Category Update: Technological transition

Technological advancements are not just changing the equipment we use in the office, but also facilitating shifts in the very way we work.

The nature of the office workspace is changing fast. Indeed, some argue that the physical office may eventually cease to exist altogether, and is already gradually being replaced by a form of virtual office that we’re accessing via remote working. This is allowing employees to work wherever and whenever they need to and giving companies access to a much broader talent pool than was previously available. No longer constrained to recruiting from their local area, employers are potentially able to tap into a skilled workforce from anywhere in the world. 

But if this drive for increased remote working and ever-improving access and connectivity is to be sustained, then businesses must keep up with the fast pace of technology evolution. Investing in the correct hardware, software and communications infrastructure to achieve this is vital. 

According to US-based research organisation The Brookings Institution, the millennial cohort of digital natives will make up nearly three quarters of the workforce by 2030. So the pressure is on to ensure that the needs of this tech-savvy generation are catered for if businesses are to attract and retain the brightest and best employees.

Direction of travel

To assess the current situation, OPI spoke to several companies that are in the front line when it comes to providing the technology required to achieve this.

Says Ian Metcalfe, Executive Director for Sales & Marketing at Brother International Europe: “Office technology is continually adapting and evolving. Businesses are going wireless to reflect the rising demand for flexible working and ‘bring your own device’ is growing significantly, with the use of personal smartphones and tablets in the workplace more popular than ever. These trends have resulted in more products with multiple connectivity options such as USB, wireless and Bluetooth. Associated apps are now allowing users to securely connect to office equipment via their own portable devices, without the need to remember passwords. 

"In the future, we predict that incorporating office technology into a company’s processes through software development will be the next big trend. This will streamline workflows and improve productivity."

As more businesses operate globally, with offices in various regions needing to connect and interact, clear visual communication is becoming a key issue. Video conferencing is increasingly the way workers on different sites collaborate and organisations are looking for the right tools to make this happen successfully.

“Projectors can make all the difference to a conference call or visual presentation,” says Claire Robinson, Director of Business Sales at Epson UK. “A projector that delivers large, sharp, bright and colourful images that improve the viewing experience is invaluable.”

Access and speed

This need to operate seamlessly across multiple sites is also seeing many organisations increase their use of electronic document and file storage, mainly in the cloud. It provides easy access to key data for remote and field workers and improves efficiency. As a recent report about information management from AIIM Research found, 72% of companies feel that business conducted at the ‘speed of paper’ will simply not be acceptable in five years’ time.

“As office products go, the humble scanner may not be seen as the sexiest,” says Robinson, “but the upwards trend of companies opting to digitally manage files is seeing a resurgence in scanning. 

“The main drivers are enhanced shareability and searchability, with key information being captured, stored and injected into relevant automated workflows for processing. Content analytics software is then used to classify information, making it findable and available beyond its original purpose.”

Despite these advances, research by Avery in the UK found that the average office worker still wastes over 13 minutes each day searching for missing paperwork and 85% think that having a better filing system would make their work less stressful. As such, it seems that while electronic filing may be on the increase, the effective storage of hard copy documents is still an issue in many offices.

“There’s clearly a greater need for organisation in the workplace,” says Fiona Mills, Avery’s UK Marketing Director. “Important paperwork needs to be easy to find and this points towards solutions such as colour-coded filing systems, clear labelling and signage in the office. Personalisation is another trend we see – whether it’s used on company property to deter theft and prevent loss, or on mail and packages to add branding and logos. Technology that makes this easy and inexpensive continues to be popular.”

Security concerns

However, it’s the imminent May 2018 introduction of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) that is focusing the minds of many firms. 

“Improved access is not the only benefit of digital file management,” says Robinson. “It also reduces physical storage requirements and improves security and compliance – an issue of particular importance with GDPR implementation approaching rapidly.”   

Mark Harper, Head of Sales UK & Ireland at HSM, is also noticing heightened interest in its shredders as a result of this legislation: “We’ve seen a number of companies install complete new fleets of large office shredders across multiple locations to ensure that they have a robust on-site document destruction solution.” 

The manufacturer is also detecting more interest in higher-security shredders, with organisations turning from standard cross-cut machines to the higher DIN P-4 or 5 levels. The latter cuts an A4 document into around 2,200 pieces, with over 19 million possible permutations to reconstruct it, making its destruction very secure. The UK National Health Service is a recent example of an organisation where new guidelines now require all documents containing patient-identifiable data to be shredded to at least level 4/5 on-site, prior to disposal.  

“There’s also growing awareness of the need to destroy the hard drives found in many office devices such as printers and copiers, as well as the more obvious PCs and servers,” adds Harper. “The data risk from such information-intense media is high and shredding all drives before devices are disposed of is an excellent way to ensure that there can be no data breaches.”

Third-party worries

GDPR is also making organisations look more closely at the wisdom of using a third-party shredding service, as an on-site system can be inherently more secure than subcontracting. Consequently, HSM has seen a two-fold increase in the sales of large industrial shredders and balers as companies shift to in-house solutions.

As Harper explains: “Customers have found that the large size of shredded particles produced by some mobile-shredding services can leave parts of highly-sensitive documents still legible.

“Plus, can organisations honestly say they know what’s happened to sensitive documents outsourced for destruction? Probably not. This is concerning as GDPR clearly states that organisations are ultimately responsible for their data security, even after handing it over to a third party. You can’t prove that any sensitive document that comes to light in the public domain was handed over for destruction. Any ‘certificate of destruction’ is largely worthless unless every document is individually logged. When a subcontractor simply collects paper in bulk and shreds it en masse, there’s no way of telling exactly what’s been shredded.”

The increasingly remote, cloud-based way in which we now work, coupled with a tightening regulatory environment, is proving a headache for many companies. The dual, but often conflicting, requirements for increased access to documentation – both analogue and digital – and the necessity to keep the content secure, is likely to be a continuing conundrum for the office technology sector in the years ahead.

Time and money

Security firm Safescan produces business machines for niche markets – time-management products such as clocking-in devices and money-handling systems designed to detect counterfeit coins and notes. OPI speaks to Steve Robinson, the company’s General Manager in the UK & Ireland, about the opportunities that exist in these sectors.

OPI: What are the overarching trends you’re seeing in the office technology category?

Steve Robinson: There are three big trends. Firstly, a move towards increasingly sophisticated machines that is often driven by device convergence. Secondly, the demand for internet connectivity, allowing information access from anywhere, at any time. Lastly, an attitude away from the ‘cheapest is best’ mentality, driven by consumers who are becoming more knowledgeable and demanding more from their technology. 

OPI: When you talk about device convergence, what exactly do you mean?

SR: Convergence is where one device does the work that many different devices did previously. Evidence of convergence can be seen in most technology areas. In our own cash management portfolio, for example, we now have one device which can do counterfeit checking, mixed banknote counting, sorting, as well as a number of other functions, previously done by many different devices.

OPI: What other drivers are having an impact on the cash management sector?

SR: The influence of regulatory changes cannot be underestimated. In our sector, the Bank of England is now issuing new polymer notes to reduce the chance of counterfeiting. When a government or a regulatory body implements a change like this it can have a major impact on the technology that businesses need. 

In this instance, the need for devices that can be easily updated and which can cope with both the new polymer and old style ‘linen’ notes still in circulation has led many businesses to review the technology they need. Safescan works very closely with the Bank of England and other banks in the UK to ensure that we are always at the forefront of industry developments.

OPI: How are changes in the way we work affecting the time management sector?

SR: Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation revealed that almost half of the UK workforce – more than 14 million people – want flexible working. Supporting this change, but still being able to effectively manage the workplace, is a challenge for managers in businesses of all sizes. It’s no surprise that cloud connectivity is rapidly becoming a necessity. 

Safescan’s newly-launched TimeMoto attendance devices provide a sophisticated cloud management solution for companies that need a fully-connected method of monitoring flexible working. It facilitates clocking-in on one device and clocking-out on another, while data can be accessed from any browser, any location, on any computer and at any time. 

Interest is not just coming from big corporates with offices in different countries, however, but from businesses of all sizes that are determined to focus on employee satisfaction as a fundamental part of their business operation.

OPI: You say that the ‘cheapest is best’ mentality is shifting. How so?

SR: Quality has always been a factor in decision-making, but in recent years it seems as if price had become the dominant criteria. Now, however, there appears to be a trend that people are willing to pay more if products show clear and realisable benefits. The idea that Apple can launch a mobile phone costing over £1,000 ($1,340) and still have queues waiting on street corners for the doors to open, speaks volumes. 

It is evident that if technology delivers a tangible advantage to the customer, then that customer is happy to pay. Price is still a factor, but the conversation is more about providing excellent value for money to a very discerning buyer and that’s what makes this business interesting. Improvements in technology are occurring on an almost daily basis and it’s how quickly people adopt these changes that impacts on their ability to outperform their competitors.