Navigating the Future of Office Technology: Challenges, Opportunities, and Strategies for Dealer Success

As businesses navigate the ever-evolving landscape of office technology, dealers are finding themselves at the forefront of a changing paradigm. The traditional model of providing print hardware solutions faces unprecedented challenges marked by a shift to hybrid work, flat to declining print volumes, the rise of artificial intelligence in the workplace, and mounting pressure to embrace sustainability. However, within these challenges lies a silver lining for a new and promising beginning.

In this article, we will explore the obstacles facing office technology dealers today and uncover strategic pathways to not only overcome these hurdles, but to thrive in the future. From redefining their role as information consultants to expanding into new markets and championing customers’ sustainability initiatives, dealers are primed to emerge as indispensable partners for businesses on the road to digital transformation.

The shift to hybrid work environments

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the traditional office environment has undergone a seismic shift. While many companies have been steadily bringing employees back into offices in 2024, businesses are increasingly embracing hybrid work models that combine remote and in-person collaboration.

Based on ongoing survey data collected by Gallup since 2020, hybrid is currently the most dominant work pattern, with five in 10 people working part of the week at home, and it is projected to be the most prevalent work arrangement going forward. Companies are also reducing their overall office footprints, with around 50% of global companies planning to trim office space in the next three years, according to Knight Frank.

This transition requires a new approach from dealers, who must navigate the changing needs and demands of their clients. But as businesses grapple with the complexities of hybrid work, what emerges for dealers is a compelling opportunity to redefine their role from primarily selling and servicing print hardware to strategic information consultants. With their expertise in both hardware and software solutions, office technology dealers are well positioned to showcase themselves as indispensable advisors who can help businesses optimize their digital workflows and enhance productivity in hybrid work settings.

While the industry has seen a decline in print volumes, print remains a cornerstone of an office technology infrastructure, and multifunction printers (MFPs) continue to play a pivotal role in facilitating communication and information sharing within hybrid environments. By optimizing businesses’ print infrastructures around a centralized MFP with cloud solutions and workflows, and integrating digital collaboration and virtual communication tools, office technology dealers can lay the foundation for uninterrupted productivity and a seamless workplace experience for employees who bounce between their homes and the office.

What makes dealers stand out particularly among the myriad of individual vendors is their unique expertise in both hardware and software solutions that allows them to offer holistic recommendations tailored to the specific needs of clients, as well as address concerns about data security for teams working remotely. Leveraging their expertise in designing and managing complex print networks, dealers will inevitably build their reputation as trusted advisors who can guide businesses over the hurdles of adopting a hybrid work model and deliver tangible value, all while positioning themselves for long-term success in a rapidly evolving marketplace.

The rise and impact of artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is not merely a technological advancement; it is a transformative force fundamentally reshaping the future of work and becoming increasingly integral to businesses’ operations and customer interactions. It is already impacting office technology and will be a key component of product development going forward, particularly as manufacturers are making strategic investments and partnerships in the technology to accelerate customers’ digital transformation.

A recent global survey by Slack found that the adoption of AI tools has accelerated by 24% compared to the previous quarter, as of January 2024, with automating workflows being one of the top tasks workers indicated as seeing the most value from AI. Customer expectations are clear, and as they continue to evolve driven by the need to manage and act on large datasets, dealers are challenged with making sense of AI and how to remain competitive and relevant in their respective markets.

The opportunity is there for dealers to embrace AI and process automation as value-add solutions within their portfolio. With their already deep understanding of print technology and proven track records in designing solutions to meet the unique needs of businesses, dealers who become knowledgeable in AI can be an invaluable source to navigate businesses through the integration of AI into their digital workflows.

AI offers numerous benefits for office technology dealers, as data interpretation and predictive analytics can significantly improve their technical operations. Proactive device self-repair features will reduce service calls, allowing dealers to focus on more critical issues. And when a technician is needed, dealers using AI can access and analyze vast sets of technical data from the device prior to dispatch, making service calls more efficient and increasing customer satisfaction. Dealers also have the potential to provide real-time dashboards and analytics that interpret data into actionable business insights for customers to act on to further streamline workflows and automate repetitive tasks, ultimately unlocking new levels of efficiency, productivity, and innovation in their digital transformation journey.

Adapting to declining print volumes

There’s no denying that companies are printing less. As digital transformation progresses, the prevalence of paperless workflows will inevitably increase, with businesses relying more heavily on digital communication and documentation, thus lowering future demand for traditional print solutions. This poses a threat to the growth and longevity of office technology dealerships. Yet, amidst this challenge, dealers have a unique opportunity, and surprisingly, it exists in print: Expanding their portfolio and embracing new revenue streams by diversifying into production and commercial print solutions.

Rather than viewing decreasing traditional print and copy volumes as a barrier, forward-thinking dealers can leverage this shift in demand to explore new markets and capitalize on emerging opportunities in the graphic communications industry.

Despite this overall decline, there remains a robust demand for production solutions, particularly in areas such as marketing, publishing, and graphic design. Businesses are increasingly turning to production print for personalized marketing materials, on-demand publishing, and short-run printing jobs they can produce in-house, presenting a lucrative market for office technology dealers to tap into.

Diversifying into production print offers several advantages for office technology dealers. By expanding their product portfolio to include production print hardware and software, dealers can broaden their customer base, mitigate the impact of declining print volumes, and position themselves as comprehensive providers of print solutions tailored to the evolving needs of businesses in the digital age.

To effectively capitalize on this opportunity, office technology dealers should first identify and target specific markets where their expertise and offerings align. Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), as well as industries with centralized reprographics departments (CRDs) – such as healthcare, education, and state-and-local government – represent ideal markets for traditional print dealers to dip their toes into production with entry-level, light-production solutions to augment their high-speed A3 offerings.

By strategically investing in and expanding their presence in these markets, dealers can establish a foothold in the production print segment, paving the way for future growth and expansion as production dealerships that can support large print services providers (PSPs) and commercial and franchise printers with high-production products, such as cut-sheet, roll-fed inkjet, and wide format platforms.

Meeting the demand for sustainability

With heightened environmental awareness throughout the world, businesses are feeling more pressure to adopt sustainable practices across all aspects of their operations. This includes the print industry, where the environmental impacts of paper usage have become a primary focus.

Data from Quocirca suggests that sustainability is set to be the leading priority for businesses by 2025. From their survey of IT decision makers, Quocirca found 50% say their company’s net-zero goal influences print supplier selection to a great extent. How can office technology dealers maintain relevancy when the odds seem stacked against them with reducing paper being a top priority in addressing environmental concerns?

Dealers have a unique opportunity to also position themselves as trusted advisors for businesses seeking to adopt sustainable print practices. From their expertise with office technology and their close relationships with manufacturers, dealers can play a key role in steering businesses toward more environmentally friendly print solutions and overall sustainable business practices.

By leveraging sustainability resources and training available to them from OEMs, dealers are uniquely positioned to help businesses optimize their print infrastructures, where they can lead customers through the products, services, and solutions that offer the best environmental and sustainable printing benefits for their operations. This includes reducing paper waste, minimizing energy consumption, and lowering carbon emissions. Furthermore, dealers can conduct energy and consumption assessments, and present customers with dashboards providing data to evaluate and act on to reduce their carbon footprint.

Sustainability might just be the most important value-added differentiator for dealers to win new business in the future. And the benefits extend far beyond the bottom line, as their reputation will ultimately grow throughout industries as vital resources of support to businesses in maintaining operational efficiency while meeting their broader sustainability goals.

As the journey continues

The challenges facing office technology dealers today are indeed formidable. However, within these challenges lie opportunities for dealers to reinvent themselves with a promise of continued growth.

Taking steps now to evolve from providers of print hardware and solutions to strategic information consultants, dealers will be in better shape to handle the ongoing demands of businesses’ digital transformation journeys. By diversifying their portfolios, embracing sustainability practices, and integrating AI and automation solutions, dealers can not only overcome these challenges, but set themselves up to flourish in the future landscape of the office technology industry.

As businesses continue to navigate the complexities of hybrid work and the modern workplace, office technology dealers who ultimately embrace change will remain trusted partners to guide them toward success in a digital-first world.  

Scott Dabice
Scott Dabice

Scott Dabice is Vice President, Commercial Strategy and Operations, Ricoh USA, Inc.