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Even though the concept of managed print in many ways pre-dates the concept of modern managed services, current IT-focused managed service providers have been slow to pick up print management – leaving managed print services (MPS) largely to a field of specialist solution providers. But there are signs that 2012 is going to be the year that changes.

Put simply, managed print services involve helping customers control the costs of producing hard copy, either through a simple price-per-page model or on a flat price-per-month basis.

Most print vendors have major initiatives in place around managed print, often working directly with enterprise customers while also leaning on solution providers to help deliver those services into the SMB market.

So why isn’t there more of a crossover between the IT-focused MSP and managed print? In part because of customers. According to a CompTIA study on managed print, about half of enterprise customers currently use some variety of managed print. But in the MSP-friendly SMB market, that figure drops to 20 per cent. And that makes sense – larger organizations tend to have more complex printing environment and requirements.

The CompTIA study notes that current managed print services providers are expecting a banner year for their business – expecting their businesses to grow by as much as 60 per cent over last year. But only about 20 per cent of the top managed service providers in the game are offering managed print services today, according to the MSPmentor 100 2011 survey.

But there’s evidence that’s set to change. There are a few major trends at work that point to broader acceptance of managed print in the managed services marketplace.

As MSPs continue to look for profitable ways to grow their businesses and add new services for their customers, managed print has to be on the radar. Most MSPs try to get as many of their customers’ devices under management as possible – it’s a sure way to grow the business, and it’s a smart way to keep competitors out.

And while managed print may be an unfamiliar beast to many MSPs, they can simplify the process by working with an outsourced help desk solution that makes managed print more attainable to the neophyte from a technical point of view. Meanwhile, the major RMM and PSA vendors are scrambling to bring print management capabilities to their software, either by building or partnering with players. The more an MSP can expand into a new field like managed print using familiar tools, the more attainable the process will be.

Many printer vendors are focused on the enterprise with their own managed print services, while turning to channel partners and MSPs to pick up the SMB opportunity. As discussed earlier, small business is not exactly a huge audience for managed print. Today. But that can, and will, change. As a result we’ve seen, and will continue to see, better and more channel-focused manage print programs coming from vendors. These programs will aim to make it easier and more profitable for partners to embrace managed print solutions, while also providing education and support to partners getting into the market.

At the same time, the competitive landscape is changing as consolidation and growth is leading to print vendors acquiring major managed print services partners. Xerox recently picked up Canada’s largest managed print services partner LaserNetworks, while HP last year grabbed Printelligent, and Konica Minolta purchased managed services giant All Covered.

Does adding managed print make sense for your business? If not, what would it take from the vendors that support you to make it a profitable and successful offering in your managed services business?