by Toni DuGal, Novitex

With major computing trends today’s norm – Mobile, Internet of Things, Big Data – it’s hard to imagine the Managed Print Services (MPS) of the past and how MPS revenues reached $18.9 billion in 2013, according to the Photizo Group. Over the past 15 years, the MPS market has changed dramatically from the number and types of vendors who offered MPS to how those vendors systematically removed the human element from MPS – severely hampering client relationships. To understand why the market took that drastic shift and the steps it needs to take to become human again, we first need to take a trip down memory lane.

The good old days

In the late 90s, MPS focused on enabling the placement of high volume copying devices with simple finishing features closer to employees within the office. To help ease the acquisition costs for customers, vendors bundled the costs of equipment, consumables and support services within financial models. Due to the increased complexity of the devices, vendors managed and serviced that equipment by providing onsite customer support to perform simple break/fix tasks, toner replacement, and to gather usage information for billing. These resources directly managed the availability of the devices with little to no reliance on customer employees.

Lack of human interaction

However, as facilities and IT business leaders were asked to reduce budgets beyond levels already achieved, they turned to previously unmanaged devices within the print environment – workgroup and personal printers – to uncover additional savings opportunities. The digital printing age was born. Vendors provided solutions that included devices that converged copy, print, fax, and scan features, driving significant reductions in the numbers of devices. Vendors also touted innovative tools that monitored equipment usage and provided notifications when toner or service was needed without requiring human intervention.

One downside to these solutions is that they were delivered and managed via remotely located resources. No one can load paper, change toner cartridges, or clear paper jams in the devices using remote technology or personnel. Those services must be performed locally at the device and within MPS solutions most often that task falls to customer knowledge workers. Customer employees now needed to observe the error on a device and then place a call to a help desk or call center where they were often forced through computerized selections or on hold for long periods of time. Employees were also required to attend training sessions to learn and perform the tasks of replacing toner cartridges and loading paper as well as the expanded features of the devices – all of which lead to decreased productivity.

This productivity impact is once again driving a change within MPS customers. They can no longer tolerate the productivity loss on employees that a low-touch, self-service model causes. Customer employees have businesses to run or other value-added responsibilities that drive company results, and their productivity is eroded when tasked with device support activities such as fixing a broken printer.

Additionally, the consolidation of devices that drives the majority of the initial cost savings within an MPS solution increases the criticality level of the performance of output devices that remain in the managed environment. The result is an increased need for faster service levels and agreements to repair devices within specific timeframes.

The future of MPS: The human element

In order to help solve this problem, reduce the impact on customer employees and to increase the service levels within MPS solutions, the industry needs to get back to its roots by providing onsite labor, process and professional services. While providing clients with onsite support will help alleviate some of the aforementioned problems, it’s important to make sure onsite resources are properly trained to not only deal with various MPS-related problems, but on how to be an integral part of the customer’s culture.

Vendors must consider on-the-ground employees as an extension of each customer’s culture. Onsite support teams interact with end-users day in and day out, and thus it’s essential for them to be properly integrated with a customer’s operations. To achieve a seamless integration vendors must provide continuous training to prepare them to embody a customer’s culture. For example, by leveraging a web-based portal, onsite employees have the opportunity to participate in e-learning, enroll in training sessions and receive online tutorials on new policies and procedures for their respective customers. Additionally, by creating training programs tailored to a customer environment, vendors can promote a customer’s culture and create brand ambassadors.

Aside from focusing on a customer’s culture, vendors should place an emphasis on service delivery including the fundamentals of customer service and how to effectively communicate. Plus, these programs teach employees how to be respectful, diplomatic and efficient in addressing client concerns. The cumulative effect of this training prepares onsite employees to operate more efficiently at a customer site.

By properly integrating vendor employees into a customer environment, it provides those employees with an opportunity to help streamline MPS and other document management processes. Vendor employees learn the critical elements of the various document workflows within the customer environment and can spot inefficiencies or opportunities to reduce print and behaviors that increase costs. For example, sending large jobs to more costly distributed devices versus routing those jobs to more cost-effective centralized reprographics centers is just one of the inefficiencies an onsite employee may notice. Onsite employees can provide on-the-spot education and coaching to drive the adoption of scanning and routing technologies to further reduce unnecessary steps within workflow processes and create fewer printed pages.

Over the course of the next five years, businesses will continue to be asked to drive performance higher while reducing costs, and, while overall printed page volumes will likely continue to decline, employees will still rely upon devices to generate pages. MPS providers will need to expand their expertise about the customer’s specific business processes in order to continue to bring innovation and value within service agreements. Integrating people to support the environment with industry expertise and to positively impact the workflow through intelligence analytics about document usage is the challenge of the future for vendors.

As companies identify their requirements for MPS solutions and engage with vendors to evaluate capabilities and costs, be mindful to consider the impact the requested or proposed solution has on your employees. Pay attention to the expectations of customer-provided actions and activities that will lead to productivity drains. Require higher service levels from the vendors to reduce device downtime where significant consolidation has occurred. Select a vendor who can broaden your document workflow improvements beyond the office and include the integration of other document lifecycle on-ramps and off-ramps such as copy centers, mail rooms, and scanning processes. Bring the vendor’s employees back into your selected solution to minimize the productivity impact on your business and maximize your opportunities to implement process improvements. By doing so, you will select the right vendor to meet your MPS needs, which will drive faster business results leading to lower total costs and happier employees.

Toni DuGal is the Vice President of Solution Services at Novitex, where she leads the development of Novitex’s MPS practice. Prior to Novitex she was the Vice President of Professional Services and Transition at Xerox and Director, US MPS Service Delivery at Hewlett-Packard.

This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of The Imaging Channel.