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Issue of September 2003 

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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 tremendously.

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 standalone printers.

Falling costs

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 them.

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 Shah.

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

MFD mantras

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 Shah.

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.

A mind of its own

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 buying it.

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

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