21st November 2017

Race for relevance: Five strategies for MPS vendors

In a time of accelerating change when the rules of the workplace and workforce are being redefined, the print industry faces challenges in maintaining its relevance. New technology is rendering existing business models obsolete while customers are more demanding of their relationships with suppliers. Consequently, print vendors can no longer continue to operate within old paradigms – they must embrace new ways of thinking about their companies, employees, customers and the role they play in the changing digital landscape.

The print industry is in the middle of a significant identity change – needing to protect legacy business while delivering new innovative products and services. For many, their brand heritage is based on technology which revolutionised the workplace yesterday – but yesterday’s innovation is today’s commodity. In an industry where the single most threatening disruptor is digital, print vendors are in catch-up mode, working to leverage their products and services to evolve alongside customer demands.

The good news is that traditional print vendors can use their legacy footprint to deliver new business value, without straying too far from their core brand DNA. In today’s fast-moving technology landscape, the trust and authenticity of these long-standing brands will be a powerful asset to drive relevance in the digital age.

Here are five ways that print vendors can retain relevance and foster deeper customer connections:

  1. Create a value proposition that appeals to different audiences.

As they work to offset a decline in their legacy business, print vendors are expanding their offerings to include a broad array of hardware, software and services to reach new markets. In many cases, these have emerged through acquisitions or partnerships covering areas as diverse as IT services, visual communications and business process services.

While vendors such as HP and Xerox have pressed the reset button and returned to their core business, others like Ricoh and Konica Minolta are expanding their services beyond print.  Vendors are now dealing with a diverse set of stakeholders. As buying decisions shift from the exclusive domain of the CIO, print vendors need to connect with decision makers in other functional areas including finance, marketing, HR, operations and supply chain. To demonstrate their credibility in these new areas vendors must identify brand ‘pillars’ – such as purpose, mission, values and tone of voice – that support a complex value proposition which resonates across these audiences. This is no easy task but will be critical for success if print vendors are to expand their sphere of influence.

  1. Enhance credentials as a trusted partner for digital transformation.

Print vendors and their partners have a unique advantage in supporting the acceleration of paper to digital initiatives. Offering managed print services (MPS) has enabled them to develop strong credentials in implementing hardware, software and services that provide a foundation for digital transformation. While MPS is reaching maturity at the hardware level, the real opportunity lies in providing employees with the tools and technology to improve their workplace productivity. Vendors should simplify the vast array of workflow tools on offer and focus on positioning themselves as trusted partners in the digital transformation journey.

  1. Adapt faster to the ‘as-a-service economy’. 

The economy is moving from one in which technology is owned to one in which technology is subscribed to. This is driven by increasing demand from customers for flexibility that will allow them to take advantage of new technologies. MPS is already an established service model in the market, offering suppliers a lucrative recurring services revenue model along with increased customer retention long after the printer hardware sale. While the MPS market is relatively mature in the enterprise space, there are further opportunities to tap into the under-penetrated SMB market with ‘print-as-a-service’. For the channel, digital services around printer device diagnostics and predictive/preventative maintenance have significant untapped potential.

  1. Harness the power of analytics.

While print vendors have long used analytics within MPS contracts to deliver predictive maintenance and support and drive continuous improvement, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Print vendors can use analytics to get to know their customers better than ever, and should already be leveraging this as a source of competitive advantage. For instance, using analytics to understand how customers are working, across both paper and digital, can create opportunities for new products and services.

Through adding machine learning or artificial intelligence (AI) to the mix, vendors can apply the latest techniques to analyse and act upon data automatically. For instance, AI can be used for threat detection, identifying when printers have been compromised and facilitating faster remediation.

By collecting information about customer usage of products or services, vendors can improve product design and accelerate innovation. Analytics provides a massive opportunity to uncover valuable insights and deliver greater value to customers.

  1. Participate in a partner ecosystem for co-innovation.

While many of the above strategies will help vendors to protect their core business, to leapfrog the competition and generate growth, a new culture of customer-centric innovation is required.

Innovation councils are one approach, but the print industry needs to also look outwards. It must embrace open platforms to expand service offerings. A culture of proprietary products is not sustainable if vendors want to capture new opportunities. Vendors should drive further innovation around cloud delivery, security and mobility. These are key enablers, not only for the as-a-service economy but also for digital transformation. Establishing key technology partnerships in areas such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, gamification technology and app development will also be key to driving relevance.

Shaking legacy brand perceptions has long been a challenge for hardware vendors in many sectors.  Vendors that are complacent and think they can do business the way they have done it for the past 30 years will become irrelevant. Print vendors face strategic choices around their response to digital disruption and how they drive relevance and customer engagement. Ultimately the question still remains: is the print industry ready for reinvention?

By Louella Fernandes • on November 14th, 2017 •