Michael Powell, product marketing manager at Kyocera Mita South Africa, discusses how the smaller business should approach office automation.
Before a company's management makes any decisions about what equipment they need and how to deploy it, they should carefully consider their business strategy.

Probably for any SME business, the balance between costs and benefits are more important than for the large, enterprise-level operations.
The first question will really be: what do we want to achieve? The first step is to map out a strategy that will meet the business needs.
Any SME will have existing equipment and, assuming that the intention is not to put a completely new set of hardware in, the probable aim would be to put document and network management in place to improve productivity, reduce costs and be more responsive to customers.
Generally, the need to be met is searchable, well managed information resources that can answer needs from both inside and outside the business.
It sounds quite simple and easy to achieve but a large number of companies don't execute that critical first step of mapping out what they want to see in the way of results. They assume that having the latest and greatest equipment is a solution in itself and don't realise the value they might be neglecting or losing.
Unless existing infrastructure is seriously out of date, a very effective solution can be achieved through applying proper systems and procedures on the devices they already have.
Obviously, there is an optimal benefit to be derived from putting in new equipment that is properly deployed, managed and integrated with the overall IT network. But what we are really saying here is that the first trap to avoid is buying technology for technology's sake – think about what the business really needs to do and then build the technology solution around that. This entails the whole business – a truly 360-degree view – not just the individual needs of each department. Otherwise, the result is going to be a divergent and not a convergent solution.
You then need to do a proper audit of the existing assets. Some equipment might be too old to build into a new solution that will meet the goals you set.
We already mentioned document management as a primary need which is common to just about any business. This provides the structuring and control over the information resources which are central to how the business operates.
A second major concern would be forms overlay. There are large savings involved in keeping templates of essential documents on hand, which can be modified on the fly, rather than having stockpiles of pre-printed documents which might become obsolete if a director resigns or the company moves premises.
Another major concern is monitoring maintenance of the equipment. With new devices, there are software packages available that will monitor machines for downtime and a number of dealers offer services such as responding proactively to maintenance issues. This is far preferable to a typical situation where support is only called after a machine goes down, which can cost a large amount in terms of lost productivity and disruption of business processes – even lost sales.
Ultimately, having a proper system for maintenance will save money, apart from mitigating or eliminating the financial consequences of unplanned downtime. These systems are very detailed and monitor much more than just the toner level, which was all they could do a few years ago.
As mentioned earlier, the focus is not on the technology, it's on the needs of the business. However, the fact is that the equipment can do far more than ever before in terms of quality, performance and a vast range of features for managing users, documents and the machines themselves.
Rather than get to the point where they can't see the wood for the trees, customers need to keep in mind that it is precisely because the technology has become so sophisticated that they need to have a solid strategy before they consider deployment.
If you don't focus on what you want to achieve, you certainly won't get the results you are looking for.
Beyond just having the solution achieve the goals set for it – and this is proportionally more important for SMEs – you need to get maximum value out of the equipment, whether it is new or existing.
This is the point where having a dealer and manufacturer who can offer effective consulting input is absolutely essential.
It is a downside to the office equipment industry that there always has been a great focus on new features. But the fact is that the results the overall solution gets for the company – and the value add that new equipment can offer – is much more important than the technology itself.