The digitisation of documents and processes is accelerating worldwide as the proliferation of mobile devices makes it possible to do more and more complex tasks remotely. As a result, the global workforce is not only becoming increasingly mobile, but also increasingly dependent on cloud, and business processes are adapting accordingly.

Despite these rapid advances in technology, hard copy documents remain at the core of business. The humble piece of paper is still in daily use and continues to be necessary for everything, from drawing up contracts for major deals to printing receipts for everyday purchases.

That said, we are undoubtedly seeing a shift in end user trends, particularly here in the Middle East where the backdrop of low oil prices is beginning to impact investment decisions. Indeed, businesses and governments alike are increasingly shying away from projects that require high levels of capital expenditure, preferring instead to pay for services “on demand” and absorb such payments as operational expenditure.

Given the growing prevalence of this approach, it will come as little surprise to learn that outright purchases of print devices have largely been put on hold in the region, with end users keeping their existing machines for longer. Buying consumables (including print cartridges) and servicing existing equipment have become priority, rather than expanding the infrastructure base by purchasing new hardware.

This is where print services can offer considerable benefits for the end user community, and it is the one area that continues to offer great growth potential for print vendors and their channel partners. For the end user, a print services contract removes the need to procure print devices, purchase consumables, and manage the maintenance schedule, all in return for a fixed payment to a third party.

As well as moving the associated expenditure from capital to operational, the end user also benefits from direct hardware and consumable cost savings, reduced downtime, and a reduction in support staff required to service print hardware. And if you’re wondering how the print services providers can offer all these benefits at significantly lower prices, it’s simply a matter of scale; they are able to buy print hardware and consumables in larger numbers, enabling them to secure a better price per unit than most end users could possibly achieve.

All of this means that print suppliers are no longer perceived by end users as mere providers of commoditised hardware, but as providers of end-to-end solutions that are necessary for the efficient running of any business. This is all in line with global trends, where the print environment is evolving towards a solutions-based approach, freeing up businesses to focus on doing what they do best and leaving the print infrastructure to the experts.

Despite the obvious benefits for businesses, this market is still at a relatively nascent stage in the Middle East and has plenty of room for growth. Indeed, when viewed as a ratio of the overall print hardware and consumables market, the print services space here in the UAE is substantially smaller than in the more developed markets of Western Europe and the US.

As the digitisation of documents and proliferation of mobile devices continues to grow, print services will inevitably become a foundation of any progressive organisational strategy. Simply put, there is more pressure than ever before to enhance the efficiency of the workforce, so the integration of mobility solutions with the existing print environment via print services will become necessary to ensure the competitiveness of any business or government institution.

— The columnist is group vice-president and regional managing director for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey at global ICT market intelligence and advisory firm International Data Corporation (IDC) He can be contacted via Twitter @JyotiIDC.