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Issue of September 2003 

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Tech Update: Printing in the Enterprise

Printing becomes more relevant

With the advent of the Internet in the early 1990s came the concept of a ‘paperless’ office. But, as organizations all over the world realized soon enough, the Internet has only increased printing needs in the enterprise. When it comes to the Indian enterprise, printing now plays a very important role with increased focus on cost savings, efficiency, and high availability. by Anil Patrick R

"A discipline needs to be inculcated for collecting printouts from the network printer as soon as they are fired. This helps in maintaining confidentiality/privacy as well as keep the printer desks clean and reduce paper wastage" — Nilesh Sangoi, Manager (IT), Star India.

Nobody talks about the paperless office anymore. In fact, the need for print-outs or hard copy has increased due to widespread electronic communication (email) and increased digitization of documents. Email is now the official means of communication and most enterprises use it for intra-office memos or business correspondence. Printing of email itself brings into the picture a big need for Printers. Add to this the need to print Web pages, presentations, documentation, official letters, account statements, charts, etc.

It can be clearly seen that the requirement for hard copies of documents is very high in an enterprise's interdisciplinary activities. For instance, printing plays an important part in the collaborative work environment at Kvaerner Powergas India.

"Need for quality printing of drawings and documents is an ever-increasing need in the entire project lifecycle. This is also the requirement in the case of collaborative work for virtual office environments," says Ashok Adhikary, General Manager IT/CIE, Kvaerner Powergas India.

Fast and reliable delivery of output is essential for success in today's digital environment. This is where printing still plays an important role, as an interface between a 'soft copy' and a 'hard copy.' With increased requirements, management, and maintenance issues have also increased.

Yes, printers have come a long way in terms of cost effectiveness, capability, features, and maintenance over the years. But, the reality remains that printing is still not the trouble free affair that vendor advertisements portray it to be. There is much more to the picture when it comes to printing in the enterprise. So what do you need to be aware of when it comes to printing?

Print 'policy'ing

Printing is not as simple as sprinkling a couple of printers across your network. Nor does it mean dotting your organization with stand-alone printers for all and sundry. It is crucial to have a printing policy in place, which uses accurate processes and methodology. This can save a lot of valuable money and time (In terms of lesser maintenance/management issues). Let us see how this can be achieved.

First on the anvil is to have a precise idea of your printing requirements. Many organizations end up buying either too less or too much. Defining user access rights to a printer is crucial when doing the evaluation process. This is similar to how different users are assigned different levels of network access. It will help in clearly defining what you need and what you don't.

"Top officials like managers and executives may not prefer running around for printouts. Stand-alone printers can be assigned to them. Network printers can be provided for other users in sales, marketing, accounts etc," says Meheriar Patel, Senior Manager (IT), Jetair. For example, in the case of a logistics team, it makes more sense to have one or two shared high-capacity network printers than several low capacity stand-alone printers.

Another example to emphasize the need for clear evaluation is that printers crash too often as they cannot handle the heavy workload. If printing requirements had been accurately calculated, a higher capacity printer would have satisfied the needs perfectly. Although the initial cost would have been slightly higher, the printer would have given lower maintenance costs (and lesser headaches!) over the years. Having properly documented need evaluation mechanisms for this will help prevent such problems.

Next on the agenda is to ensure privacy of printed documents. In fact, there is a corporate joke on the Internet that says, 'Hang around near the printer and you'll soon know what the company is up to.'

Many organizations do not comprehend the seriousness of how much vital company information can be lost by unwanted people seeing critical printouts. This is where education of users plays a major part.

"A discipline needs to be inculcated for collecting printouts from the network printer as soon as they are fired. This helps in maintaining confidentiality/privacy as well as keep the printer desks clean and reduce paper wastage," says Nilesh Sangoi, Manager (IT), Star India. Inclusion of proper printer usage education along with this will also help save the support team from many a headache.

Another way of securing confidential documents is to have standalone printers or use a print room. "Sensitive and confidential document printing is carried out in a stand-alone printer in a specific secured area of operation," says Ashok Adhikary. These days, organizations prefer using stand-alones due to their higher security levels for this purpose.

Lastly, it is necessary to define a policy that states what is right and what isn't. It is necessary to be clear that usage of printers only for official use occurs. For example, using the printer for personal print-outs should not be encouraged.

Maintenance, the right way

For most organizations, printer management and maintenance usually represents a very sunny scenario. In fact, most enterprises follow the 'buy it, install it, forget it' policy in terms of printers. After all, why tinker with it as long as it works?

Once printers are in place, they are usually neglected till they fail. The problem can be as simple as an empty toner cartridge or as complex as printer replacement. Periodic checks and maintenance can go a long way in avoiding such situations. As mentioned earlier, user education can also help especially for the correct usage of printers.

Outsourcing of printer maintenance is a good idea. Especially if you don't have a helpdesk, or don't want them to spare a dedicated support person for this purpose. Standardization of printers across the network is also a good way of reducing maintenance costs.

"Outsourcing of maintenance contracts and usage of similar type of printers across the organization are ways used for reducing inventory of consumable and spare parts," says Ashok Adhikary.

Cost issues

Let us start with the most important parameter today—cost. The question is how exactly do you monitor and measure the costs of printing?

Vendors give you TCO and ROI figures that look good only on paper. The scene is a bit different when it comes to practice. Make sure you consider the following factors. Doing this will also help you get a fix on the ideal printer(s) for your organization's needs. (See Box: Time for returns for more details on ROI).

There are two parts to the equation when measuring and evaluating TCO involved in printing. TCO is a sum of the acquisition cost and running costs of the printer over a certain period.

"There are two components which are key in determining TCO of a printer. They are cost of purchasing the equipment and running costs calculated over a certain time period," says Meheriar Patel.

Usually, acquisition cost of a printer is the only factor considered by most organizations while evaluating before buying. Operational costs (mainly cost of consumables) is the next crucial parameter. Often operational costs can exceed the cost of the printer during its life. 'Wear parts' are not added in the list of consumables or the warranty. These are parts like transfer drums, rollers, etc. It is necessary that the calculation includes such costs.

Next in line comes support costs. This will include AMCs. If support and maintenance is being done in-house, that cost has to be factored in. Intangibles involved in calculating TCO also include how much loss occurs due to downtime. This should include both monetary losses and those such as level of criticality of the printer. Ratio of printers to users is the next important factor to be considered.

The more the printers, higher will be the costs.

It should also consider losses such as lack of productivity. This is a very organization-specific parameter. (See Box below: Savings make a difference for some of the common cost savings on print.)

Time for returns

ROI is usually a neglected factor in the case of printers. One of the major reasons behind this being that TCO makes more sense for a printer than actual ROI. While vendors do use ROI figures and measurement tools, these are more promotional in nature than of actual use.

Printers are an essential part of today's networks. So is it necessary to calculate ROI? Organizations differ on this. One school of thought is in favor of calculation of actual ROI, while the other insists that it's not necessary. The argument against ROI calculations is that they are an absolute must. ROI calculations tend to be very organization specific.

"The ROI and payback period is calculated against in-house ownership and leased systems. The depreciation, direct and indirect cost, consumables, maintenance, etc are taken into account," says Ashok Adhikary. Many organizations use their own methods of calculating print ROI.

Some of the most common users of print ROI are organizations such as telecom and banking. These organizations make use of very large-scale printing and need to have proper ROI methods in place. One of the standard methods used to calculate print ROI is the Net Present Value (NPV) method.

Savings make a difference

By minimizing the number of printer configurations, an organization can drive down many of the hidden costs associated with printing. Consider consolidating all paper-related functions: printing, copying, and faxing, with multifunctional devices.

All efforts should be made to save recurring costs by saving toner/ink, paper and power, since running costs are often higher than purchase cost. Using high-yield toner cartridges goes a long way in this direction. Toner can be saved by configuring PCs for default print in economy mode (lower resolution), advising users not to print presentations with dark backgrounds, etc. Power can be saved by configuring printers to go into power save mode after 15 minutes of inactivity. Make sure that the printer is switched off when the last person leaves the office at night.

Encourage duplexing and multi-up printing to save on toner and paper costs, as well as savings on printer wear and tear. If users make it a habit to do a print preview for excel sheets before shooting a print (and also confirm paper size), it can save a lot of paper wastage.

Anil Patrick can be reached at

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