Printing has never been a simple business. In the recent past it was the domain of highly qualified, elite men (almost always) who could guess a paper weight by touch, typeset like demons and recommend processes, analogue processes, and special effects to customers for maximum impact.
Now, many of the jobs that required the services of such printing mavens can be done on an office laser. Successful commercial printers have moved on to offer even more varied and personalised services.
At the high-end, printing agencies are taking on the shape of marketing companies, offering advise on strategies to extract data from customers to enable the development of personalised marketing and ‘transpromo’ — mail that combines a traditional bill with a personalised marketing offer.
The online channel is also driving change — and delivering new business to traditional printers. Where once consumers went to the camera shop to have pictures printed for a photo album, that business could now be shifting to the commercial printing industry via the web.
And then there is the need for businesses to manage their documents and workflows better — and corporate governance regulations mandating that they do so.
For the major printing vendors, all of the above means changes of strategy as well.
Richard Bailey, South Pacific vice president of Hewlett-Packard’s imaging and printing group (IPG), says the market is now defined by pages rather than units and HP is on a journey to find out how big the market for pages is. In short, HP is moving from being a printer company to being a printing company, he says.
Using the term Print 2.0, Bailey outlines a vision of “print on demand” that embraces the web as a channel to make printing more accessible, customisable and less expensive. The vision includes workflows and storage, and embraces small enterprises as well as corporates. As such, printing now becomes an IT discussion as much as a printing one, he says.
In the enterprise cost is always an issue, he says. Part of the answer to that is “balanced deployment”, putting the right capacity in the right places to minimise wastage and maximise sustainability.
Daryn Rickwood, the local country manager for HP’s IPG, says as New Zealand is more channel-oriented than many other markets, HP is reinvigorating its channel to deliver services such as balanced deployment. Enterprise accounts have dedicated managers with fulfilment still flowing through the channel.
Increasingly high-end printing, whether in-house or in a printshop, is as much about software as hardware. Bailey points to HP’s Web Jetadmin software that helps optimise print performance. This print and imaging peripheral management software tool helps optimise utilisation, control costs, secure devices and streamline supply management. It also allows remote configuration over the internet.
For Ricoh, software is becoming key to its customer discussions as well. Managing director Michael Pollok says information is moved in a range of formats and people want quick and easy access to that information at all times, and on a wide range of devices.
“Our role is to provide the tools to create, distribute, store and retrieve information anytime,” he says. “At some point that might be sent to print. If we provide the tools that enable management, there’s a good chance that will be to a Ricoh device.”
Pollok says Ricoh is providing the smarts to help run offices more efficiently, especially in the area of document management that is being driven by regulatory requirements such as the Public Records Act. To do that, Ricoh is sending in “people who are not hardware-centric at all” to audit workflows and make suggestions for improvement.
“That’s almost totally software driven” he says.
While Fuji Xerox’s Murray Miskelly (see below ‘Staying up with the play’) says few New Zealand businesses can afford to run their own in-house print shops, Ricoh’s Pollok says that is changing. Lower cost devices are allowing some to consider insourcing their billing runs, while some are overcoming such costs by sharing facilities.
For Fuji Xerox, redefining workflows and enabling analysis of printing use and costs is also a key driver of business. Rod Vickers, solutions product marketing manager, Fuji Xerox New Zealand, says the effort is designed to help businesses “fine-tune” what is printed within the business.
Vickers says customers are asking for help in analysing and managing business workflows, and are spending heavily on document management. He cites SmartConnect, developed in New Zealand and released in December, as one piece of software that helps achieve this.
SmartConnect allows certain multifunction printers to connect with Microsoft SharePoint Server.
It can, for example, allow scanned documents to be easily edited with office software. Users scan a typed letter and SmartConnect will convert the hardcopy into a Word document available on the SharePoint Server for editing. Login via a keypad or a proximity card determines the level of user security privileges on the SharePoint Server.
Users then select the destination for the document, determine the file format and enter any additional metadata or tags. The document is then scanned and stored with an optional audit trail and email confirmation.
Security is a key part of such systems, he says. Technology such as digital watermarks can be used to help control data leakages. Using this, Fuji Xerox equipment will block some unauthorised copying, faxing or scanning activity. The system is not just about leakage, but authentication of documents, he says. It can be used to detect forged documents as well.
Fuji Xerox has also introduced LED printers to its range, offering this plus laser and solid ink printing technologies. Graeme Francis, office products manager for Fuji Xerox New Zealand, says the LED range offers high-speed and high resolution colour printing in units that are more compact and cost effective than before.
LED technology is similar to the laser technology, except that it uses a matrix of LEDs in place of a laser beam. LED printers have fewer moving parts and are more compact to save space. Fewer moving parts also means greater reliability.
Issues of sustainability have been at the forefront of the printing industry for a while, arguably longer than for other ICT sectors. Government contracts are driving the adoption of energy and environmental ratings such as Energy Star. Vickers says in the past this has been a ‘tick the box’ process, but now departments are asking not just that the gear they buy be green, but also the organisations that supply it.
Vickers says there is no indication the new government is going to change such procurement requirements, which are now filtering into the corporate arena as well.