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Print’s evolution into the digital age

October 4, 2022
Read Time 3 mins

Print’s evolution into the digital age

By Bernice Hynard, General Manager: Print Solutions

“No longer is the printer just a machine in the corner of the workplace, it has become an integral part of the connected, intelligent world we see today.”

Although the paperless office has been a hot topic for many years, the vast majority of organisations still use printers in the workplace and spend thousands of rands each year on printing. During an era of sustainability, smart hybrid working, and digital transformation, we are witnessing print's evolution as it adapts to the digital age. 

There was a time when everything was printed for no good reason or simply because free office supplies were at hand, but that has definitely come to a standstill. Businesses want to cut costs, and many things that were once printed can be stored electronically instead. Along with this digitisation, the print environment itself has matured and many businesses remain extremely reliant on printing for their business processes.  No longer is the printer just a machine in the corner of the workplace, it has become an integral part of the connected, intelligent world we see today.  

One area within printing that is growing rapidly is the multifunction printer (MFP). These intelligent printers enable users to digitise their documents and manage their data more effectively. A good example of this integration, is where someone who is required to scan documents, would previously have to invest in a big and costly high-speed scanner that would take up a lot of desk space. Instead, our general preference is for a sleek, modern multimedia device, much like the printers we are seeing in offices today. 

These MFPs have become a critical onramp to the digital highway. With print capabilities speeding ahead, it remains important to acknowledge those business processes that cannot yet be digitised. Let's look at regulations where digital signatures are not yet permitted. Anyone that has sat in a lawyer's office for up to an hour signing documents can testify to the need for the printed page. Often these documents are signed both digitally and physically and with the advancement of data management, both can be stored and tracked efficiently. 

Similarly, online shopping was a massive trend, even before the pandemic, and it hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. More and more items are being delivered all the time, and these millions of items from all over the world need to be shipped. With each item shipped there’s a bundle of paperwork - a label, a packing slip, and a delivery note. All of these are printed and then scanned back into the system. Just another reason why multifunctional printers have risen in popularity - they have become such an integral part of business ecosystems. 

The process of digitalisation has added to the multi-dimensional character of print and the purpose it serves. Let's consider the global supply chain and how rapidly this is changing. International shipping has become more and more expensive, and the pandemic has helped us realise that importing so much of what we need from countries so far away, is simply not good for the environment. It has in many instances become prohibitively expensive, and this has opened opportunities for many countries, South Africa included, to relook at local manufacturing capabilities. 

Four years ago, South Africa was importing an immense amount of supplies from China, ranging from garden hoses and multi plugs, to tissue paper. This was largely because at some point, it became too expensive to manufacture these items locally. How does this impact print? It presents a great opportunity for the printing industry because local manufacturing is picking up, and all these products need packaging, labelling, and paperwork to move products around from one warehouse to another, or from a manufacturing plant to a warehouse, from there to a reseller, and from reseller to end user.  

The digital highway may be speeding by, but there will always be a slow lane on the path to evolution. As service providers, we are reminded to look after those customers sitting in traffic. For example, as with most emerging economies, our government departments are saddled with legacy systems that do not facilitate modern processing. This is why an inordinate amount of printed paper is generated by one trip to Home Affairs, or the Department of Health. 

With the intention of saving customers money and time, boosting productivity, and caring for the environment, we look at how these manual processes can be integrated into a progressive system that lightens the load. It is the integrated whole of business requirements and outputs that pulls the printing thread together. 

With such a vast scope for application and integration, print is growing and changing character, a maturing process that is very exciting indeed.

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