Man and woman collaborating on a project with ADS-4900W, QL-1110NWB, and MFC-J5955DW printers in office space.

Digital, But Not Paperless: Staying Relevant in Tomorrow’s Workplace

By Dan Waldinger, Senior Director of B2B Marketing, Brother International Corporation

Anyone who works in a business of any size, in any industry can agree that workplace needs are shifting. Nearly every day you hear talk of “the office of the future” and the idea that one day everything will be digital and paperless. 

Will physical printing and imaging of documents in the workplace be a thing of the past in five years’ time? The short answer is no. Paper, as well as other traditional elements of today’s modern workplace, will remain critical for many businesses. But with the rapid changes to technologies, services, and organization needs — especially within the past few years — the office of the future is coming to fruition today.

Tomorrow’s workplace will see myriad changes. Newer generations of workers are increasingly digitally savvy, corporations are gradually embracing remote workers and, most notably, new technologies are being developed faster than most workplaces can adopt them. Through it all there are significant benefits to technologies that simplify workflow, yet transforming the workplace of tomorrow does come at the cost of potentially outdating some of today’s traditional components.

Putting aside the idea of “paperless” for a moment, the more dramatic shift that businesses, document imaging technology manufacturers and resellers need to prepare for is the move away from traditional desks and toward highly digitized, more mobile environments where employees can move fluidly from single to group workspaces, be able to present, retrieve and share documents, collaborate easily, and work with individuals securely both in the physical office and remotely.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and device-as-a-service (DaaS) have helped aid what some may call freedom in work. The growth of shared, almost public workspaces is creating a stronger sense of both collaboration and even independence. Yet through it all there remains a need to uphold the quality of work output and for secure, reliable digital connectivity to enable it. 

Committing to tomorrow’s workplace through virtual, secure and digital connectivity

Times have changed and, for many companies, employees are no longer required to sit in the same office. Remote workforces continue to grow as more advanced tools allow near-seamless virtual collaboration and connectivity. This is enabled through software and applications leveraging different types of cloud storage, including infrastructure-as a-service (IaaS), software-as-a-service (SaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS). While cloud service providers make transmitting and retrieving documents convenient, this also introduces the very significant challenge of how businesses can ensure security with sensitive, confidential documents when employees are working remotely.

Document security risks are some of the most critical problems facing modern workplaces of all sizes, and that doesn’t stop at the security vulnerability; according to IDC’s InfoBrief, “Defending Your Business Infrastructure with Print Security, August 2018,” the average total cost of an average security breach is more than $815,000. There are countless security concerns surrounding the capture and management of documents or other content. Printers can be vulnerable to hackers if they store all documents scanned or printed, and this problem is potentially compounded if the device has weak security protocols or layers of identity protection before granting a user access. Printers and imaging products must continue to evolve to offer flexibility for the workplaces of the future, with ironclad security that takes into consideration both on-site and remote workers.

In order to address the challenges of today and anticipate the workplace needs of the future, companies are already looking to implement innovative solutions across their hardware, software and services offerings. Being able to rapidly and securely disseminate documents — from the first scan to the final print — is perhaps most important. The goal is to ensure documents and their data are routed to whom and where they’re intended without compromising quality or security. These solutions are already evident in some imaging products, with many offering applications across products to simplify processes and promote efficiency. This includes fingerprint and facial recognition via phones and tablets, strict password/encryption protocols, and Near Field Communication (NFC) and card readers. 

Scaling to fit with modern workplace trends

With offices changing in size and employees becoming more nomadic, the footprint of printing and imaging hardware needs to get smaller without diminishing quality and returns. The industry is foreseeing a continued blend of large, traditional A3 devices as well as an increased focus on more compact A4 devices that are now versatile enough to take care of larger, more common document management and printing needs. It’s increasingly apparent that market needs are shifting from A3 to A4, given that compact, efficient footprints not only will produce more convenient placement in a workspace but will also get more use. Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution for an ideal design, a device’s overall look and feel should be appealing and friendly, not intimidating and outdated.

Need to get ahead of the changing workplace needs? Look to channel partners?

As the office continues to evolve at an increasingly rapid pace, it is more important than ever to keep sight of what the channel and its end-user customers are seeing, thinking and using, as well as the things they want to change over time. Channel partners serve as an exceptional resource to address the needs of customers, as they serve as the connector between the vendor and end-users. By collecting voice of channel data, we can continue to receive feedback and make predictions about the office of tomorrow, thus enabling a positive workflow impact. The channel partner’s interaction with customers and users provides valuable insights that can guide research and development, as well as broader business strategies. Regardless of how the office may change, manufacturers should be ready to make it work as best as possible in conjunction with our channel partners.

Q: What’s more important for tomorrow’s workplace, hardware, software or services?
A: All three 

It won’t come as a surprise that the future office will demand a hybrid set of technological advancements: hardware, software and services. Each has a distinct benefit that can only be fulfilled in tomorrow’s offices when deployed in conjunction with the other two. Like most aspects of today’s offices, each solution must evolve and adapt as the workplace continues to change:

• Hardware: Even in an on-the-go office, the printed page is still a critical aspect of day-to-day operations, which means printers and MFPs are still a key component in keeping business moving smoothly. To adapt to tomorrow’s office, devices must decrease in footprint while maximizing output and space to ensure flexibility within a range of changing office environments. In recent years, MFPs and scanners have notably minimized in size while upholding quality and increasing user-friendly designs and interfaces for efficiency. Vendors must continue to create hardware with an eye for functionality and use across years and business cycles to provide users with enough familiarity to avoid confusion, frustration or lack of usability. The addition of machine learning through AI and IOT deployments will further deliver numerous benefits for end-users and resellers.

• Software: Software is where a lot of growth and continued rapid advancement will take place in coming years. Companies are providing developers with platforms to create and program secure communications and control links to enable remote and direct-to-device access, resulting in better workflow management and end-user experience. The advantage of turning to software gives vendors the ability to implement upgrades and features that in turn keep the hardware optimized, active and ready for what is next, all with little to no productivity downtime. And if or when hardware needs to be upgraded, increased adoption of DaaS will help further mitigate the impact on businesses and critical workflows. 

• Services: The opportunities for channel partners to continue shining at the forefront of customer experience are seemingly endless. While hardware and software are the primary elements in adapting to the changing office, services are a critical element in meeting larger and custom requests to provide solutions for whatever a customer is seeking, whether that is a basic document imaging system to cover day-to-day operations or larger, custom productions and requests.

No “one-size-fits-all” answer?

The plan for building the office of the future isn’t comprised of just one solution. The smart office of the future demands solutions for seamless mobility, untethered remote access, ironclad security, flexibility and scalability, intelligent team spaces and the analytics of data for ongoing improvements. With concerns like collaboration, security breaches and supporting remote workers, companies are already looking to implement futuristic solutions to address these issues. This is not to say the office of the future will look nothing like the ones of today — it’s not only transformative, but also complementary. The crux of the ability to positively impact workforces and their workflows comes down to two things: giving employees autonomy to get work done and reducing the friction that comes with implementation and adoption of new technology.

To do that, vendors need to look closely at the role their technology plays in the office environment, but more importantly, how to deploy and connect with that technology to make it easier for employees to become more productive to help them achieve their goals. 

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