Today’s advanced communication needs are driving the office automation industry forward.

In today’s offIce envIronment, communication is key. It is therefore imperative to focus attention on office automation and the streamlining of office processes, making it possible to simplify, improve, automate and consolidate the activities of the business.

Office automation is no longer limited to simply capturing handwritten notes but now emphasises activities that include the exchange of information, the management of administrative documents, the handling of numerical data and the meeting planning and management of work schedules. The introduction of a fresh generation of workers who have always had access to technology and the fast-paced evolution of technology has also taken the office automation market much further than ever expected.

In today’s new technological climate, capturing documents and moving them around the organisation so that people can work with them is a paramount objective, according to , executive GM of indirect operations at Ricoh SA.

“However, content management today is still a largely manual process. In reality most organisations receive an invoice and scan that manually to archive or process an image. Automating that task as much as possible is a key function to speeding up the process, reducing its costs, improving accuracy and ultimately delivering tangible business benefit in terms of reduced debtor days, faster, more efficient customer responses and the ability to draw real-time reports,” he explains.

He believes there are various reasons why not all companies are doing this yet, such as budgetary constraints and, primarily, poor back office processes that simply won’t support it. “Many still have legacy, manual processes, but they’re beginning to question the value of the information documents contain. They don’t care about the paper, they care about the value it represents and that’s the value of bigger data. Helping them resolve that scenario is why we have solutions that help them to automate the process and get the data flowing into the organisation where it can become useful almost immediately,” he says.

, CEO of Agilitude agrees the focus has shifted from document output to the management of content across different channels and technologies. “Video is fast becoming one of the most effective ways to communicate your message. Finding ways to generate world-class content in a variety of formats and then sharing that across Web, social and others channels is key. Making the content relevant and optimised for searches so that your customers, staff and partners find it when they need it, as opposed to broadcasting irrelevant information, is key in today’s world of information overload,” he states.

According to , business development manager at Itec Distribution, managing the output of documents refers more to cost, controlling what a user prints, which devices they print to and restricting times at which they can print (such as weekends). “Content management refers to the actual documents before they are printed,” he says.

The consequence of this is that there is a reduction in printing, he explains. Many people now don’t print the document, instead opting to have it archived and indexed in their content management system. “I do believe that as the economy evolves and there is increasing pressure to manage your carbon footprint as an organisation we will see a bigger shift towards content management rather than document output. This has benefits, not only for the environment and how ‘green your organisation is perceived to be, but will ultimately also drive down costs,” says Constantinou.

He believes this is also where the shift to using mobile devices is so important. “I can sit on the beach while my receiving bay receives the stock I ordered. I can then check the invoice and sign it digitally before uploading it straight into my electronic content management system for processing, eliminating the need for printing completely. This is where cloud and mobile technologies will work together to reduce printing and ultimately costs,” he says.


Constantinou points out cost remains one of the biggest factors when deciding on an office automation solution, but not necessarily in the traditional sense. “In today’s economic environment, companies continue to look for ways to drive down cost and with printing being one of the biggest expenses on a company’s balance sheet, this is coming under increased scrutiny,” he explains.

He believes office automation vendors should not just differentiate themselves based on the cost of the hardware. They have to shift their focus to cost management solutions that will make a difference in their clients’ lives. “Clients have become a lot more in tune with cost management solutions and their inherent benefits, such as the ability to force double-sided printing, re-routing a print job to a more economical device and even managing the time at which printing can take place to reduce wastage and drive down costs. They are beginning to demand the transparency that these cost management solutions provide in terms of what is being printed, by whom – something which these solutions allow them to track and report on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis.

If you want to stay ahead of the curve, Constantinou advises, you have to focus on providing additional value to your customer and driving down their printing costs, rather than just focus on the hardware environment.

According to Pienaar, a significant amount of decision makers and buyers still concentrate on the factors that they can control such as when to purchase office automation and at what price. “The rapidly evolving role of technology within this space is also affecting the approach and decisions made with regards to office automation and it strategic role within the business,” he explains.

Says van Wyk, asset management in the past would see the IT department responsible for buying printers because they were connected to the network whereas the company buyer or even the stationery buyer would have been responsible for copiers. “That’s a legacy situation but with the conversion of technologies and convergence it’s all typically an IT function today,” he explains.

He believes this approach has allowed for consolidation of all leasing, capital and operational costs. “It has also enabled much more stringent management of devices so that they can be redeployed inside the business where they will be most effective.”


also believes, without a doubt, mobile printing will have an effect in terms of reducing print volumes in an organisation. “When an office employee had a budget review, for example, in the past and needed documentation to share with other people they turned to printed material. Today many have s,” he says.

As such, mobile printing is gaining traction. “Many organisations today are implementing solutions that allow their employees to produce printed material from their tablets and smartphones. One of the key components of that, however, is output management. They need cross-platform tracking solutions to manage the environment. Non-formatted documents, such as .pdf files, are very easy to output from a mobile device. In general, though, print volumes are declining and mobile will ultimately accelerate that process but we don’t expect a material decline within the next three years,” he says.

According to Constantinou, mobility, and in essence mobile printing, is becoming more prevalent in today’s market. “Many people carry their own devices and want to be able to print from those devices. Vendors in general are responding to this need by releasing apps that are available from the various app stores, which enables mobile printing. The challenge here lies in the multitude of devices that are being used within one organisation. This has resulted in third party generic software being made available which supports all devices,” he explains.

He agrees the increase in mobility is reducing printing and foresees this being an ongoing trend as a younger workforce emerges. “Gone are the days of working with pure hard copies in the boardroom – it is much simpler for me to take out my mobile device and present directly from there. This is evident not only in the working environment but also in schools where there has been a shift towards using mobile devices rather than hard copy materials. While there is still a long way to go, I believe this trend will continue.”


Constantinou believes cloud technology has a positive effect on offi ce automation. “Through cloud-based solutions, companies can drive down their costs as there is limited or no hardware requirements and it is more secure,” he says.

“In SA, however, there is still a negative perception around who would have access to the data hosted in the cloud, but we are seeing an increasing shift toward the adoption of cloud-based office automation solutions,” he says.

He points out another benefit of cloud is its inherent mobility capabilities. “It allows for virtual access to anything and everything you might need within the organisation, knowing that it is more secure,” he explains.

According to van Wyk, the reality is that very few office automation solutions employ cloud technologies. “Some employ cloud-based workflow solutions, some have virtual print servers in the cloud but office automation is often used to capture information so companies are scanning documents and making the information or data that the documents contain available via the cloud. That’s really the key touchstone with cloud technologies. The scanned documents themselves can be barcoded and placed directly into an ERP solution, wherever the capture device may be, and that can rely on cloud solutions,” he explains.

Pienaar believes as a result of cloud technology and digitisation, we will see companies use a combination of products and services to improve and automate business activities. “ recently predicted that half of all enterprises globally would have migrated to the hybrid cloud by 2017. As use of the cloud and cloudbased services become the norm, the need for companies to manage and streamline their portfolio of services with an integrated view will become vital. Automation is required to connect cloud services, virtualised activities and on-site applications for comprehensive control and coordination, providing a truly unified view of all processes no matter where or how they’re deployed,” he says.

By delivering automation services via the cloud, businesses can now apply process automation wherever it’s needed and control processes however they want, Pienaar continues.

He explains how products like will allow business to share and collaborate across territories and industries. “Businesses are able to draw on information from various channels, collate and improve their ability to sell and offer services to customers. Automation solutions to date have allowed customers to effectively and consistently increase process efficiencies. By delivering automation services via the cloud, businesses can now apply process automation wherever it’s needed and control processes however they want,” he says.

In 2014, according to Pienaar, companies are expected to look to automation via the cloud to ubiquitously manage process automation, whether on-site or outside of the conventional enterprise or across virtualised and cloud-based solutions.

Even with limited IT capacity the smallest businesses can get access to world-class office automation solutions making them more competitive and driving their success, he concludes.