The rise, reality and future of managed content services (MCS)

Managed Content Services (MCS) are hot. Although MCS as a term, concept and approach has been existing since a few years, a mix of reasons has put it higher on the agenda.

According to Gartner MCS (Managed Content Services) will eventually encompass MPS (Managed Print Services)

Since Managed Content Services became known and Gartner stated that Managed Content Services’ time has come, back in the Summer of 2013, we’ve seen an acceleration in various areas where MCS is being debated.

Among these evolutions is the inevitably increasing role that content (and information and data) play in any business, the fact that organizations continue to opt more for managed and outsourced (IT) services so they can focus on their core business, and the debates on content management and information management overall as we move towards an ubiquitous as-a-service approach in virtually all areas of business.

Managed security services, managed disaster recovery services, the list of types of IT and even non-IT functions that get offered in a managed service approach has been and keeps growing, as is the adoption of managed services overall in the bigger Managed Service Provider (MSP) space, often in conjunction with cloud computing‘s anything-as-a-service approaches and pretty soon the Internet of Things as a far bigger ‘as-a-service’ enabler we move to the Internet of Services.

Managed content services - MCS - the rise reality and future of managed content services

Managed Print Services (MPS) and Managed Content Services (MCS): setting the scene

Back to Managed Content Services. There is another type of managed services that is closely linked with it, certainly from the perspective of the origins of MCS and the vendors offering it: Managed Print Services or MPS.

MCS: rooted in and designed for the next stage in MPS

The names of vendors you will encounter in the MCS space and/or in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Managed Print and Content Services, are companies with strong MPS roots such as Lexmark, Konica Minolta, Ricoh, Canon, HP, Kyocera, Toshiba and the likes (of which several are also active in the input or capture and ECM side).

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you’ll also meet the transformation of the workplace, aka the ‘digital workplace’, in the scope of MCS quite often (the other way around digital evolutions such as the digital workplace, enabled by cloud, mobile and so forth are drivers of the rise of MCS).

As we’ll see further, MCS is linked with MPS in many ways, not in the least because it’s seen as the replacement of MPS, ultimately (not everyone agrees) and actually stems from the views on evolutions in managed print services.

MCS: the link with ECM and capture (input) evolutions

Before diving a bit deeper into Managed Content Services it’s also important to note that there are quite some evolutions going on in the ECM (Enterprise Content Management) space.

When pondering on the evolutions in ECM some have come up with new terms they would like you to adopt, while others say that ECM is disrupted but not dead and just not understood well enough in the overall information management picture.

Gartner, for instance, stated early 2017 that ECM is basically dead and we now see the birth of content services. Shock (and food for later articles). Others feel that in the broadening world of information we might want to talk about enterprise information management. Yet, for others that sounds too restricted to the enterprise and, after all, isn’t information in true digital transformation and creating information-driven ecosystems about going beyond the enterprise?

John Mancini of AIIM (association of information management professionals) would like us to consider Intelligent Information Management as he said at the 2017 AIIM Forum. It’s a term that John has been using for a longer time, with intelligence mainly sitting in the content analytics and AI corner. Yet, others wonder if that’s a good term as, in the end, is there such a thing as Dumb Information Management? Wait, and what about dynamic case management or…..? Indeed, We do like our debates on terminology in the content and information management space and will cover all this in depth later.

The reason why we mention it in a scope of MCS though is that you can’t separate ECM, starting from document capture and the ‘roots’ of MCS, Managed Print Services. The thing is that, just a we’re looking differently at content and information with MCS, compared with MPS, the exact same thing happens on the side of document capture and any other aspect of the big content management puzzle. The drivers are pretty much the same; how else could it be?

Do note that we do no make a strict division between input and output from a device or functional perspective as capture is also increasingly done using MFPs/MFDs; the comparisons we make in this article concern the two markets of specialized document capture players and specialized print players, with the understanding that some offer it all and de facto it’s inevitable integrations and connections increase on all levels. Scanning and document capture by the way is included in MPS, in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Managed Print and Content Services view.

What are Managed Content Services anyway? The broad scope of MCS

Let’s take a look now at what caused this shift in thinking regarding MPS and the rise of MCS. For starters: note the two words that Managed Print Services and Managed Content Services have in common: managed services.

That’s the easy part. “We, the managed service provider take care of whatnot”, with clear SLAs, visibility, cost efficiency, optimization and whatever else your business seeks so you don’t have to take care of it and can focus on your core business, which is probably not optimizing and managing your document output, maintaining/monitoring your printer  and MFPs fleet, reducing waste of paper, renting printers, securing your printing environment, enabling mobile printing and making your document output more sustainable to cite just some typical operations in managed printing services.

We all know what printing is (although MPS also includes other document output activities, devices and processes; think copiers and faxes).

So, why do we need to move from MPS to MCS and is it more than just another term for what is already done but serves vendors well?  Let’s look at the word that is different when comparing both terms. Indeed: content. It starts getting harder here.

There are ample definitions and even more debates about what content is. Here is a fun exercise: put 10 marketers, 10 ECM professionals, 10 MPS experts, 10 document capture specialists and 10 data analysts in a room and ask them to define what content is, what information is, what knowledge is, what data is and what’s the difference between them all. Don’t try it at home.

The definition of MCS – from print to documents to business communications

Fortunately Gartner has a definition for us. In its Magic Quadrant for Managed Print and Content Services the research firm defines Managed Content Services or MCS as “a comprehensive solution that rationalizes, streamlines and optimizes business communications inside the organization by providing customers with consultative help, software and implementation. In the early stages of maturation, it is tightly coupled with managed print services and focuses on communications inside the organization.”

OK, so we’re talking about content as business communications. Moreover, initially MCS is really MPS (the early stages) and that is about content as communications INSIDE the organization. Yet, in the mature stages of MCS we are really talking about all business communications occurring in the scope of the organization’s activities.

That is what we call a pretty broad definition. Are we also speaking about incoming business communications and thus things such as document capture? Or is it just the ‘output’ side, what MPS typically is about more (do remember our note on the ‘distinction’ though)? What about the management of these communications if we interpret it as business communications with paper-based hard copy documents and increasing volumes and varieties of digital and digitized content? For instance: enterprise search, storage, actual content management? Is all of that and ECM MCS too?

Let’s narrow it down a bit: managed content services specifically expand Managed Print Services to optimize how content enables organizations to enhance business communications and improve business process management. These typically include assessment/analysis, monitoring, managing and optimizing, supplies replenishment (automated), strategy, digitization, security, efficient placement in the office and beyond, mobile/remote enablement and management, training and change management and more.

De facto we see that mainly MCS vendors are filling in the practice of MCS and that the narrative isn’t always that consistent. But, then again, it’s still early days. And, yes, some see MCS as a fancy term for what they’ve already been doing.

In the end, output is about process, content and business communications, not just about printers and paper. Compare it with input (capture): it’s not about scanners and digitization, it’s about what happens with the data/information and how it fits in a case, process or flow.

Others recognize the value of MCS as what, according to Gartner, is poised to be the next step after Managed Printing Services. As you can read on the earlier mentioned page with the Gartner report (and statement) that Managed Content Services’ time has come, Gartner predicted that MCS would eventually subsume MPS and is a way for providers of managed print services to ‘solve big problems for their customers in small pieces’ with the so-called Nexus of Forces being a driver of customer demand for MCS providers.

As a reminder, that Nexus of Forces is Gartner’s vision on the technology platform upon which the future is built with the convergence of social, mobile, cloud and information (pretty much like IDC’s third platform).

Time for some facts on MCS and the MCS market.

Managed Content Services: the vendor and channel side – focus on customer processes and the information lifecyle

MCS is clearly conceived as a way for managed print services providers to broaden their offering with all sorts of services by switching the view from printing and documents (Managed Document Services) to content (whereby content concerns those ‘business communications’).

Simply said: it’s an MPS-oriented view to move from selling more services and consulting in a market where hardware (and software) has been dominating a long time. In that sense, it’s a vendor thing and fits in the ongoing shifts of all hardware providers to extend their portfolio and ultimately shift to services.

It’s a general evolution that’s easier said than done as it requires some serious transformation. You see the exact same evolutions happening on the ‘input’ side, in document capture.

The transition from MPS to MCS is easier said than done. Hardware companies do not become software companies just by saying it is now their strategy (John Mancini, AIIM)

With an ECM market in disruption and transformation and a move from hardware/software to consulting, services and as-a-service platform economy models, all the way from input (capture), across management (ECM) to output (MPS), MCS is inevitably more about ECM and is inevitably meeting the evolving markets of document and information input, offering new opportunities, challenges and many strategic vendor initiatives (with lots of consolidations and acquisitions in the past few years).

From a customer perspective what matters is mastering the information lifecycle and, most of all, extracting maximum value while ensuring security and reducing waste.

In such a reality in the end there is little room for the separation of all sorts of information-related activities and all the devices and even processes we use to capture, print, store and leverage information must lead to a reality with a needs-based ubiquitous access to and usage of information for any business process and device whatsoever with the cloud, mobile and that mentioned Nexus of Forces becoming a reality.

Users don’t want to see the complexity nor the visibility of the underlying activities and processes. They don’t care about where information sits, regardless of form, place and time, they see it as an essential given, far beyond the traditional workplace and on the go.

The case of digital evolutions and channel challenges in MCS and capture

Just as is the case on the input/capture side where the narrative is increasingly about multi-channel capture (meaning: hard copy document capture AND ‘capture’ of mainly unstructured information sources, ranging from emails to social media and any other customer and business communication content carrier/format/source), there is a focus on digital content in MCS as well. It’s the exact same phenomenon.

It’s clear that the need for organizations to focus on their overall information lifecycle in a more information-driven business reality than ever before, drives that evolution as well.

In the same way that channel partners and other partners in document capture need to make a shift in thinking about their services, solutions and the mentioned multi-channel capture approach, the channel partners in the Managed Printing Services market are challenged to change and go beyond selling and supporting the products and services they are used to sell and support.

It’s instrumental for vendors too, certainly in smaller markets they can’t serve directly or with bigger partners. One of the organizations to recognize this and jump on the opportunity for channel partners who want to broaden their scope and offering by proving them sales training is AIIM.

In the Summer of 2015, AIIM’s Atle Skjekkeland came with a training on how to sell Managed Content Services (SlideShare below). At the same time, John Mancini of AIIM rightfully pointed out that the MCS market came with a channel of, among others copier dealers and distributors, that’s far bigger than the traditional ECM channel and that the mentioned transition from MPS to MCS indeed isn’t easy for all the obvious reasons.

These channel challenges and opportunities by the way are far from over.

The Internet of Things (IoT) and Internet of Services will be a next challenge as vendors are preparing their moves in this area. They should learn from industries where this is already happening. A very typical example is the facility management and ‘smart building‘ market where existing channel partners, who have profound experience in facility management, are urged by vendors who broadened their offerings with Industrial IoT solutions, to learn about the possibilities IoT offers.

The channel challenge is not the easiest to tackle and it’s not just because partners might not be able to transform. That would be an underestimation of the capabilities with regards to business processes. However, many channel partners simply might not want to make the change as it does require an effort and there is still enough paper around to keep the business going.

Managed Content Services and the evolving customer reality in digital transformation

That’s pretty much it (for now) with regards to the vendor and channel realities in MCS. However, what about customers of MCS providers? Do Managed Content Services offer them benefits and what types of services are we really talking about?

Probably the most important aspect is the mastering and leveraging of the full information lifecycle as mentioned previously.

Add to that the ongoing digitalization, the need for a holistic approach towards information management and towards this information lifecycle and, last but not least, IT’s clear mission to increasingly focus on core business goal and you have a major part of the potential MCS benefits.

Additional benefits can be tied to the technological evolutions of the mentioned Nexus of Forces and mainly what they are all about in the end: to transform and innovate you need digital information, you want increased agility and, bearing regulations such as the GDPR in mind, you don’t just want your knowledge workers to find the right information at the right time and so forth for all the obvious reasons; you also want better audit trails and processes.

The latter also brings us to an inevitable evolution in MCS and beyond whereby ecosystems of managed services will need to collaborate. The GDPR is really a splendid illustration of this in practice, if you look at the holistic strategies which de facto require security partners and information management partners to collaborate. Yet, it stretches far beyond that.

When worlds collide: the disruptive future of MCS – ecosystems

If organizations across the globe are streamlining their operations in the scope of digital transformation, cost savings, innovation, optimizing core business processes and so forth (with information/data as a key business asset) an MCS provider can’t of course work in isolation.

If you look at the demands of organizations with regards to BPOs and high-end service bureaus, you see that often they seek more value-added services and (to some extent) consulting, optimization of workflows and processes, faster solutions with less costs, easier access to information, heightened security, less errors, the list goes on.

There is also clearly a need to work more from the user and customer perspective and thus the process and case perspective in general.

With MCS, where we see these kinds of services (consulting, business process reengineering, business process optimization a consultative approach overall), this can theoretically be addressed.

In the end, it already de facto sort of happens. Major MPS players don’t just manage and optimize a big fleet of printers, copiers and scanners (and all the rest that comes with it): they move up in offering optimization and consulting services and suggestions, de facto becoming part of the more important business processes and tasks.

However, they are not the only ones. If a high-volume document capture player goes in with one or more partners for an important project, they do the exact same thing. If an ECM solutions provider goes in, again the same thing.

And this, to conclude, brings us back to that crucial aspect of collaboration and of ecosystems from the customer’s perspective.

If everyone who is now selling hardware, software and solutions aims for a more consultative approach and strategic services, it’s inevitable that sooner or later they meet, whether it’s an IT services firm, a Managed Content Services provider or any other party involved in the information space that is not just the space of information professionals anymore (given the key role of information).

We need to point out that, as John Mancini puts it and as you can learn in the training from Atle Skjekkeland, the essential market strategies target 1) business leaders, 2) knowledge workers and 3) IT executives. More in John’s article.

Yet, the simple fact is that no customer needs five different players (and you can include the big consultancies) who all offer advice in overlapping areas. In the end, it’s about ecosystems around the information lifecycle, in collaboration with partners who all have their expertise.

Remember: the customer wants to focus on core business activities and remove friction, costs and complexity. Forging partnerships with clear roles and responsibilities in MCS, ECM, information management and related managed (IT) services is key to ensure it.

Top image: Shutterstock – Copyright: LeoWolfert – All other images are the property of their respective mentioned owners.