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Print and Industry Predictions 2021 from Sharp Europe

The Print industry is in a state of flux, brought on by changing print habits, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. But it is not all bad news, as Jason Cort, Director of Product Planning and Marketing, looks at the trends in document printing solutions set to build momentum in 2021 and beyond.

It is not an understatement to say that COVID-19 has taken up a great deal of our thoughts in 2020, and has certainly shaped our thinking on how the print industry is evolving.

However, one thing is clear: COVID-19 has accelerated all the trends in our 2020 predictions article. Both in the consumer space and in the B2B arena, change is happening faster. The fact that it is happening everywhere at the same time is what makes it acutely painful.

For the print industry, right now we are seeing that people are printing less. We believe that printing will return but the prediction is that it will never return to the levels we have previously seen.

If we look at the reasons as to why people are printing less, there are those who are consciously cost driven, but by-and-large, the changes this year have been behavioural.

These behavioural changes are driven by the fact that people are increasing working from home and not the office. They either don’t have a printer at home, or but more likely, people have discovered they can work without the need of resorting to a printer.

Whatever the underlying reasons for not printing, this behavioural change has driven a reduction in print and is a trend we may well see continue in 2021.

Home working has pushed a need for convenience and practicality. Therefore, processes that have traditionally been paper-based are now being digitised. To this end, businesses have had to implement digital processes just to work around the lack of a central office.

In 2020 there may have been a band aid approach to digitisation but what we are seeing as a trend over the next year is that companies will continue to accelerate these new ways of working.

The current working environment is also challenging the need for specific types of print device. From home working to reduced office capacities, businesses are starting to consider whether they need large A3 departmental devices, or whether a smaller workgroup print solution works better.

We could argue this isn’t so much a shift in the volume of devices, but a refocus in terms of the type of device print suppliers will need to offer.

Printing in the Cloud

Digital transformation is a trend we are all incredibly familiar with and is one that will perpetuate through next year and beyond.

Customers are putting more reliance on the cloud and moving away from a traditional IT infrastructure. As a result, less customers now have print servers on site. Also vital in these ‘new normal’ times is that cloud services can support what is now a massively distributed workforce with ease.

And that’s no different with print.  Microsoft Universal Print, which is based on the Internet Print Protocol (IPP) standard allows IT managers to dispense with managing local print servers and installing print drivers, soft-launched earlier this year, taking its print service into the cloud. We expect to see much more virtualisation of the print environment into the cloud in 2021, and Sharp will be looking to respond to that change as well.

The underlying trend is not so much in the volume of print being created, but in how print services and solutions are being delivered to the client.

Looking Beyond Print  

One very clear outcome for the print business in the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has been the contraction in budgetary spend, something that has been faster than anyone could have predicted. As a result, those manufacturers and resellers, particularly office equipment resellers, who focused solely on print have found little room to manoeuvre this year.

We have predicted on previous occasions that there is a need within the print industry for vendors to transform, to go beyond print.  This is something we at Sharp have actively encouraged, acquiring Complete IT in the UK, an IT services company that supports over 350 businesses. It has proven to be a resilient business through COVID-19, and is expected to grow in 2021 and has vindicated our own decision to move beyond print.

We expect that security will most certainly be a strong focus in 2021. It is an area that has been exposed this year with businesses requiring to push all their employees to work from home. Software to one side, employees need to be supported with the hardware equipment they need to do their work and there is a clear need for vendors to provide a non-invasive IT support package.  

We believe there is space for IT service providers who can deliver that holistic service, one that incorporates print as well, but it needs to be able to provide the whole array of support. As a result, we will see larger IT support vendors, those who can scale the business most effectively, gather momentum in 2021.

It is fair to predict that acquisitions will accelerate in 2021, most typically by print manufacturers looking to broaden their appeal and acquiring non-print businesses, whether in the form of IT services, or even application developers. We have seen this happen in 2020 and fully expect the trend will continue throughout 2021.

If you would like to know more about how Sharp is helping drive innovation in the document solutions market, Get In Touch.

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