September 19, 2010

The Printer’s Dilemma

There is a lot of interest these days in managed print solutions (MPS)—sharing printers and managing these centrally—for many reasons.

Some of the benefits are: higher printer use rates; reduction in printing; cost saving; and various environmental benefits.

Government Computer News (5 April 2010) has an article called “Printing Money” that states: managed printing is an obvious but overlooked way to cut costs, improve efficiency, and bolster security.”

But there are also a number of questions to consider:

- What’s the business model? Why are “printing companies” telling us to buy less printers and to print less? Do car companies tell us to buy less cars and drive less (maybe drive more fuel efficient vehicles, but drive less or buy less?) or do food companies advise us to buy less food or eat less (maybe eat healthier food, but less food)? To some vendors, the business model is simple, if we use their printers and cartridges—rather than a competitor’s—then even if we use less overall, the managed print vendor is getting more business, so for them, the business model makes sense.
- What's the cost model? Analysts claim agencies by moving to managed print solutions “could save at least 25 percent of their printing expenses” and vendors claim hundreds of thousands, if not millions in savings, and that is attractive. However, the cost of commodity printers, even the multifunction ones with fax/copy/scan functions, has come way down, and so has the print cartridges—although they are still too high priced—and we change them not all that often (I just changed one and I can barely remember the last time that I did). As an offset to cost savings, do we need to consider the potential impact to productivity and effectiveness as well as morale—even if the latter is just the “annoyance factor”?

- What’s the consumer market doing? When we look at the consumer market, which has in many analyst and consumer opinions jumped ahead of where we are technologically in the office environment, most people have a printer sitting right next to them in their home office—don’t you? I’d venture to say that many people even have separate printers for other family members with their own computers set ups, because cost and convenience (functional)-wise, it just makes sense.

- What’s the cultural/technological trend? Culturally and technologically, we are in the “information age,” most people in this country are “information workers,” and we are a fast-paced (and what’s becoming a faster and faster-paced) society where things like turn around time and convenience (e.g. “Just In Time inventory, overnight delivery, microwave dinners, etc.) are really important. Moreover, I ask myself is Generation Y, that is texting and Tweeting and Facebooking—here, there, and everywhere—going to be moving toward giving up there printers or in fact, wanting to print from wherever they are (using the cloud or other services) and get to their documents and information immediately?

- What’s the security impact? Understanding that printing to central printers is secure especially with access cards or pin numbers to get your print jobs, I ask whether in an age, where security and privacy of information (including corporate theft and identity theft) are huge issues, does having a printer close by make sense, especially when dealing with sensitive information like corporate strategy or “trade secrets,” mission security, personnel issues, or acquisition sensitive matters, and so on. Additionally, we can we still achieve the other security benefits of MPS—managing (securing, patching etc.) and monitoring printers and print jobs in a more decentralized model through the same or similar network management functions that we use for our other end user-devices (computers, servers, storage, etc.)

- What’s the environmental impact? There are lots of statistics about the carbon footprint from printing—and most I believe is from the paper, not the printers. So perhaps we can print smarter, not only with reducing printers, but also with ongoing education and sensitivity to our environment and the needs of future generations. It goes without saying, that we can and should cut down (significantly) on what and how much we print (and drive, and generally consume, etc.) in a resource constrained environment—planet Earth.

In the end, there are a lot of considerations in moving to managed print solutions and certainly, there is a valid and compelling case to moving to MPS, especially in terms of the potential cost-saving to the organization (and this is particularly important in tough economic environments, like now), but we should also weight others considerations, such as productivity offsets, cultural and technological trends, and overall security and environmental impacts, and come up with what’s best for our organizations.


1 comment:

Repentharlequin said...

Great post Andy. MPS is definitely a great IT strategy for companies, but only if implemented properly by a well-developed provider. As the popularity of MPS grows in the marketplace, there's an increasing trend of companies simply re-branding existing cost per page models as MPS. I'm proudly serving as the Vice President of the Managed Print Services Association, and our goal is, as an independent and non-profit international organization, to bring clarity to the MPS market, and help define what true MPS is, and the best practices and standards in MPS.