Succeeding In A “Zero-Sum” World

I recall an educational meeting I attended early in my career. A respected professor from a
prestigious University told us how fortunate we were to be part of an industry that was both
recession-resistant, and locked into decades of growth. He presented two reasons. First a
recurring revenue business model, and second was the fact that nearly all the processes that
ran business were built around the use of paper. He was right on both points, but that was
decades ago. The recurring model is still true. The second however has been permanently
altered by technology. It is now nearly universally agreed that the decline in office pages is
here to stay. We are living in a “Zero Sum World” and the rules for success have changed.


The fundamentals: These have always been important, but now they are critical. Many of
us have taken an “interruptive approach to the fundamentals that we have come to call the
“Johnson Model” We need to be more serious about the execution of these principles in our
core business. There are parallel business opportunities we will want to explore, but before
we can even think about adding new business we must have our core operation in order.

Services: Today we must provide more services for existing and new accounts. While there
is still an opportunity in equipment sales, there is now a clear limit and dealers need to take
their customer service to new levels in order to succeed. A successful OE dealership cannot
simply rely on copy and print sales alone. Moving toward a services business model that
comprises strong MPS, and 30-40 percent IT services should be the goal for long-term
stability. The reason I stress the MPS part is that it is closer to our core business and
knowledge base. Many dealers will say, ”I’m in MPS”. The fact however is that less than
20% of available print is under our control, including pages generated on MFPs. To be
successful it must be structure as a services business, not an extension of copier sales.
Properly executed it offers substantially improved scale of existing resources, but to fully
capitalize we will need to improve the automation of processes and information gathering.

The arena of IT services offers almost unprecedented growth. The industry is expected to
surpass $320 Billion by 2020. Yet along with this enormous opportunity comes the need to
develop new skills and knowledge to succeed. How do you take advantage of this
opportunity? The choices are no secret – 1) acquire an IT organization, 2) build an IT
organization from scratch 3) partner with an IT services provider. I’m going to suggest that
partnering offers the fastest and safest path.


Automation: In a recent conversation with a very successful dealer we discussed the
different processes that they felt they had automated. It became clear early on that what was
being viewed as automation, was in fact a digitally enhanced manual system. Fully
integrated ERP systems are no longer a luxury. I can hear almost everyone say, “but I have
an ERP now”! I’m not trying to be controversial, but not really. Systems that are designed
for a very narrow and specific business are not true ERPs. As we diversify our businesses
these systems become more and more a detriment to fully automating our processes. More
importantly, they restrict the free movement of knowledge. It is account knowledge that will
become the true differentiator in the “Zero-Sum World”. Without the right tools, you can
never hope to competitively scale your business to compete in the changing environment.

We need to find systems that will actually do the work for us. The idea that we download
something into spreadsheets, do an analysis, and then pass that on to someone else is not
automation. Having a separate system to administer your Managed Services does not
automate account knowledge. What is even more troubling is these systems will actually
make an eventual transition to a real ERP harder. The reason is that these “industry-specific
systems” are creating multiple and often-incompatible databases that will need to be dealt
with when you try to bring them together. Making that transition more difficult, and
expensive. We need to take people out of the process everywhere we can. We are capturing
more and more data, from which our customers expect us to provide them with answers. We
need to begin to consider the impact our internal systems have on our ability to turn data into
knowledge and support our customers, not just our cost.


Higher market segments: If you have not already made the investment to enter the
production space do it now! Most suppliers have an offering in their line if yours doesn’t add
another vendor that does. One megatrend is that work, and thus print is coming closer to the
point of need. This is evidenced in the decline of administrative workers, and the rise of the
knowledge worker in private industry. As this continues (and it will) more complicated jobs
are being done on-demand and in smaller bites. This is driving pages that used to be done
outside the company, inside the company, and creating more opportunities for the production
products that most vendors now offer. If you have already done this, then consider the
emerging new “ink-based high-end” that some companies are bringing to market. It is
another investment area, but the upside and volume opportunities are one of the few high
growth areas in the business. There is a drawback. This is not the traditional office space we
have been used to. It is more aligned to manufacturing and solving the imaging side of
production. The decision hierarchy and process is completely different from the office. This
last segment is not for everyone, but it is important to know where this is all leading.

Not so long ago a dealership could expect reasonable growth even when not doing our
very best. When page volume was growing at 20% or more per year it was reasonable to
expect that next year would be at least better than last. Today growth must come at the
expense of another’s loss. We are now 7 years into the Zero-Sum World. The noticeable
drop in volume started in 2008. It’s really not a question of survival, but of how to thrive
and excel. Honestly, it’s the only way to survive.

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