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Analysis

Managed Print Services - the answer to the "less-paper" office
Louella Fernandes By: Louella Fernandes, Principal Analyst, Quocirca
Published: 29th October 2009
Copyright Quocirca © 2009
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"Hit print intelligently", "Control print", "Print less, save more"—all mantras of printer companies today, despite the fact they are striving to increase sales of printers and consumables. Add to this the common email signature of "think before you print" and you could be forgiven for thinking that maybe we just shouldn't print at all? But like it or not, printing will continue to support 21st century businesses for some time to come. While the digital age has failed to deliver the paperless office, the "less paper" office is realistic. Paper remains a versatile, portable and personal reference medium and despite the growth in online collaboration, most still prefer to read a printed report or hard copy set of PowerPoint slides.

This is good news for printer companies, as such graphic-rich documents mean higher value pages which use more consumables. But it is good for businesses too; the affordability of today's business printers means that professional quality printing from office applications is simple and fast. Consider how fast a set of colour, graphic-rich PowerPoint slides can be printed. As presentation decks get larger and more complex, colour printed output increases—in volume and cost. Colour business print volumes have been further boosted as many businesses are also using high-end colour printer and copier devices to print material that would have previously been fulfilled by external print houses. With all this taken into account, it is estimated that, on average, an office worker prints a staggering 8,000 pages per year. According to NewField IT, this can range between 3,000 and 15,000 per year dependent on industry sector.

But what is not such good news is the escalating costs that uncontrolled printing can lead to for these same businesses. While professional colour business documents may promote effective communications, unnecessary colour printing can prove very costly. Few organisations have real insight into what is being printed, where and by whom. Fragmented ownership across departments and geographies has created device sprawl which means that many organisations operate a complex print environment, characterised by a tangled mix of devices from multiple vendors requiring different consumables, software, drivers and service contracts. On top of this, a lack of centralised print management tools means that few organisations have full visibility into print costs across their enterprises.

More organisations are recognising that operating an uncontrolled print environment is a huge cost and productivity drain. Managed print services (MPS) has emerged as a way to create efficiencies in the print environment through device consolidation, ongoing print management and document workflow solutions to support business processes. There is no "one-size-fits all" approach to MPS, but it should always include an external total cost of ownership (TCO) assessment of the existing printer fleet. This is increasingly incorporating environmental assessments to evaluate energy and some vendors, such as Ricoh and Toshiba, also offer security and risk assessments as part of their services. Whilst many organisations use printer vendors' own assessment services, there are third party independent consultants such as NewField IT who offer assessment services that are not linked to a particular supplier.

Device consolidation follows the assessment, and looks to achieve a balanced deployment strategy where cost, productivity and device utilisation are optimised. This may include, for instance, replacing outdated single function printers, which are often energy inefficient and expensive to run, with latest multifunction peripheral technology (MFP). However MPS does not require capital investment, and through implementing a more effective cost per page or utility approach to pricing, organisations can make immediate savings to operational expenditure. If an organisation has already invested in MFPs for example, simply removing or retiring desktop or single function printers to reach a device ratio of 1 device to 10 employees rather than a more common 1:4 ratio or less, can realise immediate cost savings and, with the appropriate software tools such as secure printing, can minimise wasteful printing. This leads to both financial savings and environmental benefits. Implementing services such as proactive supplies replenishment or predictive service features means that device availability is improved, and therefore improves overall business continuity. Fewer paper jams or toner-out problems also mean less dependence on the IT department, which can focus on other activities.

Large enterprises have been the early adopters of MPS due to direct programmes available from HP, Lexmark, Ricoh and Xerox. So far the SMB market remains largely untapped, although vendors are expanding availability of services for channel partners to deliver MPS to organisations in this space.

The foundation of any MPS should be to focus on exploiting the capabilities of multifunction printers (MFPs) which have evolved to become sophisticated document processing and information management hubs. Advanced scan-to-email and scan-to-file capabilities enable MFPs to function beyond the standard print, copy and fax features. With many organisations already having invested in such devices, MPS offers the opportunity to harness such document capture and archive capabilities to support business processes which remain paper reliant. With paper output unlikely to go away any time soon, organisations need to invest in products and services that ensure effective, reliable and secure printing.

Quocirca believes that the cost-savings agenda will continue to drive MPS adoption, particularly in large enterprises. However, organisations must ensure that contracts offer the flexibility to integrate with new technology to meet changing market and business demands. Notably, as the demand for outsourcing of the desktop environment grows, more organisations will become receptive to outsourcing the print infrastructure too. Few organisations possess the resources, expertise or time to effectively manage printing in-house and, as they continue to wrestle with complex environments and cost reduction imperatives, MPS should be placed higher on the agenda of both SMBs and enterprise's cost-saving initiatives.

Quocirca's report on the evolving MPS landscape is available for download here.

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