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Monday, January 2, 2023

2023 Predictions - "After The Fire, the Fire Still Burns"

Past and Future According to Greg Walters

Here we go...

Upon an ocean of auguries and reflections, my contrarian tendencies pull me into ignoring if not despising each "end of the year" account and "predictions for next year".  So many articles and pontifications - it's stifling.  

Who needs it? 

Well, low and behold, I've surrendered to the waves, to the Fire.  Here is my contribution to the deadwood of 2022 and the albatross of 2023.

*SPECIAL NOTE IF YOU WANT TO SKIP TO SEE YOUR FUTURE SCROLL ALL THE WAY DOWN TO "Artificial Intelligence" becomes simply "Intelligent".*

2022, The summary according to Greg - 

In my view,  three of the most important milestones of the 2022/21, period are:
  1. The Return to Office Deniers
  2. The War in Ukraine
  3. The "Best Year Ever" in Sales

The Return to Office Battle -

"...The heart grows older
But never, ever learns...
The memories smolder
And the soul always yearns
After the fire, the fire still burns"

The Work from Anywhere and the Return to Office action and reaction are the single most influential pulls of the century - at least so far.  Not in our memory has so much changed so many people at the same time.

Yesteryear's establishments and status quo began to fade, disintegrate and transform.  I credit the work-from-anywhere movement and the failed return-to-office mandates.  

In 2022, LARGE organizational structures came under fire, exposed for what they have always been, and compared to what was always missed: warm dinners, doctor's appointments, kids' recitals, friends, family, reading a good book - the life before 9AM and after 5PM crystalized the futility of the regular 'job'.

People, discovering the ability to be more productive AND happier, by avoiding a commute, finally recognized how the work/business/job systems are (rightfully)skewed toward the organization.

"...I heard a voice asking
What happens after the fire
And then the sound of a
Breaking window and
The scream of a tire..."

Decades of being told and believing in the 'hard work' mantra, dissipated in a matter of months.  More accurately, many employees understood how 'hard work' was a misnomer, a narrative translated into "working harder for me, not you..." and in our new awareness, we said "No."

The soul always yearns to be free - more, when a new Way is unleashed.

The War -

"And then the sound of a distant gun
And the cry of a hungry child
The night is hot but nothing's
Gonna stop this gang going wild..."

Before 2022, few of us knew where the heck Ukraine was - we sure do now.  In addition to the loss of life, the medieval Russian tactics, real and serious global economic impact looms just over the horizon.

The US has contributed $24.37bn to a proxy war that really isn't a proxy war. For a quick comparison, it would take $ 8 billion to end homelessness in the state of California, so yeah, good job, go America!

The national economic impact in the form of inflation, higher interest rates and the like will strap the recovery from automotive sales, to the price of eggs.

For the Office Technology players, EVERYTHING was affected - software, hardware, and the supply chain.  Raw materials used to produce chips and grain, two of Ukraine's biggest exports, have been taken off the table - the economic effect is immeasurable.

The sound of a distant gun, won't drown out the cry of a hungry child - there are more important things than selling copiers and toner. If anything, the War shows us the fragility of society and life.

The Sales Bounce - 

"I saw Matt Dillon in black and white
There ain't no color in memories
He rode his brother's Harley across the TV
While I was laughing at Dom DeLuise..."

In 2022/21, the 'basics' in human connections were recognized (again) as the most valuable elements in all relationships - especially professional selling.  

The end of 2022 saw our resellers report increased revenues and sales with over 95% of the business coming from existing customer relationships.  This is an unscientific statement based on dozens of personal conversations with resellers inside and outside of Office Technology.

Pent-up demand and an easier supply chain contributed to the precarious rebound. One interesting fact, leases were still being approved in 2022. Even with delivery schedules of 120 days or more, deals were closed.

In 2022, it's easy to imagine there is no color in memories. But we've been here before, the color will return - it always has.

What about 2023? - 

The year 2023 will go down as the year we recovered and accelerated OR the year everything goes away.
  1. The OEMs Consolidate
  2. Commercial Real Estate Shrinks
  3. Artificial Intelligence Eats the World

The Office Technology Universe Continues to Shrink

"Now I'm cycling all my video tapes
I'm crying and I'm joking..."

Consolidation? Sure.  

It wasn't that long ago when we all watched the continuing 'will Xerox buy HP' drama.  Covid got in the way of that, didn't it?  

Yes, chips will start to flow and A4s will fly out the doors again. The MPS Renaissance will level out, reaching or exceeding pre-Covid levels as 60% of the workforce temporarily returns to the cubicles. Even with a return to paper-based newsletters, the writing that was on the wall in 2019 is still glaring, we print and copy less.

The world does not want more copiers and there are far too many manufacturers in the Office Technology niche.   

Who will it be?  

Everybody is up for grabs.  I think HP is solid and committed to turning the Samsung folly into profit - I'd look to the second and third-tier producers as possibly congealing or simply going away.

Nobody cycles through video tapes anymore - heck, most people nowadays don't even know Blockbuster or how Netflix started.  Look to the past to see the future. Are our resellers the next decade's Blockbuster or Netflix?

The Corporate Office Starts to Fade -

"...I've gotta stop drinking
I've gotta stop thinking
I've gotta stop smoking..."

We all know how it feels when a client of five years decides not to renew with you - even more painful is the realization that they signed with somebody else.  It is the Way of things.

The commercial real estate industry is in for a huge kick in the shins as many leases up for renewal in 2023, will not be renewed.
"Dallas-based CBRE Group Inc. (NYSE: CBRE), predicting a slowdown in construction as well as declines in asset values...It is also forecasting overall investment volume to decline by 15% from 2022.  Others are predicting values to fall more significantly, especially for sectors facing the biggest challenges — namely the office market.." - BizJournal.
Fewer offices equal fewer copiers and different Office Technology requirements. 

2023 will see the further dissipation of the traditional, geography-based, office location and unfortunately only add to city woes.  New York, Chicago, Seattle, L.A., and more will experience financial headwinds like never before - eating into all budgets, including IT.  

Far from a death knell, the remaining 40% of office dwellers keep paper-based workflows alive - for at least 12 months. 

Why twelve months?  The financial and economic pressures are tough enough, and societal change within work environments exerts even more downward force, but the biggest and most radical hit to come will eliminate 40% of all jobs and positions. 

2022 taught us:
  • UFOs are real
  • Conspiracy theories are no longer theoretical
  • We are alone
Within this context, ladies and gentlemen, I introduce your Colossus, the real Fire, the Prime influence in the coming year:  Artificial Intelligence.

"Artificial Intelligence" becomes simply "Intelligence".

Raging through the pain
Blackening the promises
The tears and the rain

First off, what you think you know about AI, isn't enough.  

Today's best is nothing more than an abacus compared to an IBM XT.  But unlike the decade-long evolution from an 8-bit, to a 16-bit, then to 32-bit processing, AI increases its 'knowledge' exponentially based on the number of interactions with the outside world; the more sensors connected, and the more it is used, the 'smarter' it gets.  Estimates back in 2018, state one AI engine doubled its computing power every 3.4 months.  The cycle has shortened.

Artificial Intelligence in the Office Technology industry is an oxymoron. Optimizing toner delivery or determining preemptive service schedules is not a task worthy of REAL artificial intelligence.  

Real AI in business eliminates the need for toner and devices requiring a technician.  By the end of 2023, we will see jobs eliminated because of AI.  I'm not talking about robots on a shop floor replacing welders and warehouse workers - waiters, bartenders, accounting clerks, bank employees, analysts, professors, teachers, and managers all the way up to the C-Level - every function that involves calculations and positions requiring a certain logic of reflection and functioning will find oblivion.

That's a lot of people.  

ChatGBT is a new AI application that answers complex questions conversationally. I've used it for a couple of weeks.  

It is like discovering a new color.  

For some, it is a nifty search engine that answers in full sentences.  For others, the AI can write manuals, term papers, and copy.  People might find this threatening  - in the same way, teachers viewed calculators, spellcheck, and the internet.
  • Calculators help us solve big equations faster.
  • Spellchecks help us write copy quicker.
  • The internet, which replaces encyclopedias, opens eons of history with a few keystrokes.
How can AI help us in the Office Technology world?  

One example: Think of your most complex challenge - perhaps a strategic sale with multiple decision influences.  Now imagine TEACHING a new selling professional how to approach, manage and secure a complex business relationship inside a Fortune 500 account. Finally, document the processes for your current and future sales teams.

Can you do this in 15 minutes?

These are the questions I asked the sales coach in the sky:
  1. Can you help me analyze a selling opportunity with 12 decision-makers with different levels of business knowledge?
  2. What is the best way to determine needs in a complex sale?
  3. What is the easiest way to sell copiers to a Fortune 100 company?
I asked each question, received answers, and finally asked, "Can you summarize the past three answers in a humorous manner?"

"Certainly! Here is a summary of the past three answers in a humorous manner:

Step 1: "Ask the decision makers what they want by using your mouth to make words and your ears to listen to their responses."

Step 2: "Use Google to stalk the company and find out what they're all about. Bonus points if you can hack into their internal emails."

Step 3: "Offer to let the company test drive your copier like a fancy sports car. Just make sure they don't peel out of the parking lot."

I hope this humorous summary was helpful! Please let me know if you have any other questions."

15 minutes, barely any input on my end, and unrefined responses.  Imagine what I could do in 5 hours.

Perhaps this was a frivolous task.  Let's try another. I asked, 

"Please generate a business proposal for replacing 98 copiers with 25 devices.  Current costs are 427,000 per month with a reduction of 27% with the new solution.  Installation of a digital order entry and service ticketing software package will cost $45,000 yet reduce hard costs by $57,000 and $12,000 per year."

The system responded, in less time than it took for Roger Daltrey to sing 'After the Fire', with this:

Dear [Company],

We are writing to propose a solution that we believe will significantly improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of your office equipment. Specifically, we propose replacing your current fleet of 98 copiers with 25 multifunction devices that combine printing, copying, scanning, and faxing capabilities.

We have conducted a thorough analysis of your current copier usage and have found that the new devices will provide a 27% reduction in costs compared to your current expenses. This translates to a monthly savings of $116,190, or $1,394,280 per year.

In addition to these cost savings, the new multifunction devices will also bring several other benefits to your organization. They will be more reliable and require less maintenance, freeing up your IT staff to focus on other priorities. The new devices will also be more energy efficient, reducing your environmental impact and potentially qualifying you for energy rebates.

To further optimize your office equipment and reduce costs, we also propose the installation of a digital order entry and service ticketing software package. This software will streamline the process of ordering supplies and scheduling maintenance, resulting in hard cost savings of $57,000 per year and an additional $12,000 in annual labor cost savings. The total cost of this software package is $45,000.

In summary, our proposal offers the following benefits:
  • 27% reduction in copier expenses, resulting in a yearly savings of $1,394,280
  • Increased reliability and energy efficiency of office equipment
  • Streamlined supply ordering and maintenance scheduling, resulting in hard cost savings of $57,000 per year and labor cost savings of $12,000 per year
We believe that this solution will bring significant value to your organization and look forward to the opportunity to work with you. Please don't hesitate to contact us with any questions or to schedule a meeting to discuss this proposal further.

[Your Name]


2023 is the year AI eats the world.

The fire still burns
'Til the wind begins to turn
And it all begins again

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