With each new version or release, technology becomes faster, better and more efficient. I think it's safe to say that it also tends to become more accessible and affordable with time. We can see this pattern emerge when we look at the evolution of computing technology. From microchips to memory, computing has generally become cheaper, easier and more powerful since the first personal computers were introduced to the market en masse in 1981 with the launch of the IBM Personal Computer.
To put this into perspective, the IBM PC had an Intel 8088 CPU that ran at 4.77 MHz and came with either 16 or 64 kB of memory. Today’s tablets come equipped with more processing power and memory than the first desktop computers available on the market and they are available at a much lower price point. You can see a similar trend when it comes to the IT infrastructure behind managed print services.
Ten years ago the market for managed print largely consisted of enterprise solutions. While these platforms certainly have their place in today’s imaging landscape, many MPS providers and customers have either moved entirely to lighter-weight software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions or have added SaaS to their existing offerings which include an enterprise edition.
Before we look at the pros and cons of both platforms, let’s first define what an enterprise is as opposed to SaaS and highlight some key differences. The two differ in a number of ways, including pricing, software licensing, IT infrastructure and implementation. An enterprise solution is typically purchased from a provider and installed on the customer’s servers. It can be considered on premise solution as opposed to a cloud solution. A SaaS model is one in which the software is ‘rented’ by the customer, hosted through a cloud provider such as Amazon Web Services, and accessed via the Internet.
As an on premise solution, enterprise software typically comes with additional budgetary considerations that a SaaS solution does not – the customer needs dedicated IT resources, including hardware and personnel, to manage and maintain the servers. The customer ultimately has more control over their IT infrastructure and as a result, there is a greater potential for customization.
Due to the cost and the significant IT requirements, enterprise solutions have typically benefitted larger businesses in the imaging industry such as manufacturers and distributors. The use cases for enterprise solutions tend to reflect the business requirements of larger organizations, including monitoring thousands of devices as opposed to hundreds or setting up multiple servers to manage a global MPS program.
For many years, enterprise solutions were the only way to implement MPS because servers were the only technology available. The concept of the ‘cloud’ as we currently know it is relatively new; the terms was largely popularized by Amazon.com in 2006 with the release of its Elastic Compute Cloud, which allows users to rent virtual computers to run their applications on.
Cloud computing marked a conceptual shift in the way consumers used IT services and providers thought of, built and even sold these services. As businesses moved from company-owned hardware and software assets, such as enterprise solutions, they looked to new per-use or service-based models such as SaaS. That's not to say that enterprise solutions no longer have value. The type of solution you choose is dependent on a number of factors, from company size and revenue to IT infrastructure and program requirements.
SaaS solutions offer a more flexible and scalable model for businesses that have not been able to benefit from managed print due to the perceived cost/benefit ratio of purchasing and implementing an enterprise solution. Many SaaS solutions come ‘out of the box’ which means that they can be easily implemented with little hassle on the customer’s part, there are no implementation costs and they require no additional resources to manage and maintain beyond the MPS provider. Thanks in large part to APIs, there is still room for customizing SaaS solutions so they can be integrated with and used concurrently alongside other tools such as ERP systems and other document or workflow services.
Whether you are using an enterprise or SaaS solution, the functionality of the MPS software should be very similar. The key differences between the two are pricing, licensing, setup and implementation, and the degree of flexibility and scale of each platform. When it comes to determining which one is best for your business, here are some considerations to keep in mind:
- Cost of licensing, implementation, training and ongoing maintenance
- Implementation and IT resources – do you have the necessary infrastructure and resources in place?
- Versions and upgrading – how easy is it to upgrade to new versions of the software? How often will you be doing upgrades?
- Flexibility and scale – how easy is it to add additional licenses? If need be, can you scale back as well as increase the size of your program?
- Integration with other tools or solutions being used (if applicable)
- Customization – is it turnkey or customized? Are you looking for ease-of-use or the ability to customize?
Ultimately, there's no right or wrong answer then it comes to the question of enterprise or SaaS. Your unique business needs will determine which solution is best for your MPS program and your customers. There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to both, but these will depend largely on your vision for your managed print program. To help you find the solution that is right for you, consider conducting a review of your current program with our free MPS Evaluation Workbook.