From selling boxes to thinking outside the box

How the printer market has had to adapt to technology advances and digitisation, by Dylan Haworth of OKI EUROPE (UK and IRELAND).

Technology is becoming so complex and intertwined that vendors are no longer able to simply ‘sell boxes’. As a growing number of companies transform their business model to take advantage of what technology can do for them, they increasingly need the advice of experts on tailoring the products and systems they buy to their business and on getting the best value from their investment.

As a result, many resellers have had to evolve their business model, replacing the high-turnover, low margin model with the slower burning, but ultimately more rewarding, consultative sale.

Printers and printer vendors are a good example of this shift – particularly as most of their customers are unaware of the changes that have taken place over the past few years and what printers can now do for them. These devices no longer just sit in the corner to be used occasionally to print the odd document – they are an integral part of a document workflow, managing and storing these documents with the help of integrated computing systems.

So how do the companies selling these new solutions adapt their businesses to survive? To begin with, they have to address a whole spectrum of different questions that printer vendors never thought they’d have to answer. For example, print security is now a major concern.

Tony Carey is managing director of Copytype, a Limerick-based printer supplier, selling a range of brands, but in particular OKI multifunction devices. In the business for over 30 years, Tony has been at the frontline of this change. Yet, he has been determined that Copytype should evolve to address the transition, rather than get left behind.

The company employs several engineers; “all technical people”, he says. “This means we can differentiate ourselves from the competition through our service expertise. A few years ago everybody bought printers on price. Now they have become far more complex – and having the technical knowledge to install and configure them in a way that maximises the benefits for each individual customer is a great selling point.”

Increasingly, Copytype’s business is coming from IT companies that lack this in-depth knowledge of print and printers. “An IT company will spend time writing specifications for a server, PCs and laptops for a company, but when it comes to a printer they tend to just choose one from a list,” explains Carey.

Take OKI printers – or rather multifunction devices as they are now. They are increasingly sophisticated, often integrating with enterprise IT systems and playing a key role in digitising workflow. If an IT consultant installs one of these, they just don’t have the expertise to set it up in a way that suits the individual business.”

Copytype is sometimes asked to carry out a print audit for customers to assess how they can make savings. “It’s crazy how some printers have been set up,” says Carey. “It can sometimes be a simple issue. For example, colour can cost around four times as much as mono, but businesses can set printers to do low-resolution colour for day-to-day work. To be honest, they can’t really tell the difference if they are printing graphs and diagrams, for example, but they use a fraction of the toner. However, if the printer has been installed and configured as an afterthought to a new IT system, these subtleties are often overlooked.”

IT companies also often handover the support contract. “They are used to doing support behind a PC across a network. They hate the thought that there might be a paper jam that needs sorting.”

However, one of the main shifts in attitude has been around print security. Carey explains that he has just bought a small multifunction device for home use. “As soon as I took it out of the box and put it on my desk it immediately picked up wi-fi and started ‘talking’ to me, asking for my Google account and other details. The device wasn’t even plugged into anything but with these details it could already talk to the outside world. And this was a relatively inexpensive and straightforward device for domestic use.”

Thankfully, when talking to customers he is able to demonstrate the security features now standard on OKI printers, such as customisable tools that can be accessed with unique ID cards or PIN codes. But this is another area where those inexperienced in the printer world can come undone.

Customers worry about data protection and the approaching deadline for GDPR. By stressing the features that can be put in place to address this, we can help. However, if the device has been installed by someone else, we sometimes find that certain features haven’t been set up properly. For example, perhaps nothing has been done to determine how long documents stay on the hard disk, so they just stay there indefinitely. When the machine is decommissioned, everybody forgets they are there.”

In fact, Carey believes compliance and data security – as opposed to total cost of ownership or print quality – are currently his customers’ main concern. “Now many printers have USB ports. Without such features as PIN protection, anyone could download documents onto a USB and put it in their pocket with nobody knowing they’ve got it. A year or two ago all a customer wanted to know was price, now it’s whether a device is secure or not.”

Some businesses in this position have chosen to retrain staff in, for example, sales techniques or problem solving. However Carey believes his employees’ strong technical know-how and determination to stay abreast of developments will help the company maintain its success.

It sounds a cliché, but it’s a case of thinking outside the box, about a total solution that can be designed and configured to align with our customers’ business goals. We’ve come a long way from only thinking about products – but we believe the changes have been worthwhile,” he concludes.