Category analysis: Managed print services

OPI assesses some of the most recent managed print launches and how the OP industry is integrating MPS.

For a number of years now managed print services (MPS) has been referenced as an opportunity for office supplies businesses, and 2012 was arguably the moment the industry started making some real progress in the field.

OP firms’ MPS education has now ramped up a level. This knowledge, which has been acquired through a useful combination of newly formed alliances (see ‘box Allied forces’ below), the creation of strategic partnerships and industry events, is now being put into practice in a number of ways.

As is the case with many segments of the OP industry though, there is no black and white definition of what MPS is and isn’t; it takes on various forms and there are numerous approaches to implementation.

Senior Consultant at managed print intelligence group Photizo Jean-Louis de la Salle explains: “A lot of regional/country and segment/offering variations are at work, and deserve a closer look. 

“Many players have addressed the corporate marketplace and it has reached a level of saturation, i.e. commoditisation of the first generation of MPS, which involves audit, rationalising contracts and devices.

“The second generation of MPS, also termed managed document services, is still in early stages and is growing healthily, though it will face competition from more IT-based companies such as managed IT and desktop services.”

Success with solutions? 

It’s impossible to reference all the MPS ventures currently being rolled out in the OP world, so we’ve picked out some of the latest examples to gauge the industry’s progress.

In the UK, the two major wholesalers VOW and Spicers have launched programmes to help dealers serve their customers’ printing needs. Last April VOW announced a partnership with PrintFleet that sees the latter’s Printreviewlive software made available to VOW+ dealer members.

The audit and data collection software system provides resellers with an introduction to MPS and an opportunity to explore the benefits before moving into a full-service offering. Ray Erdinc, MPS Technical Sales Manager at VOW, says that around 40% of VOW+ Partners have engaged with the solution since its launch.

“With any new idea, concept or technology, you are likely to see a good third or more who will wait until the last minute or when the ideas, concepts or technologies become the norm,” he states.

“We have taken our time in providing a fully balanced solution which suits not only the OP resellers wanting to embrace a full MPS solution offering but those simply looking to protect their EOS spend.”

VOW’s former Business Development Manager Simon Wallis was involved in the launch of the company’s MPS solution, but he is now tasked with delivering results in the same field for rival wholesaler Spicers, following his move to the Cambridgeshire-based firm late last year.

True to form he oversaw the unveiling of Spicers’ Sprintwise programme in December. The initiative is powered by partnerships with PrintFleet and independent print and document technology firm Balreed. UK-based Balreed has since been named the first independent partner on the Document Solutions Association’s standards development team which is striving to establish MPS best practice in the UK.

Wallis, who is now Business Development Director at Spicers, comments: “We’ve had 22 customers sign up for our programme, from both the launch and interest at the Spicers Business Experience event in December. We now intend to work closely with this group of early adopter customers with the aim of driving out case studies, testimonials and deals.

“We’re only weeks into the launch, and I’m pleased to report that MPS deals have already been secured.”

In the US, meanwhile, recent OP-MPS developments have centred on dealer group TriMega. Having recruited experienced MPS professional Brian Stevenson to lead this area of the business early last year, the fruits of his labour are now beginning to appear.

In November the organisation announced its blink MPS programme, with the initial offering including toner, service, technical help desk support, and all non-consumable parts for around 100 of the most popular HP and Lexmark printer and MFP SKUs. 

A broader section of SKUs from additional manufacturers is expected to be added over time, and the initiative is designed as an ideal MPS entry point for OP-focused dealers.  

“The response to our blink programme has been stronger than we’d initially predicted,” explains Stevenson. “Our members have been looking for ways to protect existing toner revenues and they’re viewing blink as a programme that can both protect those revenues against competition while also finding a new revenue stream through the service component.”

Further developments came last month when TriMega agreed a new partnership with Compass Sales Solutions, which has made the Sherpa Expedition MPS product available to the dealer group’s members and INTEC technology resellers. It will allow resellers to manage the analysis, configuration and proposal generation process for their MPS engagements. 

Stevenson also notes that TriMega members have launched MPS initiatives over the past year, “either through acquisition, partnering or building their own infrastructure”. The number of businesses around the globe looking to introduce MPS is set to continue growing, with huge potential still existing in southern and eastern Europe, for example, and for OP firms keen to capitalise it will likely be one of Stevenson’s three stated routes to market they’ll choose.

‘Magic’ MPS

In the final quarter of 2012 global technology research company Gartner published its Magic Quadrant for MPS, which details what it views as the top performing companies in the field.

Prominent OEMs such as HP and Canon are among the companies viewed as industry leaders, but there are other visionaries, niche players and challengers keeping the sector competitive. Gartner says that under its definition of MPS, a service provider takes primary responsibility for meeting the customer’s office printing needs, including the equipment, supplies, service and overall management of the printer fleet. 

Just listing these requirements highlights the size of the task facing OP resellers if they choose to go it alone with MPS, rather than partnering with an OEM or getting outside help.

An interesting example is that of UK dealer ZenOffice, which recently reported 37% sales growth for 2012 – thanks in part to a managed print partnership with Xerox. Some 15% of the overall growth figure was attributed to the alliance established with the OEM back in January 2012.

Of course, not every reseller will want to put all their MPS eggs into one OEM’s basket, and they may prefer to team up with their wholesaler/dealer group partners for a more varied product and services offering.

Explaining the difference, Doug Johnson, Senior VP of Strategy and MPS at US distributor Supplies Network, says: “OEMs are continuing to try to directly influence and access end-users – either through growing direct sales and/or through reseller-specific programmes designed to favour their products.  

“Over time, this is conflicting somewhat with distributor-based programmes, which tend to be much more agnostic in their offering and approach to providing solutions to the resellers to deal with their end-users’ heterogeneous printing environments.”

The debate surrounding traditional OP firms’ involvement in MPS will run and run, and as delegates who attended OPI’s European Forum in December were told, businesses must consider it as part of their wider strategy and be honest about their existing competencies before entering the market. 

Companies that pride themselves on offering ‘print’ products will not naturally have expertise in the ‘managed’ and ‘services’ part of the equation, meaning it’s a sector that cannot be entered half-heartedly.

As Spicers’ Wallis warns: “It’s important that resellers understand their own strengths and weaknesses. If they’ve little knowledge of supplying hardware and machines or have no engineers to deliver a vendor neutral break-fix service nationwide, then it is important to acknowledge that they’ll need a partner who can deliver these things.”

Photizo’s de la Salle, TriMega’s Stevenson and Matthew Searle, who is Director of Canon Partner Channel at Canon UK and Ireland, are among the industry commentators who believe there is significant growth potential to bring MPS to the SMB market, following successful implementation within the larger corporate sector.

Due to their familiarity with the SMB world, this should open up opportunities for independent dealers and larger OP resellers alike. Seeking the relevant help externally could help their cause, but ultimately success will come down to the individual company’s planning and execution.

The final word goes to an OEM, though. And it is one of the companies that Gartner describes as a “leader” in the MPS world.

Canon’s Searle says: “In order to become a successful player in the MPS market, resellers should be adapting to a longer-term sales mind-set, which could represent a fundamental change in their traditional sales cycles. 

“The approach of simply addressing an isolated business issue by offering a single product or managing a customer’s toner is no longer a business model aimed at growth.

“Instead, MPS means that resellers need to understand their customers’ businesses as a whole and identify how processes can be improved with a set of software and solutions that will streamline processes in the long term.” 

Allied forces

TriMega’s Director of MPS Brian Stevenson, who was a founding member of the MPS Association in North America in 2009, suggests that OP organisations can really benefit from tapping into the resources of specialist alliances.

He notes: “With TriMega, I believe the expanded relationships with the thought leaders of our industry, understanding how successful independent resellers continue to adapt to changes in the industry, and working closely with the top MPS suppliers have benefited both our members and our suppliers.”

The Independent MPS Global Alliance (IMPSGA) was formed at Photizo Group’s Transform Europe conference in the UK last October. The six founding members were: Ergo (Ireland), M2 (UK), MR Daten Technik (Germany), Pulsar Technologies (Spain), Print Partners (Czech Republic) and Rio Managed Services (France). OPI caught up with IMPSGA Chairman Steve Swift to find out some more details.

OPI: What is the main function of the alliance?

Steve Swift: It was founded to bring together independent European MPS providers. Membership is restricted to one per territory, so members do not overlap or compete with each other, and can be open in exchanging ideas and information. The initial focus has been on sharing expertise and tools, to build a common best practice.

OPI: What progress have you made?

SS: We’ve had three meetings and established a clear mission statement for what we want to achieve, and how we work together. Members have already gained by learning from some of the ways their counterparts in other countries work, and have been introduced to new software tools. 

OPI: What are your plans for 2013?

SS: The alliance has a core group of six members. We’re actively seeking new members from other countries, and we are engaged in discussions in Germany, Italy and the Nordics. 2013 will see IMPSGA starting to work on more shared commercial initiatives, and engaging with both suppliers (OEMs and software providers, for example) and customers who want to do business internationally. We are also sharing ideas and experience with a similar alliance in North America.