Our friends at Merriam-Webster define “trend” as a prevailing tendency or inclination. It is also a general movement, line of development or a current style or preference. But when a stiff wind of change comes along, that prevailing tendency can shift, setting our boats toward a new course. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that trends are often temporary, lost in the moment, though sometimes cyclical.
The entire year was a cheat, to be sure; the pandemic artificially influenced how we do business. Many new trends were anything but organic. That’s not to say that video conferencing and A4 printers weren’t garnering momentum. But conferencing tools and desktops have been with us for quite some time. And not one individual could foresee temperature-scanning kiosks coming down the pike. If 2020 was an NCAA championship pool, we would’ve all went bust for having A3 gear in the title game. As it was, it didn’t even qualify!
All 2020 did was effectively lock A3 out of the room; ditto for service. That’s a huge generality—MFPs, MPS and technical service are, and still will be, considerable tools in the dealer belt for years to come. That they absorbed quite a wallop is no secret, nor do many doubt their ability to rebound strongly by the second half of 2021. Still, will there be consequences?
Like a tough grease stain on a white blouse, COVID-19 will leave a mark once it exits. How much working from home erodes office print volumes remains to be seen, but as some businesses approach the one-year mark for remote work, it’s almost a certainty that not everyone will return on premises full time. That opens a myriad of challenges and opportunities for all aspects of the office technology universe. Business plans have been erased and rewritten. And trends, regardless of whether they were by design or for the sake of survival, are still trends at day’s end…but they, too, will soon change.
All things considered, we have polled every constituency in our industry for January’s State of the Industry Report on trends and predictions for 2021. This is a lot to take in; the fearless forecasts appear in a separate feature on page 14, so be sure to check that out as well.
Obviously, the short- and long-term impact of COVID-19 on the office environment and the remote worker is the subject on most minds, according to Doug Albregts, president of Marco. How dealers—many of which required loans and other capital to survive and grow—emerge from this period will be most telling.
“This comes as organizations have needed to make significant investments in security,” Albregts pointed out. “An explosion of security concerns related to data breaches and ransomware is infiltrating the SMB space. How dealers can integrate a security practice into their offerings will be interesting to watch.”
Albregts believes companies fully integrating their business with IT and print managed service offerings will ultimately win the day. These developments will create growth opportunities for the resilient companies serving the industry.
An explosion of security concerns related to data breaches and ransomware is infiltrating the SMB space. How dealers can integrate a security practice into their offerings will be interesting to watch.– Doug Albregts, Marco
The hastening of the natural decline in print volumes bears watching, according to Larry White, COO of Toshiba America Business Solutions, and he feels COVID perpetuating remote workforces has accelerated the decline by three to five years. By the same token, White believes this development will lead to new MPS opportunities for home printer needs.
“Ensuring corporate security requirements for these devices will represent another growth opportunity for our community,” White said. “Still another trend you will see more of in 2021 is the move to more cloud printing. Companies will look for vendors offering the most flexible yet secure cloud print management capabilities available.”
Joe Contreras, commercial marketing executive, office solutions for Epson America, projects a continued movement from centralized print to a distributed print model. While the demand for A4 to facilitate work- and learn-from-home environments has taken center stage, he believes the demand for A3 is not going away. As the industry continues to evolve, he says it is a matter of how a product is being utilized and placed, in addition to where the share of page volume is headed.
As such, Contreras feels one of the top priorities for dealers is offsetting lost page volume revenue and profit. “One of the first steps in addressing this challenge is understanding where print is taking place,” he said. “With many organizations anticipating to continue operations with hybrid workforces in 2021 and beyond, the right balance of A4 and A3 will be key. While capturing print regardless of where it is taking place is not a new strategy, it is one that has now become even more critical.
With many organizations anticipating to continue operations with hybrid workforces in 2021 and beyond, the right balance of A4 and A3 will be key.– Joe Contreras, Epson
“Continuing into the new year, many businesses will be looking to build a more sustainable future by way of office technology that has environmental benefits while delivering on reliability, productivity and efficiency, all in a cost-effective package.”
Expanding product and service portfolios are certainly a strong call for 2021, notes Laryssa Alexander, president of ECI Software Solutions’ field service division. Whether it’s IT-related services, A/V and telephony, or more ancillary areas such as thermal, POS printers or wide-format devices, there are opportunities for additional margin.
Alexander is also optimistic for a print recovery. “Experts and influencers have been saying for years that print is dead, but we are currently seeing that after an initial dive in April, print is on the rise in all geographies for the devices we monitor,” she said. “This is definitely a trend we’ll be watching.”
In Massachusetts, an uptick in COVID-19 cases heading into winter signifies a need to continue addressing the work-from-home environment for the foreseeable future, notes Ray Belanger, president of Bay Copy. For MPS providers, that necessitates the ability to serve remote and on-site needs. And from a technical service standpoint, that entails keeping technicians abreast of health guidance restrictions and guidelines.
“We undertook a large deal with a major health care provider this year, and we needed to be certain that our techs were up to speed on all the protocols needed, which of course included masks, shields and other precautions,” Belanger said.
“I believe that MPS will remain a key part of our offerings, in particular as companies look to cost-cutting measures. It’s not an automatically understood concept, though, and a big part of what happens in 2021 may be greater education of our customers on how it works and why it is important for their business.”
A reallocation in print volume is also in the cards moving forward, as is the acceleration of remote work and enterprises revisiting their office space and technology needs, notes Dan Waldinger, senior director, B2B marketing for Brother International. He sees this trio of developments as being intertwined.
I believe that MPS will remain a key part of our offerings, in particular as companies look to cost-cutting measures.Ray Belanger, Bay Copy
“Just as it appears 2021 may see the end of the COVID pandemic, it’s equally clear that the evolution of work has permanently accelerated, and returning to business as usual—in which employees are co-located in one centralized location—is not in the forecast for many industries,” Waldinger remarked. “More workforces will be more mobile than ever before, and OEMs and dealers must adjust accordingly. However, change always leads to new opportunities, such as extended printing and secure document management services for decentralized workforces.”
One of the most pressing issues for Brad Cates, president and CEO of Prosource, is the demand outlook for the office equipment space in 2021. After seeing revenue and gross profits pinched from March into May, Prosource saw demand return in June, with an improved third quarter to follow.
With geographic flare-ups and talks of widespread vaccinations by mid-year, Cates sees a connection with the evolving nature of supplier-dealer relationships: how and at what quantity dealers can buy and consume products from manufacturers.
“As dealers move toward more of a just-in-time approach, the programs and incentives from manufacturers will also need to evolve to ensure the profitability of both groups and the ability to effectively sell and drive growth in the market,” Cates said.
Once the COVID tides have receded, Eric Martin—president of Clover Imaging Group—sees permanent, major structural changes in the way businesses operate. The hybrid workforce is accelerating the shift from A3 to A4 devices more rapidly than forecasted, which has been accompanied by a significant uptick in demand for SoHo devices and cartridges.
As dealers move toward more of a just-in-time approach, the programs and incentives from manufacturers will also need to evolve to ensure the profitability of both groups and the ability to effectively sell and drive growth in the market.– Brad Cates, Prosource
“As businesses come back online, their number-one goal is cost reduction,” Martin said. “This is obviously an advantage for Clover, as our remanufactured cartridges offer significant cost savings over the OEMs while also providing numerous environmental benefits. We also foresee further consolidation in the industry, especially from the OEM side of the business, and predict we will see it continuing in the dealer channel as well.”
Jim Coriddi, vice president, dealer division for Ricoh Americas, notes many organizations have been changing their processes across industries and segments, an ongoing development that truly accelerated in 2020. As such, Coriddi believes businesses are seeking expertise-laden partners to help foster this transformation.
“To succeed, savvy dealers will adapt to the demand for workflow and process improvements, both short term and long term,” he said. “As people return to offices, the demand for secured, effective processes that empower work from anywhere is going to stick around. Part of the reason for that is many workers simply won’t be returning to offices, with some businesses realizing remote work is a good fit for them. Meanwhile, digital transformation continues to be the way forward for modern businesses—the same as it was pre-pandemic.”
To succeed, savvy dealers will adapt to the demand for workflow and process improvements, both short term and long term.– Jim Coriddi, Ricoh
Road to Recovery
Pulse Technology President and CEO Chip Miceli notes that even if vaccines and therapeutics become widely available throughout the year, a resumption of the “old normal” will take time to recalibrate, and certain segments of the economy will work remotely for years to come. Even with new product introductions, he sees less printing taking place, with dealers continuing to emphasize MPS more than ever and managed network services becoming more prevalent in dealer portfolios.
“I expect in our own business to see an uptick in furniture sales, which is a comparatively new offering for us,” Miceli said. “We see the economy right now as stronger in Indiana than in Illinois because of the shutdowns. We have added other features, including the new technology of one-screen scanners that take a person’s temperature. These are popular in the offices, and the newer ones have facial recognition as well.”
Pulse is also introducing video security technology for buildings, as well as large-format printing for architects, builders and designers. Miceli is also leveraging Epson’s PrecisionCore inkjet technology for areas such as on-demand printing of disposable restaurant menus.
A trio of trends tops the list for Stephanie Kennard, executive vice president of sales in North and Latin America for Y Soft. She sees the cloud movement becoming more prevalent for businesses, while dealer and supplier revenue streams will emanate more from subscriptions as opposed to upfront pricing models.
The hybrid workforce is becoming more embraced as well, according to Kennard. “The industry has to pivot to be able to help these companies support their remote workers,” she said.
Speaking of subscription-based services, ARLINGTON Marketing Director Brent Martin believes they will continue to eat into traditional transactional selling as OEMS including HP take their business direct to consumers. Thus, he feels it’s essential for resellers to emphasize value-added services and support in tandem with a plan to compete with subscription services through the selling of competitive aftermarket supplies.
The industry has to pivot to be able to help these companies support their remote workers.– Stephanie Kennard, Y Soft
“The decision by some OEMs to take their business direct to consumers–therefore, going into direct competition with their resale partners–should awaken resellers to offer their own alternative supplies subscription plans providing cost savings to end-users,” Martin said. “Distributors and suppliers must continue looking at new ways to support their resellers in this area, with back-end solutions assisting the resellers’ ability to compete in this arena.”
One of the pandemic’s more damaging effects on dealer business is lower aftermarket revenue, according to Mark Flesch, COO of Gordon Flesch Company. He fears it will have a long-lasting effect on the industry.
“Even when COVID is behind us, more and more companies will have large numbers of people working from home, and print volumes will not migrate to home offices,” Flesch said. “I have to believe that our aftermarket numbers will never be at the levels they were before COVID.”
Another observer who believes the work-from-home movement will continue post-pandemic is David Concors, senior vice president of sales for Supplies Network. Increased printing at home would be a troubling development for business, he notes, based on limited paths to the home printing market. Concors is concerned that recent OEM-bundled solutions such as the newer HP+ limit opportunities in the channel.
Even when COVID is behind us, more and more companies will have large numbers of people working from home, and print volumes will not migrate to home offices.– Mark Flesch, Gordon Flesch Company
“We feel pretty certain that OEM product availability will continue to be a bit of a roller coaster as supply chains continue to be impacted by the pandemic and the overall stress in the logistics sector,” Concors added. “We naturally keep a close eye on the financial health of our reseller customer community and expect to see sustained M&A activity.”
Leveraging virtual technologies has enabled businesses worldwide to enhance customer service and support while shifting their operations. Katsuhiro “Jerry” Matsufuji, vice president and general manager of Canon U.S.A., notes that while virtual communications cannot match the experience of in-person interactions, virtual training can provide dealers with insights into relevant topics for today’s business environment.
“From virtual training courses, events and demonstrations to remote customer support enhancements Canon utilizes such as augmented intelligence assets, virtual presence and predictive logic, these tools can help dealers find new ways to support their customers without losing the human touch,” he said.
Another offshoot of the pandemic is a heightened awareness around security provisions, particularly in light of the work-from-home environment, according to Anneliese Olson, general manager and global head, printing category for HP. She notes that companies are quickly moving to mitigate risks by identifying gaps and discovering the right solutions.
From virtual training courses, events and demonstrations to remote customer support enhancements Canon utilizes such as augmented intelligence assets, virtual presence and predictive logic, these tools can help dealers find new ways to support their customers without losing the human touch.– Jerry Matsufuji, Canon
“Studies show that IT leaders are 77 percent more concerned about security since the start of the pandemic,” she said. “In the year ahead, we’ll see more solution-based products and services to make hybrid workforces more secure across both office and home locations.”
José Estébanez, vice president of corporate marketing for Kyocera Document Solutions America, notes three intertwined developments that have been accelerated by the pandemic—the shift from A3 to A4, hybrid working and online selling. The third trend is obviously not confined to any one industry, but as the pandemic has reduced in-person consultation, the ability to sell is being elevated to an art form.
It’s a development that touches every aspect of the imaging landscape. “We, and in particular our sales teams, have to operate online more than ever, whether that’s sales pitches or demonstrations via video calls or an online e-commerce platform,” Estébanez said. “Providing sales enablement tools to facilitate this will be absolutely essential.”
We, and in particular our sales teams, have to operate online more than ever, whether that’s sales pitches or demonstrations via video calls or an online e-commerce platform.– José Estébanez, Kyocera
Touchless digital-collaboration tools and workplace apps will take on greater significance moving forward, points out Michael Pietrunti, senior vice president, U.S. multi-brand dealer channel for Xerox. He cited a global survey of IT decision makers that indicated 56% of businesses plan to increase technology budgets, and 34% will accelerate digitization with heavy investments in touchless workplace apps, digital collaboration tools, and process automation solutions and services.
According to Pietrunti, these priorities align with Xerox’s innovations. “Our Workplace Mobile App, for example, enables touchless print, scan and copy functions on MFPs,” he said. “Multifunctional devices and printers will support a combination of on-site, hybrid and remote workers, increasing in role and importance, enabling a seamless work experience wherever employees are located.”
Laura Blackmer, senior vice president, dealer sales for Konica Minolta Business Solutions, believes solutions pertaining to return to work, collaboration and phone systems will be among the biggest talking points in 2021. With employees logging in from far and wide to access networks, the ability to manage all of this via a robust security system will lead to significant demand for providers.
“This will create opportunities for dealers that have these offerings, and prompt many to expand their portfolios to include these services,” Blacker added.
Many observers agree that diversification is a trend that bears watching for dealers, manufacturers and all providers to the industry. Mike Marusic, president and CEO of Sharp Imaging and Information Company of America, feels it will be interesting to watch how the industry responds to growing consumer needs for more collaborative solutions.
This will create opportunities for dealers that have these offerings, and prompt many to expand their portfolios to include these services.– Laura Blackmer, Konica Minolta
“Digitalization has accelerated due to the pandemic and will continue to do so in 2021,” Marusic noted. “This is especially crucial for dealers as they look to help their customers make the gradual adjustment from a world of paper to one in which digital dominates.”
Decreased print volumes and the continued digital transformation are among the most noteworthy factors that bear watching, according to Dan Meyer, president of Impact Networking. Meyer points out that print volumes are down significantly since the pandemic arrived, with work-from-home requirements accelerating the digital movement.
Like Blackmer, Meyer notes the need for protection will fuel cybersecurity offerings, pointing to a PCMag report that showed a 350% increase in phishing attempts since the pandemic’s onset. “Additionally, employees working from home and the processes put in place to get employees ready for work from home can pose a serious security risk,” he said.
Additionally, employees working from home and the processes put in place to get employees ready for work from home can pose a serious security risk.– Dan Meyer, Impact Networking
The continued growth of the mobile workforce is bringing more focus to cloud applications, said Clark Bugg, director of North America channel sales for Lexmark. Bugg noted an IDC report that indicated by 2021, one-third of companies with fewer than 500 employees will have adopted structured print and document management policies supported by cloud-based software.
“The challenges of on-site fleet management are also leaving SMBs and dealers in search of a better solution,” Bugg added. “In addition to costly, time-consuming deployment, and difficult service and reconfiguration requirements, partners have faced access issues and employee safety concerns due to the pandemic. Leveraging cloud technology allows dealers to maintain the entire print infrastructure of their SMB customers from one integrated tool. This makes it easy to configure printers and keep them up to date with the latest recommended firmware, all without in-person, on-site visits.”