"An effective print output environment cannot be based on hardware any more than a building is just bricks, mortar, wood and metal.

These raw materials provide an effective working or living environment only when some architecture and design are applied."

Copyright 2009 Business Communications Group, L.L.C.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

“Déjà Vu All Over Again”

To quote Yogi Berra, this was my reaction when I recently attended a session on Managed Print Services at the CompTIA conference.

“One Day we Will”

To set the stage, the speaker was a nationally recognized leader in the world of Managed Print Services. Shortly after the presentation began, I heard the statement “one day we will” followed by a number of action statements laying out advantages of, and benefits resulting from, a managed print services program. These were client focused – musing, or maybe wishing, that one day the industry would provide these to their clients. I was taken aback by this setup phrase and the list that followed.

The Surprise

This presentation took me back to a decade ago when the industry was spending a great deal of time and energy defining, and re-defining what managed print services was, or should be. Bloggers and chat site participants offered, and often argued over these definitions. Back then it caused me to post the “Blind Men and the Elephant” tale on this blog. So here I am, ten years later and listening to an industry expert surmising that one day, managed print services vendors would provide these advantages and benefits for their clients. I could not help but wonder what has been going on for the past decade, I thought these things defined managed print services, are they not what service providers do for their clients?

The Next Three Days

This session really set my agenda for the rest of the conference as I set out to understand what other folks, closely tied to managed print services, were experiencing. I had lengthy conversations with software vendors, analysts, industry journalists and service providers. I began each of these conversations describing my reaction to what I had heard and solicited their opinions on both the content and my reaction. I was trying to determine whether I was totally out of touch with the state of the industry today.

My Findings

Without exception, each of the individuals, or groups I talked to, confirmed what the speaker had inferred; that the vast majority of service providers used managed print services as a marketing strategy but rarely delivered on their pre-sale promises.

The software vendors explained how dealers would leverage their products to entice a prospect, but only occasionally implement it in the final solution. The general consensus was that they liked to talk about reducing pages and expense during the sales process but were loath to do so once they captured the revenue stream. This seems to be especially true when it comes to implementing rules-based-printing to reduce the number of those highly profitable color pages.

The industry analysts I talked to were unanimous in their observations that few service providers ever delivered on most of the promises of their print management program. The most generous opinion was that twenty percent of the providers delivered on their commitments while the most cynical put that number at ten percent.

Back to the Beginning

It has been quite some time since I published here, or attended an industry event. My last posting was titled “The “M” in MPS – Are all Vendors Alike”; I decided to attend the CompTIA event to see what was happening in managed print services beyond my view. I was interested in knowing what had changed since this last posting.

I need to clarify what I said at the beginning about being surprised. What actually surprised me was that I was not surprised. I went to this event to explore whether what I see in my world is representative of the whole – it appears it may be!

My personal findings are that there are only a handful of managed print services vendors who provide any significant level of management. This includes nationally recognized vendors who have put millions into some very convincing marketing efforts.

To quote a client who I recently took over from one of these vendors, “you have done more in three months than they did in the past three years.”

Maybe the difference is that I do not sell hardware or supplies, which means I do not have the conflicting motives that continue to dominate managed print services.

I think there may be a lesson in that!

For more information please feel free to contact me at (ghawkins@buscomgroup.com ) at your convenience.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

The “M” in MPS – Are all Vendors Alike?

So you are thinking about Managed Print Services for your organization and looking for a vendor? How do you decide who will provide you with the best program?

The Challenge

As you interview vendors you are going to notice that all of them have great sales presentations with lots of promises of cost reductions, fleet optimization and reducing the time you and your staff spend managing your printing environment. The MPS marketing strategy is mature enough today that most everyone knows all of the buzz words and catch phrases, so how do you differentiate one from the other?

There are a number of factors to consider but if you are looking for a comprehensive program that will deliver on all the promises of MPS – and there are many – I suggest you take a good look at the “M” in your potential vendor(s) program.

The Problem (an opinion)

Now let me simply state the problem as I see it today: most vendors are not delivering on the full promise of MPS. As I have stated in previous postings here my experience is that once they take over the service and supply of your network laser printers and begin to collect the resulting income stream there is limited effort to improve your environment beyond selling you additional hardware – which may or may not improve your environment?

A Cause

As someone who interfaces between the client and service providers I have come to some conclusions as to one of the major causative factors and it is the “M”.

To explain this let me use two real world examples:

I have one client I work with who is contracted with a vendor for a comprehensive managed program. This vendor has an entire team of personnel assigned to the task of supporting their MPS clients and dedicated to solving problems, analyzing data, providing recommendations for improvement and implementing strategies and policies.

While not perfect, this vendor is making very good faith efforts to deliver on the MPS promise.

Another client is contracted to a different, still substantial vendor but the contrast is the account management team is the sales representative, service manager and branch manager. While these are all good folks they simply do not have the bandwidth to provide the level of management support required for a comprehensive MPS engagement.

The differentiator between these two vendors is not the promises they made or the benefits they presented but rather the commitment they have made to delivering on them.

This is not a unique case, I see this differentiation among a number of the vendors I have dealt with and client engagements I have been involved with.

How do I Determine Which Vendor has the Best “M”?

The simple answer to the above question is “by asking the right questions and performing the appropriate due diligence” when considering your vendor options.

I can tell you that after assisting a number of clients with this process you can determine who is going to provide the best management in advance. Whether your process is a simple client/sales engagement or a full RFP process similar to those I manage for clients, the right questions will yield responses that provide all the clues you need.

If you are looking for a comprehensive program to yield long-term benefits and if your only contact is the sales professional, sales manager and service manager then beware – demand to find out who will be supporting your program and what their roles will be. Make sure these folks are not merely clerical personnel who they have brought from the office to impress you but support resources you can reach out to and depend on.

For more information please feel free to contact me at (ghawkins@buscomgroup.com ) at your convenience.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Managed Print Services – Are You Buying Hardware or Pages?

I recently participated in several client engagements that in my opinion predict the direction of managed print services. The question “are you buying hardware or pages” has been kicking around this industry for some time; with MPS it can and should be finally answered.

The Transition

A number of you are considering entering into a MPS agreement or have already engaged with a number of objectives in mind:

  • reduced demand on management and technology resources
  • improved access and tools for your user community
  • lower expenses for document output
Many MPS engagements require rationalizing your current fleet of document output devices, contracts and vendors to transition to a more cohesive and consolidated environment. You may have investments in technology that you feel you have not fully leveraged or obtained a requisite return on those investments - do not let that limit your vision.

The End of the Rainbow – After the Transition

Some of you have an opportunity for a “clean slate” approach due to an expiring contract or having previously undergone the transition. You have managed your document output environment to the point where you can implement wholesale changes and a mature managed document output environment.

In my opinion this should be the long-term objective of almost every document output environment strategy.

Buying Pages

Hopefully by now both end-user clients and purveyors of MPS have realized that the real objective is to buy pages including the hardware, supplies and support services required to produce them. As stated above I believe buying pages should be the objective and operating principal behind almost all mature managed print service agreements.

So what does this really mean – I will provide you with some suggestions below:
  • As a client you do not want to invest large sums of capital in assets (hardware) but rather want to pay for the pages they produce
  • You want the ability to expand or contract the overall size of your document output fleet as your needs change without penalties, refinancing of hardware or the exorbitant cost typically associated with co-terminus leases
  • It is a requirement that individual devices be upgraded or downgraded to meet the changing needs of workgroups, departments or facilities within your enterprise.
  • Your vendor partner is going to make sure the enabler hardware performs to the agreed service level agreements and provide the functionality required to fulfill the application
  • Your employees should not have to divert their productivity to making sure the hardware is performing adequately or that supplies are delivered in a timely fashion
When you have the flexibility, productivity and support suggested above I would personally consider that as optimization of your document output environment. Now I recognize that there will be some exceptions to this where an organization for one reason or another wants to or needs to use “capital dollars” to fund technology, but I am confident this is a relatively small sampling of the overall en-user community.

How do You Get There?

The simple answer to the above question is “through thoughtful and strategic planning” of your strategy to manage your document output environment.

Wayne Gretzky once responded to the question why he was such a great hockey player. Mr. Gretzky simply said “I go to where the puck will be not where it is!”

So the question is does your strategy for managing your document output environment take you to where you want to be or just address it as it is today? Have you and your current vendor created a strategy and plan of action to take you there?

Getting “Real”

As I write this post I can imagine a number of participants at all levels of MPS expressing “get real” at their computer screens as they read my words.

My assurance to you, the end-user community who pays the bills that this discussion is very real and being put into action today – I have firsthand experience with it. Even if you feel you are locked into current technology investments explore your options, they are out there. Oh and an important note, you should not have to pay a premium for this level of flexibility.

I also believe it is the future, maybe not of fleet management but of managed print services. For more information please feel free to contact me at (ghawkins@buscomgroup.com ) at your convenience.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Managing your Document Output Environment – Where do you Begin?

I suppose that I should disclose from the beginning that this posting was born largely from frustration. After studying a couple of dozen more RFPs and RFIs from both private and public organizations I hope I may be able to influence some of you!

What are your Influences?

While I have read a number of well thought out documents it seems to me that the majority have two primary influences:

  • copier and multifunction device leases up for renewal
  • vendor presentations on their versions of managed print services
My impression is that most of these RFPs are seeking a strategy rather than being based on a thoroughly developed one. My concern is that many well-intentioned project managers are rushing into commitments and contracts that will tie their hands from real environment improvements and expense reductions for the period of the resulting contract.

What is the Rush?

I am surprised by how many of these RFPs have been published with a combination of short time frames for implementation and lack of strategic direction. Most of these appear to be copier bids modified in some way to explore managed print services. My conclusion is that their genesis is a copier contract expiring in sixty or ninety days and were rushed to meet that restrictive timeline.

Since my professional life is based on helping you implement efficient document output environments, maximizing your effort and realizing your objectives are important to me. My advice therefore is take your time, do it right and follow a strategic plan!

Two of my more recent clients brought me in to make recommendations for upcoming technology replacement: lease ends. In both cases I was able to show them that it was in their best interest to take the time to approach their document output environments holistically and strategically.

Where did we Begin?

After these clients saw the long-term potential of changing their approach from rushing to replace their leased hardware to implementing a managed document output environment we explored the short-, mid- and long-term actions for implementation.

The first step was to consider the current fleet. In the cases of both clients and most of the RFPs I have read, the fleet had useful life remaining – there was no immediate need to replace it. So rather than rush into an agreement looking for a strategy we extended the current contract; in one case by negotiating a much reduced monthly lease payment and the other by exercising a very low cost purchase option. These actions provided time to develop a comprehensive document output strategy and resulted in significant monthly expense reductions while we did. Interesting note is that I helped the client who exercised their buyout sell the fleet for $35,000 more than their purchase option a year later.

During the same time we implemented other cost-saving actions as well as putting a freeze on new printer purchases resulting in even more savings.

Preparing for MPS

By taking a step back we were able to accomplish a number of things:

  • create immediate significant expense reductions
  • rationalize the entire fleet of document output devices
  • prepare the employees for change and future workflows
  • implement new workflows to leverage new hardware
  • create a plan for the contract term and beyond
  • develop a comprehensive document output strategy
Taking the time to create a thorough document output strategy enabled:

  • identification of additional savings and improvements
  • full leveraging of current investments in technology
  • issuance of highly defined RFPs that supported the clients’ strategies
  • implementation of world class managed document output environments
The Take-Away

What I hope you take away from this posting is that implementation of a managed document output environment is an important undertaking in today’s business and technology climate and deserves the time and attention to do it right.

I encourage you to begin your planning today if you are under a current copier/multifunction device contract or explore ways to avoid rushing into an incomplete agreement.

Additionally, develop your RFP and resulting contract based on your individual needs and strategy and do not limit them to what service providers tell you they can do. Managed print services should not come from a can!

For more information please feel free to contact me at (ghawkins@buscomgroup.com ) at your convenience.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Gordon Hawkins Presenting at ITEX 2011

Gordon Hawkins will be returning to the ITEX show this year to present “Anatomy of a Managed Document Output Environment.”

Anatomy of a Managed Document Output Environment

This presentation will follow the steps and processes taken to maximize current investments while transitioning into a world class managed document output environment.

Based on an actual client engagement we will look at statistics, actions and results from:

  • Assessment
  • Data analysis
  • Development of a document output strategy
  • Planning for a successful transition
  • RFP management
  • Implementation
  • Management of the environment
What Can You Learn?

The dealer and managed print services vendor can learn how to add value to your service offering: beyond simple supply replenishment and hardware services.

End-user clients can walk through the strategic processes to transform your own document output environments and realize the objectives of your efforts.

When and Where?

Session P21: Anatomy of a Managed Document Output Environment
Wednesday, March 23 at 9:00 a.m.
ITEX 2011 Expo & Conference, Walter E. Washington Convention Center

Save $50 on your Registration

You can save $50 on your registration fee by using Registration Source Code 923K on your registration form.

ITEX National Expo & Conference is the largest expo & conference in North America for the imaging channel, ITEX 2011 will provide the latest state-of-the-art office solutions, technology innovations and product, from the industry’s best thought leaders, service providers, vendors and manufacturers. ITEX insists that actionable strategies are implemented to secure high margins in managed print services, document management solutions, managed services and IT systems, as well as the growing office supplies market. These quality education sessions led by experienced leaders will enrich your business model - and are plentiful at ITEX! For up-to-date conference and exposition information, please visit www.itexshow.com. Education, products, support, and value. ITEX 2011 - the one event that captures it all

For more information please feel free to contact me at ghawkins@buscomgroup.com at your convenience.

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Where Have All The Phases Gone?

After viewing vendor MPS programs and talking to you, the end-user clients I am beginning to wonder where have all the phases gone? The more I explore the more it seems that these theoretical phases are just that – theory. My real question is what long-term plan they belong to; providing you with the “managed” component of MPS or waiting for you to forget about the promises made to phase in your expected benefits.

Phase One And Then?

How many of you have contracted with a vendor for managed print services to find that after offering up your fleet and paying a few months worth of invoices the program results in nothing more than a cost per page service and supply contract – fleet management.

What reports are you receiving to help improve your document output environment? Are they limited to how much your fleet is producing and how well your new vendor is servicing them?

Have you found that most of the management recommendations you receive are for additional or new technology investments you need to make?

If so, how does this help you to create a world-class document output environment: how does it reduce expenses, improve productivity or make for greater user satisfaction?

How Do You Get What You Expected?

As you consider entering into a managed print services relationship you need to do a better job of determining which vendor can simply talk the talk and which can illustrate their ability to deliver the results you are looking for. Just like interviewing a new employee, past performance is a good predictor of future success; do not accept vendor sales presentations that tell you what they did for other clients but demand they clearly explain in detail how they are going to meet your objectives. Require and read a business proposal that addresses your environment, organizational politics and goals.

Is your current vendor agreement based on a contract presented by that vendor? If so, how does this boilerplate document meet your specific needs any better than the last lease or service agreement you had in place. It is my suggestion that these contracts represent a program-in-a- box and can provide little more than the previously mentioned fleet management.

A managed print services engagement, like any other professional services contract, should be customized to your project, contain a detailed scope of work and clearly outline how services will be delivered and the responsibilities of both parties. In addition, I would suggest it defines success and failure and contains remedies for lack of performance.

This discussion reminds me a bit of the current political discourse in America, Many, including me believe that we deserve the government we currently have. Until we demand better and pay attention to the result we will not get better.

The same goes for the state of MPS; if you, the client demand more the service providers will be forced to improve their capabilities and resulting performance. If you never call in your provider and question what happened to the other phases I am confident many will conveniently forget about them.

Part of the problem is MPS is relatively new in the industry and even though many copier and printer dealers realize they need to participate they are struggling with the how. This goes back to my earlier point; you need to separate those who can talk from those who know how to do.


For those of you, who are truly looking to realize the benefits of a world-class managed document output environment you have to take some responsibility, just like any other business venture you undertake:

  • Educate yourself on what MPS can and should be
  • Understand the differences between managing your document output environment and fleet management
  • Define your own objectives, do not let a vendor determine them for you since this is a basic conflict of interest
  • Create a statement of work based on your own goals and expectations, do not enter into a boilerplate MPS agreement
  • Inspect what your vendor is doing and provide them with proper reinforcement

Like anything else, as an educated and motivated client you will realize the benefits you are looking for and may locate where the mysterious phases have been hiding.

If these opinions and discussion caught your attention and you would like to pursue it further please contact me (ghawkins@buscomgroup.com ) at your convenience.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What Have I Missed?

It has been quite some time since I last posted to this blog or contributed to any of the interest groups on the web. I thought it would be interesting to catch up a little bit and see what I have missed.

Where Have I Been?

Just so folks realize that I still have a grass-roots perspective on the state of the industry I thought I would let you know that I have been extremely busy with a number of large projects assisting organizations to assess their document output environments and create and implement comprehensive document output strategies.

In addition, I have been reading quite a few bids, RFPs and proposals for managed print services from around the country as I help independent dealers write their proposals and create their reports.

My Personal Assessment

My absence was not only a result of being extremely busy but also influenced by what I saw happening within the industry and in the multitude of web conversations. It became very frustrating to read the same rehashed information and what I believe to be limited views of the managed print services as a whole.

It is my opinion that other than more people talking about the topic, the state of managed print services has not progressed too much in the past number of years. While some of the software tools have developed and hardware has become more compliant the actual services being offered fail to deliver on the promise.

There are a number of analysts and organizations promoting multiple definitions of MPS while others chatter about hybrid dealers and phases of engagement but I queston what clients are actually realizing.

My Experiences

A while back there was an ongoing conversation about MPS being little more than a marketing strategy. My experience with actual clients who have engaged with MPS providers largely confirms that observation. Once the contracts were signed and the first of the proverbial phases captured the income stream the other phases seem to be forgotten. The resulting engagement quickly reverted to a cost-per-page fleet management program.

As I read through end-user client generated bids and RFPs I understand how this can happen – they rarely address anything beyond a fleet management engagement. It is very easy to see the influences of the various vendors and dealers they talked to prior to building their requirements document.

My Conclusion

Maybe I am just too impatient and expect the industry to develop at a pace faster than it is capable of. I suppose if I wait long enough MPS engagements will deliver on their potential and promise. Given enough time will end-user clients demand more from their vendors?

But wait a minute, what will be the drivers that cause this to happen:

  • Clients’ realizing they are spending more than they did before?
  • Competition driving pricing down and creating need for greater differentiation?
  • New players jumping in and forcing the industry to change?

On the other hand this is still a manufacturer-driven industry and as long as they are accomplishing their objectives (software, supply and hardware sales) who will be leading the charge for change?

What’s Next?

This is a at least in part a hypothetical question but I there are some things each of us can do to chart our own course and enact positive changes:

  • MPS providers can begin to look beyond the simple supply provisioning, fix/repair services and simple reporting they are offering to develop value-laden and highly differentiated MPS service offerings
  • Clients can do a little more homework and invest in greater knowledge which will yield handsome returns in the form of greater savings, better workflow and return on their technology investments.

Personally I am going back to work helping end-user clients realize the benefits of a world-class document output environment for their enterprise.

If these opinions and discussion caught your attention and you would like to pursue it further please contact me (ghawkins@buscomgroup.com ) at your convenience.

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