PrintIT Reseller spoke to Ian McRae, Managing Director of EKM Global, about the company’s print service management software EKM Insight and the newly launched integration with HP Smart Device Services
In the late 1990s when print vendors’ focus was more on box shifting than on services, McRae believed that managed print services was the future. He had racked up a 21 year tenure at HP, helping end-users get the best possible value out of their printing estates and when the business restructured, he took the opportunity to leave and establish EKM Global.
Headquartered in Warminster, the software and services company has a ten-strong workforce and is on track to continue on a steady growth trajectory that has seen it realise a 20 per cent increase year on year. The company is a supplier of professional print services to the UK government under the RM3781 framework, to the higher education sector under the NEPA framework and to schools under the Crescent framework.
“When we first launched, we did consultancy work,” McRae explained. “We developed a methodology for conducting print service assessments that included looking at workflows, operational processes, applications, IT set-up etc. At the time that service was not mainstream, it was predominantly done by the OEMs for large organisations, and what we did was bring it to the fore for more companies.”
He continued: “However there wasn’t any software on the market that would help us to get and analyse the information we needed so we started developing our own tools.” As a result of this forwardlooking approach, a number of OEMs engaged EKM to train their staff to sell solutions as opposed to hardware as the industry shifted towards a services- and solutions-led model.
Expertise in software and services
Whilst initially consultancy was its mainstay, as the business grew, its focus shifted to software design and development. In 2007, the company launched its in-house developed print service management software – EKM Insight which enables MSPs and end-users to streamline print management, giving them the tools they need to manage print in the same way they would any other IT service. The software has been designed to manage the entire print service lifecycle from strategy, design, transformation and operation, with active continuous improvement.
“It’s grown exponentially since launch,” McRae explained. “Today, we have thousands of users across the UK, Europe and South America, and we’re now expanding into North America and Asia.”
The rationale behind developing this software was a belief that printers and MFPs are an integral part of a business’ IT infrastructure and as such, support and management should be handled in exactly the same way as all other IT services.
“Those services should be forward-looking, planned, robust and secure, delivering an optimised service for the business and ensuring high service availability to support users doing their jobs to deliver value to the business” he added.
EKM Insight brings higher levels of sophistication to the table, taking the unique complexities associated with managing printing equipment into account. There are three core aspects:
Asset management: “It’s essential to get asset management right,” said McRae. “EKM Insight provides detailed and accurate information around the location of all printing assets, ensuring that consumables (and engineers) are delivered to the right location. Furthermore all asset moves and changes are updated and controlled – something we view as essential to ensure a high quality print service.”
Supply chain integration: Another key differentiator in the solution is the ability to track consumables, not just from a levels perspective but from a supply chain perspective. EKM Insight’s intelligent demand forecasting and active supply chain management, enables the print service provider to ensure that consumables are delivered efficiently and at the right time, while simultaneously minimising stock and inventory holding.
“We provide customisation into the supply chain at the right level, consumables can be auto-ordered and shipped direct to the customer. It’s also integrated with ‘stock in the channel’ so resellers can buy at the best price and achieve the best possible margin with minimum human touch,” he added.
Incident management: The software is intelligent, it learns from the print environment, helping both end-users and service providers to achieve an optimised print service. The status of every machine is recorded and linked into an incident management system.
“We accurately record all usage – we can consolidate the meter readings – for example mono vs. colour volumes or large pages vs. small pages – making it very simple to understand and we make that information meaningful so it’s service oriented,” McRae explained, adding: “For resellers, service needs to be effectively planned and organised to ensure minimum cost of service delivery. The ability to monitor equipment capability, performance and usage, provides them with the opportunity to ensure the right assets are in the right locations, deliver optimal value for the end-user and reduce the cost to serve.”
Available as a secure private cloud service or on-premise service, EKM Insight provides the flexibility and value to meet the most diverse and demanding operating requirements.
For MSPs, IT resellers and dealers, the key benefits include the flexibility to provide full managed services, consumable sales automation and collaborative customer services, with the lowest operational cost.
“Our service provider clients span from SMEs, to country, regional and global companies. We also have a significant number of channel customers who use the service to manage large fleets across multiple sites. We are now going through the process of scaling the system so it meets the needs of SMEs through to large enterprises, opening it up to many more IT channel resellers,” McRae added.
He continued: “Our strategy is to enable better services to be delivered at lower prices. We enable our customers to find unique value through providing a flexible software user experience, efficient service workflows, tailored user roles, which enables collaborative work between the service provider and customer. This solution drives productivity at every point in the service and supply chain.
“Our biggest USP is that we can deliver five to ten times more productivity – in comparision with other systems. With EKM Insight, an individual can handle five to ten more devices per person. We’re able to demonstrate the ROI for our larger clients and we are confident that we will be able to deliver the same degree of productivity gains to clients with smaller fleets.”
McRae says there is an opportunity for vendors where print is not the mainstay. He said: “IT resellers are looking for ways to drive incremental sales with minimum cost, maximum margin and minimal inventory overheads. Some have piloted managed print services but with limited success, and this is where EKM Insight can help.”
Automation step by step
EKM Insight has been designed to support channel vendors to seamlessly transform from a traditional product supply model to delivering services as an annuity revenue stream. It enables them to deliver new value to customers and reduce sales cost by incrementally adding automation step by step.
For example, EKM Insight provides a dedicated workflow that enables resellers to generate automated leads from customers for consumables. They can use the live monitoring functionality for demand forecasting and lead generation for consumables and engineering fit maintenance items, check distribution availability and purchase at the best market price, then dropship directly to customers incurring no inventory holding costs. Furthermore the order and invoice information can be fed directly into their accounting systems.
The software will also automate processes such as new product staging and configuration, moves and change management, break/fix services and incident management. And this wholly flexible service enables the reseller to choose whether to build the services themselves or to access as a white label service. The latter enables them to benefit from a new revenue stream without investment in upfront infrastructure and service operation development.
New functionality and value
The most recent development has been the integration of EKM Insight with HP Smart Device Services, a move that McRae says provides the most advanced and leading print service management system on the market today.
Key features include the ability to fix issues remotely without VPN access, and to diagnose before dispatching an engineer, enabling faster first-time fix rates. With is solution, service providers can also cut onsite service visits by 25 per cent. The software provides fault alerts when parts need to be replaced, resellers can group these together and replace all in a single visit, reducing the cost to serve and minimising end-user disruption.
Supplies management functionality enables resellers to reduce risk and early cartridge replacement, delivering additional savings, as well as monitor and track all HP devices to get accurate page counts for every billing cycle, minimising invoice dispute overheads.
“The HP Smart Device Services integration with EKM Insight provides a logical extension to and builds on the core concepts at the heart of EKM Insight with its predictive services, powerful remote control, active asset management, advanced consumable supply chain management and pre-emptive service engineering management,” said McRae in conclusion.