I participated in a short discussion with some of my colleagues as analysis was being undertaken to respond to a client request for proposal. The discussion got me thinking.
This long standing account is undergoing some interesting internal changes which are affecting how their needs are addressed.
One of the real challenges is they are not specific in setting out their preferred options on how they want to configure or establish their go forward print setup. Given that they are an existing account, as a supplier the people in the discussion as a vendor have some unique opportunities and also some challenges. One of the big ones is the department and personnel making the acquisition decision are new to the account and bring differing attitudes and potentially priorities to the decision than were those established last time around.
While there is a lot to go over in the new solution, one of the key pieces is still the basic configuration for any hardware which is being considered for the solution to be proposed. In the current configurations the existing equipment has been largely A3 (tabloid capable) MFP (multifunction printers) all with colour capability. The new response may not follow this pattern.
Like for like: A simple solution to the situation is to do a like for like upgrade and deliver the same basic capabilities only with new hardware over a new term. Matching volumes and physical locations to ensure users can get to their output efficiently becomes a big piece of the solution. In the setup being replaced a decision had been made to standardize on a very small mix of models for ease of toner replacement, user familiarity and consistency of available resources across and within departments.
Mixed deployment: An alternative potential is to build a plan with a mixed deployment, selectively based upon usage needs providing primary mono print capability while deploying colour on a somewhat less accessible footprint than the users currently experience. This option has some potential for capital savings (although in a fair sized deployment they may not be huge) while being less convenient for users. It also is one way to address any concerns about excess colour production and colour costs.
Complex mixed deployment: When the current production numbers are investigated and the current deployed mix of all print devices is considered there is the potential to replace many A3 devices with A4 (letter legal) since the volume of tabloid use is generally low. The challenge is then in sorting operating costs to ensure that the savings in capital are not eaten up by increases in operating costs when the A4 are factored in. Of course this scenario also includes the mixed above in addressing colour needs, but with the added issue of whether colour should only be A3 sized or should some be A4 as well.
Other factors: One of the final considerations to be taken into account is the need for scanning. Since print only devices (no document feeder) can often be much less costly especially if A4 is key, the decision needs to be addressed as to what locations might not need a feeder at all. These output only locations can be few or many and for any companies they tend to be the ones which start to proliferate as users request more convenient printing. The challenge is always to make sure the device location really warrants its existence just to save a few steps or some confusion on who's output is being collected.
How do you decide what to propose: The challenges in these kinds of scenarios for the supplier is at some point a decision has to be made about what to include in any proposal and what to exclude. The less defined the request for proposal the more open the options might be and thus the potential for confusion on both parties part can be created.
I have limited the discussion above to the hardware choices and intentionally focused on four broad categories of response. Within all of these there are other choices including the demand for output management through sorting and finishing and document assembly.
Beyond hardware considerations are a whole host of software potentials such as rules based printing, device routing management and others. Often these components bring solutions which are not readily apparent but they also mean new challenges in training and user engagement. A purchaser needs to have their mind and systems open to these kinds of changes.
What to do?
No matter what the size or complexity of the engagement that a supplier has with a client, they are forced to used their experience, knowledge and judgment to build suitable proposals for clients. Sometimes the requests being answered are well defined but increasingly they are not. When this is the case the supplier has to attempt to put themselves into a mind frame which offers a choice or choices for the client which reflects almost a best guess scenario. Will it be right? Not always. Will it be wrong? Probably not entirely but it will take consultation between the parties to configure a solution which works.
In the end the proposal stage of the purchase process needs to become a beginning point, not an end point. Once the decision is made to move forward the options to be discussed may actually expand, not contract so that the total solution package the client acquires meets needs that they may not have even anticipated when they made the original request.
As a vendor this is a risky and challenging process but one which can eventually lead to very satisfied clients if they come to the discussions with some openness of mind. As a client it means the decision process changes, and it becomes more about finding a vendor with 'fit', thoughtfulness, and creativity as part of their portfolio rather than just the lowest price or the sexiest hardware.
Which kind of client are you when you seek out office technologies? What kinds of results do you want?