Print less, automate more

London, UK: 14 December 2020

Written by Operating Board Director, Stephen Todd

Even with robust business continuity planning in place, the challenges of the past year have been significant for organisations of all sizes and in all sectors.

Contingencies may have been put in place for events such as flood or fire – or any type of localised incident which prevents a workplace being used for a period of time – but it’s unlikely that anybody would have anticipated being unable to continue with business as usual for such a long stretch and without the possibility of simply switching operations to a new physical site.

Many businesses have shown a remarkable ability to adapt and survive, in some cases even thrive, during this abrupt change in the working and economic landscape. Success has mostly been down to the adoption of new technology, and a seismic shift in the way organisations perform their work – with greater levels of automation, and the development of digital workspaces which dovetail seamlessly with physical work-related resources, becoming an essential part of how we can all continue our operations against a varying backdrop of COVID restrictions.

Digital working practices become mainstream overnight

When it comes to business improvement through the adoption of new technologies, the carrot of achieving business objectives (such as reducing costs and complexity, and improving productivity) has been outstripped in effectiveness by the stick of lockdown. We think that in the first 10 weeks of lockdown, businesses made something like a decade’s worth of progress in transforming the way they use technology, specifically to overcome the challenges of a dispersed workforce. As time goes on, these hastily-bolted-together measures will be refined and consolidated, with a focus on resilience and agility – that’s what 2021 is likely to be about for business leaders.

One of the biggest differences between the old way of working and the new – partly due to the emphasis on remote working and the requirement for collaborating with colleagues in another town, county or even country – is a massive reduction in print. We’ve already seen a significant increase in our customers looking to reduce the size of their print fleet, matching their resource more closely to their need for better value.

It makes perfect sense. Where previously printouts might be shared in meetings, today files are emailed, accessed on shared cloud storage, or screen shared during video conference calls. Invoices might have previously been printed for approval (and often scanned straight back in once they’ve been signed), whereas homeworking finance teams now have digital signing solutions for this process. Data still has to be moved and shared, but how we do it is different; print is no longer the default option in people’s minds.

The mindset shift has been incredible. Having no other option but to reinvent processes so they involve digital rather than hard-copy files has meant even the sceptics within workforces have been won over. Change management, without as much resistance, has suddenly became a lot easier.

New thinking about paper-lite practices

As a result of the last year’s events, we’ve taken a large and collective leap forward in business attitudes to paper-lite practices. Everyone is more aware of the scope for streamlining processes – and how it can free up their time to focus on more important elements of their jobs – as well as the scope for reducing the possibility of error, and improvements in security. We’ve been telling people they should print less, automate more for some time now – but in recent times we’ve really noticed that they have become a lot more receptive to the idea, because they’ve already seen for themselves (even if only in a minor way), how well the digital workspace can work for them.

It’s a great start – but it’s still just a start. A considered process to properly rethink how your organisation uses, accesses, shares and stores data is a wise way to spend strategy and planning time in 2021.

Reviewing any measures brought in under pressure during 2020, to investigate how a more integrated, considered workflow and print management system could offer your business a range of benefits, should be a priority.

The most obvious benefits are of course better sustainability and lower costs (less ink and less paper is used, and it will likely be possible to strategically consolidate your printer fleet, for lower operating and maintenance costs, too), while greater efficiency and productivity is achieved by streamlining the time taken up by all that activity (not just print-driven processes should be factored in here, but also the time required to manage and troubleshoot the print function within your organisation). Better data security, too, can be achieved – given legislative changes and the public’s unforgiving attitude to any organisation which compromises their identity, this is no small consideration.

Hybrid working: the model of the future

The nature of our future workspaces should be factored in to forward planning during 2021 – it doesn’t look like we’ll ever go back to pre-COVID, centralised working. Hybrid working – where the company’s main sites become spaces for collaboration, with individual work conducted at local hotdesks or in home offices – looks to be the most likely ‘next normal’, and that will require a big focus on creating a seamless experience between virtual and concrete workspaces.

What will this mean for print? Well, the hybrid working model requires an integrated managed print and workflow system that minimises the need to print – owing to the increased use of digital processes – but when hard copy is required, it enables employees’ print needs to be fulfilled at the right location. For example, mailers might be conceptualised, drafted and approved by the marketing team, working from home, but then printed and sent out from a centralised print production facility. Meeting resources could be created and collaborated upon by a remote-working team, who would then turn up for their room booking on the day, to find their documents ready and waiting for them. Work timeframes can be reduced through improved efficiency, and the administrative burden of reimbursing employees for consumables such as paper, ink and stamps can be removed.

Print management and workflow for the 21st century

With the huge transformation undergone by businesses in the past year, today’s print management and workflow marketplace has had to alter, too – and we’re leading the field. Our broad capabilities not only extend far beyond this remit to ensure an integrated approach to digital and physical workspaces, but we’re unique in offering an as-a-service model. Print as a managed service will simplify the way your office functions. All consumables are monitored automatically and managed offsite, so you can stop stock-piling paper and ink, and focus your attention and budget more on other considerations.

Additionally, we understand the need for agility in today’s business climate. Five years is a long time, so we build flexibility into our contracts so that business decision-makers can track our services more closely to their business needs, as priorities shift to take into account current market conditions. 

Ultimately, embracing automation within your print processes and beyond simplifies data capture and management within your workflows, enabling information to be accessed by any specified users on any device to accomplish tasks that previously would have been done face to face. With reimagined priorities for your workflow solutions, you can print less, increase security and efficiency, and automate more. As Aura’s Chief Sales Officer for Workflow and Managed Print Solutions, I believe that businesses are now better positioned than ever before to disrupt their traditional practices in favour of a new flexible print profile as they adapt over the coming months.

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