Hardware as a Service?

Remember the printer repair companies?

Remember the printer repair companies? Your printer broke, your repairman arrived and your printer was fixed. Ink, toner, paper and supplies might all come from the same soup-to-nuts Acme printer repair shop, if not the leased printer itself.

Its no surprise, then, that the first significant attempt at delivering hardware as part of a managed service has come from the print industry.

Document management vendor Lexmark International and MSPs (management service providers) N-able Technologies and Level Platforms announced April 5 at Ingram Micros VentureTech Network reseller meeting here a managed services offering that allows VARs and MSPs to monitor and maintain printers and copiers remotely, charging by usage. The fee includes equipment that is refreshed by the provider at the end of its life cycle.

Lexmark is the first vendor to roll out leasing hardware as part of a managed services contract with remote monitoring and maintenance. "I would call it a first step toward hardware as a service," said Christine Redshaw, president of FutureVision, in Raleigh, N.C., a Lexmark, N-able and Level Platforms partner.

For companies such as FutureVision, which has seven employees and did $3.4 million in business last year, the investment required to start up such an offering may be out of reach.

In Lexmarks Document Management offering, equipment is delivered as part of the monthly contract. GE Capital will finance contracts of up to three years and bill customers directly, as well as pay the provider.

Jim Webb, Lexmarks director of channel solutions, said the deal differs from a traditional lease because it is delivered as part of a managed SLA (service-level agreement), which charges based on cost per page and not on an aggregation of the equipment cost over a period of time. Charging per impressions, Webb said, allows customers to own more of the solution for less and allows VARs to take advantage of the money spent on consumables such as paper and toner. "Its no secret; supplies are how we vendors are staying in business," Webb said. "There is no reason why VARs shouldnt participate in that bonanza rather than the office superstores."

With N-able and Level Platforms remote managing solution, MSPs can monitor usage, enabling them to deliver maintenance and supplies before outages and shortages occur. This inside view will lead to improved customer service, Redshaw said.

"No one thinks of their printer as anything but a commodity until it goes down," she said. "No one thinks of print cartridges as critical to business until they are out of them. Then we get frantic calls, and the best we can do is ship one overnight."

Lexmarks Document Needs Assessment tool enables VARs to deploy account managers as document management consultants. Armed with nothing more than a camera and a list of questions, a salesperson can develop a "picture" of a customers document management situation and, with the help of Lexmark field associates, provide a comprehensive recommendation within 24 hours. "That leaves [customers] saying, These guys know what theyre talking about," Webb said. "Thats a piece of the sales collateral that makes you look like an expert."