Don't Exclude The MFP
VARs could capture additional market share by incorporating MFPs (multifunction peripherals) to broaden scanning solutions.
It wasn't long ago when copier dealers were peddling MFPs with a sales pitch still focused on speed and price. If a dealer wanted to jazz up the sales pitch, they might highlight the new affordability of color output and the inclusion of fax capability. The afterthought of these sales pitches was, almost invariably, the seemingly obligatory, "Oh yeah, and it scans, too."
So, that was then. Fast-forward to today, and you can see that there has been a near 180-degree shift in thinking. Unlike just a few years ago when copier dealers were still selling MFPs based on the output capabilities of copy, print, and fax, savvy dealers today are beginning to understand the value of document imaging. Those that do are capturing greater sales by bringing the scanning functionality of these devices to the forefront. Is this bad news for traditional scanning VARs? Only for those that continue to ignore the popularity of the MFP.
The MFP: An MVP In The Workgroup?
According to several scanning industry analysts, the proliferation of MFP devices in office environments, from SMB to enterprise, has increased the accessibility of scanning. In fact, a report released by InfoTrends earlier this year (U.S. Document Image Scanning Report 2007) illustrates the trend very clearly. Of the companies surveyed, 70% of those who were scanning documents at all reported that MFPs were being used to handle a portion of the scanning processes within their organizations. Of these, 56% expect their company's MFP scanning volumes to increase. But what the InfoTrends report also finds is that the highest percentage of documents scanned on MFPs, 40%, is for ad hoc purposes in a distributed or workgroup environment.
"Customers are recognizing that since they have already invested in the device, they might as well take advantage of its scan capability," says Mike Benson, director of marketing and channel operations at Comsquared Systems. "Because of this, the MFP is being accepted as a viable alternative or addition to traditional workgroup scanners in low to midvolume scan applications." Of course, just having immediate access to an MFP is not what is causing its increasing adoption. Just like traditional scanner vendors, MFP vendors understand that ease of use is the number one reason behind the successful adoption of the technology.
The MFP Transcends Scan-To-E-Mail
"Simplicity is the key," says Greg Schloemer, president of DocuWare Corporation. "Today's MFPs are becoming more user-friendly with large display panels and icons. The idea is to create a walk-up user interface, regardless of the application, that is easy and intuitive." The early days of MFP evolution saw 'scan-to-e-mail' and 'scan-to-file' functionality. This has expanded into a trend to embed office productivity applications, such as indexing and scan routing, right into the control panel of the MFP. The concept is much like the one-button features being incorporated by most traditional scanner vendors — and very much for the same reason. The goal is to make the technology easier and more comfortable for the everyday user or knowledge worker to operate, rather than having to rely on dedicated scan operators.
"Many MFP vendors are combining these simplified user interfaces with increased functionality and solutions extensibility, making it easier to connect to industry leading workflow, management, and security solutions," says Maurice Petty, laserjet marketing manager, HP Imaging and Printing Group. "This enables resellers to integrate MFPs right into the business processes of an organization." To accomplish this, many MFP manufacturers are producing devices that offer a more open architecture or API (application programming interface) to enable seamless integration with third party capture and retrieval software. Petty continues to explain that many traditional scanner features, such as scan preview and OCR (optical character recognition) have become standard components of many MFPs, making the transition from (or addition to) a dedicated scanning process much easier.
Bob Curci, product manager for Panasonic Communications Company of North America, also indicates a continuing trend toward solution integration. "Probably the number one functionality improvement is the increase in SDK [software development kit] options," says Curci. "The availability of SDKs in MFPs offers resellers a viable solution that is attractive to customers wanting everyone within their company to image documents into various back end ECM [enterprise content management] systems or document repositories without needing a degree in TWAIN [a standard for acquiring images from image scanners] or ISIS [intermediate system to intermediate system] to do it." For example, VARs can set up the interface on the MFP to enable a knowledge worker, such as an accounts payable employee, to simply walk up to the MFP and press a button on the display panel that says 'invoice.' That worker is immediately scanning into whatever AP (accounts payable) or ERP (enterprise resource planning) application the company uses. This adds value to the MFP sale and creates additional revenue opportunities for the resellers.
For an MFP success story, go to BSMinfo.com/jp/3446.
"The increasing ability to customize MFPs to meet specific market needs can also prove to be very beneficial for resellers," says Sharon Brindley, VP, U.S. business channels and SMB at Lexmark International, Inc. "Vertical MFP solutions provide unique applications for each type of customer." Brindley goes on to explain that the value of these innovations for resellers is that some vendors are providing these market-specific MFPs right out of the box. For example, in a medical environment, a reseller can supplement a scanning process with an MFP that has been optimized by the manufacturer to operate in that environment. The device can be preconfigured with options such as 'scan-to-EMR [electronic medical records]' without the need for a VAR to do any of this programming.
The MFP Can Broaden Overall VAR Value
Document management VARs shouldn't consider the MFP to be a threat to traditional scanning solutions. Whether it is a case of an SMB discovering the simple convenience of turning paper documents into digital images or the ability for an enterprise to extend scanning accessibility to its knowledge workers, the outcome is a positive one for the industry overall. Resellers should look at MFPs as a way to extend the scope of document management solutions. VARs that still think incorporating an MFP into the product line isn't a worthwhile endeavor should take a walk through their own kitchens. Chances are, they would find a stove, microwave, and toaster oven. All of these devices perform the same basic function, but having all three means you'll always have the option to use the device you know is the most reliable and produces the best results for the task at hand.