What is the printer's role in the WFH era?

Johannesburg, 17 Aug 2021
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David Preston, MD, Canon South Africa.
David Preston, MD, Canon South Africa.

To borrow Mark Twain's famous saying, the death of print has been greatly exaggerated. It's a headline that appears on many articles discussing the topic. The idea of digital media eliminating printing has turned out to be simplistic. 

On a philosophical level, people are even more attracted to tangible media, counteracting digital media's ethereal character. For example, US book publishers made $26 billion in revenue during 2019, $22.6 billion of which came from printed books.

The recent shifts in workplace behaviours have lifted printing's appeal even further. According to David Preston, MD of Canon South Africa, the shift to remote and hybrid working is boosting a market that was already doing well: "In the one month of June, we sold more printers than in any other single month of the previous 12-month period, and those numbers were already strong. Something's going on there."

What could that be? The answer lies in how printers have developed in three notable areas.

First, they have evolved into centralised devices that various people can access. Second, printers are now multifunction devices that offer scanning and related technologies such as OCR (optical character recognition) to digitise physical documents quickly. Third, they integrate more seamlessly with broader technology ecosystems, such as a company IT environment or access to cloud services and storage.

The printer's expanding role

Point one may seem to contradict the boom in home printer sales. But it's instead a reflection of emerging workplace realities. The growth in home printer sales reveals how crucial printing remains as part of a productive office. People want to replicate some of that functionality in their homes.

For IT managers and administrators, this is a challenge. Those home printers could be integrated with the broader company network or operate independently. In both cases, they create cost, security and content management concerns.

"The printer has become a sophisticated online device, where you need to control exactly what the user can print, how much they print, and how much of consumables they use, such as ink or paper," Preston explains. He adds that even if a printer is not connected to any company network or VPN connection, it can still scan and print sensitive information that requires oversight and policies.

Printing's role in the work from home (WFH) and remote workplace eras requires additional monitoring and visibility: can IT administrators easily monitor what printers are doing, secure them with the right policies, and generate reporting on those and other metrics?

Visibility unlocks productivity

Once adequately visible, companies can get the most productivity from printers, such as capturing paperwork or using cloud storage services.

"We will get documents, for example, invoices or purchase orders, that will often go directly to people at home rather than come to the office. They'll print and sign them, then scan them into a digital format. Those documents are securely populated and escalated, even archived, through automated processes. But all the employee had to do was sign and scan. You can do that with today's multifunction printers and even some legacy models."

The combination of management software and easy oversight for administrators helps companies embrace concepts such as security, integration with business systems and support for cloud services.

Today's printer is already a sophisticated device that incorporates technologies such as IOT. Replete with sensors and application integration opportunities, finding the printer's place in the WFH and hybrid work era is a matter of having the best control and visibility, even over independent home office devices. When companies can access such features, they can do much more than reducing costs and strengthening security.

"It's not about policing people," says Preston. "It's just understanding what it costs to enable people through printing devices, and help people be more productive. Printers are equipped to enhance hybrid workplaces. The right print management becomes an enabler for business. It's like any technology enabler, such as mobile phones or vehicles. You need to control. You need to know what the cost is so you can make the right decisions."

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