Tuesday, July 13, 2010

MPS has a touch of grey

Grateful Dead

Yesterday I read a post at DOTC about elements of Bruce Springsteens career as an allegory for the future of managed print services.

A great read indeed however, I must offer my own perspective on musical metaphors in regards to MPS and I believe that the Grateful Dead as a whole make the perfect allegory for managed print services past, present and future.

Trust me this will not be as abstract as you may think...

In many ways the early years of managed print services reflect those of the Grateful Dead (at least from a business standpoint). Only a handful of dedicated folks knew of the band and expressed a true passion for the group and their music. This is comparable to the early years of MPS circa 1989. No one was doing MPS then right? Wrong! Printelligent claims working in MPS then and the following year our CEO Luke Carpentier signed his first managed print services contract.

For 15+ years this industry was owned by small companies around the country who pioneered managed print services, their customers a small yet dedicated base of people who could see something special about managing their document output in this way. In this sense, not unlike the dead heads, they were doing things differently and for some this provided the sense that "we have something special".

MPS was for a time, a grass roots movement. While our industry was not built on trading free live recordings of a band in the way which the Grateful Dead accrued their growing fan base, folks like our founder had been offering his products door to door, one customer at a time, getting them to "turn on" to his program by spoiling his customers with the best service and products to the extent that referrals from his current customers started to generate new customers. In many ways these two "sales" tactics are the same.

Give your followers, or customers rather, a reason to tell others about what you have to offer and why it is awesome. If what you have to offer is truly awesome, then it will start to sell itself.

(And that way you won't have to get Ben Stein to try and sell your products for you)

For a long time the glory days ruled the scene in respect to both managed print services and the Grateful Dead. However, when a scene gets to big, it gets bad and problems occur. While drug addiction and serious health problems won't be the downfall of many MPS outfits as they have been for the band, sudden and unexpected growth in the amount of supposed "MPS experts" will be the demise of those who only see the potential yet lack the ability to achieve the goals needed to make an MPS practice profitable for the provider and valuable to the customer.

When the Grateful Dead had a random super hit in their 1987 single "Touch of Grey" their fan base exploded to a size of great and weary proportions, forcing the band to move from playing amphitheaters and venues of that size to performing in football stadiums. From a financial point of view this may seem like a good thing and yet this sudden growth separated the band from its fans physically (as to how the stages in the stadiums had to be so massive for various reasons, there was a much grater distance between the first rows and the band) and for some, emotionally.

In a similar way it seemed like come 2008-2009 everyone from the big boys such as Ikon, Canon, HP, etc. to Staples and Office Depot (meh!) to copier salesmen to grandma Elly and cousin Roy had decided that getting in to MPS was "the thing to do".

Now that sounds good doesn't it? A get rich quick scheme that might actually work!? Great, we will send our sales team to Vegas for a week and when they get back we will be "experts" in managed print services...

Now who really gets hurt in this situation? The real managed print services providers who have been in the trenches for 20 plus years? Sure, but the real shame is that there will be good honest people out their who sign contracts with these inexperienced and uneducated fools. So while sub-par MPS "experts" line their pockets and true MPS providers slam their fists on their desk in frustration, the most important people in the equation are at the greatest risk of being screwed.

Sounds bad I know, however...

On August 9, 1995, at 4:23 AM Jerry Garcia died of a heart attack due to complications with drugs, sleep apnea and weight problems. While this was the saddest and most miserable moment in the history of the Grateful Dead Jerry's Death forced the band and the fans into a much needed break that would dismantle the scene for a time, alowing for some to find healing, and recovery and also for many to find jobs... ( I have met doctors, lawyers, professors and many other highly educated and successful dead heads who in their younger years had been just as wild as many who had taken the road to destruction via trying to make the party last forever which for many, leads to a fate similar to that of Garcia)

Since Jerry's Death the remaining band members have reunited in multiple emanations of the original lineup and have also spurred their own bands and subgroups that have and will continue to carry the positive and beautiful aspect of the group (namely the music) onward through multiple generations.

In the same way many in the managed print services industry will hit hard times. They will crash and burn. They will fail. Hopefully some of them learn a lesson. On the flip side of the coin, this difficult yet necessary refining process will leave behind the tried and true. The best that the industry has to offer. The true "managed print services experts".

And despite all the bad, in the end, the good will go on. Sure, things may never be the same as the glory days, the early years, those magic times when it was all new and only a select few knew what amazing things would come, but as any mature individual knows, change is the only constant.

We will get by, we will survive!

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