AI in Print: The Future of Office Technology

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AI in Print: The Future of Office Technology

Artificial intelligence is changing office technology in many ways, from generating reports to personalised assistants and print is no exception – and its influence is only going to grow in the coming months and years.

It was back in 2021 that Jenson Huang, CEO of NVIDIA, said of artificial intelligence (AI): “AI will be the most transformative technology of the 21st century.” Since then, AI has started to live up to this billing – and its practical applications are now being realised.

It is impacting the office technology space, and print is no exception, as Stuart Brookes, EMEA head of sales & channel at PaperCut, notes: “AI has the capacity to improve every stage of the device lifecycle; from the design to the construction, manufacture, distribution, sales, support and maintenance of print devices,” he says.

 “Additionally, cloud-based print – optimised by AI – could play an interesting role in driving print innovation, improving workflow process efficiencies and helping organisations make better informed, data-driven, print decisions.

“We anticipate that AI will also be instrumental in content capture from physical documents, simplifying the conversion of those documents into a more usable and manageable electronic format to streamline digital document workflow processes.”

Helen Starling, CEO at Paragon Workplace Solutions, agrees: “AI is currently revolutionising the print sector by offering bespoke, data-driven services,” she says. 

“Specifically, managed print services (MPS) providers can now leverage machine learning and AI to effortlessly streamline print processes and workflows. From pinpointing the most cost-effective devices for each print job to devising layouts that minimise waste, AI is quietly enhancing efficiency and cost-effectiveness.”

Mandy Watson, director of Ambitions Personnel, adds that AI is capable of reducing setup time with cutting-edge tools such as automatic calibration, immediate colour correction and error detection. “It paves the way for reduced costs, reduced lead times and enhanced quality of the final product,” she says. 

“Couple these with real-time analytics, where the data gathered can be used to make critical decisions quicker and for the benefit of customers and suppliers alike. AI technology is proving to be a real game changer for the industry and an invaluable sales tool when pitching for business, offering a staggering return on investment for those willing to take the plunge. It can also go as far as damage limitation, offering a preventative maintenance schedule using predictive detection methods to identify the problem before it occurs. In short, it allows everyone in the process, from pre-press to post-press, to be leaner with their time.”

Transforming professional print

AI is already transforming the professional print sector, according to Rowan Jeffreys-Hoar, director, Partner Channel at Ricoh UK. “This is through streamlining workflow automation, design and enabling smoother production processes,” he says. “For example, some commercial printers, particularly for large-scale image generation, are harnessing AI’s capabilities for marketing campaigns – creating content in a matter of hours rather than weeks, reducing production costs and, in turn, positively impacting revenue. Intelligent dashboards are another area where AI is being used within the sector, enabling users to efficiently manage data, users and processes. 

“In the coming years, AI will continue to revolutionise the print sector, especially when it comes to business automation and device optimisation. For example, Ricoh’s new RICOH ProTM vc80000 digital colour high-speed inkjet webfed press uses innovative AI capabilities, as well as new generation Ricoh printheads, to enable commercial, book and direct mail printers to enjoy consistently high print quality and heightened productivity.” 

Predicting problems

One significant area AI is having an impact is with predictive device maintenance.

“Devices have featured the ability to self-diagnose and alert support teams to issues like low toner, low paper levels or paper jams for some time,” says Stuart. “But AI will help optimise maintenance by providing additional information on predictive analysis based on real time data rather than benchmarks, duty cycles and prior standards.”

Helen adds that through algorithms, AI can anticipate potential issues, preventing device failures and minimising downtime. “This predictive capability also promotes sustainability by optimising power usage and reducing waste through streamlined workflows,” she notes. “AI is also invaluable for smart inventory management, as it can analyse usage patterns and automatically replenish supplies as needed, while virtual assistants offer enhanced customer support for those that need fast responses to issues.”

Faki Saadi, director of sales UKI at SOTI, agrees. “With an effective device management solution, maintenance of printers and other devices can be simple and fast, yet AI has the potential to take this even further through its ability to digest and analyse vast amounts of data,” he says. “Through this, IT teams can access real-time intelligence, enabling them to not only identify and troubleshoot problems efficiently and remotely, but also predict and prevent them from occurring entirely.”

Meanwhile Mandy points out AI-backed predictive maintenance can help businesses to negotiate the current lack of engineers in the sector. “With engineers being sparse in the job market, any tool that can be utilised to maximise the current workforce’s time is a no-brainer,” she says. “Many businesses are running at less than full headcount, making every minute count. The value being less downtime and a more efficient maintenance schedule keeps production on track and the knock-on effect of being able to deliver on or ahead of customer requirements.”

Analytics

Another advantage of AI is its ability to provide deep analysis into the vast amounts of data that is now created, which can help businesses to make better informed decisions.

“Real-time analytics versus historical data after the event can be the difference when pitching value-added services to customers as part of a tender,” says Mandy. “Value engineering is something which has been a big part of ongoing supplier agreements for a long time now so to be able to provide ‘as it happens’ data can offer instantaneous savings and a huge advantage over competitors. Not only a valuable sales tool, but these real-time analytics can also provide accurate cost of print information and identify potential areas for further streamlining.”   

Helen is also a believer in the power of AI for analysis. “AI-driven analytics are a game-changer in the print sector, revealing insights into customer behaviour and preferences,” she says. “With AI, MPS tools gather data on printer usage, costs and environmental impacts, empowering businesses to make informed decisions. Machine learning algorithms delve into print usage trends and offer predictive analytics, empowering customers to make strategic decisions regarding their printing requirements.”

Rowan adds that the collection and analysis of data, as with any industry, holds significant opportunities for efficiency gains. “The superpower that AI has is to take this analysis from days to hours and minutes,” he says. 

“This potential for rapid process optimisation can help analyse data from various stages of the printing process to identify inefficiencies and areas for improvement. AI automatically gathers data from workflow solutions, printing and finishing devices, to formulate insights to maximise return on investment, aid data driven investment decision making and improve overall business outcomes.”

Stuart adds that while some print management solutions already provide granular insights into print, from who is printing what and when, AI can delve deeper into the data to uncover other insights and trends around user profiles, time trends, document types and titles, data loss prevention and content awareness. “This may later inform print policy and, ultimately, promote good print behaviour and increase security,” he says.

Security

Security is another area where AI can provide benefits to the print sector – something needed as Quocirca reported that more than six in 10 companies experienced a print-related data loss in the past 12 months. “AI can be configured to monitor print requests and intervene early on if it detects that a breach may be about to occur,” says Stuart. “An early intervention could prevent a print-based issue from escalating into a more serious and reputationally damaging security breach. 

“AI can be used to understand the contents of documents – printed or digital – adding valuable productivity and security benefits in the form of data loss prevention and data protection.”

Faki agrees, noting that it goes together with having better visibility over the devices and printers within a network. “Without this, any information sent to be scanned or printed could be at risk,” he says. 

 “With better visibility and by drawing on AI and real-time intelligence, IT and security teams can detect and diffuse a printer threat before it becomes a wider problem.”

But Faki warns that AI isn’t a magic wand when it comes to security. “AI is only as good as the training data it receives, therefore the more an enterprise knows about their devices including printers, from usage to breakage and vulnerabilities, the better their AI-based workflows can be,” he says. “This should also go hand in hand with employee awareness and training, which continue to be imperative cogs in a robust security strategy wheel.”

Helen adds that AI can help the print sector by analysing network traffic to detect and prevent cyberthreats. “AI enhances security measures, monitoring print jobs and flagging suspicious activity swiftly,” she says. “While AI contributes to a rise in cyberattacks, it also aids teams in maintaining compliance with data security regulations, bolstering overall security measures.”

Rowan agrees that while AI can be viewed as a threat to security, there is a hugely beneficial upside for the print sector in terms of anomaly and threat identification. 

“AI can be trained to analyse network traffic, user behaviour and system logs to detect anomalies that could indicate potential cyber threats, such as unusual access attempts, data exfiltration, or malware infections,” he says. “AI’s capabilities can identify these cyber threats in real-time and alert security teams promptly, reducing the time-sensitive data is exposed in cyber breaches. 

“Through continuously monitoring print environments for new threats and attack patterns, AI can help the print sector keep pace with the ever-evolving cybersecurity landscape.”

Future predictions

With AI continuing to develop at a rapid pace, it is likely that the technology will have an increasing impact on the print sector over the next 12 months – but it may take time to realise the full benefits of it.

Faki says the print sector is rapidly adapting as digitalisation becomes the backbone of many businesses, but many need improve their printer management regimes if they are to take full advantage of the potential of AI. “With this, printer manufacturers, partners and end users must find ways of implementing procedures that use AI to its benefit, whether it’s automating and streamlining workflows or managing and securing full device fleets,” he says.

“Despite this, a recent SOTI study revealed that many UK companies don’t have sufficient visibility over printers in their networks, with over a third lacking the ability to access real-time status updates of printers or information about their settings. This emphasises the critical need for businesses to prioritise fundamental aspects of printer management, to fully maximise on AI-driven advancements.

“Through AI and automation, printer management and security can be made simpler and more efficient, with the ability to predict issues, detect threats in real-time and automate patches and updates. But businesses must make sure they have the basics mastered first, including something as simple as knowing how many printers they have in their networks and where. As AI continues to filter through every aspect of business, I expect the issue with visibility to come to the fore this year.” 

Stuart agrees that AI has great potential to benefit the print sector. “What we would like to see is how AI can be used to build on what’s been achieved to date in terms of making print easier, more sustainable and more secure,” he says. “Ultimately, whether you’re a print OEM, ISV or reseller, the ultimate question about AI always must be: ‘how can it be applied in a way that really benefits the end user?’”

Helen adds that AI’s impact on the print sector will continue to evolve, particularly in creative processes and design. “The vibrancy and impact of AI-rendered images may favour digital channels over print unless
print quality matches these standards,” she says. “To keep pace, manufacturers must invest in colour quality to maintain print channel relevance. 

“AI will also drive customisation and personalisation at scale, optimise workflows, and unlock opportunities in 3D printing for streamlined design processes, innovative approaches and enhanced quality and materials development. As AI can also enhance document management through automated classification and routing, efficiency and accuracy will also improve in the sector in the coming year.”

Rowan believes that as AI, and other emerging technologies, continue to evolve and become more widely used, it represents a great opportunity for the print industry to increase the efficiencies of manual processes.

“Areas such as hyperautomation – a combination of approaches, processes and techniques that use AI, machine learning and robotic process automation – can automate manual work, which doesn’t require human input, to increase efficiency and improve operational agility,” he says. 

“Yet despite the many proven benefits of AI to a business, there is a common fear that AI will replace people’s jobs. While AI can reduce manual tasks and improve efficiency, human industry expertise will still always be essential in areas such as customer relations, strategic problem solving, creative direction, and overall management of the print production process. By leveraging AI, print business can focus on their core strengths and expertise while also benefiting from increased efficiency. 

“So, to keep pace with the rapid evolution of AI, commercial print businesses must be open-minded to innovative technologies and invest where needed to avoid long-term risk, damaging business productivity, staff retention and long-term growth.”