Because a contract for managed print services  covers so many areas - from simple replenishment of supplies to a full-blown audit of the printing environment - IT managers need to carefully evaluate the expertise of potential providers to find the best fit for the organization.
“The first thing an end user needs to do is find an impartial services provider that doesn't have a bias toward a particular manufacturer,” says Mike Cohen, vice president of sales for Brother International, a manufacturer of printers and multifunction print devices (MFPs). “Ask the printer-agnostic reseller to come in and evaluate what you have and take a look at how you can optimize your printing. In fact, I would have more than one person come in just because everybody has a slightly different approach to managed print services.”
Next, evaluate the service provider's capabilities for performing thorough and accurate audits of the existing printing and imaging infrastructure. Ask for examples of reports the provider created that use audit numbers to flag opportunities for decommissioning and consolidating equipment.
The optimization plan should determine what legacy equipment should be refreshed with faster page-per-minute models; these can boost productivity by eliminating queues that spring up while staff members wait for large print jobs to finish. But while some equipment replacement may be necessary, be wary of a managed services provider that recommends a costly rip-and-replace solution, experts say.
Instead, a consultant may be able to suggest how an existing but still reliable printer that is being replaced by a workgroup MFP can offer a performance improvement for a finance manager who needs a dedicated unit for privacy or security reasons.
In addition to rightsizing hardware, the managed print services approach may save money by consolidating related contracts. For example, the organization might be coming to the end of an expensive lease for an outdated copier that can be replaced by a modern MFP. In some cases, older copier contracts include cost penalties that kick in when output volumes stretch over the contracted rate. Other “gotchas” include charges for a full-color page when the only color on a document is a URL highlighted in blue.
The services provider may also help clients craft printing policies that promote cost cutting and efficiency. For example, setting MFPs for two-sided duplex printing will save on paper costs. In addition, a printing policy might designate which individuals or departments are authorized to use color printers to keep consumable expenses to a minimum.
Security expertise is another factor to consider. Central printers and MFPs assigned to workgroups may be more efficient than stand-alone units. But they increase the risk that a document with sensitive information is left in an output tray or that an unauthorized employee uses a device's scan-to-mail capabilities inappropriately.
The right service provider can help IT managers instruct users about security best practices for printing environments, as well as advise organizations about useful technologies, such as data encryption solutions that protect files being temporarily stored on an MFP's internal hard drive.
Finally, IT managers should push for quarterly reviews to analyze how well the provider is executing its plan to cut costs and increase efficiency in the printing environment, Iburg recommends.