Workflow Prime — More Questions Than Answers

This guest blog was contributed by Greg Walters | 4/30/13
We’ve been traveling the imaging ecosystem together for some time now. What started back in 2008 as a basement hobby is now a bona fide endeavor. Together, we’ve seen all types of managed print services players: professionals, posers, teachers, and cool-aide drinkers.  Over the past five years we’ve lived through the greatest technological shift in history, watching our technology titans try to steady themselves on foundations of sand, shedding the chafe and the devoted as they fell. 

A new hope.

Has it been that long?

You and I, we’ve been traveling the imaging ecosystem together for sometime now.  What started back in 2008, as a basement hobby, is a bonafide endeavor.  Together, we’ve seen all types of managed print services players: professionals, posers, teachers, and cool-aide drinkers.  Over the past five years we’ve lived through the greatest technological shift in history, watching our technology titans try to steady themselves on foundations of sand, shedding the chafe and the devoted as they fell. 

During this time, nay-sayers, doom-dealers, outsiders and toner-head-diehards outliving non-compete agreements, trespassed for a moment, only to run screaming into the night,  “Managed print services is difficult!”

So we were left to our own devices.  Funny word, “Devices”, since 2007, the number of devices sold by the OEMs has dropped – pundits and analysts alike say we’ll never see those days again.  

The Old Ones, those trusted manufacturers of devices, failed to forecast the coming storm.  Worse, when the writing on the wall was finally revealed, they ignored it.  Secretly trying to change while evangelizing the printed word, professing the return to normalcy was just a quarter away.  Selling a false hope.

But some of us did see it coming.  

Around the same time, Managed Print Services morphed into a solidified entity.  Of course, it was instantly assaulted as “spin”. The smart ones talked about how MpS would usher in the demise of one age and the beginning of another. They defined optimization as reducing machines, shrinking cost and reducing volume.  Struggling against fate, the establishment fought to define MpS in their own likeness – how could they advocate a philosophy which espouses the extinction of their product?  So they hid behind marketing budgets and joined the MpS movement.

Today, everybody offers an MpS program.  Today, “MpS” is included in nearly every, single, copier dealers offering.  Today, MpS is ubiquitous and commoditized because we run around saying the same thing and breaking the same promises.  What’s more, we talk to ourselves so much, we end up believing what we say – myopic.

Today, managed print services customers (end-users) are wanting. Because they’re shifting away print, while most MpS engagements do not.

Yes.  You and I, we’ve been places, seen things and learned what can only be taught on the road less travelled.  Today, the MpS trail is changed into seven lanes of painted, regulated concrete.  Fast, crowded and all heading in the same direction.

Boring.  Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of off-ramps, lots of choices along this highway.  The next exit leads to an open field; plenty of room, no trails blazed.

You wanna go?  Let’s.

Workflow: More Questions than answers, for now…

What is Workflow?

The definition of workflow is varied, but basically refers to a sequence of processes utilized to perform a function or duty – I paraphrased, but you get the drift. In the world of imaging and documents, workflow is the measure and study of the path documents flow throughout an organization.  Workflow optimization includes identifying areas of improvement by looking for redundancies and improving the relations between processes.  This can be quite detailed.  See “The Amoeba Organization“, Dr. Kazuo Inamori.

Fine, but how can we define workflow into a revenue generating alternative?  Is charge-for-scan a workflow solution?  Can we build a billing/usage model that sustains a continuous revenue stream?

Why is workflow so important?

There’s no question of the importance of workflow – we are involved with it every single day and it has been around forever.   Optimizing workflow is the trick but for us, deriving value, revenue and sustainability by providing ‘workflow’ is paramount – it’s that important. 

Who is interested in Workflow?

Manufacturers

With all the new embedded, hardware centric workflow solutions being introduced, it looks a bit one-sided there appears to be more interest in workflow coming from inside the imaging niche than from prospects and customers.  

Are we building a ship in search of a flood?  Is this 

Has anyone bothered to ask a customer what they believe workflow is or how a ‘copier’ can either help or hinder their overall business processes? And please don’t fool yourself into believing ‘customers don’t know what they don’t know’ – those days are long gone. Maybe a few OEM’s queried a couple enterprise level, global accounts.  But how many global accounts are you going to talk to this year?  How many of those opportunities scale into your sweet-spot?  How relevant to your everyday operations, is Disney managed print services program?

It is true, customers are interested in making their jobs easier, they are interested in saving money and they are open to different ideas – what remains to be proven is how our machines/devices fit into their workflows.  Are our machines rocks in the stream of workflow? 

Clients

Inside every company, time to completion and resources allocated for business tasks, carry monetary impact – an efficient process will cost less and require fewer resources than an inefficient process.  Most every business is looking for higher efficiencies.  Interesting thing is, clients have always looked for better processes, easier ways to get things done and we’ve been there with them. 

Providers

For organizations that provide guidance in this realm, there will be many opportunities.  Selling copiers, fax machines and printers gets more difficult every 30 days.  The number of leases, machines in field(MIF) and as well as volume, are dropping; dealers are in pursuit of repeatable revenue streams.  

Can workflow solutions provide enough revenue and profit to offset lost margin from decreasing hardware placements and downward spiraling pricing?  The prevailing theory says ‘yes’, but rarely discusses how.

The Future of Workflow

What’s the endgame?  Will we return to normalcy?  Is there such a thing?  We know that print is decreasing and the cloud is growing – facts are stubborn things – how can we adapt to this shift?

I believe that workflow as a concept and a service for which value is received is simply another step along the evolutionary path.  

For us, right now, the simplest step is to embrace the process of helping derive great value from their data and communicate information and  in the form of documents.  Everything is changingThe current manner in which information is transferred and the way we communicate with each other is changing.  The big question is what could sustain our businesses if print/copy/marks on paper went away tomorrow?

The time is now, heck, the time was four years ago.

Regardless, the current turn in managed print services is upon us and its called WorkFlow.  Over the next several months, you’ll be hearing more and more about workflow, workflow solutions and business models around workflow engagements.

Above, I’ve outlined a substantial list of queries. Hopefully, this time next year, we’ll have more answers than questions.

Greg Walters is president of Walters & Shutwell, the mobility, communications and transformation consultancy as well as the president of the Managed Print Services Association. During an IT sales and services career that has spanned a quarter century, he helped turn a large West Coast VAR’s struggling managed print services practice into a highly profitable business. Walters started his imaging career in 1999, working with Oce, Panasonic and IKON. A prolific writer and frequent speaker at industry events, Walters considers himself a “Contrarian Technologist”; someone with a unique and provocative view of technology and how to sell it in the 21st century. Contact him at greg@waltersshutwell.com or visit www.waltersshutwell.com.