What Should I Look for in a Managed Print Services Provider?

The Challenge

If you are in the market for Managed Print Services, you have probably been bombarded with a plethora of suppliers, vendors, and providers to choose from with a number of different offers. The Managed Print Services market has become mature over the last ten years and if you are just starting to consider this approach for your business or you have had a contract in place over the last 4-5 years, you will find that the options now available can be overwhelming! How do you narrow it down to a manageable group from which to choose?


There is a bit of homework involved, but it will go a long way in selecting the right provider and constructing a beneficial relationship in the form of a contract. First, let’s begin with a look at what your business needs. This is the homework part. Take a quick “inventory” of the following to get a general idea of how your business is currently handling printers and MFPs(multi-function products). Identify what you “do know” and “don’t know” in the list below:
  • How am I paying for supplies, service, and new equipment for my printers and multi-function devices I have today? Are some leased and some purchased? Are supplies on contract or do I pay invoice to invoice? Is there one monthly invoice or do I get invoiced for every order? Do I pay for a service contract or do I get devices repaired on a per incident basis or just replace devices when they break? Do I do a mixture of all of the above and can I tell what I am actually spending each month for everything or are the costs distributed among several locations or buried in other expenses?
  • Who supports my equipment today and is there a difference in support/service for small, locally connected devices versus larger networked devices? Do I have one service provider for my multi-function/copier equipment and one for printers? Does my IT organization handle my printers? Does my staff handle their own support?
  • Do I have an inventory of my printing and multi-function devices? Does it tell me the age of my fleet? The number of pages that I print or whether they are B&W or color? Do I know how many devices are locally connected and how many are on the network or standalone? Can I identify what my device to employee ratio is? Does my fleet employ appropriate security measures?


Review the Options

Once you have the answers to these questions or “know what you don’t know”, you are ready to start looking at what providers are out there and what they have to offer. Following is an outline of the providers that have entered the Managed Print Services market. There are characteristics within each of the providers that will work more favorably with your business needs than others. This is certainly not an exhaustive list but provides a sense of the key differences in providers to start your search:

Equipment Manufacturers/OEMs – most all of the equipment manufacturers out there, have offerings for Managed Print Services.

o   PROS: they tend to be competitively priced and make it easy to acquire new technology – most have been doing it for quite some time and therefore have worked out a lot of the kinks. They deliver a consistent service at a reasonable price and have the bandwidth to handle geography and volume.
o   CONS: The competitively priced offerings usually only apply to the manufacturer’s brand and on current model equipment. The offerings are not particularly flexible and encourage acquisition of new hardware (keep in mind that is their business, selling hardware).    With few exceptions, the “Managed” part of MPS is left up to the customer to track and control spending.
RECOMMENDATION: If you are in the market for a new fleet and are OK with a standardized, same-brand fleet that will remain relatively static, a Manufacturer’s solution could be extremely cost effective. It will provide visibility to your monthly spend which you can then control. It can be limiting from a product standpoint, but it will simplify and streamline equipment acquisition and support.
·         Managed Service Providers – (MSPs) You may have an MSP supporting your IT network, server, and PC environment today. Many MSPs see an opportunity in adding Managed Print Services to their portfolio. Essentially, MPS is a subset of Managed IT Services, but because of the mechanical nature of the devices and the consumables needed, MPS does not fit into the remote operation model quite like network and other technologies do. Therefore, having a Managed IT Services Provider deliver MPS can lead to disappointment.
o   PROS: MSPs are by their nature service providers and understand the impact of managing the operation of technology. They understand the impact of technology on your business and they can provide more than just the care and feeding of your equipment. They can make recommendations based upon your needs and ensure that new technology will work in your current environment. They typically are competitively priced to win your business and will structure flexible arrangements to deliver the service level that your business requires. They will support most name brands and can steer you to the best brand for your application.
o   CONS: The on-site delivery of service may be outsourced or not managed as part of your contract. Many MSPs will not provide support on devices not connected to the network as this does not fall in line with a Remote operation. MSPs that do not specialize in print and imaging typically support the status quo. In other words, they will support what a client has and what they add, but they are not going to find ways to drive down spend.
RECOMMENDATION: If after doing your homework, you determine that you are in “good shape” regarding your print and imaging technology environment, and you are looking to outsource the day-to-day operation and you already have your IT environment outsourced, your MSP would be a good option. They will know and understand your environment and provide technical direction and an appropriate service level. They will also provide management information and reports to allow you to drive the costs and budgets where you need them to be.
·         Office Supplies – Office Supplies vendors offer MPS in the form of automating your supplies ordering, servicing your printers, and consolidating your billing. The billing can be on a cost per page model, a flat monthly fee with periodic “true-up”, or consolidated monthly billing that is pay-as-you-go with discount levels.
o   PROS: If you are OK with Remanufactured/Compatible cartridges, these models can be very cost effective.   As an MPS customer you will receive the very best pricing on supplies and service, excellent delivery of supplies and service to ensure device availability, and you may get discounted rates on new equipment purchases. They can supply any brand and will not be concerned with added equipment.
o   CONS: Because their business level relies on volume, so do your discount rates. Therefore, your per cartridge price goes down as your volume goes up, but this does nothing to drive down your overall monthly spend. Typically, they will only address printers and not MFPs particularly if you lease them. So you can only consolidate so much with Office Supplies vendors. MPS with Office Supplies vendors will focus more on spend than management information, so there is typically very little optimization of print fleets or use reduction. They may or may not address device installation and configuration.
RECOMMENDATION: If after doing your homework, you find that you have a fleet heavy on printers and not so many MFP type devices, you have a number of different brands of equipment, your volume of use is relatively consistent (meaning not very seasonal), you are having trouble managing supplies inventory, your IT services provider handles the support and technical aspect of the equipment, and you have most of the printer fleet on the network with visibility to your Office Supplies vendor, then this may be a viable option. It may not consolidate your spend altogether, but it will provide a high level of service at a very cost effective rate.
·         VARs – Value Added Resellers have also gotten into the MPS space, particularly if they are providing IT Services which most do. Many of the MPS programs offered by VARs are a re-packaging of Manufacturer programs designed to be sold and delivered through the channel. Other VARs have partnered with an MPS provider and are “re-selling” their services under the VAR’s brand. And others may have established an MPS practice particularly if their value add is in printing and imaging technology or Document Technology solutions.
o   PROS: The pros of a VAR solution is going to be the same as the pros of the type of MPS solution they have chosen to offer. For example, if they are offering the printer manufacturer’s MPS solution, then there will be the same pros and cons as if you were dealing with the Manufacturer. The benefit to working with the VAR is that they will typically work with a number of brands so you can benefit from the pros of each solution.
o   CONS: Because the VARs provide more flexibility with their solution, you may pay a little more.
RECOMMENDATION: If you are working with a VAR today that has provided you with some or all of your solutions for your business, you have been satisfied with their performance, and they are now offering MPS to round out their capability, it would be worth investigating. The only caution is that more VARs handle printers than MFPs, and they may only deal with networked devices. So be sure to address this based upon your fleet make-up.
·         Office Equipment Dealers – Also known as copier dealers, have become some of the premier providers of Managed Print Services. For many dealers, MPS was a natural extension of their business and provided a much needed service to just about any type of client. As with any industry, MPS is no different. There are good and bad dealers with a variety of MPS practices.   Basically, if a dealership is oriented to placing hardware and service is not the focus of their business model, then that will be reflected in their MPS practice. Those dealerships that focus on the service and support of the technology that they place with their customers will be your best bet in delivering a valuable and satisfactory Managed Print Service. These are the dealers that I am referring to in the pros and cons.
o   PROS: MPS programs within dealerships tend to provide the greatest flexibility with regard to what is and is not included, how your invoices show your costs, and how the day-to-day delivery is addressed. Since Imaging and Printing technology is their bread and butter, they are an excellent advisor for acquiring new technology to meet business needs and integrating the new technology into the current environment and MPS contract. The more robust MPS practices will provide detailed analysis for your current environment and a roadmap for getting from where you are to an optimal operating environment. Although locally located, most dealers have established service networks that provide wide geographic coverage and they assume the management of these service networks.
o   CONS: With all of the flexibility and capability they may not be the least expensive solution, but they will be very competitive to gain your business. You may need to weed through a few dealers for the right program. There are a lot out there and at this point they pretty much all have MPS.
RECOMMENDATION: If after completing your homework, you “don’t know” more than you “do know”, an Office Equipment Dealer with a reputable MPS practice would be your best option.   A true MPS practice will help you discover where you are, help you determine where your optimal position is, and then help you get there. MPS is their sweet spot and they will generally work hard to win your business. The good ones will continue to work for you to keep it.

Take the Next Step

So where do you go next? With the understanding of what you “do know” and “don’t know” about your imaging and printing environment, you can identify which type of MPS provider may be the best match for your needs.  If you are like many in business and find you “don’t know” more about your imaging and printing environment than you “do know”, then your next step is to get an evaluation. Your best option for an evaluation is to find an Office Equipment Dealer with in-house expertise.  Often, evaluations are at no charge and will provide the information you need to make the right selection in a Managed Print Services provider.  If you are a business in the Metro Atlanta area or an outlying Georgia location please visit us, Superior Document Solutions at our website www.superiordocumentsolutions.com and request a consultation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marge Mortenson is a Managed Print Services consultant and has been working in IT Services and Sales for 20+ years. She focuses on streamlining and simplifying imaging and printing environments to allow businesses to get the most from their technology investment. Marge conducts comprehensive printing and imaging evaluations and provides clients with actionable plans for optimizing their imaging and printing devices, streamlining workflows through electronic document solutions, and simplifying support plans to minimize monthly costs and meet industry requirements. Marge can be found on LinkedInFacebook, or Twitter.
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