Guest Column | May 19, 2016

From Copiers To Computers: ECM Eases Shift To Digital For Photocopy Companies

Enterprise Content Management

By Tim Wacker, technical writer, NBN Communications

The digital age has transformed most paper-dependent industries. Newspapers, magazines, and other publications are online and may no longer have print versions. Email has displaced mountains of snail mail.

However, the multibillion-dollar photocopier industry is a notable holdout in this paper-to-digital transformation with printers producing as much paper as ever in offices across the globe.

Yet the latest evolution of digital document management solutions could lead to major changes in the photocopier industry, much as it has in publishing.

Demand for copy paper is expected to drop by nearly a quarter in the next decade, following a 3.3 million ton drop in the last four years. Yet the demand for documentation, particularly in the healthcare, legal, and financial services industries is more prevalent than ever. So there is a growing need for digitization as well as for systematic and efficient filing, storage and retrieval.

As businesses shift to a digital environment, sellers and servicers of the traditional copiers will need to shift their focus from the sales of the devices themselves to sales of enterprise content management (ECM) software. ECM enables companies to not only shift from a paper to a digital environment, but also to efficiently manage their documentation needs.

“In ECM, you literally have to change the way your customer does business,” says Dave Bishop, owner of Omaha, NE-based Bishop Copier. “Unless they are already committed to the sale, you have to convince the customer that the benefits of ECM outweigh the investment involved in making the change.”

Bishop is one of some 40 copier sales and services businesses that have expanded into ECM by selling Laserfiche, a pioneer of document management technology, which has embraced the value-added reseller (VAR) channel since the company’s founding in 1987.

Beyond the savings on traditional printer supplies like toner, paper, etc., ECM systems also enable users to manage workflow, secure document information from unauthorized personnel, and easily store and retrieve documents, features that don’t exist with paper documentation.

The move to ECM systems from traditional copiers also means a change in the sales strategy. The successful salesperson needs to educate him or herself on the use and benefits of the systems in order to present those to the potential customer, who likely understands some of the basics, but not the full value of ECM.

“To stay successful in this business, you have to help your customers manage their documents, not just copy them; to do that, you have to get involved in ECM,” says Laserfiche ECM software reseller Chris Clarke of St. Louis, MO-based Progressive Business Machines.

According to Scott Fraser, vertical sales director for Ricoh Canada, a discussion of traditional copying and printing may interest the potential buyer, but the true value-add that intrigues prospects is the benefits ECM can bring.

Though ECM systems have been slow to replace traditional copier sales, and the paperless office is a distant concept, newer systems include advanced capabilities to make a business more efficient. Workflow features can route digital documents in the proper sequence directly to the proper terminals before being stored in a digital repository. So sensitive digital documents with financial or other sensitive information can be securely routed to the proper source, with access limited to only authorized personnel and without the need for the toner, paper and other supplies needed for traditional printing.

According to Fraser, the margins on copier and ECM software sales are nearly identical, but the latter requires more service.

“In 10 years, ours is going to be a whole new industry,” Fraser says. “Traditional copier vendors really have to get their act together now if they want to take advantage of it.”

Tim Wacker is a technical writer for NBN Communications, a writing and research services company.