The majority of the glass-half-full crowd tends to take a critical view of performance and results when reflecting on the previous year. We sometimes tend to be our own biggest critics, focusing on the areas in which we came up short as a team, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. That internal temperature gauge is useful, but truth be known—even with the benefit of hindsight—chances are there’s little we could have done to craft a significantly different outcome.
That may sound like a cop-out, but rolling that instant replay over and over in your mind will eventually lead to a bad case of indigestion. So give yourself a break. In conjunction with this month’s trends and predictions State of the Industry report, our esteemed panel offers their views on where we, as an industry, showed improvement and/or took a step or two backward. There’s no room for second-guessing, only reflection on where we’ve come following the second year under COVID-19’s thumb. Hopefully, you’ll find value or even validation in common experiences, which perhaps may leave you with a less critical view of your own 2021 performance.
For Ken Staubitz, vice president of client services and aftermarket support for Modern Office Methods of Cincinnati, 2021 underscored the value and need for guaranteed contracts. Recurring revenue is critical to the health of any dealership, and the pressures of the past year drove that notion home.
Staubitz accentuated the positives. “We also improved our ability to be more flexible and how to navigate a work-from-home strategy if needed,” he said. “Improving our use of technology to keep our staff productive was key in this step forward. We only see an increased use of technology continuing and our clients will drive that need.”
As in 2020, the past year reminded us of the constancy of business uncertainty brought about by the pandemic, notes Oscar Sanchez, president and CEO of Kyocera Document Solutions America. The supply chain crisis made the business world appreciate just how interconnected we are, and it also served to illustrate the danger of an over-dependence on a small number of transport hubs for equipment, which will be at the foreground of business strategies moving forward.
“On an overall business level, we also realized the value of being flexible and adaptable,” Sanchez remarked. “We continue to face new challenges but new technologies and new approaches to work are allowing us to navigate these choppy waters better than before. Even in the face of variants and supply chain issues, we are finding ways to continue operating in the most optimal way possible thanks to the agile strategy which we’ve worked on over the last few years. That is a big positive when looking ahead.”
In terms of steps backward, Chip Miceli—president and CEO of Pulse Technology in Schaumburg, Illinois—the downshift in clicks prompted dealers to dig deeper in pursuing new accounts and services. “For us, it included further strengthening our managed network (IT) services, investing in videoconferencing services, and document management,” he said. “We’ve worked to make up for the decline in clicks.”
Adam Field, senior vice president of technology strategy and experience for Kofax, one area that will get “lots of love” this year is employee experience. He feels 2021 illustrated how people are adaptable, but also want to love what they do—otherwise, they’ll be headed for the exit. Companies that don’t focus on their employees are in danger of seeing everything downstream suffer.
“Low-code, AI, big data, and automation have and will continue to enhance the customer and developer experiences, and now it’s high time the employees get some of the focus,” Field said. “While 2021 showed that we can all be productive remotely, it also revealed the fact that, as humans, we want to have a purpose. Although otherwise promised, technology too often gets in the way instead of helping. If we can use technology to automate the mundane while creating great tools that allow people to focus on the jobs they were hired to do, we will create a workforce that is valued and loyal.”
Employees aren’t the only ones in danger of flying the office technology coop—keeping abreast of the client’s situation will serve dealers well, notes Van Seretis, partner with Premium Digital Office Solutions of Parsippany, New Jersey. “Don’t wait. Don’t take anything for granted, meaning some clients that are here today may not be there tomorrow,” he said. “Go out and close all today, not tomorrow.”
Mike Marusic, president and CEO of Sharp Imaging and Information Company of America, continues to pound the broad portfolio drum to help sustain dealers during slower periods. The opportunities to provide solutions such as unified communications and laptops will continue to grow as clients sort out their work from home arrangements.
The supply chain snafus represented a major step backward for many manufacturers, according to Marusic. “While some manufacturers suffered worse than others, nobody was completely untouched,” he said. “The best vendors improved in their ability to communicate about inventory and changing business conditions, and we feel that at Sharp, we took a step forward via more open and active communications with our dealer channel.”
What 2021 also signified is the belief that the channel cannot rely on what has worked in the past to remain successful, notes Joe Contreras, commercial marketing executive, Office Solutions, for Epson America. Those dealers who gained ground and defied the trends were those that were disruptive, future-focused and employed a differentiated approach, he added.
Contreras gives bonus points to the industry as a whole for adapting to market needs, managing the business and teams virtually, and capturing print in hybrid environments. “Many have learned to become more efficient and productive through the use of virtual meeting applications and cloud-based device management tools to provide a better service experience to their clients,” he said. “While virtual fatigue has set in, there is a balance that can be struck that allows to further enhance and build upon customer relationships and the overall experience.”
Erik Crane, president and CEO of CPI Technologies in Springfield, Missouri, gives his team high marks for improving internal communications within the dealership. This had a salutary effect on customer-facing deliverables.
“Better communication with remote workers using technology or new means of communication has been vital to continuing to a high level of service to our clients,” he said.