Tech Update: Printing in the Enterprise
New horizons in Printing
Printers have evolved from mammoth noisy devices in special
print rooms to compact laser printers with wireless technology, or multifunctional
devices. Here's an update on printing technology. by Anil Patrick R
|"The advantages of a distributed print environment
are increased productivity of employees and a decrease in the total cost
of printing" — P. G. Kamath, General Manager, Lexmark India
The concept of printing in the enterprise has undergone
a major paradigm shift in the last couple of years. One of the major reasons
behind this is rapid growth in the area of printing technology. This has created
a scenario where printers have evolved much beyond their basic printing function.
Rapid technology advances, reduced costs,
color printing, ever increasing number of functions—the list of options is getting
bigger and bigger with each passing day.
This is making the number of available
printing options more lucrative. It also means that organizations are adopting
newer methods of printing.
For example, one of the major trends seen
today is that businesses are now moving away from centralized print rooms to
a distributed print environment, based around the requirements of workgroups.
"The advantages of a distributed print
environment are increased productivity of employees and a decrease in the total
cost of printing," says P.G. Kamath, General Manager, Lexmark India. This has
brought into the picture devices such as multifunctional devices (MFD) for these
groups. Let us now have a look at some of the other trends happening when it
comes to printing in the enterprise.
The digital age
A major factor in the positioning change
of printing has been the shift from analog to digital printing methods. Digital
imaging has helped bring down the costs associated with color printing. These
methods also paved the way for increased adoption of MFDs (more on MFDs later
in this story).
The transition of printers from being just
an 'accessory' to a 'necessity' has been very rapid after this. If we examine
the printing products available today, it can be seen that printing speeds,
costs, and functionality have all increased. Print quality has also improved
Increased printing speed has been possible
due to higher processing power and faster data transfer speeds. Faster data
transfer is made possible using connections such as USB (stand-alone printers)
and RJ-45 (network printers). Increased spooling memory in printers has also
helped increase productivity levels. Earlier, big print jobs usually meant lost
data or long waits. Nowadays most network printers have large spool memories
to avoid such issues.
Printers have also become more intelligent
when it comes to maintenance, with self-diagnostic features. Printers have also
become wireless, meaning they can be quickly relocated as long as they are within
range of an access point. (See Box below: A mind of its own to learn more
about these features)
Previous issues with network printers,
such as lack of document security have also been resolved. Confidential print-outs
need not lie around near the printer for other eyes. Features such as separate
mailboxes with passwords ensure that print-outs reach only the right hands.
These printers allow users to set up accounts on them.
Print-outs can be retrieved only when the
user enters his/her password. This can help a lot in reducing the number of
One of the biggest advantages in getting
a printer today are rapidly decreasing hardware and printing costs. With hardware
prices expected to fall even further, the going can only get better for organizations
looking for printing solutions.
An interesting point to note here is that
a printing product with a high acquisition cost does not necessarily equate
to high operating costs. In earlier days, the growth of printing technology
happened at very sluggish rates, and expensive products usually meant higher
operating/maintenance costs. Improved technology levels have ensured that these
products might have lesser operational costs than a cheaper printer using outdated
technology for the same printing load. So the initial additional cost for newer
technology and more functionality will be worth it in the long run, especially
for network printers.
"Network printers can make all the difference
in the bottom line of a large corporate that uses a mix of inkjets and personal
lasers; the savings on operational and maintenance costs can be several lakh
rupees. Network printers offer up to 40 percent lower cost per page vs. personal
lasers," says Princy Bhatnagar, National Head - Solution Sales, Samsung India
(IT & Telecom Division). Today's printer cartridges have much higher yields
and therefore lower costs. It also means that parameters such as running costs
and TCO have also come down. ROI levels have gone up.
Several software tools are available from
most of the printing vendors to calculate ROI and TCO. These tools can help
calculate the savings that have been made. For example, there are software tools
available that can track costs using parameters such as user-wise, group-wise,
month-wise, etc. Some can even do a comparison with the previous printer being
used and provide information on how much has been saved. Most of these software
tools come free of cost with the printer. However, it might be worth paying
for software with tracking tools.
Features such as duplexing capabilities
help bring down printing costs even further. Many network printers also offer
features such as stapling, hole punching, etc. These can help businesses increase
productivity levels by doing such functions in-house instead of outsourcing
Vendors also offer loyalty upgrades for
existing customers. This enables existing customers to upgrade to the latest
models, as these become available. Exchange programs are also available. Such
schemes help organizations exchange their existing legacy devices irrespective
of their make, for new ones.
Coloring up with lasers
Another trend happening now is increased
adoption of laser printers for network printing in the enterprise. Samir Shah,
Country Category Manager, Shared Printing & Lasers, IPG, HP India, feels
that this can be attributed to the increased affordability of the technology.
"More affordable laser printing has led
to users becoming more aware of the technology and adopting it," says Samir
Color printing is also taking off well
in the enterprise segment. A major reason behind its increasing acceptance is
the added business value that color printing provides. 'Businesses can now afford
to have color printing capability in-house, saving money on trips to the local
color copy shop, as well as saving employees time—plus providing the added benefit
of allowing businesses to more easily tailor documents to specific needs,' says
P. G. Kamath.
Today, the price margin between a color
printer and a monochrome is very less.
"Color laser printing is becoming very
affordable, and laser printers are moving from boring looks to very stylish
designs," says Princy Bhatnagar. With all these considerations, enterprises
have more reasons to adopt these printers.
|"More affordable laser printing has led to users becoming
more aware of the technology and adopting it" — Samir Shah, Country Category
Manager, IPG, HP India
Another case in point when it comes to
printing trends is the inclusion of more functionality in printing devices at
lesser costs. A typical MFD offers features like scanning, copying, fax, emailing
documents etc. These capabilities aren't new, but the difference lies in how
the new MFDs function.
In fact, MFDs have been around for awhile.
However, the first generation of MFDs tended to be specialized devices with
a few extra functions thrown in. One function would be really useful, while
the others were deficient in some way. In fact, the first MFDs were regarded
more as fax machines rather than scanners or a printers. They were capable of
scanning/printing, though not effectively.
However, MFDs have evolved from being just
faxing/printing devices to multifunctional communication hubs. Add to this advanced
capabilities such as faster communication speeds and large spooling capabilities.
These ensure that MFDs have earned their own spot under the sun.
MFDs have redefined printing. They leverage
on the concept of 'documents' rather than 'print-outs.' Earlier, documents in
an organization usually meant printouts or paper documents. In today's enterprise,
documents mean both paper and electronic (digital) versions. MFDs merge electronic
and paper documents with communication capabilities.
"Last year, we saw the emergence of multifunctional
devices that were comparable in terms of functionality to the best network printer
or copier out there. This year, the latest trend has been a transformation of
these devices into communication hubs," says Lakshmi Narayan Rao, Assistant
Director, Marketing OSS Value, Canon India.
In simpler terms, a convergence happened
between 'hard' and 'soft' copies. Let's say that you want to email an important
agreement to your client as a digital file. Earlier, this would have meant scanning
the entire document and sending it across as a bulky image. Today's MFDs are
connected to the Internet and have emailing capabilities. So all you have to
do now is scan the paper document and provide the printer with your client's
email address. The MFD will convert your scanned image automatically into a
PDF file and email it to your client.
Costs and MFDs
Like most good things in life, high-end
MFDs also come at a high price in terms of acquisition costs. However, prices
have been falling steadily and more enterprises are going in for it.
The reason behind this adoption in spite
of high costs is simple. It is less costly and more efficient to have an MFD
in the long run.
"With technology becoming more affordable,
organizations have woken up to the benefits of the technology. They are installing
more multifunctional devices today due to the added business value," says Samir
For example, getting a multifunctional
device (MFD) makes more sense for an SME, which has different teams with printing,
copying and faxing needs. Before the introduction of MFDs, this meant having
three different machines for each team, each with its own operating and maintenance
costs. Now it can be done with a single device. The biggest advantage of having
an MFD is cost savings in the long run.
Two of the latest trends in printing are the inclusion of intelligence
and wireless printing. Today's network printers come with self-diagnostic
capabilities and facilities such as user alerts.
These features present numerous benefits, the prime one being easy monitoring
and management of printers spread across the network. The printer can
be configured to alert the administrator in case maintenance is required.
For example, assume that a printer is about to run low on toner. It will
automatically detect the impending shortage and send an alert (say, an
email) to the administrator. This makes it easier for the administrator
to replace the cartridge before the printer stops functioning.
Network printers can also be managed efficiently with network management
tools using these features. However, make sure that the printer being
procured is able to operate with the tool being used in the network, before
Although it has just been introduced, wireless printing is yet another
trend coming in. These printers offer the 'no wires' advantage. They also
offer mobility and easy integration into existing wireless networks. Novelty
factor aside, it still remains to be seen how much this will be adopted
by Indian enterprises.
Acquisition and operating costs followed by capabilities will be deciding
factors in the adoption of these new printers. Wireless printers are expected
to be launched in India by the middle of August 2003.
Anil Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org