Using print to control all your data
In a world obsessed with apps and websites, it is easy to forget that print remains at the forefront of business. Not just used for information exchange and promotion, in fact print was the original locus for data in the enterprise, writes Jason Walsh
Oki Europe, a longstanding player in the Irish business market, sees itself as more than a supplier of hardware and consumables. And why not? With many businesses now onto their third managed print contract, printers are now seen as a focal point of commercial activity in many a business.
Given this, and given the fact that printers are more than just dumb devices, print can now play a role in that most up to date of business activities: working with analytics and ‘big data’.
Oki’s primary goal is trying to understand what customers want specifically with regard to vertical markets, said David Quinn, Oki’s regional sales manager for Ireland and the UK. Oki uses data to directly address the need of specialist vertical markets.
“One vertical would be retail—that’s a strong one for Oki,” said Quinn. “Another would be healthcare and another hospitals. There are lots of verticals, obviously: construction and education, for example.
“Hospitals are very heavy on print; they have to be [because] it’s often the quickest way to access a file. It’s in the room at the end of the bed. But this raises a question about privacy and compliance: once these things are printed, the question is how are they controlled?”
Oki has an answer to this question. “You can set up an automated reminder to tell staff to destroy documents,” said Quinn.
All of this points to a lot of data points — print, volume, time of print, printer used, device or PC used and so on — that can be collected from print and printers, but Oki also looks at data throughout the sales channel.
“We capture data in several different ways,” said Quinn. “We have a sales process: manufacturer to distributor, distributor to reseller, and reseller to customer. Therefore, which reseller it’s sold to is key. We would have specific retailers working in specific verticals.
“If you take the example of those selling into retail, besides print, they offer POS (point-of-sale) solutions or service around tills and PCs, or specific retail software. By analysing which resellers are selling which product, we can understand the whole process and focus more on them and bring the right kind of product to market,” he said.
“By analysing who is buying these devices it goes a long way toward meeting people’s needs.”
Actual working data is also captured, albeit within reason given the now enforced restrictions of the general data protection regulation (GDPR) and the fact that businesses want privacy.
“The other side to it is that we offer a three-year warranty on everything, so it is useful to collect volume information for managed print users,” Quinn said.
This information has yielded interesting insights over the years, he said. “For example, in a hospital, the majority of printing is mono: predominantly they print a lot of wristbands and patient information. However, the busiest printer in any hospital is invariably in the kitchen, and that requires information about allergies and dietary requirements, so that has to be in colour.”
In fact, colour is increasingly common across all verticals, even those that we tend to think of as only really requiring mono print.
“In hospitality they print menus and door hangers. Of course, the heavy bulk of printing is done in mono at reception, but they do more than that,” said Quinn.
The analysis of print data also yields useful information for Oki, its resellers and, of course, the end user, and it is something the print business excels at.
“Analysing what our customers do, we’ve been doing that for a long time,” he said.
Growing a shrinking market
Despite predictions of a paperless office dating back as far as the 1960s, print remains a central function of business. In fact, its centrality to most business applications means it is an ideal centre for data capture.
This means that print continues to be important even as it does, finally, begin to shrink.
“Print is a massive industry. It has declined, in the last 12 months in particular, but it’s still massive,” said Quinn.
The decline can be put down to new technologies, particularly tablets and phones, which can now perform a reasonable facsimile of some traditional print functions.
“Invoices are emailed and people use phones as boarding passes,” he said.
Managed print contracts, however, are extremely useful – and data centric.
“We survey customers and we [also] collect data: print volumes for managed print customers, for example, are collected and then shared with customers. It’s vital for them to know how much they are printing,” he said.
Privacy concerns, not to mention GDPR, mean that Oki does not have, or seek to have, access to customer usage data on a granular level.
It can allow its end customers to see the data users, however.
“Obviously, we can never see what has been printed or which user has printed, but that is something we can enable companies to see,” said Quinn. “So that empowers them with their own data and analysis.”
As regards market trends, they are analysed externally across all manufacturers. There is still value in print itself, though, he says: print has a currency all of its own.
“There has been analysis done, and it has come full circle. By that I mean, if you get an email in, are you really going to open it? Probably not? If you do open it, will you read through it? Probably not? If something is printed and posted, however, you almost certainly will.”