The increasing commoditization of printers is opening the way for cloud-based printing to change the way customers handle and pay for printing in the future.
That's the message from Ken Weilerstein, vice president of research at Gartner, who on Tuesday addressed an audience of IT vendors and customer executives at the annual Print & Imaging Summit, held this week in Los Angeles.
Weilerstein argued that printer consolidation and the adoption of new printer technologies can bring companies the same benefits as server consolidation, namely a reduction in the number of devices deployed, a cut in electricity use, and an increase in management capabilities.
The typical company, by employing a few simple changes to their printer environment, could easily cut the hard cost of office printing by up to 30 percent, Weilerstein said.
Those changes include cutting the number of pages printed per month by 10 percent, deploying one printer for every 10 to 30 users instead of the current average of one for every one to five users, reducing the number of printer models used in the enterprise from the typical 100 models to less than ten, and cutting the number of printer suppliers to one or two compared to the typical three to six.
Such changes can be achieved by developing and following a simple strategy aimed at better managing a company's print environment, Weilerstein said.
The first part of that strategy is to "right-size" the printer environment. Weilerstein said most companies have way too many printers, but need to take time to assess their needs and determine what they currently have and what they really need.
Once that information is determined, the company can then redesign their printer environment and cut the number of devices in use by getting rid of older equipment or unlike models, he said.
The second part of that strategy is to purchase competitively when new printers are required. Weilerstein said that this means no more separate department purchases, and no more sourcing from too many suppliers.
"Each time you consolidate your printers, the deal gets bigger and bigger," he said. "That makes it easier to deal with the vendors. You're carrying (this strategy) out over the years as well."
The third part is to manage the print environment over time by tracking, adjusting, and enforcing purchases to prevent having to go through the entire process again, Weilerstein said.
While Weilerstein's strategy seems simple enough, he said there are obstacles to making it happen. These include skeptical management, runaway color usage, and personal printer holdouts. "Taking away a person's printer is scary to them," he said. "What seems like an opportunity to you is a nightmare to them."
To overcome these obstacles, a company needs to adopt certain best practices, Weilerstein said.
The first is to align all the stakeholders in a printer optimization strategy.
These include the IT department, which includes the people who ensure equipment compatibility and reliability and who meet with vendors; the line of business personnel who are concerned about availability, ease of use, and state-of-the-art features; the finance department, which looks at hard costs and billings; the sourcing organization, which is being pulled from project to project; and senior management, which looks at strategic vendor alignment.
The second best practice is conducting a great needs assessment, Weilerstein said.
This process starts with looking at the number of color and monochrome pages printed, but must also get to the user level to work properly. "The more you know about what users are doing, the better able you are to influence what they do," he said.
The assessment should also look at the actual costs of printing, which can give the assessment a lot of credibility with the accounting department, Weilerstein said. Also to be assessed are the under-utilized and over-utilized assets, as well as user pain points, he said.
Another important best practice is to establish and implement a green IT policy in regards to printing which not only looks good on a corporate report but which can also save a business money, Weilerstein said.
Green printing can include such simple items as setting the printers to run duplex as the default, eliminate banner sheets, purchase recycled paper, take advantage of adjustable power modes, and minimize the purchase of supplies.
Companies should also start implementing pull-printing as a requirement for all users. With pull-printing, pages are printed only when the user goes to the printer and inputs a PIN number or swipes a card to help cut on wasted print jobs. This also increases security by ensuring the user picks up printed documents right away, he said.
Companies should also be wary of using re-manufactured supplies including toner and ink cartridges, Weilerstein said. While using re-manufactured supplies seems to be a logical green IT strategy, the reality is that such supplies can provide low yields, resulting in the need to purchase more than if new supplies are used. Also, such supplies are often re-manufactured by cottage industries with no concern to environmentally-friendly practices, he said.
Finally, to tie all these strategies together, a company should appoint an "output czar," Weilerstein said.
Giving the output czar, even if it is a part-time position, the authority to put in place and enforce printing policies can keep those policies going over time and ensuring all the stakeholders are working together.
Finally, Weilerstein said the best time to be looking at printer optimization is during a recession. "There is, and I hope there will never be again, no better chance to reorganize your printing," he said.