The future of printing: Are we facing a paperless world?

23 Sep 2021

Image: © jannoon028/

HP Inc’s Gary Tierney discusses the printing industry and how it needs to evolve in the world of digital transformation.

The rapid evolution of technology can often mean the death of items that were once considered necessities.

Telegraphs were replaced with telephones, which have evolved into the smartphones most of us have now; CDs replaced cassette tapes and now we have music streaming sites; and typewriters have mostly been replaced by word processors on modern computers – though I have to admit that I do have a typewriter.

These evolutions often leave us wondering what might become obsolete next. And while plenty of products have been sent into retirement, many others continue to stand the test of time alongside their perceived adversaries.

Television never did replace radio and, despite the exhaustive list of ways to instantly message one another, email remains a pillar of the working world.

But what about the humble printer? In a world that is becoming increasingly paperless as digital transformation accelerates, what does the future hold for printing?

‘While we are seeing an incremental shift towards a paperless world, there will always be a need for printing’

For a start, digital transformation has actually helped printers to evolve in their own way. Gary Tierney, who leads the HP Print category business for the UK and Ireland, said the evolution of the print industry is largely down to the rise of the digital tech that supports a more connected world.

“We now have access to cloud-based ecosystems that can connect any internet-enabled device, enabling on-demand printing at any time, anywhere – all at the touch of a button, which is really quite remarkable.”

The challenges facing the printing industry

Tierney said that one of the biggest challenges facing the printing industry is around sustainability and the perception of print as an unsustainable practice.

“For a long time, the printing industry has been negatively associated with waste – be it paper, ink or money. However, as technology advances, so too have the print solutions that are available on the market today,” he said.

“Another challenge is security. The pandemic has blurred the lines between our personal and professional lives and, as a result, more people are using their work devices for personal tasks and using personal devices for work tasks.

“Against this backdrop, there has also been an increase in phishing attacks as people spend more time streaming content online. Cybercriminals are targeting print infrastructure, and as a result endpoint security has become more important than ever before.”

According to a 2019 Quocirca report on print security, 59pc of businesses in the UK, US and Europe experienced a print-related breach in the previous year. Last year, a team of researchers from CyberNews hacked thousands of vulnerable printers to highlight the danger of unprotected devices.

With this in mind, Tierney said looking at how print technology can be offered in a more secure and sustainable way is key for the industry.

“We need to address the increasing need for comprehensive endpoint infrastructure and protection, which includes printers,” he said.

As for print becoming obsolete, Tierney is not concerned. “As a result of the pandemic, many years’ worth of digital transformation has happened in a matter of months. Most people have, to some degree, experienced the benefits of the remote office. This has had a positive impact on the way we live and work, and the demand for printing is high as millions of people continue to learn and work from home,” he said.

“The physical reading experience is still valuable to consumers, and studies have shown that people, particularly students, absorb information better when engaged with physical material. So, while we are seeing an incremental shift towards a paperless world, particularly when it comes to bank statements and utility bills, there will always be a need for printing and print services.”

As for what the future holds for the printing industry, Tierney said the work-from-home era will boost the need for secure, productive printers.

“In addition to the need for cloud-based solutions and convenient subscriptions, consumers will continue to rely on mobile ubiquity. Printing solutions that are powered by mobile apps to promote seamless device management will become the norm as people seek out greater convenience and flexibility.”

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic