Managed Print: An Aggregated Approach That Drives Channel Revenue

It may not be the "sexiest" discussion in the world of information technologies, but relatively new developments in the stalwart world of printing have launched profitable opportunities for MSPs and also for traditional VARs looking to explore their options in the managed services arena.

"If you go back five or six years, managed print services emerged as a way to consolidate print and aggregate your spend under a common platform that can manage print related assets," said Sam Errigo, senior vice president of Business Intelligence Services for San Francisco-based Konica Minolta Business Solutions USA, Inc. "It's more than providing printers and toner. It's about collecting data from every printer on the network in order to capture volume information [and] cost information and track consumables. We can use the data to drive very intelligent business decisions and processes, as opposed to guessing about what is going to work well, and then hope for the best."

Errigo concedes that the number of units being purchased is on the decline. But, Konica Minolta's strategy is focused on share shift that is driven by efficiency, expense reduction and a thorough understanding of how printing is used within the specific customer organization. "We can tell you overall cost, we can tell you utilization, we can tell you who prints what, when, where by application type," he said. "And then we aggregate all of that data into a centralized repository and can advise customers on everything that relates to their print spend. So when we go see a customer, it's a very data-driven conversation."

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Currently, Konica Minolta is working with approximately 385 channel partners that can leverage the vendor's print management capabilities towards effective management of printer "fleets." These efforts extend beyond dealing with paper jams and supplying toner cartridges. It's also about eliminating low usage devices and making sure that the devices in use reflect the actual traffic patterns.

Although Errigo stated that partners can be profitable immediately, he also added that volume plays an important role in helping to ensure success.

"The number of devices at a minimum needs to be 50 to 75 units, in my opinion," he said. "If it's much less than that, you'll never be able to optimize and really drive exponential cost savings. If you can gather the data and drive sustainable cost savings, then you are providing high value to the customer and truly managing the print service."

Since the channel has long built its reputation based on technical capabilities and the ability to understand and influence the customer, many vendors in the MPS space recognize the inherent value of strong channel relationships as a prerequisite to building strong customer relationships.

"We are trying to build a practice that enables our partners to be competitive and build a long-term strategy around us," said Mike Johnson, vice president of SMB channels at Lexmark. "That means moving the transaction from a commodity sale to a value sale. We have a toolset that can do the analysis and figure out the volumes of printing, who does the printing, and similar aspects that can help the partner determine how best to meet their printing needs on a managed services basis.

"It's mostly about rightsizing the fleet," Johnson said. "That's the source of the big savings in MPS. Very often companies have more printers than they really need. And as you look at the fleet and how it is used, you get a sense of what the volumes of consumables should look like."

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In most cases, the devices themselves tend to be owned by the customer organization. But, the managed services component is typically based on any number of models, whether that is based on the number of cartridges, the cost per page or some similar means of measurement.

"Don't just go in and take over the fleet," said Lexmark's Johnson. "Do the assessment and build a cost-benefit analysis. That's when you can make money."

Technology Integration Group (TIG), a San Diego-based integrator, counts itself among the early adopters of managed print services after having entered the space several years ago. The company takes a very systematic approach to understanding the print environment of a company, and in so doing, claims it can typically save its customers money.

"It helps people develop a budget," said Becky Connolly, the company's director of managed print services. "By establishing it as a service, there are no highs or lows. If the printer goes down, if the rollers are done, it doesn't matter. Everything is included at that price. You can also enhance security and be able to cost-out the printing to specific departments. It's a simplified way of managing an area that has been an uncontrolled cost forever."

TIG works, in part, with Hewlett-Packard, which has assembled an entire platform and strategy around managed print services over the course of the last year. HP has built a large-scale infrastructure that provides partners with capabilities around remote management, billing, administration, monitoring and service deployment. "All of those are multimillion dollar investments," said Mike Weir, vice president and general manager of managed services at HP. "The partners can choose to use us on an agency basis, or as a subcontractor for their own contracts. By utilizing the HP infrastructure, these IT VARs can use their working capital to build incremental solutions on top of the platform we provide."

Partners working with the agent model bring customers to HP, and then they get a percentage of toner revenues, software provisioning revenues, break/fix, and also a finder's fee, Weir said. In addition, the partner typically gets discounts for the corresponding sale of hardware.

"The IT VAR already has a stronghold with their customer, but they don't necessarily have access to the printing aspect of this," Weir said. "So we are offering them the ability to get a printing footprint with these customers to broaden their capabilities and their profitability. In many cases, the partners can even develop homegrown applications using the OXP open extensibility platform and run those on top of the HP platform."

The concept also resonates with Jeremy Morgan, MPS sales manager at Valcom, a Salt Lake City-based HP partner.

"Managed print services enable us to capture consistent reoccurring revenue because of the value that is added to hardware and supplies," he said. "We have been able to wrap service into a more complete solution. And in that way, it makes us more competitive because it's more of a solution sale that includes recommendations around potential cost savings, based on quarterly business reviews that examine how they use printing in their organizations."