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Thu 16 Aug 2007 12:00 AM

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Printer channel set for colourful future

With multifunction printers gaining traction among organisations in the region, it is becoming imperative for resellers to identify opportunities and acquire the skills necessary to make the most of the technology on offer.

As businesses in the region back away from traditional single-function inkjet devices, they are instead beginning to embrace colour laserjet multifunction printers (MFPs). Resellers in the region need to pay heed to the changes in demand from differing types of end-user, or risk lagging behind as the market evolves.

"Multifunction printers are really emerging," reckons Mohammed Al Noueiri, research analyst IHD group at research firm IDC. "The MFP segment is certainly becoming a battlefield for SMB market vendors, and copier vendors are also being able attack the printer vendors' market shares via the multifunctional market," he added.

In fact, photocopier vendors such as Xerox, Konica and Canon are proving to be a big hit amongst enterprise customers in the region. Their high-end multifunction devices offer leading efficiency and print quality, and these vendors are becoming reliant upon this revenue stream as single-function copiers are almost phasing out. Meanwhile, the SMB marketplace is predominantly populated by traditional printer vendors such as HP and Oki, which offer more affordable entry-level devices.

However, IDC suggests that SMBs are beginning to raise the bar in terms of the standards they demand as toner-based devices have been sharply rising in popularity amongst this segment. "Colour laser is certainly picking up and is almost taking over the share of inkjets. The shift of demand from inkjet to laser is becoming more predominant as laser grew 45% from 2005," Al Noueiri added.

Although inkjet holds the majority of the market share, in terms of market value it only accumulates to 15% in this region. Al Noueiri reckons that selling mono and colour laser printers provide a much more appealing prospect to resellers, although this is hardly surprising given that inkjet dealers are heavily reliant upon revenue from consumables.

"Inkjet is a dying technology," argued John Ross, Oki's Middle East general manager, although that's an opinion certain rivals - such as HP which commands a 76% market share of inkjet printers in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE - no doubt see differently. Ross admits Oki has never been a fan of inkjet technology as the business model associated with the technology revolves firmly around the volume sale of high cost consumables.

He argues that toner-based devices will become prevalent amongst small businesses to mimic trends in more developed regions such as Europe. The vendor claims that 32% of toner-based printers are bought by SMBs in Europe, while in markets such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE that figure is less than 10%. Ross claims it is only a matter of time before the Middle East imitates the European buying behaviour.

However, a key factor in the success of laser MFPs amongst SMBs in the region is businesses' ability to ascertain the total cost of ownership of the devices, given that the segment traditionally adopts a price conscious approach to investments. Oki contends that theft of inkjet cartridges is a factor that businesses ought to take into consideration, and stresses that resellers who can successfully network these printers could play an instrumental role in translating a low total cost of ownership to customers.

The vendor reckons that the Middle East market is currently not getting the most out of printer devices. Ross sees no notable developed print managed services market in this region and insists printer networking and consolidation capacities are being massively under utilised. He claims the company is taking steps to facilitate these skills amongst channel partners. "It's unlikely that we'll see the market move to concepts like print managed services while we still aren't networking printers. Manufacturers need to do more to increase awareness of this issue," Ross concluded.

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