Category Update: March of the machines

Demand for office technology is high and it's helping to boost employee productivity. But it's also bringing additional challenges that every company and individual must face, says David Holes.


Today’s workspace is becoming more and more populated by sophisticated machinery and advanced technology. The office technology category includes the familiar large business machines such as binders, laminators, scanners and shredders, but now also encompasses less obvious products such as LED lighting, charging stations and the burgeoning amount of desktop furniture that now incorporates a USB port.

Technology driver

It’s a rapidly expanding market. As Stuart Bleese, Technology Category Manager at UK wholesaler VOW, explains: “We’re seeing strong market growth in business technology coupled with relentless product development. Powerful brand marketing campaigns are raising awareness of this category and driving consumer demand. Technological advances are also compelling people towards professional versions of devices rather than opting for the more basic, entry-level models.”

Some sub-categories are particularly strong. Sales of laminators continue to grow and the market for label writers is buoyant, with awareness programmes from big brands such as Dymo and Brother impacting the market. Conversely, dictation machines and binders are in decline, the latter impacted by the rise of the tablet for viewing presentations and less reliance on paper-based reports.

Sales of shredders have also declined overall, mirroring this general reduction in print quantities, although increasing awareness of data protection issues coupled with improvements in performance mean that demand for auto-feed models from the leading manufacturers in particular remains strong.

One technological trend gathering pace is for portable projectors and interactive TVs that can easily link with smartphones and other mobile technology. And scanning technology is becoming ever more advanced, with machines that scan and file documents automatically especially popular. Cameras are also in high demand, particularly from the education sector and sales of wireless ‘Qi’ charging pads are on the rise.


The importance of future-proofing your product portfolio should not be neglected, says Bleese. “Today’s business machines must not only meet the current technological requirements, but also be able to progress and adapt to future upgrades.”

European wholesaler ADVEO forecasts that the office technology market is going to be driven by ergonomics and design in the future. “The look and feel of a product is becoming increasingly important,” says Purchasing & Category Director Dennis Albers. “There’s a clear focus on office ergonomics now, with companies more conscious about health and wellbeing in the workplace – particularly in countries such as Germany and the Netherlands.

“Today’s workforce is also far more tech-savvy than previous generations which is acting as an enabler for all manner of office technology. Overall sales in traditional business machines categories are stable, but the electronic labelling category has been a massive performer over the past year in all countries, and there’s been a surge in sales of mobile solutions, accessories and communications tools suitable for the business environment.”

Blurring of boundaries

The introduction of high-tech equipment into the workplace has led to huge increases in productivity, but it’s also proving a double-edged sword for employees, with the boundary between work and home life becoming increasingly blurred.

Productivity is nearly five times greater than it was in the 1970s and could increase by another 22% by 2020, according to a report from the Centre for Economic and Business Research. Email and cloud computing are making it far easier for people to keep in touch than ever before. But the survey also reveals that many workers now feel chained to their email and smartphone at all hours of the day – the age that work stopped as we left the office is long gone and it now increasingly bleeds over into our private lives.

In a recent interview with Microsoft, its Chief Envisioning Officer Dave Coplin admitted that it’s becoming a problem: “The technology that was meant to liberate us has somehow become a constraint.”

And despite the proliferation of office tech and the clear business benefits this can bring, it appears that many companies are relying heavily on the use of employees’ own personal devices, rather than investing their own cash.

A recent survey by IT research organisation Gartner shows that although the vast majority of workers receive some corporately-issued technology, it’s usually a desktop or laptop PC. In contrast, a paltry 23% of employees receive mobile phones and even fewer a tablet. 

As such, the majority of smartphones used in the workplace are personally-owned devices. In this era of mobility it’s surprising that corporate provision of mobile devices is so low, especially when the increased productivity they bring can easily justify the cost. It seems that firms are relying on the goodwill of their employees to provide essential business technology, rather than putting their hands in their own pockets to fund it.

Projections also suggest that the global demand for mobile devices is actually beginning to slow. Sales of smartphones and tablets are expected to remain flat in 2017 according to Gartner, with only a small increase projected as we move into 2018. 

Indeed, worldwide shipments of all devices – PCs, tablets, ultramobiles and mobile phones – are projected to remain flat in 2017 (see image below).

“The market is stagnating, with mobile phone shipments only growing in emerging Asia-Pacific markets,” says its Research Director Ranjit Atwal. “Market saturation and a slower rate of innovation mean consumers have fewer reasons to upgrade or buy new devices. They’re now seeking fresher experiences in emerging categories such as head-mounted displays, virtual personal assistants and wearable technology.”

Cybercrime survival

Data protection equipment, including all manner of document disposal hardware – of online or offline information – are a firm part of the office technology category. Cybersecurity breaches in particular are on the increase and reports of malicious attacks  constantly in the news. Security software to protect against this threat should be an essential part of every company’s arsenal. OPI talks to Hend Ezzeddine, Cybersecurity Practice Director at consultancy Expressworks about the causes of this growing menace and the countermeasures that can be taken. 

OPI: What’s behind the unprecedented level of attacks that firms are now reporting? 

Hend Ezzeddine: While we’re seeing the number of attacks trending higher, we are also experiencing more rigorous reporting of cyber breaches and the uncovering of attacks that happened several years ago – Yahoo recently announced a breach that involved one billion users that was tracked back to 2013. 

That being said, there are psychological factors that are influencing hackers’ behaviours and pushing them to aim higher. Aside from the financial motivation, hackers get a thrill from breaking the rules and are constantly looking to outdo their peers. And despite awareness of the risks, hackers still remain one step ahead of the game. 

If we take a closer look at the attacks being reported, 65% are due to user error or unsafe cyber behaviour and these root causes can’t be addressed by technology alone. The human element has to be at the centre of your defence system. Hackers know that deception is not an art; it’s a science that applies successful triggers to prompt humans in the chain into doing the wrong things.

OPI: The media reports many sources of cyber attacks . For the business community, where do the main threats come from?

HE: They come from within. Insiders – both malicious actors and inadvertent users – account for over 60% of cyber breaches. We’re also seeing an increase in incidents caused by third parties, such as current and former vendors, contractors, suppliers and business partners. 

The smaller these companies are, the higher your risk. The attackers target entry to your system by seeking a back door through these smaller companies, where restricted budget and resources mean cyber resilience may not be sufficiently robust. 

OPI: How can businesses reduce their risk of suffering an attack?

HE: One of the biggest mistakes that companies make with cyber resilience is to disassociate the individual from the organisation – the user must be part of the solution and it must take this human element into account. 

The fundamental problem centres on how humans interact with the technology (usability of security), how they perceive risks (psychology of security) and how they make decisions that relate to potential attacks (cognitive side of security). 

Given that background I’d say the top five things we should all be doing are:

1. Know your enemy: gain an understanding of how attacks occur and where you may be making it easy for the hacker to find an entry point. Posting personal information on social media or having your organisational chart easily accessible on LinkedIn opens the door for social engineering and CEO fraud type of attacks. 

2. Know your crown jewels: often, we think that customers’ financial data is the only valuable information at risk, but intellectual property (IP) theft can be just as damaging and for individuals, their health records are as valuable as credit card information. With the rise of the cloud, we’re increasing our risk of exposing competitive information to outsiders and these types of theft may never be detected at all.

3. Be aware of your risk perception: individuals and organisations tend to think they are at less risk than their peers – just like we all tend to think we’re better drivers than anyone else on the road. Adding more technology can create a false sense of security causing us to behave more recklessly. 

4. Spread the word: cyber attacks should be a permanent topic of conversations at both the corporate and individual level. Hearing about attacks (and near misses) helps foster a deeper sense of awareness that it may happen to you. 

5. The individual and the organisation are one entity: Any disconnect here can drive carelessness with company assets. We think that because we are using company devices, our personal data remains safe. However, 80% of us use the same device both for work and personal online transactions.When you expose your company’s data, you’re also exposing your own. The recent Sony hack was a perfect example of this.

OPI: How is the way we work today, with increased digitisation and connectivity, multiple workplace locations and bringing our own mobile devices into the office, affecting the cyber risks we take?

HE: We all want to take advantage of the productivity and creativity that digitisation offers, but also don’t want to add additional risks. It comes down to making cyber resilience a personal matter as opposed to a compliance rule. With all the connectivity available outside of a company’s network, it’s hard for IT departments to control the data and assets that are being exchanged. 

However, it’s possible to influence users so they exercise control over their own behaviours. 

OPI: What would be your takeaway message that everybody should remember?

HE: My advice would be ‘prepare for the worst and hope for the best’. Companies should realise it’s not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’ they will be hacked.