Technology Trends in the Era of the Pivot

Information management and digital technology trends have been on an accelerated trajectory necessitated by the onset of COVID-19, and the needs of Managed Print Services (MPS) customers are evolving more rapidly than expected. Before the global pandemic, many industries were on a very deliberate, methodical path toward digital transformation that was dramatically accelerated this past year, and while none of these changes were surprising, the speed of implementation was remarkable and unexpected—and it was essential.

businessperson making a turn

Those of us that have been building toward digital services transformation for several years were well prepared to identify opportunities that would help customers across many industries during this time. We’re discovering that the new normal we’re currently living will be the new normal we had previously envisioned; the pandemic merely sped up how quickly we got here and how receptive our customers were to change and to embrace many of the trends that were already underway. 

We’re at an important point in time today, where customers require the ability to do business and move information in a much more remote—and highly secured—manner. That all has to be done digitally with access to the right cloud-connected workflow software and proper cybersecurity measures in place. Digitization also provides us with the technology needed to meet another important customer requirement: addressing the health and safety of individuals who are returning to physical workspaces. Let’s start with this most important concern.

Returning to the physical workplace

While the actual workspace and tools might differ depending on whether a company is planning a full return or a hybrid workplace/remote work scenario, personal health and safety will continue to be a top priority, and organizations are responsible for deciding what information management and digital transformation services and solutions best help them address this critical issue. A company’s most important assets are its people.

Proper health, safety and security measures will need to be built into plans, and technology will play a key role with digital tools like intelligent mail delivery, cloud-based collaboration tools for in-person and remote office collaboration, automation of facility requests, touchless or low touch device management, workflow automation and other important offerings for on-premise and remote teams. Additionally, safety measures such as entrance kiosks for wellness screening and automated temperature checks will be paramount, as well as personnel density and physical distancing analysis tools to accommodate social distancing protocols for in-office teams to feel safe in the work environment. 

Ultimately, companies that will see the greatest success in their return to office plans will be ones that prioritize health and safety and simplify the complexities associated with returning to in-person work. This requires a thoughtful, holistic approach tailored to the technologies and services they need in their unique environment as part of their individual plans to return to a physical workspace. 

Cloud computing and the edge  

As the nature of the workplace evolves to include more hybrid and remote office environments and enterprises continue to look for ways to work faster, smarter and more collaboratively from a wide variety of locations, it’s going to be increasingly important for customers to have access to MFP-connected cloud workflow services. This will be especially important in the post-pandemic workplace, where remote, hybrid and home office employees will rely on “smart” connected MFPs to accomplish critical business functions, often without the benefit of IT support. Cloud services and workflow tools help organizations simply and securely execute automated workflows that can streamline document-centric tasks and improve productivity, extending time savings beyond routine document routing and printing. What’s more, when combined with subscription-based services offerings, organizations using these valuable workflows require no capital expenditures, onsite servers, or special software for rapid implementation. Whereas the MFP used to be the center of the office galaxy, now it becomes a key edge device within the office universe. This is similar to how a smartphone started out as a phone; now it’s a connected edge device that does a lot more than handle phone calls. An office MFP used to copy and print, now it’s an edge device that can process, collect and distribute information to anywhere, any workflow and anybody.

Getting the most out of cloud-hosted automation services and achieving the highest speed and greatest functionality requires adding technology and services to create a more robust MFP platform—one that is essentially an edge device. The trend toward speeding up access to data by putting it as close as possible to the end user device greatly reduces latency time and speeds up productivity, overall. In this way, an MFP that has integrated information management software solutions built in works much more intelligently for the consumer and enables the workforce to better share and collaborate remotely. 


We also have to consider the health of our IT systems and networks, and data security is paramount. With the shift to remote and hybrid office environments over the past year, it became vital to deploy solutions that could be accessed from anywhere, effectively, efficiently and securely. Ransomware attacks are quickly becoming one of the top security threats to organizations worldwide. Encrypted files and documents are essentially held hostage when these types of cyberattacks occur, which can infect a business’s entire network and drastically impact productivity, data integrity and overall operation.

With remote office work creating a new point of entry into the corporate network, IT departments have increased focus on corporate data security and are enhancing security across the board. As a result of this trend, networks are improving to support remote requirements, and many are benefiting from work-from-home packages and solutions that directly address this issue and keep security at the forefront. 

As an edge device, the MFP is an important component to a larger security ecosystem, and as general network security improves, the MFP security requirements must meet that requirement with software and services that support more secured workflows. Many products and workflows are available today to allow only authorized access to MFPs through authentication for specific jobs requiring a secured print or capture workflow. Most offerings include a highly secured product and workflow capability right out of the box that can be tailored to offer more advanced security solutions based on specific customer requirements. A viable MPS program must be focused on print security and putting mechanisms in place to help protect devices and information across multiple networks and between various systems. These requirements are table stakes for any edge device manufacturer.

The consumerization effect

Consumers expect to have the ability to automatically update the elements within their devices and the ability to mix and match software applications to their immediate and evolving needs. The trend toward the consumerization of everything means that people expect functionality and convenience the moment they need it—and they want to personalize it. This expectation is growing as consumers become more accustomed to the availability of things like Siri and Alexa for voice engagement and automated, fully connected smart homes. 

There’s no reason this expectation wouldn’t or shouldn’t apply to billing models associated with one’s information management and digital transformation solutions, which is where the subscription-based print model comes in. Rather than paying a rigid flat monthly or annual fee, subscriptions allow customers to pay as they go and pay for what they use — not what they don’t. It offers the flexibility consumers have come to expect in all aspects of their lives, and it helps address the unpredictability of today’s fluctuating print volumes. Today, print services customers need to see value embedded into their monthly fee that is consistent, easy to understand and covers the full management and life cycle of the device. 

Consumerization is therefore driving smarter offices that intelligently integrate MFP hardware, software, applications and technology to enable seamless workflows that meet business needs more quickly and easily. Importantly, this ecosystem must be scalable and capable of growing with business demand, with the functionality to install the most current features and interface enhancements the moment they become available — the way smartphones and PCs are updated today. This approach to providing the most current technology brings cloud workflow solutions used for large enterprises to the SMB space and can provide a new user experience and embedded artificial intelligence for a wide variety of tailored experiences.

Flexibility, ingenuity and creativity

Regardless of the specific technology trend at hand, one of the more significant overarching lessons reinforced over the past year is the importance of resilience, agility and open-mindedness in business leadership. Oftentimes, these require ramping up on education and training around new or different technologies and ways of doing business to best support customers. Most of us have had to pivot from being not only trusted print providers but also consultative partners in helping customers meet their overall information management and digital transformation needs. We’ve had the opportunity to become a more holistic provider of real customer value to address new business challenges while simultaneously ramping up for future opportunities and evolving technology trends. We must be the ones our customers depend on to support their business needs in these challenging times. 

Steven Burger is Vice President, Technology Innovation & New Business Development, Ricoh USA, Inc.