What people are doing with documents, content, has changed dramatically from what they were doing a decade ago with A4/A3 paper based information. This is led by the increasing digitisation of information available. Offices, schools and businesses are printing less information, but conversely people are consuming more data and written material than ever before. As a result, printed page volumes are actually increasing due to the amount of data now available.
For many years the experience of using digital documents was often inefficient and impractical. If you were scanning a document, the result was either a PDF or a jpeg image file that could not be edited. If you wanted to edit the original document, you’d need to track down its source files, and depending on where the document came from, this wasn’t always possible. Scans also needed to be manually stored via USB or sent through email, and there was no inherent organisation systems in place to make finding this information easy at a later date or as soft copy data grew (i.e. naming conventions, indexing etc. of files).
However, in recent years there have been fundamental shifts in how digital documents are handled, and now the expectation is that people will be able to do much more with documents and the content on them. “Workflows have changed,” said Daniel Gard, the national marketing manager of Sharp’s Office Solutions Group. “Where it was once limited to copy, print, scan and fax, we're now seeing people engage in far more complex document workflows. The process today looks more like scan, push to the Cloud, OCR the document, make it searchable & editable, capture the content as a library of information (metadata), and then, at some point, print the document as required.”
The more complex handling of documents was being driven by three key trends in document management:
1) Major cost savings from going paperless
There is pressure on organisations of all sizes to reduce their carbon footprint, and developing paperless environments is a significant way to achieve this. However, of more direct benefit to the organisation is the immediate cost savings in cutting down on the use of paper (by up to 30 per cent).
“A good example of this is one of our largest government enterprise customers. In our initial engagement with the agency, the modernisation of their printing environment was attractive because in that first phase, they were able to pull $1.3 million in costs out of the business,” Gard said. “After that came the soft benefits, where they became more sustainable as a business in meeting their requirements as a government agency to reduce their carbon footprint, becoming a better corporate citizen from a compliance point of view, by reducing waste in the business. Management was also able to develop a better understanding of who printed what and where, based on the reports that we were generating for them, and then using that understanding to build more efficient and productive rules around printing for the organisation, such as simple/duplex printing, mono vs. colour print permissions, and so on.”
2) The move to the Cloud
With Cloud computing becoming widely accepted now as it matures, organisations are leveraging Cloud services in order to facilitate better document management and archiving. At the point where documents are scanned, they are instantly uploaded to the Cloud, where they can be accessed from anywhere. ‘Follow me printing’ has also become popular, as people access documents from their mobile devices and then want to be able to retrieve printed copies from the closest available MFD.
“The need for mobility with print has grown dramatically”, Gard said. “This has been of significant benefit to organisations with archiving requirements, as it has allowed them to set up and structure automated archiving processes as a natural part of the workflow process”.
The Cloud has also turned printing into a collaborative experience. With documents being instantly accessible to entire teams once in the Cloud, organisations can also act with a sense of real-time immediacy, which facilitates a far better collaborative experience than needing to wait for emails to be sent (or files on a USB flash drive to be physically passed from one person to the next), or editing documents on network share drives not accessible while travelling.
3) Content Management Systems are as important as the Device
Organisations are no longer looking for simple printers when buying printing services, Gard said. Instead, they’re looking for holistic content management systems, and that has required manufacturers of MFD devices and printers to build out systems architects and be able to offer service provider solutions. Where a MFD was previously simply a box, now it’s functional like a smartphone, with applications built into the hardware that are wholly customised to the needs of the individual business, via embedded Solutions, and API’s that run on the Box.
“MFD’s are now the on and off-ramps, and no longer simply the corridor in-between,” Gard said. For example, MFD’s can now capture documents as editable Word, Excel or Powerpoint documents or as searchable PDF’s. From there you have data that you can actually do something with. We’ve seen organisations capture the scan data and create forms, barcodes, bates stamps; for example in legal firms requiring date stamping and matter numbers etc. as mandated of them through regulatory requirements into documents they scan.
“Pages are actually data, as opposed to images of hardcopy paper, and while not all businesses are aware that they can be innovative with how they use MFD’s, the awareness is growing,” Gard said. Organisations are more frequently coming to us looking for bespoke and highly customised and complex document management solutions that suit the nature of their businesses, archival, being one of the biggest to date!”
“For all the talk of ‘paperless office’, you would think that represents an existential threat to traditional copier and printer manufacturers, but the reality is the opposite as we develop devices that form an integral part of business workflows and form part of the IT hardware and solutions infrastructure.”
“What ‘copier’ manufacturers have had to do in order to retain their relevance in the market is go beyond the box and become genuine solutions and service providers.”
Businesses that want to take advantage of the innovations enabled by adopting a services and solutions model for their printing need a partner that is able to understand the varied printing needs and challenges of the modern business. Sharp services some of the largest corporate and government customers in getting their printing under control, and then leveraging new technology and bespoke solutions to achieve genuine competitive advantage through the MFD.