10 Printer Industry Trends To Watch in 2019

The shift toward using multifunction printers as connected devices and a greater emphasis on print security are among the major trends in the market.

Fit To Print

The digital revolution and the arrival of print-wary millennials haven't changed the fact that printing remains a "mission-critical" function in many businesses, according to IDC's Keith Kmetz. "Is there a cliff on the horizon [for office printing]? We're not seeing signs of that," said Kmetz, program vice president of imaging, printing and document solutions programs at the research firm. What the print industry is seeing, however, is a major transformation in its mentality and in its routes to market—including an increased emphasis on services, mobility, security and integrating with a wider range of office workflows.

As part of CRN's Printer Week 2019, we've rounded up 10 of the top printer industry trends to watch this year.

MFP As A Workflow Hub

Without a doubt, the printer industry is looking to expand beyond the traditional business of selling lots of devices. "What we're seeing is more of focus outside the hardware," Kmetz said. "The hardware is commoditized, so software and services that complement the device tend to get more recognition." Ultimately, the multifunction printer (MFP) is transforming into a "workflow or document hub," he said. Along with printing/copying/scanning/faxing, many MFPs now can have apps and workflow solutions added to them, "so you're really talking about more of a systems kind of solution," Kmetz said.

Xerox has had a particularly aggressive push around bringing powerful apps to its multifunction devices. Through its ConnectKey interface, Xerox aims to turn the multifunction device into a smart workplace assistant, with access to apps for simplifying and improving business workflows. Recently, Xerox's line of ConnectKey-enabled devices added support for key business apps such as Salesforce, QuickBooks Online and Concur. In addition, Xerox is endowing printers with software solutions focused on key verticals that can help teachers to give exams and help hospitals with patient care, for instance.

Elsewhere in the industry, HP Inc. recently added the ability for key devices to connect to popular cloud-based apps such as Box, Dropbox and Microsoft OneDrive, and is looking to target specific verticals with software solutions as well.

Moving Into New Markets

The lack of growth in the print market has meant that many of the major industry players are transforming their businesses to add new markets. Xerox, a juggernaut in the massive A3 market, has turned more of its attention to growing a business in the A4 market. HP Inc. has gone the other way around, building on its prowess in A4 to pursue share in the A3 market. HP's share in A3 is "getting into the respectable range," Kmetz said. "They're rising up through the ranks to where they can contend."

Other vendors that have been traditionally strong in retail sales—such as Brother and Epson—are "recruiting in the dealer channel as they bring more higher-end products to the market, that are more SMB- and enterprise-focused," Kmetz said.

Other markets that print companies are looking to top include packaging and labels, print kiosks and 3-D printing, he said. "We're seeing a lot of moves into new market," Kmetz said. Many vendors are saying, "'We're not in these markets, or we're not doing particularly well in these markets, but we can do better. And that's how we're going to grow our business.'"

Focus On Security

Traditionally an overlooked area of cybersecurity, print security has risen to prominence thanks in large part to the awareness-raising efforts and print security offerings from HP Inc. The company includes security technologies in its commercial printers such as Sure Start, which provides self-healing for the device's BIOS from issues such as malware and corruption. Last July, meanwhile, HP announced the first-ever bug bounty program for the print industry. But it's not just HP — "every major manufacturer" in print is now focused on security, Kmetz said. "HP with its marketing power has been able to articulate a print security strategy, which then forces the competition" to respond, he said. "All the major players [now] highlight some sort of print security initiative, because it helps to sell."

Technologies Beyond Print

Vendors such as Konica Minolta are aiming to stand out by providing a collection of technologies for the office. "I see them kind of at the forefront in this industry of providing alternative technologies" beyond the MFP, Kmetz said. "They've been active in providing technologies outside of print." In March, Konica Minolta launched its Workplace Hub, which ties a multi-function device to their MSP subsidiary All Covered—ultimately providing a full suite of IT services in addition to printing and copying.

Workplace Hub enables businesses to add and control all of their IT applications via a touch screen interface. The IT side of the box is powered by HPE servers, with a Sophos XG firewall installed for security. Additional security is provided by All Covered services which offer their own 24/7 SOC, Konica Minolta’s private cloud storage, backup data and recovery. Workplace Hub also offers public cloud integrations with AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.

"The traditional market is at best flat," Kmetz said. "If you want to grow your business by 5, 10 or 20 percent, you're going to have to get into technology categories that cater to the office, but may not necessarily be focused specifically on print."

Cutbacks And Acquisitions

Xerox has been taking steps to reduce costs with measures such as staff cutbacks and office closures. The company is in the process of closing many of its 186 Xerox Business Solutions field offices, forcing sales teams to work remote, and laying off support staff, CRN reported in February. What Xerox is going through now is what HP Inc. already went through following its split from HP Enterprise, Kmetz said. "HP removed a lot of cost out of its operations, and as a result, was able to run the business better," he said. Now Xerox is signaling that it, too, is working to "run things more efficiently," Kmetz said.

Meanwhile, top print industry vendors are continuing to be acquisitive in key areas. Following on HP's acquisition of Samsung's print business in 2017—intended to boost the company's push into A3—HP in August disclosed a deal to acquire U.K.-based managed print services provider Apogee. The acquisition of the major MPS provider has been intended to further help the A3 efforts at HP. The $499 million deal was especially significant because Apogee "wasn't a struggling company by any means," Kmetz said. "They were doing well, and HP met their price." Kmetz said he expects to see additional acquisitions of this nature at HP and other vendors, including in the U.S. market.

Managed Print Services Evolution

Now commonplace in large enterprises, managed print services are continuing to make inroads into the small and medium-sized business (SMB) market. Even companies with as few as 50 employees can benefit from some kind of MPS engagement, Kmetz said. MPS "continues to evolve down-market like that, where the channel in particular can provide a managed print services program for their customers as well," he said. In addition, "we're going to see a continued evolution [in MPS], with advances in machine learning and behavioral analytics" that are driving greater efficiencies, Kmetz said.

Printing On-The-Go

With major print vendors now offering smartphone apps for printing on the go, the next phase is for greater access to printers outside the office. "We're not tethered to our offices like we were in the past," Kmetz said—and being able to print shouldn't be, either. Hotels, airports and libraries—and even coffee shops and convenience stores—could all make sense as locations for printers that on-the-go workers can access. "I think you'll start to see more of that," Kmetz said. "Wouldn't it be great to seamlessly and easily print from your mobile device to any printer that's publicly available? ... It's about enabling mobile worker a little bit more." In February, Xerox announced the Xerox Instant Print Kiosk, a cloud-connected printing station targeted for printing on-the-go at locations such as retail stores, hotels, airports, libraries and college campuses.

Focus On Sustainability

Vendors such as HP Inc. are seeing that a thriving print business and sustainability efforts can—and in fact, must—go hand-in-hand. In March, HP announced an expansion of its sustainability initiative with a commitment to "forest positive" printing—in which all HP-branded paper will come from trees that are planted to become print paper. The company also introduced a new energy-efficient printer and toner--with the launch of the HP LaserJet A4 printer and EcoSmart black toner--and pointed to other achievements in carbon emissions reduction (in part through expanded managed print services) and recycling (including the use of recycled plastics). HP's focus on sustainability continues to expand, particularly as more millennial buyers are "looking for organizations that align with them culturally or philosophically," said Andy Jones, CEO of MCPc, a Cleveland-based HP partner. "HP is doing a good job there on thought leadership. There's a financial impact of being a thought leader in the space—better-lasting brand recognition and image with the younger, modern buyer."

Print As-A-Service

Print as a subscription model—aka, print as-a-service—is "getting some traction," Kmetz said. Rather than the traditional transactions of buying supplies ad hoc, print as-a-service is "automating that process a little bit more," Kmetz said. "We've seen HP getting a lot of traction at the consumer level with Instant Ink—where your machine is tracked, and when you are close to running out, the supplier sends you toner ink cartridges." Potentially, this type of model "gets extended up into the business market too," Kmetz said. "It's something to be watched."

Outlook For Print

Ultimately, even though growth has largely dried up in the print market, print remains "a colossally sized market," Kmetz said. "Our worldwide data would tell you that the hardware value alone is somewhere in the neighborhood of $45 to $50 billion on an annual basis. That is not something that you kill overnight. And if you add in the supplies component and the service component, you're exponentially growing that market. Print is huge. It's mission critical."

Thus, as much there is a push to reduce or eliminate printing in offices, "the fact is we're still processing a lot of content on paper. And we're heavily reliant on this mission-critical function," Kmetz said. "Is there a cliff on the horizon? We're not seeing signs of that."