Deciding when to upgrade the office printer is difficult. Most printers are so well made that, if properly maintained, they last long beyond the three-year replacement cycle typical for PCs.
"The fact that our old printers still work is part of the problem," admits Dan Torrey, systems administrator for Finis, which manufactures swimwear and supplies in Livermore, Calif. Torrey is evaluating a printer upgrade for his 30-person office. Instinct tells him it is time to replace the machines.Yet building a compelling upgrade business case for management is difficult when most of the printers function perfectly.
To build his business case, Torrey is looking at both hard and soft ROI (return on investment). Hard ROI is easy to measure. It is a function of print speed (pages per minute or PPM), print volume, the cost of maintenance and the cost of consumables. But soft ROI is more difficult. "For instance, if we put a personal printer/fax at each desk, how much more efficient will each employee become? Will that improve the security of confidential documents? How much productivity do we buy if we double our pages per minute?"
Considerations like these are a major challenge for cost-conscious small-business owners. In fact, 13 percent of small- and medium-sized businesses' information technology budgets (not including salaries, contractor costs and service fees) is allocated to printers and other imaging devices, according to the Yankee Group, a Boston-based research firm. For companies with 20 to 99 employees, that amounts to an average of $175,000 a year. "That's a sizeable portion of the budget, and we think it's why 42 percent of these businesses identify optimization of their existing technology assets as a major business challenge," says Chris Liebert, a senior analyst at Yankee Group.
Standardization helps reduce complexity at OnCall Interactive, a 50-person e-learning consultancy with offices in San Francisco and Chicago. "We've standardized our printer pool with one manufacturer," says David Lowrie, vice president of new product development. "All the printers have a common set of drivers and consumables. That makes replacement and administration cheaper and easier."
When it came to upgrades, Lowrie initially was concerned about the complexity and expense of switching to color printers for brochures and proposals. But he discovered the soft ROI was fairly simple. "We know we're spending more on color versus black-and-white printing, but we also know that the added expense of upgrading is minor when everything we send to potential clients looks a thousand times better."
Companies with heavy printing demands rely on regular upgrade cycles. Pat Harris, IT asset coordinator with Gardner Carton & Douglas, a 250-attorney law firm with offices in the District of Columbia, Illinois, New York and Wisconsin, replaces printers on average every five years.
The firm cycles out old printers and moves functional (but slow) printers to workstations with lower printing volume. "Our philosophy," says Harris, "is that printing is only expensive if you can't do it."