The printer has long been an integral part of the office workflow, but it’s now expected to do a lot more than simply print. The best multifunction printers (MFPs) - also known as smart workplace assistants - connect to cloud storage, work with smartphones and tablets, allow custom user interfaces and software, and much more.

As companies continue to digitise, those features have gone from enviable luxuries to absolute necessities.

It’s no longer enough to print a document from a desktop PC - employees need to be able to print directly from their personal phones or tablets, or scan documents and have them automatically moved to the same cloud storage as the rest of their files - and even scan those documents using their own phone cameras.

Thoughtful use of features like these can help a company of any size avoid some of the biggest pain points that emerge from taking old, paper-based processes and trying to transpose them to the digital, cloud-based world.

Manual processes such as entering data from one media - such as a physical document or an email - to another - e.g. the internal ordering system - can lead to errors and delays or leave businesses with duplicate documents causing further confusion. With a workplace assistant these incoming documents can be automatically stored in the cloud, making them easy to access and work with from another device.

By making it easy to print documents from any device, a multifunction printer not only reduces the steps to printing, drastically improving workplace productivity and streamlining workflows, but also allows companies to save money by supporting bring-your-own-device policies. If employees can use their personal phones, tablets and laptops as part of their normal workflow they’re then free to print documents or send files from meetings without the need to wait until they’re back at their desk.

That’s not even mentioning the need to manage security and data protection through a variety of processes from beginning to end, while ensuring that they meet national and potentially international regulations. Physical documents can be a particular pain point for some companies, and a workplace assistant can help - for example, restricting the ability to print faxes or documents to their intended recipients, to avoid them sitting visible in a print tray from the moment they’re received.

There are plenty of companies that make multifunction printers, but the ConnectKey range of workplace assistants stands out for a few reasons.

First, Xerox has made the smart decision to use a consistent touchscreen user interface across the entire line. That not only means users should find the interface familiar and easy to get to grips with, but it also makes Xerox the ideal choice for large or growing businesses where multiple devices may be in use across the organisation. Simply put, any employee who learns how to use one printer in the range will also be able to use any of the others, even if they have different feature sets.

This is enhanced even further by the addition of built-in apps - ranging from support for familiar tools like Dropbox, Google Drive and Office 365 all the way up to customisable apps tailored to a company’s specific workflow, and targeted to remove the biggest inefficiencies.

Those custom apps are one of several ways Xerox will help customers identify where improvements can be made to their business processes and show how a workplace assistant and associated technologies can help. Xerox works with its customers by first understanding their business processes fully and helping them identify areas for improvement, then applying technology to help them reach their business goals, whatever they may be – cost cutting, increasing productivity, expansion into new areas, or more.

That includes helping figure out which devices from the expansive Xerox ConnectKey range are the best fit for any given company’s specific needs. With the ConnectKey suite covering everything from A4 printers designed for small teams and individuals right up to A3 models capable of handling very high print volumes, there is a model to cover most needs.

The Xerox VersaLink C405 colour multifunction printer is a great starting point for most - it’s got a full bevy of smart workplace assistant features, with a touchscreen interface, prints in A4 at up to 35ppm, and has a large capacity of up to 700 sheets, so you won’t be stuck constantly refilling the paper tray.

With prices from £449.99 (excl. VAT) it sits in the middle of the Xerox range, so there’s plenty of scope to look at similar models if you know you need one that can handle A3 paper or want to save money by picking up the printer version.