What can the internet of things learn from managed print services?

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The Internet of Things is certainly blazing a course at the moment. To try and determine where it leads, we should examine the pathway of a similar disruptive technology – Managed Print Services (MPS). Drawing a link between the Internet of Things and MPS is easy. Both track, trace and follow things - in MPS’ case, it’s printers and MFPs- with every device connected and communicating data that can be centrally managed. The insights they provide, such as reports on device usage, user behaviour, state of operations, help organisations increase efficiency and improve the relationship between people and technology. Here are five lessons from Managed Print Services experiences that an organisation should keep in mind as it embarks on Internet of Things strategies in a business.

Remove inefficiencies from your business.

MPS helps organisations identify over-capacity of devices, maximise utilisation of those devices, and then spot inefficiencies in document processes as a function of moving from paper to digital documents. Knowing workloads require only 80 of the 100 printers on the floor makes it an easy decision to eliminate 20 devices. Enterprises also need to monitor an Internet of Things environment to constantly look for inefficiencies that can be wrung out of the system.

Tap intelligence built into the system to speed productivity.

Print management capabilities in MPS match individual privileges to device usage. They enforce rules like a certain type of document can only be printed double sided, or some scanned documents can’t be emailed from the printer to outside the company. Internet of Things strategies can enable intelligent decisions about consumption and behaviour that should seek to reduce time, materials and human intervention. These strategies need to include publishing that information to its intended target amongst knowledge workers, customers, vendors or archives for long-term storage - all with an eye towards optimising processes and resources.

Make security a priority.

Multifunction printers used in MPS turned printers into computing devices, able to send documents outside the enterprise and providing an on-ramp for scanned documents into business applications. Increasing the number of touch points for printers creates new security challenges that needed to be addressed. As with Internet of Things, organisations can dramatically multiply their exposure to security vulnerabilities, inside and outside the enterprise. This means assessing connection points and identifying potential security deficiencies need to be a priority. Devices, people and documents should provide identities that can be utilised by workflows for tracking, accounting and security.

Analyse and act on data gathered.

MPS software captures usage data from devices and workflows and analyses the information for trends and possible process improvements. Software designed as a centralised hub either on an internal server or in the cloud is as much a part of an Internet of Things solution as the sensors that collect and transit data. Look for an application platform that can integrate and manage the data, increase collaboration and employ analytical reporting to help understand conditions and behaviours, and find ways to make improvements.

Always factor in the personal experience.

The Internet of Things must be inclusive of the personal experience. In the end, all workflows - although designed for a business purpose - are used for the benefit of the individual knowledge worker. While MPS looks at all devices as a whole so companies gain a bigger picture view of operations, the transition to Managed Document Service creates a level of granularity down to the document. Let us not forget that the intelligence that devices and software on the Internet of Things provide should allow maximum simplicity and speed of process for the individual. In today’s document connected world, there are multiple points of interaction that include multifunction devices, desktop and laptop computers, and mobile devices from tablets to smart phones.

Just as MPS is about more than connecting people to printers and gathering data, the Internet of Things is about more than connecting things and gathering data. For the Internet of Things to be a disruptive force, organisations need look at these connections and see how the activities among them are interrelated both physically and digitally. That way, they create new ways to boost company-wide intelligence and collaboration.

A look to the future.

Looking further ahead to what the future holds not just for MPS, but document workflows in general, the evolution of Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning has the potential to dramatically improve how businesses process the massive volume of documents in their organisations. Machine learning technologies have already brought greater automation to document classification processes, and this has aided businesses by helping them to manage documents more efficiently. Machine learning, meanwhile, refers to a field of computer science that enables computers to “learn”, without being programmed. It is a technology that facilitates the analysis of document structure and contents to classify documents according to their shared similarities and characteristics. By way of example, machine learning tools can detect document types by identifying terminology such as “invoice” as well as more subtle language, such as “total due” and “due date.” 

As AI technologies - of which machine learning is a segment - improve, businesses will benefit from document capture software’s growing ability to “read” and understand free-form text by incorporating natural language processing (NLP). NLP is a technology that enables computers to understand and interpret human language. This will enable documents to be processed with limited manual intervention, which has the knock on benefit of boosting productivity as staff spend less time on routine admin tasks.

Today, machine learning is advanced to the point where it can identify specific words in documents, such as “confidential,” and working on that understanding, assign a higher level of risk and thus security for these documents. For example, document capture software can identify high-risk terms and then restrict document access or redact or encrypt the file. This aims to prevent scenarios whereby documents are emailed to personal email addresses while also requiring privileged user authentication before the documents can be printed or opened. AI will go further still, by intelligently extracting relevant information from massive amounts of data and ensuring only appropriate parties see the content that is pertinent to them.

Overall, MPS combined with the progress made in the fields of AI and machine learning could provide valuable lessons for those companies and individuals who are bringing the IoT into the mainstream.

Bill DeStefanis, Director of MFP Product Management, Nuance Communications
Image Credit: Jefferrb / Pixabay