By Anil Jagpal, European Marketing Manager at i-SENSYS, Canon Europe

Last year, almost 500,000 new businesses were founded in the UK. More than 15,000 were set up in London’s tech city alone, many of which are building their tech-centric business models around mobile apps, cloud computing, social media and eCommerce. This makes the UK a sweet spot for young technology businesses that want to market to early adopters and grow internationally.

Outlining its vision for the British ‘information economy’, the UK government recently identified five areas that are most likely to provide real growth opportunities and stimulate digital growth in the UK: cloud computing, big data, eCommerce, the internet of things and smart cities. Cloud computing, for example, has helped 62 per cent of UK start-ups to get off the ground and scale as their business grew, while it enabled between 25 and 75 per cent to increase profits.

Although these small businesses increasingly operate in a digital world and process information electronically, paper documents still play a crucial role on a daily basis. Our Office Insights Report revealed that a staggering 98 per cent of respondents consider document handling as important to their organisation as a whole. It has also shown that paper documents are especially important for marketing and auditing purposes, and for providing customers with high-quality proposals and reports — very few organisations (even progressive, digital businesses) actually see value in a totally ‘paperless’ office.

Many small businesses therefore rely on one or more devices to process paper documents in the office. They might be using a scanner to digitise, a photocopier to duplicate and a printer. But is this the most efficient way to manage paper within the office? Leaving a photocopier on overnight alone uses enough energy to print over 5,000 A4 copies; and using several “stand-alone” office devices can escalate operating and maintenance costs, heavily reducing the income small businesses rely on.

What’s important for small businesses trying to differentiate themselves in an increasingly crowded digital economy is to be able to focus on their core business offering and trust in their office technology to work hard and efficiently for them. Many don’t realise that the humble office printer, previously only tasked with simple print jobs, has developed into a networked communication hub, able to propel the productivity of a workforce and bring simplicity to the business. These modern multi-functional devices (MFDs) consolidate all the features of separate, stand-alone devices into one single unit that fulfils different document management functions including printing, scanning, copying and faxing.

The need for productive office space and technology is driving many digital businesses to shared working environments such as London’s TechHub. In places like these, MFDs not only offer better energy efficiency and a smaller footprint compared to operating multiple individual devices. In collaborative working hubs, they are also connected to an organisation’s network, to the cloud and to the mobile devices of the workforce, meaning that employees are able to scan, print, access and manage documents quicker and on the move — which provides small businesses with the flexibility and mobility they require during their crucial first years. What’s more, MFDs are frequently a front-line sales and marketing tool, and many organisations rely on them to produce high-quality marketing materials, personalised reports or professional looking estimates, which can reduce reliance on third-party providers.

Even the most progressive, digital small businesses need to process paper documents and this need is not going anywhere despite the increase in online services. While stand-alone printers are still important for organisations that need to support one dedicated office function, the need for multiple single-function devices has been superseded by today’s technology. For businesses that truly want to stand out in today’s digital world it’s more important than ever that they are free to focus on what they do best. MFDs can play a crucial role in ensuring that small businesses can trust their working environments to deliver all the benefits they need, allowing them to focus on what’s really important: growing.