Guest post: Hybrid working and the evolution of print

Paul Martin explores the shift to hybrid working and how managed print services (MPS) providers can support this, as law firms look to make collaboration between the office and home working seamless, and potentially plug the gap from the loss of cost recovery work.

Studies are increasingly showing us that during lockdown, whilst most knowledge workers were productive, even more so to a certain extent, and some firms enjoyed record revenues; the activities of users when working from home is quite different to the office. None can be shown to be more different than activities around office printing and copying.

When office based, the multi-functional device (MFD) on the floors can almost become a hub, a gathering point, much like the ‘water cooler,’ where people talk shop while they do their printing or copying; however, there was none of this at home. Printing and scanning all but ceased.

For the suppliers, this was the worst of times. Revenues were historically generated from toner consumption and with no printing…no revenue.

This lack of printing activity also had a dramatic impact on those firms who cost recover, or charge back for print and copy activities, In conversations with one major law firm, they said that pro rata, annual revenues derived from cost recovery were down from £2m to £15k…. OUCH!!

So, now we are seeing a return to the office, albeit under a more hybrid structure, are we seeing a return to old ways with users at the device, hanging out with colleagues while they scan and print; or is print and scan now a total no go area?

Conversations with IT Heads from many of the major law firms in the UK have told me it is the former. Users are back to printing and scanning, but not at the levels pre-pandemic. This could be to do with the introduction of more flexible working arrangement, or they simply do not feel the need anymore.

Whatever happens, those firms who had a reliance on the revenue generated from these activities need to find ways to plug the gap or take the plunge into fixed fee work.

One such firm I have been working with has taken the view that scanning should be charged back. I can see the point, the scanning device still needs to use power, which let’s face it, isn’t getting any cheaper, someone must be there to stack and profile the documents and then there is the cost for the now electronic version of the documents to be stored in the firms DMS or other repository.

One way to potentially speed up the scanning process, and save some cost, would be to use some form of intelligent document processing / classification, so that the documents are automatically routed to the correct destination and sensitive information can be redacted if appropriate.

Integrating paper and digital workflows in the workplace is crucial to ensure that office and remote workers can cooperate successfully and effortlessly.

All the major providers of an MPS use hardware that comes with native workflows that firms can use. This is usually in the form scan to email, scan to folder and scan to DMS.

In some cases, the native technology born within the hardware device does not provide this depth of integration and therefore you may need to think about an additional software provider that can embed their platform onto the device to kick off the workflow.

We are also seeing a heightened interest in the ability to capture documents from a mobile device. Whilst this is great function to have for the lawyer on the go, to capture a piece of litigation or contract, it is important from the security standpoint that the captured document be automatically part of the workplace workflow, and for security, the image not left to reside in the mobile device.

Over the course of the last year, we have seen a marked difference in how users are working with paper documents and the drive to get them into an electronic format. The rational is clear: paper is not secure, paper has no version control, paper is open to error, paper gets mislaid

So, does this mean that the providers of Managed Print Services (MPS) need to focus on other priorities? Perhaps move away from old priorities such as device speed, cost per page and device quantities?

We have certainly seen the shift to hybrid working, so, how can MPS providers support this and provide the infrastructure necessary to make the connection and collaboration between office and home working seamless, to provide the same user experience?

If you’re printing at home, how can MPS providers ensure that this has visibility and accountability within the print infrastructure? Cloud-based contracts would certainly help mitigate the risk, but they need to represent the changing landscape we are seeing in this space; be flexible to the changing needs of the client.

The demands on sustainability and resources are playing an increasing role in the selection process of an MPS provider. Service providers are realising this demand when offering their services, from assessment through to ongoing analytics which can report on resource usage and wastage; indeed, some providers have even gone as far as to be able to use analytics in a predictive manner, to see how current activities will impact the future and what can be done to mitigate the risk.

With the rising cost of energy, the assessment phase also needs to include electricity costs. MPS providers are now detailing the energy impact of their solution. Users understand the importance of this as it’s something that’s impacting home life as well as work. This, coupled with resource usage and wastage should be a good way to drive a “print less” methodology and increase the usage of secure electronic documents.

The printed page is not going away just yet, but lockdown has brought forward changes in the way users are interacting with technology. To attract the best employees, firms need to demonstrate a robust digital transformation roadmap that gives the employee the opportunity to enjoy the same experience at home as in the office. Clients are also demanding this of firms; they want to see what technologies are being used that will improve their experience when hiring a firm, and that can reduce their billable hours.

Paul Martin has 20+ years’ experience of providing high value solutions, software and services to multinational enterprise customers. You can view his LinkedIn profile here.

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