Cloud computing is the next great advance in technology and here is how an equipment vendor can take advantage of it.
Many office equipment vendors are probably wondering whether the opportunities in the cloud that everyone seems to be talking about apply in any way to them. Although at first glance it might not seem like a good fit, the reality is that cloud computing presents a fertile foundation for growing and expanding virtually any office equipment vendor’s business.

The first step is to understand what cloud computing is and what it represents. It then becomes much easier to parse through the many opportunities and define a logical—and executable—business development strategy based on cloud computing.

First of all, much like the Internet itself was in the 90’s, cloud computing is a game-changer. The cloud is redefining the way businesses acquire and deploy computing assets. In fact, cloud computing is completely reinventing information technology itself and how IT departments in businesses both large and small will operate.

The underlying principles of cloud computing are easy to understand. Enabled by high bandwidth access to the Internet and very low cost online storage, businesses can save a tremendous amount of money by hosting business-critical applications on a central server instead of installing those applications on every desktop in the company. In the cloud, service providers acquire and host the applications and then take responsibility for system maintenance and availability.

As opposed to paying expensive per-seat license fees, users pay for the applications they need based on actual usage. In short, the cloud is a much more efficient means for users to access their important applications, and a much more cost-effective way for businesses to provide that access.

An equipment vendor can capitalize on this trend in several different—and potentially very profitable—ways. The first is the fact that cloud computing is based on a cost-per-usage model. Cloud computer service providers need the necessary infrastructure to deploy billing systems that can track usage by application, compile the information, and then issue a bill for it.

Upon closer examination, it becomes easy to see the similarity in this regard between cloud computing and a geographically distributed Managed Print Services (MPS) solution. The MPS configuration monitors a company’s printer and copier fleet usage across multiple locations using automated meters that are accessed and monitored online. The MPS not only tracks usage but then also aggregates the data and automatically generates reports as well as billing invoices.

Without too much of a stretch it becomes easy to see how a state-of-the-art MPS solution could be adapted into a cloud computing solution. The key is to understand the different and diverse technologies that must be brought to bear, and then to develop the necessary expertise to integrate, deploy and manage the cloud solution.

Another similar opportunity revolves around the equipment vendor’s expertise with local area networks. As copiers and printers evolved from stand-alone machines into sophisticated network devices, many office product vendors developed expertise with local area networking. Some firms developed internal departments to handle networking projects, while others formed strategic relationships with external network consultants.

It soon became clear that an equipment vendor could widen and deepen a customer relationship in direct proportion to its level of involvement with that customer’s network. Indeed, this is the driver propelling the shift from MPS solutions to the broader and more comprehensive Managed Services (MS) solutions that forward looking equipment vendors are already offering.

These MS solutions not only include printing and copying fleets but also address data and voice communications, data storage, and even building security. It is just a short step across the technology divide to include cloud-based solutions into existing Managed Services environments. When viewed in this light by the equipment vendor, capitalizing on cloud-based solutions becomes the next logical step in an evolving market strategy that has progressed from MPS to MS.

Although most office equipment vendors will not have all of the requisite in-house skill sets and required technological expertise necessary to begin offering cloud computing solutions, that is certainly not a barrier to entry into the cloud space. A much better approach is to develop virtual partnerships with other providers who can come together and offer bundled cloud solutions.

A good starting point for this approach is to first find a finance company that already has developed expertise in funding diversified technology solutions. A finance company that offers an existing cost-per-unit billing system is a particularly good fit for cloud computing projects since much of the required infrastructure will already be in place.

Furthermore, progressive finance companies have both in-house expertise as well as strong external relationships with a wide range of technologies and technology solution providers. An equipment vendor can leverage these assets and, working closely with the finance company, develop comprehensive and scalable cloud based solutions.

Cloud computing is not something that is coming down the road—it is here now, and already in progress. For a progressive equipment vendor, cloud computing is the next step in the progression from Managed Print Services to Managed Services and beyond. Aggressive equipment vendors are already bringing cloud-based solutions to market. Cloud computing is undoubtedly an opportunity that should be capitalized on immediately.