The Role of Print in Digital Transformation

Think paper doesn't have a place in your organization's efforts to embrace advanced technologies? Think again.

Perhaps one of the most enduring images of workplace printers and copiers comes from the 1999 cult classic film “Office Space.” In the movie, three white-collar workers, fed up with indecipherable error messages like “PC LOAD LETTER,” take out their frustrations on a malfunctioning machine (with help from a baseball bat). 

That was then. This is now. 

Today, printers and multifunction devices aren’t merely helping employees to streamline and simplify their paper-based process. They’re actually assisting organizations with their digital transformation efforts, making it possible for them to unlock valuable data that is currently trapped inside paper documents, and enabling new workflows that improve efficiency, security and productivity. 

“Manufacturers are increasingly positioning multifunction printers as workflow solutions, and as a vital part of an organization’s processes — not just as a box that copies, prints and scans,” says Valerie Alde-Hayman, an analyst with Gap Intelligence. “That’s important, because we’re at a point where you can’t simply launch a product that is faster or has larger paper tray capacities. At this point, these features are expected. Vendors are differentiating themselves by incorporating workflow solutions.” 

Wasim Khan, head of global digital solutions and general manager of DocuShare for Xerox, says that — far from being an afterthought — printers and multifunction devices are where the digital transformation journey begins for many organizations. With the help of tools such as Xerox’s DocuShare content management platform, Khan says, the devices are “a bridge” connecting the paper-based and digital worlds. 

“There’s a lot of content out there, but we don’t always have the right tools to extract the meaning from that content,” he says. “Using a multifunction printer with DocuShare, we’re not just seeing static content. We’re using optical character recognition, we’re indexing it, we’re attaching meaning to it via tagging and assigning metadata. That content is now dynamic.” 

New Workflows 

When organizations can use printers and multifunction devices to digitize their paper-based data, they can create new workflows that simplify existing processes, save users time and help protect data. 

“Think of something as simple as a scan-to-email function,” Alde-Hayman says. “You can scan a document to your email and distribute it electronically. You’re reducing costs, you’re not using paper and you’re able to distribute information in a way that is timelier.” 

Dan Waldinger, senior director for business-to-business marketing at Brother, says that the ability to scan paper-based documents and turn them into searchable PDF files is particularly attractive to organizations looking to make better use of the information in their existing paper files. “When we start to have those conversations with customers, that’s when they start to get excited about our devices,” he says. “In their eyes, the device becomes less of a commodity, and more a valuable tool to improve business processes.” 

Many industries continue to rely heavily on paper-based processes, says Matt Raab, Xerox’s manager of global product marketing for workplace solutions offerings. He gives the examples of medical histories and registration forms in healthcare, as well as the mountain of paperwork that new homeowners sign at closing. But, he says, many organizations miss out on opportunities to automate workflows by connecting these paper-based processes with their digital environments. 

For instance, Raab says, a billing department might scan a pile of 50 paper documents and automatically input the data into a digital billing system. Or, an organization might find ways to pull information from paper-based forms into their accounting or enterprise resource planning software. “It’s not one or the other,” Raab says. “It’s the intersection between the physical and the digital, and making that convenient and frictionless for the user.” 

A number of organizations are opting for managed print services (MPS) as a way to automate the ordering of supplies and simplify device maintenance and management. Although prompt toner deliveries might not seem intrinsically linked with digital transformation, MPS programs take away much of the hassle of supporting physical devices, allowing employees to focus their energy on more important tasks. Also, MPS efforts typically result in a consolidation of the printer fleet and policy changes that require workers to be physically present to pick up their print-outs and copies — changes that can result in less waste and improved security. 


The number of hours saved each week, per employee, by organizations that automated and optimized document workflows 

SOURCE: IDC, “Digital Transformation for the Connected Office,” March 2017

How Mobility and Print Intersect for Corporate Users 

Businesses increasingly conduct more work on mobile devices, so many modern printers and multifunction devices provide multiple ways for employees to seamlessly print from their phones and tablets. 

AirPrint, Google Cloud Print 2.0 and Mopria Print Service: These services allow users to link to and print from cloud-connected printers. 

• Near Field Communication (NFC): This option establishes a direct connection between a mobile device and a printer, allowing users to print or scan without a network connection.

• Print vendor apps: Mobile apps from vendors such as Brother and Xerox enable users to wirelessly print and scan from mobile devices, preview copies, send and receive faxes, and check on a machine’s status. 

Advanced Features 

Today’s printers and multifunction devices are equipped with a number of features that make them feel less like the office appliances of yesteryear, and more like integral pieces of an organization’s digital ecosystem. For one, vendors have redesigned their interfaces to make them more intuitive, mimicking the user-friendly touch screens of mobile devices. They also come with preloaded apps (and have the capacity to load custom apps), some of which connect directly to cloud-management services that make it easy to store, share and manage newly digitized documents. 

“We support all the major players, from Google Drive, to Box, to OneDrive, to Evernote,” says Bob Burnett, director of product development for Brother. “You might have a hard copy of a brochure, and don’t have the original file, but you want the data for a presentation. You can scan the document to PowerPoint, have it deposited in a cloud service, and then use and edit the individual graphics and text.” 

Document translation services are another valuable feature, especially for organizations working in multiple countries or with diverse populations. Many devices today can automatically translate documents into a variety of foreign languages, although these automated tools may not be perfect in their translation capabilities. Devices can also connect organizations with professional, human-based translation services, and even expert translators who specialize in specific industries. 

“That resonates,” says Khan. “A lot of our clients have offices in different countries. If we’re managing certain contracts for you, and we can easily translate, that makes our value proposition that much stronger.” 

Finally, much like smartphones and home digital assistants, print devices are starting to incorporate voice recognition technology. This feature increases the accessibility of print devices for people with disabilities, appeals to younger users who are accustomed to voice recognition and simplifies interactions between users and devices. 

“Voice-activated interactions will be the next big thing moving forward,” says Alde-Hayman. “It’s about making the experience intuitive and accurate. The user interface needs to be as simple as possible, and the device needs to be able to deploy the task requested.” 

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