Technology is changing the way we work and, more specifically, changing when and how much we print. Office printing today has been impacted not only by changing business processes but also by a significant shift in the makeup of the workforce itself.

The outlook for office printing is a topic that continues to foster heated debate. Some believe that the continued migration toward digital and mobile technologies will ultimately lead to a paperless office. Others, however, argue that paper is so entrenched in today’s office workflow that printing will remain viable well into the future.

It is not unreasonable to assume that paper will continue to thrive—at least for some period of time. Most market research firms predict only modest declines in total print volume over the next five years. Improving economic conditions and growth in the business sector is expected to help sustain printing. But others point more specifically to the explosion of information and Internet content as a leading factor that will fuel more printing, even if the overall print rate continues to decline.

"So, is print dying, or is it just evolving? To me, it is likely a combination of both."

Not so fast

History tells us that content growth and print growth are not always linked together. Similar predictions were made a few years ago when home photo printing was in its heyday. As sales of digital cameras and camera phones began to soar, many predicted that the number of home photo prints would grow exponentially due simply to the huge numbers of photos captured on digital devices. Many argued that the number of photo prints would naturally increase along with the number of captured images—even if the “capture-to-print” ratio declined.

Unfortunately, the capture-to-print ratio declined so far and so quickly that the bottom fell out of the home photo printing market. Consumers found alternative means for displaying digital photos and for producing digital photo prints in more efficient and less costly ways. We are already seeing similar trends occur with the consumption of Internet content, as office users have so many alternative means for consuming information at their disposal.

So, is print dying, or is it just evolving? To me, it is likely a combination of both. Print is definitely giving way to digital display for certain applications. Meanwhile, businesses continue to look for ways to increase productivity by automating and, in some cases, completely replacing certain paper-based business processes with digital workflow. The paperless office might be a long way off, but we have already transitioned to the “less paper” office.

Mobile printing

What about mobile printing? Much has been made about the opportunity for mobile printing with the unveiling of new technology solutions and a growing number of partnerships and alliances, such as Mopria. As businesses continue to promote mobile workflows, printing from mobile devices would seem to be a natural evolution.

Nevertheless, business users have shown only minimal interest in the ability to print from their mobile devices. One reason is that mobile printing has not always been ubiquitous or easy. Early mobile printing solutions often involved a convoluted process of sending emails with attachments to an IP address for a specific printer, with no ability to print directly from the application.

Today that is no longer the case. Nearly every hardware vendor has developed a mobile print solution or has partnered with a technology supplier to deliver mobile print capabilities to business customers. As a result, there is now a very strong set of user-friendly mobile printing applications that provide features such as secure printing, pull-printing, public and private printing and automatic device discovery. Some of these solutions are cloud-based, while others are server-based enterprise solutions that sit behind the network firewall.

MORE: Mobile Workflow Looms Large in the Transition from Paper to Digital

Unfortunately, consumer demand is not following along with advancements in technology and availability. The uptake in mobile printing is still very low. Most research studies indicate that only a small percentage of users are currently printing from their mobile devices. This does not mean that mobile printing is not an important capability. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Mobile printing has already become an important feature. Businesses understand that users want the ability to print from their mobile devices—mostly for convenience purposes but also as a viable backup when required.

As a result, organizations are moving to deploy secure mobile printing solutions for their employees, with the blessing and support of the IT department. Tablets and other devices have become more prevalent in the office, and businesses need to ensure that employees can print from those devices in a secure and supported way, rather than bringing in their own external solutions and adding to the number of security risks and IT challenges. In other words, mobile printing is rapidly becoming a checklist item. While the ability to print from a mobile device is a necessity, it is unlikely that mobile printing will stem the tide of lost pages transitioning from print to display, let alone drive any new incremental print volume.

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