Administrators are challenged to do more than just select the right printers for their workers. They must also optimally manage the print environment, which is prompting tech chiefs in industry and the public sector to contract with print management service providers.
Service options include complete, enterprisewide strategies, sometimes referred to as total print management, which cover the entire printing and imaging infrastructure and may also incorporate electronic document management.
This strategy optimizes infrastructures by consolidating devices for efficient printer-to-employee ratios and then adds services for automated supply replenishment, maintenance and support, as well as ongoing performance analyses to identify additional efficiency opportunities.
Basic managed print services (MPS), which also include automated supply replenishment agreements and print management best practices, offer another alternative for single workgroups or individual departments. These small-scale services can also make sense as pilot programs before undertaking a broader managed print implementation.
In both cases, the first step for better print management is typically an audit of the current environment by an MPS provider. These findings can help identify redundant or underutilized printers that an organization can easily replace with workgroup printers and MFPs.
“You tend to find when you walk into an unmanaged environment that there are hundreds of assets for printing, but they are often heavily underutilized,” says Andrew Morrison, senior vice president of MPS business at Xerox, a manufacturer of printers and an MPS provider.
Many MPS providers jumpstart assessments by using software agents to scour the network for printing and imaging hardware and to gather usage profiles for each unit. The best services augment this data with information gained by a physical walk-through of the organization to locate devices that aren’t attached to the network but are still draining the budget for consumables, power and maintenance services.
“Cost-centered data analytics help end users truly understand what they are spending on print,” Morrison says. “Then, organizations can make decisions about how to find efficiencies.”
An optimization plan should determine what legacy equipment should be refreshed with faster ppm models to eliminate queues that spring up while staff members wait for large print jobs to finish. In many cases, organizations can save money by decommissioning stand-alone units in favor of more efficient workgroup devices.
The services provider may also help clients craft printing policies that promote efficiencies and cut costs. For example, setting MFPs for two-sided duplex printing will save on paper costs. In addition, a printing policy may designate which individuals or departments are authorized to use color printers to keep these expenses to a minimum.
Finally, IT managers should push for quarterly reviews to analyze how well their provider is executing its plan to cut costs and increase efficiency in the printing environment.
The right managed print solution can also act as a foundation for long-term optimizations. For example, some IT managers work with service providers to help their organizations evolve from paper-based documents to digital files, which can use workflow applications and other business process optimization solutions to efficiently distribute, manage and store information.
“Multifunction printers are a foundational component, not only for printing but as an on-ramp for turning traditional documents into digital assets,” says Michael Weir, vice president of worldwide strategy and marketing for the LaserJet and enterprise solutions business within the HP Printing and Personal Systems Group.
“A new approach is needed to transform the way organizations manage information,” he adds. “That way, they can turn vast amounts of data into meaningful information that can easily and securely be accessed and shared across the organization.”
MPS has gained popularity as the best printing approach for large enterprises and is also becoming a staple for midsize and small organizations. “Medium and small organizations want to move away from managing a disparate print infrastructure by finding a managed service provider that can administer it under a model that accommodates the ebb and flow of normal business activities and improves the returns on their technology investments,” Morrison says.
Business drivers like these explain why industry analysts are forecasting compound annual growth rates in the high teens for MPS for the next couple of years. “MPS will continue to make headway as workflows become more complex and office print environments shift to focus more on mobile workforces,” Weir says.
When evaluating printing solutions, IT managers should also look beyond standard hardware and MFP features to consider the unique needs of their users or within their industry.
Some of the biggest industry-specific considerations relate to security. PCI Data Security Standards, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and student records regulations impact how an organization manages information.
Without the right controls, central workgroup printers and MFPs may introduce new risks. For example, when office workers leave sensitive documents unattended in an output tray or when an unauthorized employee uses a device’s scan-to-e-mail capability inappropriately.
Fortunately, the right MPS provider can help train staff about security best practices for printers and can offer advice about the proper use of technologies, such as data encryption solutions that protect files from being temporarily stored on an MFP’s internal hard drive.