Digitalization, the MFP and the Mobile Worker

As the office market has evolved from desktops to mobile, the multifunction printer (MFP) has evolved as well. Not only is the MFP the critical printer for high impact color documents in the office, it is also a fundamental element of the digital ecosystem with its scan and mobile integration. In this sense, the MFP bridges the gap between the paper and digital environment. Today, in addition to print, copy, scan and fax, MFPs offer connectivity and fully integrated workflow solutions.

“People want to print from mobile devices.” That statement was frequently met with skepticism in the early days of mobile, but it has become a requirement in today’s office environment as technology has progressed. Phones, tablets and other mobile devices are common features of the workplace, and the desire and need to print from those devices is increasing as well. Solutions have improved dramatically from the early days, and it is common for MFPs to support numerous different printing methods including  Apple AirPrint, Bluetooth, Google Cloud Print and wireless printing over the network.

Looking back at the history of mobile print, the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend in the office environment was seen as a leading force behind the push for mobile printing — and indeed, BYOD has been a factor behind the change in work habits over the past few years. But now mobile devices in the workplace are often company-sanctioned and issued, making mobile technologies an expected part of the workplace. Gartner found that total mobile sales into the enterprise globally are greater than 200,000 units per year, while PCs are half that, with the PC installed base on a steady decline since 2014 and the mobile installed base on the rise.

Tablet usage has become increasingly commonplace in the business sector, and today’s tablets are equipped and designed for business applications. Hybrid tablet PCs can easily switch back and forth from tablet to laptop mode, many Android devices come with integrated keyboards and additional USB ports, the iPad Pro’s smart keyboard is essential to maximizing its capabilities, the Windows 10 platform was designed to work on the Microsoft Surface tablet, and as of iOS 11, Apple has file management capabilities and a MacBook-like dock geared specifically toward making the iPad a laptop replacement. Mobile devices have taken aggressive steps to penetrate the office.

Beyond device penetration is the issue of the mobile worker — who is no longer strictly someone who works remotely, travels as part of the job or does not have a traditional corporate office. In reality, nearly everyone in corporations today is a mobile worker because they use mobile technology to access email and other work-related content when not at the office. Studies have shown that more than 75 percent of the U.S. workforce today has some form of mobility associated with their job.

Yet it has admittedly taken a while for business users to seamlessly print from their mobile devices. This is partially because print wasn’t always simple, like many of the other mobile functions. As noted earlier, printer and MFP manufacturers have recently made great strides in integrating simple and streamlined mobile print solutions. In the early days, printing from a mobile device was often a convoluted process without any real ability to print directly from a specific application. The changes in this landscape, with user-friendly mobile print solutions providing secure printing and automatic device discovery, have gone a long way toward mobile print’s adoption in the workplace.

The growing desire for mobile printing is also demonstrated in research. While at one point many studies showed business users were happy enough without the capability, lately these trends are changing. A recent IDC study found that 75 percent of users consider the business value of mobile printing to be similar to PC printing with another 15 percent saying it is even greater.

One thing that does seem clear, however, is that mobile devices are at best a mitigating influence on office print volumes. Overall volumes are already declining, and technological advancements will only fuel the transition from print to display. As mobile device penetration is inevitable, the number of individuals utilizing that technology for business purposes is growing exponentially. Many business functions can be performed electronically with no need for printed output. What’s the impact on printing in the future? Even if mobile printing does not bridge the print volume gap, it is not the end of the MFP, which still has a valuable role to play.

is Director of Business Imaging at Epson America, and leads the marketing of Epson’s WorkForce products into North America, including the revolutionary new 100-page-a-minute WorkForce Enterprise WF-C20590 printer. He is an industry veteran with more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience.