Hard copy

The workhorse of every office, printers take constant abuse and are expected to keep on rolling. By neglecting the nuts and bolts of the infrastructure, however, companies can find costs spiral out of control.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  December 22, 2005

|~|PHOTO-1-Smith---BODY.jpg|~|Smith: Hardcopies still form an essential part of most organisations’ records.|~|It is often easy to take technology for granted. Digital convergence has forever changed the way business information is created, distributed, stored and retrieved, and today, it is hard to imagine a business operating without the internet or e-mail. These innovations, and many others, have become so ingrained in business operations that it is almost impossible to imagine a workplace without them. Printers, too, have become part of the fabric of the modern office. “People don’t notice the office printer until it breaks down. It’s not a glamorous piece of kit,” says Jawad Abu Farha, IT director, Juma Al Majid Group. “But when it stops working the whole business grinds to a halt.” At one time many believed that the automation of business practices made possible by new technologies would lead to the evolution of entirely paperless offices. Organisations have found, however, that this is not the case. Indeed, as Dan Smith, office product manager, distributor operations at Xerox International, points out, “The use of the internet for business purposes has led to more printing, not less. E-mail also appears to have caused a large increase in paper consumption. Hard copies of important documents still form an essential part of most organisations’ records.” Inside any organisation, there are documents that exist to make critical processes possible. These include everything from blueprints and building plans, to management reports and employee manuals, through to purchase orders and invoices — the documents without which, literally, nothing would get done. “Documents can influence a company’s productivity and its ability to generate revenue,” says Smith. “If a user ends up spending hours on the phone to the help desk trying to determine why a document didn’t print, that not only delays productivity but can also cost the organisation in terms of technical support.” Printing problems constitute a staggeringly high percentage of the calls made by employees to the IT helpdesk. Some 40% of helpdesk calls, IDC says, are to report issues of poor print quality and malfunctioning printers, and these are usually classed as low priority by IT teams. “I’m not interested in broken printers,” says one Dubai-based CIO who wishes to remain anonymous. “I have more strategic things to worry about.” ||**|||~|PHOTO-2---Maki--BODY.jpg|~|Maki: Many people still fail to recognise the additional costs incurred by printers.|~|With Gartner predicting that, over the next three years, enterprises will spend between 1% and 3% of their revenue on document output, perhaps it is time for many of the region’s CIOs to begin thinking about printing more strategically. A study by IDC says that a large site with 1000 or more employees is paying at least US$200 per employee in direct hardcopy costs alone and in light of this, Thomas Valjak, business manager, commercial value at HP imaging and printing group, believes organisations need to take printing more seriously. “I think there are a lot of companies in the region that don’t even realise what document output is costing them. Customer-facing projects tend to be the CIO’s priority, but a corporate organisation that continues to use aging, inefficient systems can find that the printers actually become a cost to the business.” One organisation that has realised this is Qatar’s Supreme Education Council, which has deployed a printing solution from Xerox to help speed up document production processes. Rather than outsourcing the production of various critical curriculum documents, the Council chose to implement the necessary production technology in-house. Five of the vendor’s DT6180 production publisher devices and two FreeFlow units were installed. Four finishing machines were also attached on-line to fold and staple the documents produced. The Council now uses the applications to produce all the examinations and associated literature for a number of schools in Qatar. The machines have proved capable of producing over 13 million pages in a little over six weeks to meet the schools’ tightly packed academic programme. According to Gartner, organisations like the Supreme Education Council, which take a strategic view of their printing solutions, can expect to save between 10% and 30% of their recurrent spending over the next two to three years. Indeed, for any company that decides to upgrade its printing practices, total cost of ownership (TCO) is the most important consideration, as Maki Nagao, printer and MFP product manager at Kyocera Mita International Sales, confirms. “TCO is relevant to all printing technologies, whether it is an inkjet printer, a laser printer, or an offset printer,” she says. “Yet the majority of users still buy devices based on the purchase price alone, when considering their available budget. Many people still fail to recognise the additional costs incurred by the devices once they are installed and in use, and the cost discrepancies between the models available.”||**|||~|PHOTO-3---Valjak-Body.jpg|~|Valjak: Consolidating multiple printing functions in an MFP can have many benefits.|~|The cost of printing goes beyond the cost to purchase printers and related devices. In fact, hardware only accounts for around 27% of the TCO for hardcopy solutions. Apart from the device itself, consumables such as cartridges will be required, service and maintenance are invariably needed, paper has to be purchased, electricity is consumed, and even the space used by the device can have a financial impact of the business. “HP calculates that the average office worker consumes between 2,000 and 5,000 pages per year, and analysts such as Gartner suggest that over the life of inkjet and laser printers, supply expenditures can total two to three times the actual cost of the printer,” says Valjak. “People don’t usually realise the figures are so high.” Typically, according to Gartner, total printing charges are underestimated by 30% to 50% by ignoring charges other than the obvious hardware, maintenance and consumable charges. “The speed of the device and its overall productivity are important factors in the value that the device delivers, and this must be matched to the user’s requirements,” says Nagao. A growing number of companies are turning to what analyst firm Gartner refers to as ‘rightsizing’ to optimise their document output fleet. For enterprises, this usually means doing away with costly and under-utilised stand-alone copiers, printers and analogue fax machines in favour of multi-function printers (MFPs). “Printers that are three years and older generally offer half the performance and twice the operational cost of new models,” says HP’s Valjak. “Because they consolidate multiple printing functions — printing, scanning, copying and faxing — in a single device, MFPs can be effectively deployed to significantly lower the number and cost of supplies, reduce service costs and enhance end-user productivity.” As corporates in the region begin to shift to more networked operations, and as the speed, capacity and capabilities of distributed printing and copying devices continues to grow, the trend towards purchasing MFPs is likely to accelerate. “Today, an enterprise printing landscape is most likely to centre around a digital multifunctional device, which can receive jobs over the network and distribute materials electronically via fax, e-mail or network file transfer,” says Abdulrahman Almoayed, product manager, Lexmark. In addition to the various printing and distribution capabilities of MFPs, these machines are also likely to have a range of onboard editing and finishing capabilities, and may print anywhere from 20 to 30 pages per minute to over 100 pages per minute. It is also likely for these printers to have full colour capabilities. “More and more businesses are shifting to digital colour systems to produce personalised, colourful materials like marketing collaterals, financial statements, catalogues, and user guides,” says Xerox’s Smith.||**|||~|PHOTO-4---Kang-BODY.jpg|~|Kang: Colour printing gives documents greater impact.|~|Xerox’s website suggests that ‘Colour makes business sense’, and Smith goes on to claim that invoices, when printed in colour, get paid 30% faster, and that sales pitches are 80% more effective when presented in colour. In short, the company strongly advocates colour laser printing as a high-impact marketing tool. Indeed, most vendors appear to agree that the future of printing belongs to colour. “PowerPoint presentations are making in-house colour printing more popular — with colour prints the graphics and charts become more attractive, and the presentation has greater impact,” confirms Stuart Kang, senior marketing manager, printer division, Samsung Middle East and Africa (MEA). The shrinking price difference between monochrome and colour laser printers has further boosted the move towards colour, and many businesses in the region have already caught on to the trend. Ease of printing is also encouraging users to experiment with colour. Vendors have put much of the creative process at the user’s fingertips with solutions that make it possible to design pages without having to master complex page-making software. Epson, for example, bundles software with their printers that lets companies make their own leaflets and other promotional material. “It contains design templates. All you have to do is to pick a template, and add a picture and text,” says Ahmed Zeidan, the vendor’s technical support manager. With this type of solution, marketing departments within companies are able to add some extra edge to their business. Take Dubai-based Thara restaurant for example. Like many restaurants, Thara offers daily specials and realised it would be impractical to have these individual dishes printed on a menu card using offset printing. Instead, Thara was able to take the process in-house by using menu templates from a CD to design the card. Once the dish of the day is prepared, a picture is taken using a digital camera and a brief description of the dish is prepared. These are then dropped into a menu template and printed out. Similarly, Al-Andalus, a used car dealership in Dubai has found that by presenting its product information more attractively it has been able to differentiate itself from competition. Salesmen at the outlet take digital photos of the cars, add in the specifications and price, and make a leaflet using a design template. This leaflet is handed over to prospective customers and this has far more impact than a handwritten note. “There is a growing realisation that things presented attractively and in colour stick in the mind,” says Zeidan, adding that Epson itself uses a similar in-house printing process for its high-end products, such as professional cameras, which sell in smaller volumes. ||**|||~||~||~|Newer, more advanced printing solutions go beyond the inclusion of features such as colour or easy-to-use design packages. They also provide practical benefits in the form of complete document management solutions. Offering greater control over content and printing privileges, such printing solutions can also help companies avoid missteps when it comes to regulatory compliance. “In nearly every industry, there are governmental and industry regulations with which businesses must comply and a complete document security solution can provide accountability through user access control,” Valjak explains. “Some printers will hold the document until an access code is supplied or an ID card is used, and this can maintain data privacy and provide a full document audit.” Vodafone Egypt, for instance, wanted to provide higher levels of security for confidential documents while at the same time reducing consumables usage. The company had found that users occasionally sent documents unknowingly to faulty queues, where the jobs waited until the printer was back online. Often this meant confidential documents could have been mistakenly picked up by any of the company’s employees. Vodafone had been handling this problem by intermittently purging print jobs left in faulty queues, but this could not be used as a long-term solution as it caused confusion, with users waiting for print jobs that never appeared. Working with HP partner, Ringdale, the mobile operator deployed 27 FollowMe controllers servicing 1,000 users with centralised FollowMe Q-Server software running in a Microsoft Windows 2000 environment. The company is now able to control, monitor and log the use of printers and secure the printing process to ensure confidentiality. “Users adapted to the system quite easily as it proved to be an extremely flexible and efficient means of securing document confidentiality,” says Yasser Tamer, systems management team leader at Vodafone Egypt. “Combined with FollowMe's accounting features, we were able to see savings of US$20,000 in paper and printer consumables within one year.” Vendors say more software programmes of this type, which can help track and control printing output, are the next big thing looming on the document management horizon. With software that can set individual print limits for users or departments, control what type of documents can be printed, and restrict colour-printing volumes, perhaps everyone will have to stop taking printers for granted.||**||

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