The printer industry sits somewhat uneasily in a business environment where new technology investments are expected to demonstrate both cost savings and environmental benefits. Printers use energy, ink, toner and paper so inefficient use not only has an environmental impact but a financial cost too. In an industry where the majority of revenues are derived from encouraging consumers to print more, the words "green" and "print" have a distinctly shaky marriage.
Unsurprisingly the economic downturn has impacted all printer manufacturers, not least HP which saw its Imaging and Printing Group (IPG) revenue decline by 19% in Q1 2009 to $6.0 billion. Supplies revenue was down 7%, while commercial hardware revenue and consumer hardware revenue declined 34% and 37%, respectively. Accounting for more than 40% of HP's operating profit, its printer division has long been considered one of its crown jewels, but this has now been usurped by its services business. Falling printer sales are a symptom of a weakening economy where printer manufacturers are facing competition from generic ink makers whose products are cheaper, as well as falling revenue from both businesses and consumers who are printing less to save money.
Clearly the pain of tighter budgets is not confined to the printer industry—all hardware manufacturers are being hit by a slump in sales as businesses delay purchases. However, there is a glimmer of hope for printer manufacturers as many businesses continue to pay to outsource. While the weakening economy may close some doors to new hardware sales, it can open other opportunities for printer manufacturers to help businesses maximise their existing investments in printers and also reduce their environmental impact, through delivering managed print services (MPS).
There is no better time for businesses to take control of their print environment. Many print environments still have a tangled mix of old and new equipment, both over and underutilised, leading to high costs due to the variety of consumables (both storage and procurement) as well as the financial and environmental costs associated with paper, ink, toner and energy consumption. Often, management and procurement of the printing infrastructure is distributed across locations and geographies with no centralised tracking system to monitor and analyse costs. An uncontrolled printing environment also poses security risks, not least through confidential material being left on output trays.
The true cost of unmanaged printing can be a startling discovery for those businesses. The initial cost of the printer represents only small percentage of its lifetime cost, and it is the operating expenses that give a much better measure of the real cost of a printer. This includes taking account of cartridge and consumables costs, help desk and maintenance costs, and loss of productivity resulting from printer downtime. An MPS aims to reduce the total cost of ownership associated with an unmanaged print environment by assessing the current environment to understand usage and develop a rationalisation plan.
Using an MPS means relying on a specialised company to help plan, implement and service the printer fleet. By having the printing infrastructure planned and managed by one vendor means that businesses spend less time fixing printing problems, ordering toner, ink and paper or implementing new document management and workflow solutions. Through adopting efficient and responsible printing practices, businesses can save consumables and energy whilst reducing downtime and improving productivity.
And better printing practices means the environmental impact of printing can also be reduced. Implementing a managed print service can reduce the number of devices in use, and optimise the device-to-employee ratio meaning reduced energy usage. Equally, using energy efficient devices can improve printing efficiency, performance and cost using equipment that is accredited to schemes that include energy efficiency standards, such as US EPA ENERGY STAR® and German Blue Angel. Both HP and Xerox offer calculators to assess the environmental impact of the output environment: Xerox's Sustainability Calculator and HP's Carbon Footprint Calculator.
Of course there are also simple measures to reduce printed output such as switching to duplex printing, or using booklet printing to print larger documents, which can reduce the number of pages printed. Using multifunction peripherals (MFPs) to capture and deliver documents electronically also minimises paper and toner consumption, and increases productivity. Document management will reduce the time spent on filing and retrieving documents and make documents more accessible. Implementing such paperless processes is should be a major focus for any business looking to minimise its environmental impact.
To this end most printer manufacturers now offer some form of document capture capability ranging from basic scanning to document management and distribution systems which can link to enterprise applications such as SAP. For example, eCopy's products integrate with most multifunction printers (MFPs) and enable businesses to also control, secure and audit paper-based information. Meanwhile secure printing solutions such as Ringdale's FollowMe solution ensure that documents are only released when a user authenticates at the device using an authentication code, proximity card or smartcard. This reduces paper waste whilst also addressing the security risks of uncollected print output. In a business climate where organisations are holding off on new hardware purchases, leveraging existing MFP investments in this way can be the key to improving productivity, improving business processes and ultimately linking the MFP with other enterprise systems.
Beyond paper reduction iniatives, recycling has its part to play in creating a greener print environment. Aside from taking measures to recycle waste paper, businesses can also use manufacturers' recycling programmes for toner and ink cartridges as well as hardware. When it comes to sourcing paper, products carrying the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) label are independently certified to assure customers that they come from forests that are sustainably managed.
A recession only increases the pressure to lower capital expenses and to stay competitive businesses can't ignore the productivity advantages that managed print services have to offer. Although businesses may now be holding on to their technology assets for longer, MPS offers a way to reduce costs and improve productivity by utilising the right software and services. Most manufacturers now offer comprehensive managed print service portfolios either through their own services business or through channel partners.
For the printing industry, MPS are the key to future growth in a market where hardware sales are stagnant. Most businesses today simply do not have the expertise to handle print management internally without using external help. Using an MPS provider to analyse the print infrastructure now opens the opportunity to achieve short-term cost savings, and plan how existing investments can be maximised through using software products that make the MFP less of a peripheral device, but integral to the IT infrastructure.
Despite the age of digital communication, the use of paper in the office environment is not set to disappear any time soon as it remains a versatile and powerful reference medium. Nevertheless there is tremendous scope to reduce print related waste, and adopting a managed print service is certainly a step in the right direction.