HP Inc. is the only company with significant positions on both PCs and printers; it dominates the printer market and is ranked second in PCs. Even though it looked like it was initially set up to fail, apparently, the executive staff didn’t get that memo and on most financial metrics, it is growing. This is in sharp contrast to the beliefs that both PCs and printers are failing. There were two initial causes for this belief. The iPad and similar tablets initially seemed to be a smartphone kind of revolution and were going to take over the world from PCs and printers, and the related drop in support for both categories of products and the massive flip to digital media over print.
However, the primary driver of the PC collapse and the contributing driver of print collapse, tablets, have not risen to expectations. Apple, the lead market maker in the category, has recently flipped from an emerging market strategy to a cash cow strategy with its latest reduced-price iPad offering, suggesting it now believes that tablets are on life support. (Apple is rumored to be working on an iOS-based MacBook.) The HP Inc. results and Apple’s latest moves support the counter argument that, while not yet growing at emerging speeds, PCs and printer segments are getting healthier and that strategies based on their expected demise are no longer founded in fact but on fake news. In short, I’m saying that the demise of PCs and printers is effectively no longer true and that making decisions on fake news is dangerous.
Let’s get to specifics.
I think printers represent the bigger problem, but not by much, so I’ll start with this category. Over the years, printers have gained significant new capabilities in terms of speed and remote access. To get there, they have been given storage and networking technology early on, but changes to actually secure them came far later in their life cycles. In addition, because firms lived under the false concept of a “paperless office” since the 1990s, ironically initially during times when the printer supply business was often growing in double digits, and in a razor-blade market where printers were often sold at or below cost, investment in printers was often tied to printer failure and not technical obsolesces (particularly with regard to security).
The end result is that most companies are peppered with these things, still under at least moderate use, yet the protections over them are just as often woefully inadequate. In an IoT world, printers were, and likely remain, the most prevalent IoT devices in the firm and the most likely avenue for either a network or data breach. Now, in some cases, this exposure can be mitigated by simply restricting and tracking access, removing the default passwords (or putting in password control in the first place), and ensuring the hard drives are destroyed when the printers are scrapped or sold.
Ideally, they should be wrapped with security and, I doubt it would surprise you that HP Inc. is the leader in securing printers, particularly the ones it makes. But, whatever you use, these things aren’t going away until there is a fully viable replacement for printed documents and, with the decline in tablets, we are currently drifting away from, not toward, the paperless office at the moment.
PCs aren’t going away either and the PC vendors at the top are showing growth again. This is tightly tied to the collapse of tablets and the continued need for employees to have a fully capable tool to work from. But with PCs, there is also a new security problem that, if not addressed, could cause our employees and the industry to obsolete existing machines or PCs altogether if it isn’t addressed in a timely manner. I’ll get to that in a later post.
Since money is flowing back into PC marketing and products, the entire “PC is dead” meme seems to have dropped off the planet. However, the behaviors that flipped from updating these things and assuring they are secure to seemingly pretending they would vanish as security problems soon apparently haven’t changed. A good example was the U.S. Secret Service laptop that was stolen and not adequately secured.
Advancements in laptop security have been pronounced, ranging from privacy screens that prevent passengers in adjoining seats on busses, planes or common areas from seeing what is on the screens to technology that aggressively encrypts the data, biometrically assures the user, can be remotely wiped, and even one drive that can self-destruct to prevent compromise.
Wrapping Up: PCs and Printers Aren’t Going Away and Must Be Secured
Not only aren’t PCs and printers going away, both are experiencing a bit of a resurgence. This means our focus on assuring that they don’t become security problems needs to be updated along with our belief that these problems will somehow be self-correcting. Printers in particular need to be wrapped with security because they not only can be a conduit out of the company for confidential information but they can be a pipeline into the network, bypassing firewalls if not adequately secured.
PCs continue to be a security problem largely because they aren’t being updated in a timely way, the security technology available to secure them is either not being specified or turned on, or because employees aren’t being trained to properly protect them. Given that neither platform is going away, I’m suggesting you update your practices to take into account the new risks and make sure our folks are safe in what is becoming an ever more hostile world.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+