The Demise Of Paperless Working Somewhat Premature?

Something’s bothering me about this new IDC study that came across my desk recently.

It centres on a data point that, on the surface at least, doesn’t seem to make any sense – and which seems to fly in the face of a lot of work all of us in the ECM and wider tech sector have put in over the past few years.

And it’s this.

According to this highly respected market analyst group, it seems that millennials – the digitally-native, electronically obsessed cohort, who we’ve been told time and time again live on-screen…

Really love to print.

The report that’s thrown up this major curved ball of a finding (there’s a really good write up of it here), entitled Mobile Device Users/Non-Users: Print, Scan, Document Management, Worldwide, claims specifically that 35% of smartphone users and 34% of tablet users cannot print, yet want to.

As the news article about the report puts it, the landscape for printing, scanning, and document management is in the midst of profound and significant change.

But isn’t this ‘change’ in the sense of an avant garde style change – isn’t a yearning for paper what the older generation are about, not the youngsters?

Let’s look at the evidence to decide. IDC polled 22,000-plus users in six countries across three major regions. It found that large and medium companies make up 54% of smartphone and/ or tablet users (this is a B2B study so IDC is looking at the use of smartphones, apps and printing in the work context). IDC also found that the tech sector, wholesale trade, banking, life sciences, resource industries, and securities verticals were the biggest adopters of the technology.

And this strange printing gap? According to the firm, while smartphone and tablet adoption rates continue to grow, nonetheless, 35% of smartphone users and 34% of tablet users cannot print and want to – a situation that, in the words of Angèle Boyd, group vice president and general manager of IDC Document Solutions, is a real problem building up for suppliers:

“The business value for smartphone/ tablet printing is enormously clear, and yet support for this is shockingly lacking in 2015… This is a huge missed productivity opportunity for both businesses and print provider.”

More stats, finally: 75% of users say the business value of being able to print from their work smartphone is at least as great as doing it from their PC printing – 15% say it is actually greater.

OK, so do our assumptions need changing here?

Having reflected a bit more on what the study is really about – the use of smartphones and tablets in bigger businesses.

I think that’s the way to understand this seemingly shocking statistic (and I do also have to note that analysts tend to get more attention when they say shocking things rather than accepted wisdom, right?).

People want to use screens. That’s for certain, and this is backed up by a large number of studies, this one included. In Finance, I can’t see anyone going back to paper ledgers any time soon, for instance; numerical information works better on screen, and while I am sure there are some individuals who routinely print out Excel spreadsheets, they are probably in a minority (and I wonder how they process the underlying formulae, if they make this a habit).

But there’s something about documents – especially if they are of length and of importance – that makes most of us want to see them in hard copy. I think that’s what this research picks up – that even in the iPad and Gen Y age, there will be occasions when text in business will need to be seen and marked up by hand on paper.

Documents will probably always go out, then back in, to systems

That realisation shouldn’t be a problem for anyone in the DM world – as just as true is the companion thought to that insight; that the user who does print and drops out of digital for a bit will soon want to come back into it – as the changes they want to make need to be fed back into the chain and over distance to colleagues, who also want to look at the document on their own app perhaps thousands of miles away!

I think the DM world can be happy with this kind of hybrid situation. We should of course offer print capability for the mobile version of our software – just as we should also be canny and offer a nice scan capability in the same app to get it back into the system.

So. Phew. No need to go back to green-screen quite yet.

But isn’t it interesting and useful to have an assumption challenged now and then?

I think so!


The author is Sales and Marketing Director with EASY Software UK

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