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Time to recalibrate your thinking about printing and imaging

Been prepping this week for a presentation I’m giving on behalf of my colleagues at channel consulting firm SWOT Management Group to Oki Data‘s solution provider advisory council (full disclosure on where my head is right now). So thinking quite a bit about printing and imaging. I know: Probably not your usual fare here at

In my days as a reporter, printers were, quite frankly, a bit overlooked as a coverage area. That is, until marvelous inventions like Adobe PostScript promised to pull these peripherals squarely onto the network and into the workgroup realm. The latest wave of innovation began when features from the office equipment world began to creep over—management software, scanner support and the like. In reality, if you sit back and mull the technology over a bit, today’s printing and imaging segment is one of those practice areas that could be a very logical, practical extension to your existing infrastructure practices in storage, security and collaboration.

Let me explain.

First, some market statistics. Gartner reported fairly recently that U.S. shipments of printers and copiers declined 4 percent in the second quarter. That is, printer sales declined 15 percent, but purchases of flatbed multifunction peripherals (MFPs) grew 19 percent compared with the second quarter of 2006. The color-enabled portion of this market is growing at a rate of 29 percent year over year, according to another market researcher, IDC. A related area, document scanners, is also posting respectable growth. Here’s some thoughts from market research company InfoTrends on the role of scanners. The transition to digital fax machines, of course, started happening years ago.

In my opinion, there are several dynamics driving this growth: new forms of business collaboration, as illustrated by software platforms such as Microsoft SharePoint; compliance regulations that dictate better document management policies and strategies; and the rise of Web 2.0-related portals that have made the job of managing content in both electronic and printed forms a whole lot more onerous. Of course, price points for MFPs have simply made the investment in these devices more worth it.

So how does this relate to something like storage? Think of printing and imaging as the front-end to the document management and workflow applications that have been slowly finding their way into business continuity and back-up solutions. You could even tie together a start-to-finish managed service: one that starts with an MPF, links into the appropriate software and archives accordingly, as business conditions dictate.

Similarly, protecting these documents with some sort of digital signature or encryption methodology could be a concern of your data security practice.

The fact that there are really no “standard” ways of handling documents, that every company’s workflow and retention strategy is probably slightly different, that this entire process really could benefit from ongoing management and services . These things make a printing and imaging solution look a lot more like an infrastructure practice than a commodity PC sale. Have you been thinking about it that way?

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It's certainly true that there are no standard ways of handling documents. This really explains why print providers need to come up with solutions rather than with low cost prints, without a solution. Printer manufacturers are slightly getting it, they are shifting strategy from printer selling to print solutions (hence HP print 2.0). Printers are indeed part of the infrastructure and should serve as an end station in the document not-so-standardised document chain.