Friday, March 4, 2011

Before you run out half-cocked and begin promoting MPS .....

Before you make the decision to extend your business into “managed print services” (MPS) and before you announce to your customers and prospects that your company is going to offer MPS, I’d encourage you to do your homework! And, for that matter, lots of homework!

Although that business may “sound easy” and although many reprographers are already heavily involved in providing “FM” services - and one ‘scope’ of FM services is, in my opinion, very much the same as a “true” managed print services offering – you need to be aware of what others in the MPS business are doing, how they are pricing what they are offering and what it’s going to cost you to be involved in the MPS business. You also need to be aware that the MPS business can prove to be capital-intensive.

As I mentioned in a previous articles about MPS on this blog, there were two ‘breakout sessions” at least year’s IRgA Convention about MPS, and there will be another “breakout session” about MPS at this year’s IRgA Convention (in late April, in Vegas.) My guess is that the IRgA Board has concluded that MPS is something that reprographers should consider offering. Why else would the Board have approved IRgA Convention “breakout sessions” about MPS?

MPS is not just about acquiring, installing, supplying, and managing a fleet of imaging devices and producing reports that show MPS customers where they are spending their money for “output.” In the “broad sense” of MPS, MPS requires that an MPS-vendor be quite knowledgeable about document “workflow” and how that workflow affects “the customer’s” business, both communications-wise and cost-wise. An MPS “sale” is definitely a “consultative” sale, for sure. Also from a broad-scope perspective, MPS is about helping a customer with its needs for “output” and “distribution”, and an MPS program would consider; a) the most appropriate fleet of imaging devices for the customer’s office(s), b) the most appropriate document management software to best manage both internal printing and distributed printing, c) selection of vendors to be used by the customer for “remote” or “outsourced” printing and distribution requirements (this, negotiated by the MPS vendor), and d) reporting “total” spend to the customer, possibly broken out “by division”, and/or “by department”, and/or “by project”, etc.

In order for you to be able to offer a “smart” MPS proposal (and, by that, I mean a proposal where a customer will read it and conclude, “heck, these people are pro’s, they know what they are doing and what the MPS business is all about”), you first need to do a comprehensive survey of the customer’s business, and, if you don’t already have the experience doing this type of survey, you will need to learn how to do a survey. That also means that you need to figure out what questions the survey should ask.

Okay, in talking about the MPS business in the manner I just have, it was not my intention to make MPS sound like “rocket science”, for, to me, it certainly isn’t rocket science. Earlier, I mentioned “FM” and “MPS” in the same paragraph. If you’ve ever done an “wide-scope” FM for an A/E firm, and, by “wide-scope”, I mean that your agreement with the A/E firm includes “on-site” services/output (equipment, consumables, service, paper, etc.) (whether staffed or unstaffed does not particularly matter), off-site services, distribution services, document management services, and, where you are committed to capturing and reporting “cost” to your customer, and where your company is the “exclusive” vendor to the customer for these services (in other words, your company touches virtually everything the customer prints and/or distributes), your “broad-scope” “FM” service is an MPS. Many reprographers already have this experience, and they have, for years, had experience designing comprehensive surveys and working with customers and prospects to complete surveys. Personally, I actually think that reprographers have an advantage over “equipment dealers and distributors” in the MPS space. Years ago, reprographers, who were the first to offer short-run, large-format, digital color printing (when color labs and screen printers were still totally analog), had an advantage in the large-format, digital color space, but reprographers let that advantage slip away. Only recently, and this, of course, happened because the reprographics community was slammed very hard by the decline in business from A/E/C firms, have reprographers renewed initiatives to pursue, more heavily, large-format, digital color printing business. Will reprographers sit back and let non-reprographers eat away at the MPS business reprographers should be, and are capable of, pursuing?

Any business you venture into carries risk. There is no guarantee that you will be successful (or make money) in the MPS business. But, there is that old saying, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” If you don’t try it, you won’t know. Some companies have been very successful in the MPS business, while some others have not. That’s why I encourage research; if you better understand the “opportunity”, you will better understand the risks and the potential rewards.

The other day, I looked at information about a company known as “WorkFlowOne.” When you visit this company’s web-site and click-on “managed services”, you will see, on the left-hand side of the page that comes up, these “sub-titles”:

DNA Services Network

Managed Services

Sourcing Services

Technology Services

Logistics and Distribution Services

Consulting Services

Evidently, this company offers a wide-array of services in the MPS space. They say that their “roots” (the two core firms that were merged into one firm in 2005) date back to 1866. No, that’s not a typo, 1866 is the correct date. Although I do not know what WorkFlowOne’s annual sales are (I am too lazy to look for that), they must be a fairly large company. I say that because, when WorkFlowOne recently (on March 2, 2011) emerged from Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, they said that, through bankruptcy, they reduced their debt by $149 million and reduced their annual cash debt-service burden by approximately $50 million. My guess is that any company that’s able to reduce its debt by that amount, must have had a lot of debt to begin with! And, if they were a small company, that they would not have had a significant amount of debt to begin with. This company went into Chapter 11 on September 29, 2010. I have no idea how they managed to get themselves into a position where they had to file Chapter 11. I have no interest in wasting the time that would be necessary to invest in order to figure out why this company got into trouble. Did they get in trouble because of the MPS aspect of their business? Or, was their trouble caused by other aspects of their business? The current Chairman of Workflow one is a turnaround/restructuring specialist, and, interestingly enough, his background includes a degree in “aerospace engineering.” So, where I said earlier in this article, that the MPS business isn’t “rocket science”, well, maybe I was wrong to say that!

To conclude this very long-winded post, I just want to say, once again (my friends well know my propensity to be redundant and repetitive), that, if you are thinking about offering MPS services, do your homework. Develop a list of things you think you need to know and consider - and devote a sufficient number of “off-hours” to do your research. After you “think you know” what the MPS business is all about and have come to an initial decision as to where your business can run with MPS, talk to your friends and associates who’ve had experience with MPS.

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