The ideal of the paperless office has been advanced for years. Unfortunately, the reality is that U.S. businesses have not reduced the number of pages printed per employee from what was printed in the past.
And while the merits of effective print management  are many, printers are often one of the last bastions of chaos at many businesses. Even companies that have standardized on notebook PCs, servers and storage might find themselves with numerous printer models from several different manufacturers.
Fortunately, lower prices coupled with enhanced functionality make today’s multifunction printers more value-filled than ever. In addition, the imaging capabilities of multifunction printers contribute to a workplace that is moving toward digital workflows and a paperless environment.
Today, many businesses are looking for opportunities to save money and boost productivity with better printers and print management. They are discovering savings in both dollars and staff time, as well as a reduction in carbon emissions, from taking advantage of a managed print services (MPS) program.
According to industry statistics, roughly 6 percent of a company's revenue is tied up with printing and imaging. Consequently, businesses’ renewed interest in the efficiency of printing operations has bolstered the importance of print device and fleet management tools.
According to John Johasky, vice president and general manager of HP’s Managed Enterprise Solutions, Imaging and Printing Group, “Historically, imaging and printing has not been a corporate priority due to lack of visibility of the true costs of printing.
“In many large companies, printing equipment and expenses are loosely managed and scarcely controlled,” he adds. “It’s not uncommon for an enterprise to have thousands of limited-functionality devices, rather than a smaller fleet of higher performance, cost-effective distributed multifunction and single-function printers.”
Cost was not overlooked in a 2009 survey conducted by MarketTools on behalf of printer manufacturer Lexmark. The findings show the top printer concerns among businesses are the costs related to paper usage and ink replacement as well as paper jams. The survey also indicates that the cost of print media is an issue, with small- and medium-size businesses troubled over the increasing cost of paper.
"Most companies are not aware of the true cost of managing their imaging and printing environment," writes Mike Feldman, vice president and general manager of Managed Enterprise Solutions, Imaging and Printing Group Americas at HP, in a post to the firm’s Enterprise Printing Blog. "Studies show that as much as 90 percent of an enterprise’s total printing expenses may be invisible or uncontrolled."
There are plenty of approaches — strategies, products and services — that a business can use to get its arms around this infrastructure. The first step is getting a handle on what the company owns.
Businesses should start with a formal audit or discovery process that documents every printer, copier and fax machine in use, capturing as much relevant information as possible. This process also entails analyzing and documenting current usage patterns to understand where inefficiencies exist and what improvements can be made.
“The first step is for firms to find a vendor that can assess the current status of document output,” explains Marlene Orr, senior printer analyst at the consulting firm Buyers Lab. This includes the number and type of devices, placement of devices and average use.
Using this information, she says, a vendor can help balance the deployment of printers and multifunction devices. This can potentially remove desktop inkjet printers, which typically have a high cost per page, while placing a smaller number of network workgroup multifunction printers and devices in the department.
As a general rule, Orr recommends companies seek opportunities to replace older devices. In addition to being more efficient and offering additional features, newer, more reliable devices don’t break down and need servicing as often.
MFPs are here to stay. They provide a single connection between the digital world and the paper world. By combining printing, scanning, faxing and copying capabilities, they are designed to have input, output, receipt and delivery systems in a single device.
Some MFP devices also offer “scan-to-print” and “scan-to-e-mail” capabilities. These are ideal for the environmentally aware workplace.
MFPs are available in models that produce color output as well as black and white. And many that output only black-and-white print can still scan and send faxes in color.
As more functions and features are built into increasingly more compact chassis, "you can fit them into a wider variety of workspaces, from small to large businesses,” says Jeff Schaus, manager of channel business development and sales programs at HP. “IT can also give them to a variety of departments and users, so they can use the right printer for the job."
According to the experts, optimization and consolidation efforts are likely to bring the IT organization more directly into the mix of the printing/imaging infrastructure. And that involvement should automatically bring a higher level of control.
What’s more, now that companies are moving toward fully multifunctional devices, IT is seeing opportunities to consolidate printers where possible with faxes and stand-alone copiers — decisions that weren’t made by IT in the past.
IT must become involved, too, as additional devices are brought onto the network and companies recognize the importance of securing their imaging capabilities, says Steven Pacella, director, digital office U.S. at Lexmark International. “Now that multifunction printers are on the network, IT is taking a more active role in management,” he says.
Depending on the model, new MFPs may also offer duplexing or the ability to automatically copy/scan or print both sides of a sheet of paper. "Encouraging the use of auto-duplexing output can help reduce paper consumption by up to 50 percent," says Danielle Mondo, specialist, product marketing, Canon USA.
Today's MFPs all include built-in Ethernet networking. Some also include Wi-Fi 802.11 wireless networking capabilities. This allows the device to be deployed in places where LAN cabling doesn't reach, for greater employee convenience.
Networked MFPs also offer better security. "With many new government regulations now in effect, secure and confidential printing for all users is a must in today's business climate," Mondo says. User authentication can ensure that sensitive information is printed only when the user is at the machine, and it can also be used to track usage and restrict access to color output.
There's one helpful MFP feature that a company may want that often is not available on lower-end machines. Devices that cost below $1,000 to $1,500 typically can only do one task at a time. For example, a user can't scan one document while printing another. However, MFPs that cost $1,500 or more often allow this capability, or allow for interrupting a large print job to do a quick copy or scan, resuming the print job where it left off.
Consolidating and standardizing a fleet of printers, copiers and single-function machines automatically bring many benefits — for example, reducing the number of different consumables, such as ink cartridges, that a company needs to have in stock.
High-capacity, larger-than-desktop machines with high-capacity cartridges typically yield a significantly better cost per page for these consumables. In addition, reducing the total number of machines means a smaller "footprint" in floor or table space, fewer idling machines (and less wasted energy), and fewer service contracts.
Multifunction printers, and the device consolidation they allow, offer a number of ways for companies to get a better handle on their printing and imaging gear and activity while controlling or reducing overall costs. But this may still leave IT responsible for a fleet of devices.
For this, companies are turning to managed print services, which unifies management of device fleets and can be considered a form of outsourcing, in which some or all of the fleet is managed through a third party.
Managed print services, like other IT and non-IT managed services, offer companies a way to turn an often hard-to-wrangle aspect of running a business into a problem solved. Such services help manage the volume of documents moving through the organization while minimizing costs of printing, sharing and updating devices.
"[Managed print services] can be something as simple as coordinating disparate users, providing supplies, hardware and break/fix bundled together for a monthly fee,” says Donna Waida, marketing director at HP. “It can also offer full-blown document and workflow services, fleet management, training users, customized procurement and finances, and ongoing asset management."
By going to a managed print service, "it's not uncommon to save 5 percent to 10 percent on a firm’s printing budget," says Shell Haffner, worldwide solid-ink product manager for Xerox. "It’s no longer just about printing for less, but also about the contributions to business process and productivity."