We’ve tried everything at our disposal to accurately gauge what the future will hold for the office technology ecosystem—crystal ball, Magic 8 Ball, tarot cards, palm reading, fortune tellers—and nothing seems to work. Sadly, we must resort to facts, data and the opinions of experts.
Ever since the pandemic struck, the business world has hit the reset button at the onset of the New Year. What held true for 2019 certainly carried little weight in 2020, and 2020 provided little guidance for 2021. COVID-19, aside from its disastrous impact on the lives of millions, continues to evolve in more ways than one, adding a domino effect on the business side (decentralized workers, mass resignations and supply chain woes) that was impossible to anticipate.
At this point a year ago, all thoughts were on vaccinations, their availability and how soon workers could safely return to the office. According to numerous sources, 60% of Americans have been fully vaccinated; another 10% have received partial doses. As of September 2021, according to Gallup’s update of employment trends, 45% of full-time employees are working partly or full time from home. Thus, even with a majority of Americans having taken the vaccine, the hesitance of business and their employees to fully commit to on-premise work points to a more permanent role in society for remote work. Beyond that, the certainties are few.
We’ve all heard the disappointing math equation: fewer office-based employees equals less centralized printing, minus opportunities to sell big-ticket MFPs. And even those orders that have been written are frustratingly bound in a holding pattern, the result of supply chain challenges. Service and aftermarket opportunities continue to be stymied as well, leaving office dealers to scramble for alternate sources of revenue and profit.
As we assess the challenges of the coming year in light of 2021’s myriad issues, our State of the Industry panel of experts offers views of what we can expect to see in the year ahead. While some projections may be sobering, others offer a glimpse at the opportunities to forge ahead in the market during the most difficult of circumstances.
The days of end-users viewing dealers as MFP, services or software providers are gone, notes Jennie Fisher, senior vice president and general manager, Office Equipment Group, at GreatAmerica Financial Services. Clients don’t differentiate between their computers, phones, copiers and security systems—to them, it’s all IT. Thus, she feels the trend of dwindling print volumes will further expedite the evolution into IT, telephone and services.
“Dealers will expand their offerings to protect their largest profit centers (print) and will also see the benefits of diversifying revenue streams with unified communications and managed IT offerings, even though the margins are tighter,” she said. “Collabrance, a GreatAmerica company, has been actively engaged in conversations with technology dealers who are making the investment to scale their IT services offerings. As M&A activity continues, dealer principals who are looking for an exit will also find that sources of recurring revenue drive higher valuations for their businesses.”
The 2022 hybrid print environment, Fisher adds, will only underscore the importance of IT service providers as clients seek to optimize their remote work approach. “As many of our customers are focused on diversifying their offerings, more solutions and services will be included, such as VoIP, marketing and managed IT,” she said. “These solutions will require advanced invoicing capabilities to combine various financing options into one simple invoice for our dealers’ customers to manage. It should also allow them to scale their processes to be more operationally efficient and cost effective.”
As M&A activity continues, dealer principals who are looking for an exit will also find that sources of recurring revenue drive higher valuations for their businesses.– Jennie Fisher, GreatAmerica Financial Services
With the business world closely monitoring COVID-19 data and its impact on returning to the office, the industry may see an uptick in office products to support the remote worker, but it’s difficult to make money in that space, notes Ray Belanger, president of Bay Copy in Rockland, Massachusetts. “We will probably not see a rebound in clicks anytime soon, at least not in the short term,” he predicted. “There does seem to be pent-up enthusiasm for returning to a more normal environment, so let’s hope that translates into more opportunities.”
Bob Burnett, director of B2B solutions deployment and planning for Brother International, believes digital tools such as cloud technology will provide a balanced deployment of office devices to disperse devices in a decentralized way across the office. By lowering the employee-to-device ratio, it helps ensure secure, efficient and safe workflows.
“As end-users will continue to be wary of high-contact surfaces, mobile printing, NFC badge reader technology, and scanning apps that minimize the need to touch the device itself will also be a prerequisite moving forward,” he observed. “Technology will now need to meet the new demand for low-contact solutions.”
Lower conversion rates are likely to be experienced across the dealer spectrum, according to Matteo Recanatini, marketing director for Offix of Gainesville, Virginia. He sees it as a byproduct of “conversion concentration,” with fewer companies reaping a lion’s share of conversions and increased successes. That equates to diminishing returns for the majority of dealers.
As end-users will continue to be wary of high-contact surfaces, mobile printing, NFC badge reader technology, and scanning apps that minimize the need to touch the device itself will also be a prerequisite moving forward.– Bob Burnett, Brother International
“This polarization will be the product of the widening gap between marketing- and process-focused businesses, and traditional sales approach businesses who see their salesforce as a marketing group,” Recanatini said. “At the same time, I think demand will increase dramatically, and businesses need to be prepared. The winners will be the ones that can capture demand information, respond quickly and accurately, and deliver even faster.”
Jim Coriddi, vice president, dealer division for Ricoh USA, believes organizations will continue leveraging technology adoption to expedite digital transformation initiatives, providing a level of insulation from future disruptions. “It will be critical to ensure that business processes are automated and brought online in digital format as much as possible. This would expedite and navigate a recovery methodology and make for effective disaster recovery planning and solution resiliency,” he said.
Breaking the Chain
One of the toughest pills for the industry to swallow is the continued frustration around supply chain delays. Clark Bugg—director of North America channel sales for Lexmark International—predicts they will continue to hamper the channel at least through the first half of the year. But dealers can mitigate its impact by focusing on other aspects of business.
It will be critical to ensure that business processes are automated and brought online in digital format as much as possible.– Jim Coriddi, Ricoh
“Channel partners can continue to focus on providing products that are engineered for planned durability and to focus on offering cloud platforms to their customers. That would enable them to manage devices remotely, removing the need to schedule technicians to come on-site and perform costly maintenance,” he pointed out.
Cloud technologies that can enable an “anywhere operations” model for employees will be embraced by more businesses, notes Todd Croteau, president of All Covered, Konica Minolta’s IT services division. “To allow the smooth movement of work environments and information between physical and virtual locations, organizations are investing heavily in creating a strong hybrid cloud base, supported by several multi-cloud technologies,” he said.
Croteau also sees the increased movement toward employees working with/alongside machines that use smart and cognitive functionality to bolster the user’s own abilities and skills.
To allow the smooth movement of work environments and information between physical and virtual locations, organizations are investing heavily in creating a strong hybrid cloud base, supported by several multi-cloud technologies.– Todd Croteau, All Covered
As the work culture has changed, so has the way employees interact with their clients. To that end, Felipe Godoy—vice president, business development and sales engineering for RingByName—believes the focus on Total Experience (TX) will take center stage this year.
“The integration of cloud-based technologies for remote work and collaboration, reporting and analytics, as well as artificial intelligence, will allow customers to find and access products and services via multi-channel platforms (ordering via text, chat, social media, email, etc.),” Godoy said. “AI will shorten the sales cycle and provide more targeted information to both the business and the consumer. As a result, the integration between systems and software via API will become even more important—imagine hooking up your phone system to your social media accounts, CRM and even your billing system to provide a richer customer experience and shorter sales cycle.”
Jose Estebanez, vice president, corporate marketing group for Kyocera Document Solutions America, sees a continuing increase for A4 demand, but is even more bullish on the prospect of production print growth in 2022. Even with the increasing trend toward digitalization, he believes the strong showing for products such as brochures, statements and books during the pandemic portends a strong future in the production realm.
“We’ve seen in the news how some publishing houses have been unable to keep up with demand for certain books, and this is hugely encouraging for those in production printing,” Estebanez noted.
The business conditions created by the pandemic could possibly spell a tipping point for the manufacturer base, according to AJ Baggott, COO for RJ Young of Nashville, Tennessee. He wouldn’t be surprised to see it result in unlikely alliances.
“There has to be consolidation at the OEM level eventually, and I would think that the combination of supply chain issues, poor operational management and declining financial results of some of the OEMs will result in the inevitable consolidation or merger of certain suppliers sooner than later,” he said.
We’ve seen in the news how some publishing houses have been unable to keep up with demand for certain books, and this is hugely encouraging for those in production printing.– Jose Estebanez, Kyocera
During the height of the pandemic, companies such as Amazon and Walmart made significant investments in their own end-to-end supply chain operations to eliminate any single point of failure. Adam Field, senior vice president of technology strategy and experience for Kofax, sees it as the onset of a “single platform” revolution that will find its way into the software automation space this year.
“Buyers will be looking for a single platform and vendor to manage their image capture, OCR, NLP, RPA, case management, intelligent automation, e-signature, document generation and print management. A single platform allows for consistency and, most importantly, the empowerment of citizen developers,” Field noted.
Billing new hardware placements will continue to present a struggle in light of continuing supply chain issues, while many businesses in general will face fiscal challenges presented by the current economy, notes Ken Staubitz, COO for Cincinnati-based Modern Office Methods.
Buyers will be looking for a single platform and vendor to manage their image capture, OCR, NLP, RPA, case management, intelligent automation, e-signature, document generation and print management.– Adam Field, Kofax
“Independent dealers servicing clients without guaranteed contracted minimums will continue to be stressed as print volumes will still be lower than pre-pandemic levels,” he noted. “Larger independent dealers acquiring smaller local dealers should continue. Our competition will continue to struggle with increased turnover, which will allow us to further build our award-winning team.”
Chris Falzett, vice president of sales and marketing for TOPP Business Solutions of Scranton, Pennsylvania, believes the supply chain situation will improve in time for a return to normal activity in the second half of the year. He is curious, however, as to how manufacturers will reconcile inflation.
“It seems as if manufacturer direct sales teams are now truly running second to dealer channel, which over time should ramp up M&A activity,” Falzett noted. “We’re always trying to identify strategic acquisition opportunities that would make sense for us.”
Also embracing a more optimistic outlook is Erik Crane, president and CEO of Springfield, Missouri-based CPI Technologies. He predicts 2022 will pave the way to pent-up demand being addressed, which should provide ample opportunities for the dealer channel.
It seems as if manufacturer direct sales teams are now truly running second to dealer channel, which over time should ramp up M&A activity.– Chris Falzett, TOPP Business Solutions
“During the pandemic and now during the recovery, organizations clearly saw how outdated much of their technology was,” he said. “This has provided and will continue to provide huge opportunities within a dealer’s existing client base as well as entry into new accounts. Rolling MFPs, printers, VoIP phones, mailing equipment and IT into one package and one bill is a benefit to both client and dealer.”
Sharing that positive outlook is Deb Dellaposta, president and CEO of Altoona, Pennsylvania-based Doing Better Business. “I believe we’ll see a continued increase in the adoption of managed print and document services and, particularly, in cloud services as businesses work through the need to continue allowing employees to work remotely,” she said.
Impact Networking of Lake Forest, Illinois, is poised for another strong performance in 2022, and CEO Frank Cucco bases the belief on the upward trend of the previous six months. “I think customers are receptive to spending money on technology and updating their stock,” he observed. “I think it will be a breakout year for Impact, just as long as no external forces get in the way.”
I believe we’ll see a continued increase in the adoption of managed print and document services and, particularly, in cloud services as businesses work through the need to continue allowing employees to work remotely.– Deb Dellaposta, Doing Better Business
Likewise, Premium Digital Office Solutions of Parsippany, New Jersey, can thank a strong flourish at the end of 2021 for positioning it to reach greater heights moving forward. “We have many renewals in the forecast as well as many deals that are in the hopper to close,” noted Partner Van Seretis.
The trend toward increased industry consolidation, particularly on the heels of a 2021 that saw a significant year-over-year growth in deals, will garner more momentum in 2022, according to Chip Miceli, president and CEO of Pulse Technology in Schaumburg, Illinois. “Additionally, when you factor in supply shortages, we may have an environment where the strong companies will survive—or sell out,” he added.
Another dealer who projects robust M&A activity as the year rolls along is Roland Tolan, the COO/partner of United Office Technologies Group in Irvine, California. He believes there are ample fits for various OEMs to join forces and fill gaps in their perspective product lines, and in some cases, merging to become an industry superpower.
On the independent dealer side, Tolan projects the emergence of the next IKON Office Solutions in the not-too-distant future. For example, if Sycamore Partners-owned DEX Imaging sought to round up a number of the heaviest hitters to create a $2 billion entity, the possibilities in piggybacking on thousands of Staples customers could lead to a huge public offering, he speculated.
The average dealer will still survive if it embraces digital transformation immediately and expands into the IT business.– Roland Tolan, UOTG
“The average dealer will still survive if it embraces digital transformation immediately and expands into the IT business,” Tolan said. “There are specific territories and areas in our country where customers are loyal to the local provider, and that will still be there for years to come, when the 1,000-pound gorilla will acquire all of those to capture that market. Will there still be small dealers that just repair copiers and printers? Absolutely. I see them still being around for quite a few years.”
Larry White, the president and CEO of Toshiba America Business Solutions, also projects a healthy number of transactions within the space, particularly with dealers obtaining fellow dealers, while OEM activity in adding dealers to their direct operations will be a non-factor in 2022. “I think we’ll see activity among the megadealers as well as the sub-$100 million players,” he said. “I talk to dealers in the $6-to-$8 million range that are actively looking to acquire, so I think there will be a lot of opportunities in the next 12 months.”
The shift to a distributed print model is expected to continue during 2022, as sales have shown demand for A4 products remains higher than A3, according to Joe Contreras, commercial marketing executive, Office Solutions, for Epson America. “Simultaneously, the disruptions of the last two years have led to a renewed interest in process improvements as companies are rethinking business practices to overcome the challenges of the moment with an eye on the future,” he added.
I talk to dealers in the $6-to-$8 million range that are actively looking to acquire, so I think there will be a lot of opportunities in the next 12 months.– Larry White, Toshiba
Keep it Simple
With the hybrid office likely a reality during the foreseeable future, Mike Marusic, president and CEO of Sharp Imaging and Information Company of America, believes many of the newer and hybrid ways of doing business are likely to become permanent. Thus, as work styles become more complicated, customers will seek ways to simplify technology procurement and usage.
“We expect that will lead end-users to look for fewer dealers that can offer more value across their office and hybrid needs,” Marusic remarked. “Dealers who diversify within the office supply industry will ultimately win customers, not necessarily because they’re less expensive or offer better service, but because going to one supplier for all their needs will help simplify things for the customer.”
Between inflation and continued logistics problems, Mark DeNicola believes the industry will have its hands full in 2022. The CFO/CSO of Knoxville, Tennessee-based Centriworks also believes that skilled labor requirements will continue to outpace supply, having a downward impact on quality service delivery while increasing wages. “These trends will decrease the bottom line for dealers and manufacturers if they don’t start to increase their CPC rates immediately,” he said.
Dealers who diversify within the office supply industry will ultimately win customers, not necessarily because they’re less expensive or offer better service, but because going to one supplier for all their needs will help simplify things for the customer.– Mike Marusic, Sharp
Brad Cates, president and CEO of Cincinnati-based Prosource, is bullish on 2022, as his company was able to build on the strength of its solutions and its workforce. The Queen City dealer is coming off a year when it reaped substantial growth in managed IT and managed cybersecurity, as clients continued to recognize the need to be more proactive in their approach to technology. That demand will continue in 2022, and he believes the momentum will drive the best companies to find new and innovative ways to serve their customers.
A company’s ability to successfully achieve and support that growth is ultimately going to come back to talent, and whether you’ve built the culture, environment and flexibility needed to compete in the war for talent.– Brad Cates, Prosource
That said, dealer growth is not attainable without the buy-in of its people, and Cates believes Prosource has that area covered. “A company’s ability to successfully achieve and support that growth is ultimately going to come back to talent, and whether you’ve built the culture, environment and flexibility needed to compete in the war for talent,” he said. “Building the best team and talent continues to be one of our top strategic priorities, and it’s a big part of our plan for 2022 and beyond.”