Historically IT vendors moving into print were challenging established print dealerships’ business, but today, more print resellers are successfully building in IT services into their offer, this month’s panel share their thoughts on the current climate
PITR: Do you think the tables have turned, is it now the print channel that poses a threat to IT vendors?
Mike Holyoake, Group Sales Director, Zerographic Systems:
“We are now seeing historic print technology resellers moving their sales propositions further upstream and downstream, embracing more of the document lifecycle.
“In order to unleash the true potential of the MFD print device, resellers need to open up the client’s document work?ow and deliver propositions which embrace the changing requirements of the user and the organisation – including mobile print, document security and cloud based applications.”
Scott Walker, MPS Business Development Manager, ZenOffice:
“I certainly don’t think the tables have turned. IT vendors are also realising that strategic partnerships to strengthen their core offering is the way forward.
“ZenOffice already partners with some key IT service providers which allows them to tender for business with the added value a managed print provider can offer. Our core offering has changed through growth and allows us to offer a range of hardware including laptops, PCs and tablets if required. IT often forms part of an organisation’s mobile working objectives, so we’re simply ticking more boxes for our clients. The point is, a strategic partnership isn’t a threat to the IT vendor…it’s a benefit, and vice versa.”
Simon Riley, Sales Director, Direct-tec:
“I didn’t find too many IT vendors moving into our space, most just wanted to partner with us for expertise and vice versa. We had an IT support company that grew as a result of the network support we gave to clients and the fact we reacted quicker than their current IT support company.
“Also we found some of our clients liked the fact we did it all and they had everything under one roof. Our typical client sits within the SME market, and many companies did not have their own in house IT support, and we took advantage of that. That started back in 2006, now 11 years on we don’t have the IT company as such, although we still have many technicians from that side of the business working on our software portfolio with us. “The reason we decided to do this is that cloud services came in and it became hard to compete on price. I don’t think the tables have turned, I certainly think there is a grey area where we cross over, but as long as both IT and print reseller are happy to collaborate, then we can provide excellent solutions for clients that we support with the help of their own IT provider.”
Rob Cavill, Operations Manager, IT@Spectrum:
“IT vendors moving into print, with no legacy support infrastructure in place for this specialist area, have historically relied on manufacturer support programmes to provide the skills, resources and logistics required to provide the managed services that print clients demand and deserve.
“They have potentially underestimated the immense added value that the client sees in the established print vendors’ local service offering, particularly when field based intervention is required, and lack the consultative relationship-based sales skills and experience that are required to build a true MPS offering.
“On the other hand, print dealerships who have invested heavily in MPS have by default, been immersed in the IT Services world for some time. They have funded support staff through recognised IT accreditations to qualify them to integrate print solutions with clients’ IT infrastructure, and are well poised to broaden their offering into IT services. Some of the more proactive MPS resellers have also realigned their merger and acquisition strategies, and are searching out opportunities in complementary IT Managed Services businesses rather than looking to ageing, under invested copier/printer dealers, in order to create a one-stop-shop for a broad scope of business critical services.”
Derek Russell, Managing RDT Office Solutions:
“Over the past ten years, the market has been to-ing and fro-ing with this contest. Even so, there are few challengers that have successfully achieved the jump without acquisition or strategic partnerships. This is due to the different nature of the business models.
“One of the primary discussion points when talking to IT service focused MSPs, is the lack of experience in dealing with the financing model standard among MPS resellers. Structuring leases and, the more direct sales approach, doesn’t form part of their business models. On the other hand, the general MPS reseller doesn’t command the same client integrity as an IT services company when they’re trying to pitch their offering to a typically technical audience.
“In order to be successful, the conventional MPS salesperson has had to be commercially-minded first rather than technically-minded. Although there is clearly a new mould of salesperson/ consultant emerging in the print world, they are still behind in terms of client expectation when compared to the representatives from most IT service companies. For those reasons, I’d say there is still some way to go before the print channel can hold its own against IT vendors in the IT services space using an organic growth model.”
Julian Stafford, Managing Director, Midshire Business Systems Northern:
“I think there is a balance now. Historically it has indeed been IT resellers moving into the print space. Now more and more MPS providers are adding IT services to their offering.
“I happen to think it’s good for the market to have the added competition and also the different approach each brings. For example, historically IT services were provided with no real SLAs. We have matched our IT offering to the service offered on our MPS contract, so a guaranteed response of four-hours as a minimum. We also offer lease facilities, unheard of in the traditional IT world. These innovations are good for the market as a whole.”
Mark Smyth, Operations Director, Vision:
“We have been providing more and more clients with IT products and services. It starts with building a trusted relationship and having the capabilities to meet their requirements. We have enjoyed significant success with software and hardware sales to existing and new clients and our partnerships with key vendors and the distribution channel, have been essential in enabling this capability.”
Terence Hargreaves, Sales Manager, DMS Reprographics:
“I’m not necessarily sure that print vendors are a threat to IT vendors, or vice versa. Things in the industry have changed. Our clients are now pushing beyond the managed print offering and we, as a company, find that we are being pushed into working with a wide range of technologies.
“With our education clients alone, we can find that we must work with technologies like databases, classroom management software, financial packages, networks, cloud based systems and mobile. This would normally have sat firmly in the arena of the IT vendor, but as the world becomes more integrated, so must our offering.”
PITR: In today’s inter-connected world, how important is it to offer IT consultancy, managed IT services, technical support and expertise to complement the traditional MPS offer?
“The MFD in isolation becomes a commodity with a lack of relevance to the business requirement it was sourced for. Broadening the proposition to embrace a true service wrap including IT services, systems integration, security compliance and translation services for example, begins to build a value add to what was once a simple hardware sale.
“In order to unleash the evolving capabilities of the latest MFDs it’s important that the features and capabilities are integrated into the IT infrastructure and ultimately the MFD device becomes a component of the wider document work?ow strategy within the workspace. Too often we hear Document Managed Services being delivered across a business enterprise when realistically the proposition only offers automated consumable replenishment, consolidated billing and potentially a feature rich fleet of MFDs that deliver a fraction of their capability.
“The integration of IT services and a broader understanding of the client’s document strategy and business requirements through a thorough assessment of the environment, leads to a more successful MPS implementation and builds an evolving pathway towards the future desired state for the customer.”
“A managed print provider will focus on how their print infrastructure can integrate into a customer’s existing IT set up, but a proposed solution also needs to be able to demonstrate our ability to be able to assess, design, install and manage additional IT requirements. If we don’t, the competition will.”
“We certainly have to be able to provide a wider range of services and support than we did before. Being able to add value to clients by including some very simple software packages and supporting them internally is very important.
“We do need to offer IT consultancy to ensure we are able to install and support associated software but to be the actual IT support provider for everything – I don’t think so but I am sure others will disagree. I would rather partner with a company that does this and we can work together to provide solutions to each other’s customer base, we are experts at what we do, they do what they do.
“I think it is important that the level of professional service people you have, is detached from the team who look after print. I see so many companies who provide software to a client and the hardware engineer looks after the software and it is included in the click charge! We have fully qualified Microsoft engineers and they certainly add value to what we do, but to include the associated cost, including their time and expertise within the cost per copy is crazy.”
“In recent years, we’ve found that our clients aren’t looking for product suppliers; they want managed services. By combining the scope of the offering from IT@Spectrum and The One Point, whereby IT support, telecoms and software development complements a traditional MPS offering, we can now offer a very broad IT managed services portfolio which ticks so many boxes in terms of client needs.
“For us and for our customers, it really makes sense. Over the past two years we have worked collaboratively together to ensure this was the right thing to do. Our client feedback was that it made sense and worked for them. This ‘one-stop shop’ of business technology services simply makes life easier for our customers as they have one point of contact for everything IT-related. It can be a logistical and administrative nightmare dealing with multiple suppliers for things that ought to be inter-connected.
“Customers can now rest assured that their needs are being met by a team of experts that work together across a range of disciplines. The most fundamental point though, is that the teams actually do communicate with one another, share knowledge and provide a solution that works best for the customer, with no concerns about compatibility or conflict.”
“In today’s technological milieu, it is of vital importance to talk to clients and prospects about managing the whole IT infrastructure. The narrow view of focussing on print is gone. Indeed, as a new generation of IT decision-makers emerge, it is fast becoming the norm for them to group MPS into their IT. In fact, the forward-thinkers adopting this approach are 100 per cent correct in doing so!
“Separating print from the rest of the IT is a legacy that, as an industry, still gives us negative press. Today, print management is inclusive. It’s about security, cloud services, proactive device management, apps and workflows. It’s no different to the remit of the traditional IT partners, it’s simply applied to our area of expertise. Over the last three years, RDT has therefore invested specifically in providing the skill sets for our consultants to hold intelligent conversations with IT decision-makers around the complete IT infrastructure. Working closely with a select number of partners, we’re then able to articulate and execute a complete offering around an organisation’s needs, managing the whole IT infrastructure.
“And, within this emergent area, there is also a huge argument in favour of a seat-based pricing model. Such a strategic approach brings these two areas closer together. In this model, end users will typically pay for all their IT based on the number of users and what services they’re utilising. This could incorporate everything from cloud storage, server management, 365 to the number of prints or devices. It’s ideal for the converging MSP and MPS model, and the change in mind-set evident in IT decision-makers. I’m certain we’ll see it pick up momentum in the UK over the next five years. That said, the finance houses will need to look at their models for this to be adopted.”
“I think it’s vital to have solid IT expertise within your business if you are to service your clients fully and ensure they make the most of all the features offered by todays MFPs. A few years ago I made a statement that within five years if you’re not in the IT space you won’t be selling copiers. With hindsight I was wrong, but I strongly believe that my prediction will eventually come true, it’s that important!
“The last 12 months have seen us carry out some of the most difficult and complex installations we have faced. Without the in-house IT expertise we now possess, these sales would have not materialised.”
“Most clients today expect IT and professional services consultancy, and recognise this as important and the correct way to ensure project success and avoid scope creep. It’s also a way to avoid costly mistakes for the reseller. If you do not have the resources, skills and capabilities or access to them, the client will not recognise you as an IT Services, Valued Added Reseller (VAR).
“Consultancy is also the best way to set clear and concise expectations with the client with documentation that defines and outlines precisely what technology and solution will be delivered. To achieve these objectives you must have a strong and capable team with the skills to perform pre- and post-sales activities including initial scoping, project management and implementation.”
“It’s imperative that we have a broad range of managed services as clients’ requirements move beyond traditional data output. We now manage a range of solutions that deal with the entire lifecycle of a document. As a result, our traditional role as a print vendor, now edges into the area of consultancy, as we advise clients on how to improve workflows and create efficiencies within their enterprises. This wider offering, sits alongside our traditional MPS offering, giving added value and expertise to our clients.”
PITR: What are the key challenges and in your opinion what’s the best route? Acquisition, partnering with an IT specialist or can you grow the business organically in-house?
“In my opinion, organic in-house growth can only be achieved if you selectively target the vertical markets you intend to provide IT-based managed solutions to, as the cost of providing the appropriate specialisms to multi-markets and sectors, becomes too prohibitive. “Partnering with specialist providers, working pursuits in a collaborative inclusive way, not only delivers productive client relevance, but best value, as the costs of specialism are absorbed by those partners with the skill sets and investment already in place to deploy the solution.”
“I certainly think that through time, investment and organic growth, the potential to provide direct IT services is something that can be achieved.
“However, with the calibre of third-party IT providers out there today, is it essential? Of course there’s an element of control you won’t have when you partner with another provider, but in the same respect, it can be a lot less time consuming and resource heavy. It can also prove to be more efficient and effective to allow your partner to do what they are specialists in, whilst you concentrate on what you specialise in as a managed print service provider.”
“I think the best way forward is to have a very good professional service team in-house that look after what we do as an MPS provider very well, but partner with an IT expert to look after the clients’ everyday needs. There are a lot of IT providers who are white labelling their products and services that we can use.”
“When it comes to the question of how best to grow an IT offering, we found that there is a strong mix of both organic growth and identifying suitable acquisition opportunities. In our business, our growth from being a print dealer into a provider of print, document and information management solutions was a labour of love over a ten year period. It seemed like the natural progression for all things ‘document’ related.
“The obvious fact that all of the hardware and software that we provide sits on an IT platform that needs to be correctly installed, configured and maintained. We therefore sought out an acquisition opportunity with an IT support business. Throw in telecoms, mobile phones and CRM systems, and you end up with a wide (yet perfectly complementary) mix of expertise.
“However, such acquisition is not without its challenges. We are now two years into our partnership with The One Point and, inevitably, we have had to overcome hurdles in respect of working practices, sharing resources and merging two groups of people together. But thankfully, and now we are all under one roof, we can now truly integrate our sales, finance, consulting, engineering support and helpdesk functions, with working practices aligned, to deliver enhanced service and value to clients.”
“Historically, a combination of in-house and external partnerships have worked well for us. As such , we’ll continue to traverse this preferred route. An open relationship and collaborative approach to marketing, typically provides opportunities for the involved parties.
“We’ve found that the integrity earned by IT service providers, with their existing client bases, instantly builds trust for us when we’re in joint negotiations. In most instances, it also kicks out competing print focused businesses. This means value and service offering takes centre stage rather than discussions around price.
“You do need to have in-house skills as a print equipment reseller, but building strong relationships with partners is the fastest route to market. Acquisition can be highly disruptive to both business models with major risks.”
“We have always grown our business organically we have never acquired a business. For us therefore it was about building an in-house team. The benefit of this is they soak up the DNA of Midshire and promote our core values. It’s really important to me that our IT offering was very ‘Midshire’ from the start.”
“The initial challenges are making that first investment – that can be difficult for some resellers as it potentially comes at quite a cost. Therefore considering a strategic partner is often a worthwhile option and there are many to choose from, including some of the major and top vendors that have extensive resources and capabilities. And it’s a great way to minimise risk, utilising services and resource only when you need them!
“You have to start somewhere and taking that leap of faith is a bold but important step when the time is right, and that must be when you have won some business that can support your investment.”
“The main challenge is to keep pace with such a fast-moving marketplace. We do this by developing our skills in-house and working with carefully selected specialists, to react at speed to new developments.”