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Hit The Managed Print Services Button

It was only a matter of time before the flight to managed services in the hardware space reached the printing and imaging sector, and over the past 18 months it has done so with vigor.


Done correctly, managed print services can be transformative. They can be a differentiator. And the technology and wherewithal are at VARs' fingertips now.

The CRN Test Center examined a new, cutting-edge managed print services offering for VARs that is now in pilot testing by Oki Data Americas Inc., the Mount Laurel, N.J.-based document imaging company. Reviewers also drew on the insight of solution providers to determine best practices for offering managed print services. Here are five steps the channel should take to deliver a managed print services solution that works:

Most enterprises simply have no idea how much money they spend on printer hardware and accessories. Or, even worse, they thought they knew but were off by a country mile. That's where a top-to-bottom assessment of an enterprise's document output costs and hardware costs gets the ball rolling.

Hewlett-Packard Co., Palo Alto, Calif., Xerox Corp., Lexmark International Inc. and Oki Data are four vendors well-known for channel programs and presence in the document solutions space. In Oki Data's case, the company is now piloting a multistage program with 17 solution providers in the U.S. Here, Oki Data actually ships each VAR a Launch Kit that includes a questionnaire that the VAR goes through with the customer to gather information about deployed printing technology and workflow needs. It also includes a USB Assessment Key—a small USB device the size of a thumb drive that is installed into an endpoint on the network and searches the network for all attached printing devices through a simple SMTP application. The application files the information into a census that is repeated again at a later date. The solution provider ships the key and the completed questionnaire back to Oki Data, which uses the data to generate an assessment report for the solution provider that offers complete details on device usage, consumables usage, costs and potential areas of consolidation, management and savings.

At any stage in the process, the solution provider can opt to use its own assessment collection technology or analytics engine. The vendor offers them to channel partners that choose not to make that investment, Oki Data executives said.

Once the assessment is completed, it's up to the VAR to explain the results to the customer. In the sample assessment report that Oki Data provided, the results began with an executive summary that noted the enterprise assessed spends $825,058.17 annually on its printed document fleet and identified potential annual savings of $358,395.60 through removal and re-deployment of assets, modification of standards and printer upgrades. That data is followed up with the news that the savings can be reaped through a one-time capital outlay of $176,070 or a monthly lease of $2,934.50 over the next five years for a technology refresh.

Yes, that is an awful lot to lay on a customer. But the assessment provides page after page of detail to support the bottom line. Some charts show system bottlenecks, while other charts show that 82 percent of all print jobs are simple Microsoft Word documents, Adobe Acrobat documents or e-mails.

Oki Data's analytics engine, based on data collected by the VAR, provides one example after another to show potential savings in an easy-to-understand manner.

Solution providers can also opt for vendor-neutral assessments. For example, if the customer is a law firm, it only takes a few questions to find out how much the law firm spends on overnight parcel delivery of text-based documents. By buying and deploying a multifunction printer (MFP) with scan-to-email capability, a text document might be better e-mailed via PDF or delivered via an FTP server and the physical document sent two-day mail. Savings could pay for an MFP within months.

Next: Consultation

Solution providers who know their customers can provide the most critical piece of the puzzle: the consultation. For the trusted local IT advisor, it becomes critical to understand the customer's business and point out the best solution to put all of that assessment to work. An assessment can tell if Printer A on the network is underutilized compared with other, similar printers on the same network. But if Printer A is in a secure area and is only used by the confidential executive assistant to the CEO, that's not a printer that could easily be consolidated with one in use by the marketing team. However, if three marketing writers at the company have their own desktop with off-network printers nestled away in their cubicles, that could be a prime area for consolidation and savings.

The two biggest pain points for VARs breaking into this market are how to bill and how to follow through to actually deliver services to their customers, said Mike Greenberg, president of PrinTelogy Inc., a Denver-based solution provider. The upside is that such services can bring significant margins.

Oki Data, for example, is working toward letting VARs pick which managed services they can personally deliver and which they outsource to the vendor or even another VAR. And, as the assessment report showed, the VAR can present the customer with a flat fee for consolidating hardware all at once, or wrap costs into a monthly payment. Optimally, VARs can can make a healthy profit and help the customer unlock untapped efficiency and savings.

Different vendors provide the channel with different options for deployment of managed print services—either remotely or on-site. Xerox, Stamford, Conn., for example, offers its PagePack plan for much of its Phaser office printing lineup that includes combinations of on-site service with single-invoice monthly fees for consumables and hardware. Lexmark, Lexington, Ky., has teamed with traditional managed service provider companies like N-able Technologies Inc., Ottawa, and others to deliver service, consumables and remote management in one solution.

In Oki Data's solution, the vendor provides remote service capabilities via an application called PrintSuperVision.Net Version 2.4, a free-for-download utility based on Microsoft's .NET architecture. PrintSuperVision.Net, which requires the IIS framework to operate, has been designed to keep tabs on a print/MFP fleet on a network and provides realtime visibility into device operation and produces operational reports on the fly that can be e-mailed to an administrator. With Oki Data printers on a network, it also can predict toner and consumables use and replenishment requirements, included in an array of about 200 customizable alerts. VARs can work out management plans with the customer to provide soup-to-nuts service including toner and paper replacement or merely monitoring services.

The CRN Test Center found PrintSuperVision.Net relatively easy to install and configure and the console to provide a straightforward, device-level view of printers on a network.

As with any services offering, VAR-to-customer follow-up is an essential best practice. Here, all of the assessment and consulting tools mentioned can be re-deployed on a quarterly basis to inform the customer of trends in use, workflow and cost. PrintSuperVision, for example, has a report-writing tool that makes data collection on a print fleet fairly straightforward. Especially with tools that are provided at no cost, the VAR can offer free follow-up consultation to the customer during the life of the managed services contract.

Device consolidation can also be a continuing process, rather than an event, as a business's workforce—or workflow—changes. Regular follow-up is simply essential to stay in touch with a customer's changing needs to ensure they keep getting value from the solution and to make sure a good customer doesn't get away the next time the contract is up.

"I think the mindset is the biggest challenge," said Wendy Linsky, vice president, product marketing, peripherals division, for Clearwater, Fla.-based distributor Tech Data Corp. "Today a reseller typically walks in and gets a large order of hardware that's a commodity ... they're going in saying 'What do you need?' and giving [the customer] a printer at a price. With print managed services, the question is 'what are you solving for?'"

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