by Greg Walters | 9/19/14

The other day I Tweeted, “Is #Apple part of Mopria? With digital content growing, wouldn't it make sense to print from my Apple Watch?” My point was with all the fanfare and hoopla, printing is never mentioned. Users rarely think about printing and when they do, it’s a pain. 

The Apple Watch is the latest example of the shrinking relevancy of the printed document. Granted, the category is consumer based, but the Apple Watch and iOS 8 represent the fading frontier between B2C and B2B . More employees are bringing devices to work because the devices are easier to use and present information in the manner that is pleasing to the consumer. That’s all. If paper were more relevant, we’d all have the daily under our arms and my watch would only tell time.

But that’s not happening, is it? 

Consider the lowly photocopier. Once the hub of communication, copiers hummed along churning out everything from memos, file copies of invoices and bound reports. Today, more information is read off a screen in your lap, or palm of your hand than ever before. Tomorrow, your wrist.

The Apple Watch is just the tip of the iceberg. Technology and society are churning into a digital world with less paper – it’s just the way it is. What to do? I’m no expert but I can tell you what I’ve seen and recommended to clients just like you over the past four years.

Move more towards EDM, workflow, ECM, content

Yeah, I know, we’ve been saying this for decades – “Sell solutions.” We were solving business problems with stapling, duplex and 75 ppm – back then, real business solutions were supported by three-hole punch. #sarcasm #stillhappenstoday.

I am not a big fan of shrink-wrapped applications that require on-premise server installation. And I do not believe any application designed to increase productivity should require a team of implementers and trainers. The system should work intuitively. 

I do, however, believe in business expertise relative to software knowledge. Don’t show me how it works, show my how it helps. 

Moving into software/EDM/solutions is less about packages and specifications and more about the people who evangelize the business benefits. This expertise is worth three times traditional sales talent. In this vein, I suggest hiring business consultants over SME/software experts. Somebody possessing real-world experience in the business benefits and challenges related to the software solution – not an expert in the software. The trick here is fighting through legacy cost of sales algorithms and hiring the right person. It can be done, but requires a shift in mentality and business models.

Get out of the hardware business – well, focus less on copiers/printers

I know this runs contrary to all your beliefs and most OEM talk tracks. They're telling you things like the economy will turn around and businesses will start copying again, all while looking for better ways to bring different products and services to market, with or without you. Those who have been successful during periods of transformation have left the hardware behind. Specifically, they understand hardware margins or low and supplies revenue under threat. 

Investigate on your own. For instance, 3D printing is interesting and if you have a solid wide-format presence, you may have some built-in leads. Digital signage is new and has a content delivery (recurring revenue) model; perhaps opening a new division is the answer.

Managed services is the next logical and new area for growth – or is it? The cloud is making server, workstation and most infrastructure hardware zero-margin opportunities, leaving services as the next expansion area.  I contend that as we’ve noticed in MPS, the cloud will reduce the need for as many VARs because the need for hardware support and expertise is diminishing – most tasks can are accomplished remotely. And get this, some providers who’ve left equipment quotas in the rearview end up selling more hardware than before. It’s true. It’s called attraction.

Split the crew — leadership

There is a great value in turning your business upside down, but don’t burn the ships on the beach just yet. Maintain your MIF and expand above and beyond by segregating the talent — equipment and business services. Keep the hardware specialists and develop a team comprised of people who don't want to sell copiers yet possesses a higher level of business acumen. They understand the difference between accounts receivables and accounts payable, and how to read a P/L. This team should be compensated under a separate model.

Then assign a high impact, credible "introductions facilitator” as lead for your new division. This is the person who can pick up the phone and secure appointments for the business consultant. I recommend the owner.

When the original iPad was released on April 3, 2010, the ability to print was not a standard capability. If it wasn’t for our industry pointing this out, it may never have become a feature. Think what you may about Apple, smartphones and print, the facts remain the same, there are greener fields elsewhere.

One last thing 

I realize the above the recommendations aren’t for everyone and are extreme examples. That’s the point. I’ve seen these recommendations deliver good results for some, not so good for others. Stretching the boundaries of what is real today in your mind is the first step. Regardless, our industry is constantly turbulent, and we’ve always got to be on the lookout for new ideas, new methods and business models.

Good luck with yours!


A prolific writer, frequent speaker, and hyper-charged freelancer, Greg Walters shares his passionate, unique and provocative view on technology, addressing the digital impact on 21st century business and the new way of work and society. His book, Death of the Copier, published in 2014, offers a controversial summary of the early days managed print services and the not-so-distant future of the hard-copy industry. For four years, he was part of and then rebuilt a managed print services practice inside a West Coast VAR/MSP. Over the last three years he has been assisting companies with optimizing their IT portfolio of services, analyzing information workflow and processes, building self-supporting MpS programs inside IT departments and creating and implementing print policies for medium to large businesses. His company, Greg Walters Inc., is a bold consulting and content creation firm helping companies optimize processes and communicate their stories. Contact him at