IT was from Mars. Print was from Venus. Earth is where they are coming together at last.
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Historically, IT and print have been related, yet disparate enough that two distinct groups have served to meet the digital and physical needs of a customer. IT resellers didn't care about paper, and the "print guys" only cared about IT enough to ensure that File -> Print worked. Not that it really matters anymore, right? After all, isn't print being slowly replaced by digital processes like PDF documents, email, and cloud storage?
It may shock some to discover that in these modern days of digital documents, high-speed scanners, and digitization of all things ink, usage of printers and print services is on the rise. According to statistics from HP, the world's dominant manufacturer of print solutions, the print industry generally grows by 1 percent every year. Each business vertical varies, but in general, paper is just as important today as it was 50 years ago.
While growth is consistent, the print solutions being utilized in business are rapidly advancing. Just as network and mobile technologies have changed the definition of IT several times over the last 20 years, it's also impacting print in huge ways-albeit a bit slower than the IT side. The simple desktop printer is nearly a relic in all but the smallest businesses, giving way to multifunction, networked printers that handle all aspects of physical and digital paper workflows.
Printers aren't just printers that spew out sheets of compressed organic matter-they're now intelligent, complex, networked digital devices with many of the same management and security needs as any PC or mobile device. As a result, IT resellers who haven't yet realized that managed services now includes print will soon discover large portions of their business being ripped away by those who can meet both the physical and digital needs of a customer.
Given the number of integration points print solutions have in modern business systems, print providers have naturally evolved into IT specialists as security, servers, and software solutions are now just as much part of a print deployment as they are for PCs and laptops. Besides, there's no better time for the IT channel to get into print. The hardware itself is more interesting and functional than ever.
Seeing Is Believing
We recently attended HP's Print Tech Day event at its primary LaserJet R&D and testing facilities in Boise, Idaho, to see the latest SMB and enterprise print solutions-how HP researches customers' needs, designs, and tests its latest hardware and software. It was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. There is so much to take into consideration when designing a print product; far more than I would have thought, and the lengths a company like HP goes to is nothing short of astounding.
An average HP multifunction LaserJet printer not only prints, but it can scan directly to cloud services like Dropbox or SharePoint, integrate with Active Directory services, create wireless access points that allow mobile devices to quickly print, integrate touchscreens for better user experiences, and so on. Print is more software today than hardware, but even that is still a big part of it and it requires just as much thought and testing. For example, not only does HP have to make sure a LaserJet printer can take toner and fuse it to the paper where it is supposed to go, but the company looks at hundreds of thousands of test prints (and microscopically analyzes a bunch of them) over the duration of the printer's life to ensure that performance is consistent from page 1 to page 50,000.
More interestingly, HP buys more than $1 million in paper supplies from all over the world (300-plus different types, in fact) and individually tests all of them to ensure that whatever a user feeds in, the printer can handle it. The variables even compound from there, however. Even the same kind of paper can wildly vary depending on environmental factors like temperature and humidity, so HP has to test all of this paper in four different extreme environments to ensure that no matter where in the world a printer ends up, it works. In short, print and IT have changed. Are you ready to change with it?
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