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The future of printing services: Still no paperless office in sight

Resellers can thrive by selling printing services -- complete document management solutions that include, rather than eliminate, print capabilities.

More businesses are making a concerted effort to reduce paper -- as much for internal process efficiencies as for "green" initiatives. But printer makers bet that people will want to continue printing … and printing … and printing. And, according to value-added resellers (VARs) and other channel partners, they're right on the money.

Take Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP). In early April, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based printer giant announced a major expansion of its imaging and printing portfolio for enterprises. The new offerings include six LaserJet printers, an enterprise-class scanner for document capture, three access control printing solutions and four printing services.

VARs and channel partners welcomed the news, saying that even though digitally created and stored content is increasing exponentially, this only seems to be spurring the need for more printing: of electronically generated documents, email, photographs and other digital images, among other things.

The myth of the paperless office

"The ironic thing is, as the cost of printing falls, information that started out in digital form is still being printed out, so rather than paper being taken out of the process, it's being introduced into what could conceivably be a digital-only workflow," said John Mancini, president of the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM).

Jim Collins, owner of Datamation Imaging Services in Willowbrook, Ill., agreed. Datamation is a Kodak hardware VAR that sells Digitech Systems' document imaging software to customers ranging from Abbott Labs and United Airlines to one- and two-person offices. "With all the distributed and networked processing out there, everyone has access to a high-end printer. If anything, using the Internet and email and other forms of electronic communication makes them print out even more content than ever before," Collins said.

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At HP's Americas Partner Conference in early March, Vyomesh Joshi, executive vice president of HP's profitable imaging and printing group (IPG), said his group saw a respectable 8.5% growth last year, delivering 15.2% of HP's overall revenue. With more than 60 million printers sold, "that's three printers shipping every second," Joshi said.

But what will really matter is the networking, according to Joshi: "We need to convince IT managers that networking [printers] will cut costs and boost productivity," he said. "We believe this $280 billion market is opportunity for all of us."

But this means more than simply selling hardware. "If you're only in hardware, get into supplies. If you're only into hardware and supplies, get into services," said Joshi.

Networked printers, copiers as basis of new printing services

VARs agreed that printing services -- as part of an overall print and imaging solution -- are key.

Tom Doyle, CEO of Digital Storage Solutions, based in Brentwood, N.Y., agreed with this. The company sells Kofax document management software and Canon, Fujitsu and Panasonic printers and scanners.

Doyle is finding a lucrative market selling complete printing solutions that include business process re-engineering services in addition to hardware and software. He's also seeing a transition to networked document management and printing services. "We're seeing a huge shift from centralized bulk document capture and printing to decentralized transaction capture and printing because of the much more affordable tools and network devices," he said.

Peter Caselli, a solutions specialist with A&A Office Systems in Middletown, Conn. -- a Savin and Ricoh reseller of copiers, scanners, printers and multifunction devices -- said his firm decided two years ago to get out of hardware-only sales.

"We made the shift from simply selling the devices to selling the solutions," he said. To that end, his firm became a Laserfiche reseller and now sells complete document management solutions, including printing services, to enterprises as well as small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). But despite the fact that many of his customers are looking to streamline paper-intensive processes, most A&A Office Systems clients "buy multifunction devices in conjunction with Laserfiche," Caselli said. "They recognize that it's not realistic to try and eliminate printing, but just to minimize it."

Indeed, demand for complete document managing and imaging solutions is growing exponentially, said Datamation's Collins. Providing the process engineering, installation and training services around software solutions like Digitech -- along with the hardware -- is what's boosting his revenue substantially year after year. "Even though the hardware is increasingly a commodity, implementing and training for the software on top of that provides real value to businesses," he said.

All in all, the paperless office seems as far away as it did 20 years ago, VARs say. What's happened is that the vision of Adobe Systems Inc. chairman and co-founder John Warnock has come to fruition. Warnock's mantra more than a decade ago was that the world was moving from a print-and-distribute game plan -- where documents are mass-produced, sent out and stored -- to a distribute-and-print strategy. People print out what they need on the spot. In theory, that means less warehoused hard-copy documentation lying around. A perhaps unintended consequence is that people print out far more than even the Adobe folks envisioned, because the digital stuff is all out there to be found and copied. So the paperless office remains out of reach.

"No matter how much you automate and digitize processes, people still want their paper," said Chuck Beard, president of Dynasource in Beaumont, Texas, which sells complete hardware and software document management and imaging solutions to state and local government entities. "Everything today is networked -- and that goes for printers as well as everything else -- and the need for that is never going to go away."

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