Connecting SMBs With the Digitization Tools They Need – and Can Afford

While it’s true that large enterprises often have more eye-catching budgets, channel partners shouldn’t overlook small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). SMBs employ more than half of the U.S. population, drive innovation, and create about two of every three new jobs.  They are a critical part of the channel partner sales base and desire what enterprises want in terms of security, mobility, customization, productivity, and above all else, digitization. The trick is figuring out what tools and solutions partners can offer SMBs that meet their budgets.

In a world where conducting business is progressively mobile, moving at a rapid speed, and increasingly competitive, the ability to streamline and digitize businesses processes is of paramount importance. From healthcare practices to law offices, churches to real estate firms, smaller organizations also need partners’ help to accelerate the movement toward digitization and away from historically paper-intensive processes.

Not only is this movement important, but it’s evident that these companies aspire to it as well. Just like their enterprise counterparts, SMBs carefully plan their budgets and spending by looking at economic trends or disruptions that could impact consumer spending, labor costs and other expenses. The National Federation of Independent Businesses found that 16 percent of SMB owners are expecting higher sales and better business conditions in 2017, and they’re actively planning job creation and expansions to fill those expectations. Those expansions likely include investments in new equipment to improve workflows. With so many new products and solutions available to help SMBs streamline their workflows and improve productivity, smart business owners are looking to make strategic business purchases. They want affordable, practical equipment that is easy to use, has built in security features and won’t become obsolete before their team has figured out how to use it.

Challenges to Digitization

So what is standing in the way of SMBs meeting their aspirations for improved workflow? A recent international study performed by Coleman Parkes Research and commissioned by Xerox surveyed more than 1,000 companies in the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany to get a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing SMBs. The respondents ranged from operations managers, IT managers and owners to CTOs, painting a clear picture of today’s SMB needs. The research confirmed that numerous opportunities exist for SMBs across the US and Europe to significantly improve their productivity and save both time and money through the digitization of paper-intensive processes and streamlining their document workflows.

The majority of SMBs are still running on paper-intensive processes, with only 1 percent reporting otherwise (see chart below). A whopping 46 percent of respondents reported that they waste time daily because of these processes, with billing/invoicing, business/financial reporting and HR forms named as the most common. More than 80 percent of the businesses polled want to cut paper out of these processes, and it’s no wonder. Digitization will not only help cut costs, but also simplify the processes themselves, saving time and improving productivity.

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Though the majority of respondents want to digitize processes, only 1 in 5 respondents were aware of existing paper-free solutions in the market, making channel partners a valuable resource in an industry that’s about to undergo a profound shift.

Another challenge SMBs face is the ascent of the digital world – meaning work is no longer confined to the office, but happens anywhere and everywhere, at all hours of the day. This makes mobile print a necessity, not a luxury. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, the same can be said for improving document workflows. While digitization is the first step to improving productivity and cutting costs, mobile print and better document workflows are necessary complements. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of survey respondents envision their mobile devices being integrated with their workflow processes by 2018. Two-thirds of respondents include printing in their mobility initiatives, and 27 percent more will do so within the year.

Solutions to Solve the Problems

As SMBs embark on their digitization journey, it’s important for them to understand how technology can support their vision and strategy to achieve successful digital transformation. Currently, it’s evident there’s a disconnect between understanding the solutions that exist and how they can solve SMBs’ most frustrating pain points. This is where channel partners can step in – partners can help connect the dots for customers by aligning their digitization needs with cost effective product offerings and solutions such as multifunction printers (MFPs) and managed print services (MPS).

Multifunction Printers

The MFPs sitting in many SMB offices right now are likely outdated and inefficient. Newer MFPs, however, function like a workplace assistant – they do more than just print, scan, copy and fax. Today’s MFPs improve SMB productivity and centralize capabilities like single-pass scanning, mobile connectivity and customized workflows all in one device. They offer more intuitive user experiences, replacing old buttons with tablet-like touchscreens that can be customized based on the user or work environment. Many new MFPs are also application-enabled to extend the capabilities of the machine with time and money saving solutions to help boost productivity by streamlining business processes and solving workflow obstacles. As an example, some apps resident on the MFP are available to help with document translation, and others are available that can convert a number table on a printed piece of paper into an Excel file.

The range of apps is not limited to those on the MFP itself – there are also pre-packaged apps available to help SMBs scan to email or to the cloud, as well as apps developed for verticals such as healthcare. Partners can create custom apps and personalized solutions to fit an SMB’s specific needs and these custom solutions have the potential to strengthen client relations, drive new sales and create opportunities in new markets.

Many devices are also mobile and cloud-ready, allowing users to save or upload their work from their MFP to cloud accounts, or print wirelessly from computing devices while they work in the office or remotely. Newer MFPs are also more secure, keeping confidential communications and information safe with encryption and image overwrite, and protecting data and the device from malicious intent. Printers with capabilities like this were previously only accessible to large enterprises. Now, with new product offerings, these are within reach of smaller businesses as well. Partners simply need to make SMBs aware that they are no longer excluded, and that these options are affordable. Many devices with these capabilities are between $700 – $1,000 – a very affordable price for any small business.

Managed Print Services

MPS is a key component to digitization as well. Many SMBs realize this – according to the Coleman Parkes Research study mentioned previously, 42 percent of respondents have an MPS solution in place, while another 40 percent plan to adopt an MPS solution within 12 months. MPS is about much more than just printers – it’s everything related to printers, their output, supplies and support, the way customers use documents, and the people and processes that intersect with each of these. The right MPS solution starts with device optimization to save costs and then leverages capabilities, innovation and automation for better document security, productivity and sustainability.

MPS assessment tools also provide analytics that help SMBs understand things like current operating costs and performance data across devices, which helps customers gain visibility and control of document processes and costs. These tools can also help SMBs model things like “what-if” scenarios to estimate device capacity. This ultimately saves them money, automates steps, boosts productivity, and improves document security and environmental sustainability. Having the technology to quickly analyze these elements is a huge value-add service for SMBs—and another offering that many SMBs don’t know exists.

Additionally, these services can be customized for each specific customer to extend MPS capabilities, innovation and automation. Whether SMBs are looking to hit their sustainability goals, keep endpoints secure or increase mobile workflow productivity, channel partners can offer MPS solutions that align with these needs.

When introducing MFPs and MPS as possible new solutions, channel partners should take on the role of advisers and educators for their customers. Customization is a great way to match products and solutions to an SMB’s unique needs, and the owners of these businesses are the type of people open to input and advice. They are the people who dream big; the ones who see opportunities where others see challenges, and who are willing to take tiny steps toward their goal no matter how far they have to travel. They also understand the critical importance of execution, but are not afraid to make mistakes or to fail. They are willing to quickly change course when an approach isn’t working, and to ask for help when they need it.

By familiarizing themselves with the needs and goals of SMBs, channel partners can become subject-matter experts and trusted advisers on how certain solutions match specific needs. Taking time to understand the advantages of these offerings and talking to prospective customers about how solutions align to goals like increased productivity and cost-reduction will set partners up to capitalize on SMBs moving toward a fully digital workplace.

Leah Quesada

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of The Imaging Channel