One of the biggest success stories in the printing industry in recent years has been the growth in managed print services (MPS). Traditionally, firms have always struggled to understand their direct printing costs, mainly due to the complexity of an environment comprising many hardware brands, multiple technologies, and varied consumable needs that are typically fulfilled by a variety of partners (printers, scanners, toners, paper, etc.). This has become an increasingly important issue following the global financial crisis as firms are now focusing on switching capital expenditure to operational expenditure. MPS contracts have arisen out of the need to reduce costs and simplify the IT environment, and they are increasingly adding value to business processes.
Although the definition of an MPS contract varies due to the lack of an ‘industry standard’, IDC categorizes the print services market into three areas: support print services, basic print services, and managed print service implementations. Both basic print services (BPS) and MPS contracts typically include the provision of hardware, consumables, and servicing for a fleet of devices. We define BPS as contracts that include hardware, supplies, and a break-fix service bundle, as well as combined billing and reporting for all devices. MPS contracts include all BPS elements, but are more sophisticated as they include an assessment, right sizing, proactive management, and ongoing optimization of the printing and imaging environment.
Unsurprisingly, cost reduction is the main driving force for the adoption of print services, both globally and in the UAE. Multinational corporations operating in the UAE have faced particular pressures to implement best practices from other regions and this has accelerated the adoption of print services in the country.
Whist print services are nothing new; it is worthwhile to understand how they operate. The main benefits for print services clients are the initial upfront cost savings that are available from switching to a usage-based model, rather than investing in the hardware upfront. Print services implementers achieve savings that they are able to pass on to clients through consolidation of devices (printers and scanners into one multifunction peripheral, etc.) and scale. Optimizing purchases by matching the correct speed segment and technology to a client’s utilization need also leads to lower cost per page and less strain on the equipment, thereby reducing downtime.
Specialist print services providers in the UAE currently have the necessary skills to analyze the entire flow of documents within an end user’s environment. For example, an increasing focus on digitizing documents has led to an increase in demand for high-speed scanners.
When the print services contracts are implemented, the client usually sees cost savings within the first few months from a reduction in spending on consumables. However, other benefits are often overlooked at the contract inception stage. MPS implementations reduce the pressure on support for the client, as maintenance of the fleet of hardcopy peripherals is performed by a third party and considerably relieves the pressure of in-house IT departments.
If faults occur, specialized print services providers will ensure that the right resources are dispatched in order to resolve the fault more efficiently, and most MPS providers can identify faults before they occur. This is done through remote diagnostic software, which almost completely eliminates downtime. The savings achieved by reducing the reliance on in-house IT departments and ensuring documents can be printed when needed are difficult to quantify, but they are considerable and vital to a firm’s competitiveness.
We have seen a notable trend recently of increased adoption of cloud computing and SaaS models, which has driven the number of implementations of managed services in both the public and private sectors of the UAE over the last few years. As a result of the improved awareness around managed services, the number of MPS implementations in the UAE has grown considerably. MPS providers have also integrated cloud-print features into their hardcopy devices, recognizing the trend towards increased mobility within the business environment. The ability to print wirelessly from a smartphone or tablet, while simultaneously ensuring that security is maintained and sensitive documents protected, will become a requirement for most businesses.
The majority of hardcopy hardware vendors in the UAE have begun the transition to providing MPS solutions. This is due to increased competition and a commoditization of hardcopy devices that has resulted in pressure on hardware prices, especially in the entry-level segment. As a result, vendors and their channels have experienced considerable margin erosion, and IDC believes that the provision of print services is crucial to improving profitability and securing consistent annual income. Whilst print services penetration in the UAE remains relatively low, particularly for full MPS contracts, the provision of such services will soon become a necessity for hardcopy hardware vendors and channel survival.
Globally, print services have gained significant traction; particularly in more developed IT markets such as Western Europe and North America. Domestically, significant investment still needs to be made by print services providers in order to highlight the benefits of print services. While print services are still in the early phase of market adoption, vendors and their channels needs to continue educating end users and IT decision makers on the benefits of print service solutions. This can be achieved by engaging the market through conventional media as well as by hosting specialized events and conferences. Those vendors that adopt such a strategy in the UAE will continue to be the most successful.
The columnist is Group VP and Regional MD for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa at global ICT market intelligence and advisory firm, IDC.