Beginning life as Southwest Typewriter Company in 1956, ImageNet Consulting has spent over five decades adapting and thriving in the changing landscape of office technology.
Much of that adaptation has been driven by the digital revolution, and ImageNet Consulting has demonstrated foresight and skill, evolving and growing in the field of information solutions. Today they have over 400 employees in 15 branches located in five states.
Of course hardware, service and supplies are still important offerings, but ImageNet Consulting’s primary focus today is providing powerful document management solutions to increase workflow productivity while reducing costs.
“Our mission statement is to provide information solutions to improve our client’s bottom line. That’s what we’re all about, and I think that’s why we have success,” says President and CEO Pat Russell.
We sat down with Russell at the firm’s stunning and award-winning Oklahoma City headquarters to discuss a wide range of topics, including, ImageNet’s recent successes, acquisitions, proprietary dispatch software and a flexible, happy workforce.
Building on Current Successes and Looking to the Future
Please tell us about your primary vendors and the specific geographic areas you serve with your branch locations.
RUSSELL: We carry several lines but our primary vendors would be Canon, Konica Minolta, Samsung and HP. Each of our primary vendors carry with them unique features and support that allow ImageNet to truly provide best in class products for our clients. Our authorization is limited to the central US with Konica Minolta (New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma & Texas) but we are authorized in each of our locations with the balance of our primary vendors (Missouri & Florida). We are proud of our partnerships with each of our vendors and their support has been and will always be appreciated.
What was ImageNet’s biggest accomplishment of 2015?
RUSSELL: This is a difficult question to narrow down since we launched Display, Managed Network Services and 3D printing offerings during the past year all of which were major accomplishments. However, if I were to single out one I would give the edge to our people for having assimilated the seven acquisitions into the ImageNet fold from 2014.
Hindsight being 20/20, what would you have done differently?
RUSSELL: I’m very proud of our offering and more importantly the people who I have the pleasure of working with every day. I’m sure that there are areas for which we have made mistakes or could have been more successful but that is part of business and as long as we learn from our mistakes we will continue to improve and be successful.
What does the future hold for a company as forward thinking and heavily invested in technology as ImageNet? What areas for growth do you see in the near future?
RUSSELL: If I were to pinpoint a few [areas we are likely to expand], it would be those offerings that we added last year (Display, MNS, and 3D printing). I’m optimistic that we will have a successful year around our Display offering and we will continue to build our MNS and 3D offering to each of our locations throughout the year.
[I am most excited about] 3D. Although 3D technology has been around for 20 years, it is in its infancy stage. There are many manufacturers of product and I believe over the coming years they will consolidate. Those that can produce faster, more affordable and reliable products will thrive and we want to be part of this evolution.
We are in the early stages of this offering. We believe that 3D is our future and much like the transition from typewriters, we cannot ignore where 3D is going. It is also a perfect fit to our industry in that it requires aftermarket supplies and service to keep them running. Who is better equipped than the dealer community to provide support for 3D manufacturers and customers?
Tell us about your recent acquisitions. What is your acquisition strategy?
RUSSELL: We have acquired seven companies since 2014. They are located in Missouri, Colorado, New Mexico, and Florida. We are still looking for opportunities within our current footprint but expanding into other markets is not in our goals.
How do you ensure you’re always improving?
RUSSELL: I am a big Shark Tank fan, and Barbara Corcoran once commented that she credits her success to her insecurity. I think the same can be said of ImageNet. We are confident but also insecure, and this insecurity keeps us focused so that we are never satisfied with who we are. I was once told that there is only one way to coast and that is downhill.
What challenges are on the horizon for 2016? Where do you need to focus your effort to be successful this year?
RUSSELL: The majority of our locations are in cities that prosper when the price of oil is higher than today, which is a little concerning. That said it is during these times that we seem to thrive by offering a truly consultative approach and providing technology and solutions to improve our customer’s bottom line.
MPS: Less Is More
ImageNet makes it clear that the days of simply managing paper and printing devices is over. More and more, the emphasis is on managing the documents themselves as efficiently as possible. In other words, jump into electronic document management or get left behind.
What is the strategy behind your MPS offering, now that it is just ever so slightly more complex than providing and servicing the equipment to print a page (or material)?
RUSSELL: It is important that we truly manage our customer’s print environment. This to us is true MPS and not just the approach of taking over all of the MFPs and single function printers. In order to improve bottom lines, we must reduce, redirect, or eliminate output within the customer’s environment.Through efficiencies come improved bottom lines, and we are very good at that. We preach that day in, day out.
And not only does ImageNet preach it, but they practice it as well…right down to the very construction of their offices. To visually demonstrate the value of electronic document management, Russell points out a wall in the ImageNet showroom that shows reams of paper with light filtering through intermittent gaps.
RUSSELL: The theory behind the paper wall here with the light between it…about 12 percent of paper is misplaced any given day in an office environment. The space in between the paper represents the paper that’s being lost on a daily basis. It gives the customer a good visual.
It’s not necessarily that you’re losing that paper. Somebody might have pulled the file and took it to their desk. Now somebody else might need it and they spend a lot of time walking around trying to find this file. You’re losing all those man hours.
It’s important to us that our buildings tell our story. We want customers to see the story of ImageNet when they come in and visit us.
Saving Money and Doing Good
ImageNet preaches efficiency, and it sees the decentralization of print and (even better) the minimization or elimination of print as the ultimate goal in the office environment — not to mention one of the biggest opportunities for improved efficiency and return on investment.
I imagine this focus on efficiency allows you to both save money and be environmentally friendly, as well?
RUSSELL: Our industry is unique in that we are one of a few industries that requires little to no investment to be environmentally friendly. We provide our customers recycle containers that we remove and recycle as needed.
With our ECM offering we can reduce waste considerably by reducing the amount of print that is produced daily. A great example of this can be found by one customer that reclaimed office space after removing all of their filing cabinets occupying over 1,000 square feet and going paperless.
Internally we have implemented several areas of green initiatives, from recycling paper, plastic, and cans to melting Styrofoam and recycling crates for which equipment is shipped. We have reduced our waste down from three large trash containers being removed twice a week to one trash container (half filled) removed once a week.
Since we offer electronic content management with workflows that back it, we can take that paper-based environment and turn it into a paperless environment.
Efficiency In-house…and on the Road
Another way that ImageNet saves money and improves efficiency for both the company and its customers is its proprietary dispatch software that was developed in-house.
Russell shows off the ImageNet command center, a series of giant screens that show a live picture of the company’s current service calls:
“This is our Oklahoma City snapshot. It’s really not a snapshot; it’s all live. We’ve got eleven open service calls and thirteen calls that have been dispatched to. The pins [on the map] represent where those calls are located and whether they’re being dispatched to. We’ve got the [icons of] cars, so we know where our technicians are at any given moment. They use their own automobiles and are paid by mileage, so we cookie crumb where they go and they don’t really have to turn in their miles anymore because we’re tracking all that for them.”
Does it route them the most efficient way through their service calls?
RUSSELL: It does. It’s powered by Google Maps, so when they get in the car, they know where their next call is going to be, and they know the best, most efficient way to get there—even with traffic. So it reduces the time between point A and point B, which gives us more calls in a day and keeps our customers running and makes them happier. And it’s a great visual for our service managers so they can see downtimes and response times.
We are also using it to monitor our deliveries. We can track our delivery vehicles where they will be on the next stop and what they will be delivering. This has been very helpful for our warehouse managers to make sure we’re staying on schedule.
The People Investment
At the end of the day, ImageNet believes in investing in its people, and it shows.
What sets ImageNet apart from its competitors? What is your competitive advantage?
RUSSELL: It’s a little cliché, but our people, they are the reason for our success. They take our mission statement to heart every day by executing a true consultative approach when providing technology solutions to improve our customer’s bottom line.
We implemented a rigorous training program for all new hires 10 years ago. Every new consultant we hire must go through this class within their first year. We offer two classes a year over a 4-month timeframe. This provides us the avenue to break bad habits for seasoned reps new to ImageNet and affords those new to the industry our philosophy.
As far as we know, no other dealership has invested so much effort and resources into the interior design of their office spaces. Do you have any strategy and philosophy behind those efforts?
RUSSELL: The strategy around investing into our interior design is to provide our customers with an experience that represents both ImageNet and where the industry once was (typewriters) to where it is today and beyond (ECM, Displays, MPS, etc…). The philosophy behind our office space is twofold; first it provides an environment for which our personnel enjoy coming to every day. Secondly and just as important our facilities give us an advantage on hiring talent. ImageNet, like everyone else, works hard to find great talent and our facilities can be the difference between someone accepting a position or looking elsewhere.