servers.
“A core part of any managed print offering is security,” says Paul Giorgi, premier customer success manager of Print Audit. “Active management of those potential risks ahead of time is critical. Especially among SMBs, security is an often unrealized risk.”
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“Beyond managing the data through document digitization, the next step for SMBs is acting on that data,” reveals Coxe. Acknowledging the great strides that many SMBs have made securing their company data, he highlights their respective inability to date to route that important information to other business systems to streamline operations as part of the holistic document management processes.
“Right now, offices trying to reduce print costs can see which users are printing, what their volume is, what app they’re printing from, uncover why they’re printing more and take action on that information,” he says. “Clear opportunities to meet SMB business needs, however, still exist in document management. For example, meaningful triggers can be programmed for scanned document data. Extracting unit prices from vendor invoices can reveal cost increases that can be acted on quickly by redirecting orders to alternate vendors at substantial savings to the business. It’s not always easy to set up, but the possibilities that this technology holds are incredibly exciting.”
With a purview to leading SMB needs for MPS programs from a financial perspective, Kim Louden, vice president of sales at GreatAmerica Financial Services, reveals that having the ability to clearly map and analyze the value such programs yield is paramount to program longevity and success.
“Through these relationships, we hear a lot about the customer’s desire for flexibility in billing,” Louden says. “Beyond a static PDF, they want the ability to receive their invoice in spreadsheet form, which can be exported, sliced, diced and analyzed to help them with their own internal reporting. They want cost per use options and they want everything packaged neatly within a single invoice.”
Education surrounding print supply and inventory costs remains a fundamental need among SMBs. “As more financial controllers and business owners learn of their own high cost of print, the more they seek to reduce that cost,” says Clover Imaging Group’s Aldo Spensieri.
That education is increasingly being initiated at the dealer level, he reveals — stemming from dealers’ realization of the substantial SMB market opportunity for managed print. “Dealers that have historically worked with enterprise accounts are coming down into the SMB market, realizing those with 30-50 printing devices and a 20,000 monthly page volume are a sweet spot. This move not only offers the opportunity for them to migrate from a transaction to managed engagement, but helps SMBs realize cost and inventory management savings.”
Spensieri also reports a large population of SMBs are products of mismatched printing equipment, owing to their lack of understanding of the true cost of ownership. “Many SMBs have printers that simply aren’t right for them, either sold to them by a salesperson seeking to meet a quota or purchased independently on sale without a clear sense of their print needs.”
He points to dealer education as the stopgap to ill-sized equipment among SMBs — highlighting the merits of a comprehensive gap analysis that equips dealers to gauge an SMB’s discreet printing needs through data collection. “Full MPS engagement between the dealer and SMB not only problem-solves at the mismatched equipment level, leading to greater business efficiency and streamlined operations, but reduces the overall cost at every level, from the SMB to the dealer and the OEM, creating a win-win-win scenario.”
With the global proliferation of a remote workforce, SMB document management needs are morphing at warp speed.
“Driven by demand of those who need information at their fingertips while away from the office, we’re seeing a marked shift to mobile friendly solutions,” says Coxe. “Remote workers are driving innovation in this space and the deployment of exciting new back office document software solutions — from accounting ledgers and sales contracts to human resource records.”
Equipped with a solid understanding of the SMB’s leading needs, industry OEMs, service providers and dealers can chart the most effective and tailored course for this important segment of the MPS ecosystem. Following are the front-running solutions for that course to successfully meet those needs at a palatable price point for small to medium-sized businesses, say our experts.
Following the global migration of IT support, cloud storage and enterprise software solutions to a consumption-based model, managed print and document management are the latest to dip a toe in the “as-a-service” pool. Our experts report it’s the most promising model today for helping those from the SMB realm and beyond cut costs, shave balance sheet liability, increase productivity and mitigate operational risk.
“Six-figure software purchase plans plus annual fees of up to 20% for support and maintenance can be prohibitive,” explains Giorgi. “While financing equipment and software solutions can be valuable for some companies — and there will always be salient reasons for it, like tax writeoffs — there is a clear shift to software-as-a-service in the MPS and document management realm.”
Highlighting a consumption model as the most viable entrée point to enterprise-grade solutions, he adds, “A move from purchasing to a service model is the key to the kingdom for SMBs, because it can be customized to their specific needs, cover all maintenance, reduce their overall spend and eliminate the issue of equipment obsolescence forever. At the end of the day, there are no financial peaks, valleys or surprises. Companies know exactly what they’re spending, at a flat rate, without huge up-front costs or a need to finance their solution with added interest expense.”
“The smaller footprint of an SMB doesn’t require the purchase of a huge enterprise solution to onboard a leading MPS and document management solution,” adds Spensieri. “Business automation software providers have built cloud-based, per-seat models that offer the flexibility of larger systems without a million-plus-dollar up-front implementation cost. Shared by a number of customers, these platforms are available for a flat monthly fee, with an SMB’s financial outlay at a fraction of an enterprise’s cost. For example, based on the number of SMB user seats, the cost differential could be $20,000 in start-up costs plus a modest, recurrent maintenance fee versus a $200,000 starting investment at the corporate level before any customization.”
Spensieri also noted, “The overall impact for a small business leveraging the consumption model can be all-encompassing. With a turnkey platform tailored to the specific needs of an SMB that includes toner and print costs, maintenance and service, managed print is transformed from an amortized investment to an operational expense. The end result is improved cash flow, reduced liability, improved efficiency and streamlined operations. It’s a no-brainer.”
Viable billing models
Core to MPS affordability among SMBs are clearly defined and well-articulated costs that can be managed in advance, as part of a viable operational budget.
Explaining that this is a direct extension of the growing popularity of subscription-based services, Louden shares, “We now have a consumer who expects an ‘all-you-can-eat’ offering with a consistent, predictable monthly spend, because it makes it easier for them to forecast and budget. Flat rate billing provides a way to meet that expectation. We’ve worked with industry partners to develop a variety of flat rate billing models that meet customer demand for a single consistent monthly payment, while also building protections in to ensure our dealers don’t get burned by unlimited usage.”
Coxe recommends a measured approach to increase the chance of successful SMB program launches. “Unfortunately, there is no Magic 8 Ball to predict program success with absolute certainty. But to substantially increase your chances to see both a meaningful impact and clear return on investment, it’s really about implementing one key process and solution at a time.”
He adds, “Dividing and conquering is the name of the game here. There are limits to the amount of change a company may be able to handle at one time. Implementing quality solutions to centralize workflows and processes is sometimes a function of scaling down solutions and software at the outset. From piecemeal deployment and the gradual department expansion of software solutions to particular processes toward paper reduction to print audit deployment restricting or rerouting print jobs to more efficient devices, a tiered approach that can be appropriately scaled is best.”
Louden concurs, “The combination of the right tools and the right processes can result in maximized efficiency. We see more end-customers taking pause to closely examine their processes before putting a workflow solution to work, and third-party providers are instrumental to the assessment of the end-user’s environment, from recommendations for workflow software to streamlining internal processes.”
Despite the price tag for the most sophisticated solutions available in the market today, with a clear acknowledgment of leading SMB needs in the MPS and document management arena, providers can creatively deliver winning solutions with enterprise-grade value at a viable price point.
Noelle Kull is Principal of KCI, a strategic communications consultancy based in Chicago. A trusted partner to startups and the Fortune 100 alike, she translates thought leader insights to compelling content in verticals spanning med tech and manufacturing to higher ed and beyond. A global citizen passionate about cultural exploration and modern technology, you can find her penning magazine bylines in Budapest, ghostwriting books in Chiang Mai, and leading desk-side media tours in New York City.