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Analysis

Service excellence for printers through remote monitoring.
Louella Fernandes By: Louella Fernandes, Principal Analyst, Quocirca
Published: 13th January 2009
Copyright Quocirca © 2009
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In today's business environment of ever-increasing competition, a manufacturer's service organisation can be the key differentiator in winning and keeping customers. The challenge is to deliver high-margin services to a wider customer base while retaining tight control of service operations costs. At the same time IT departments are under pressure to deliver reliable and cost-effective services to end users—but managing a multivendor IT infrastructure can be expensive and time consuming. This is particularly true of the printing environment as devices are becoming increasingly sophisticated and prolific.

For printer manufacturers, delivering service excellence means ensuring devices are less likely to malfunction in the first place. By providing remote maintenance vendors can offer predictive support that can trigger preventative action. This can not only drive service and maintenance-based revenues for the vendor and its channel partners but also improve device uptime and availability for the user. Networked printers and multifunction peripherals often require a high level of support and manual intervention. Several departments may be involved in supporting the printer fleet—including IT, facilities, administration and finance. Time is spent on managing supplies inventories such as ink, toner and paper, troubleshooting print problems and replacing cartridges, as well as managing invoicing across a multivendor printer fleet. Many printers and copiers are purchased on a cost-per-page scheme where pricing relates to actual usage. In the case of many copier devices, the process is often a manual one of collecting meter reads and submitting this information over the phone or via the web.

Analyst Gartner estimates that printer problems account for between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of helpdesk calls—a significant cost to any company. Meanwhile the downtime of any printer device generally leads to reduced user productivity—and the problem can be exacerbated by users who may be slow to report printer faults such as paper jams or toner running low. Robust print management tools that claim to mitigate these issues are available. For example HP's WebJet Admin offers features such as services and supplies alerts to enable proactive device management. However, many organisations often find their IT staff simply do not have the time or experience necessary to utilise advanced tool capabilities to their greatest advantage.

The emergence of machine-to-machine (M2M) technology has a significant part to play in the printer world as a way to add value and generate new revenue streams for manufacturers even after products are sold. M2M tech enables manufacturers to remotely monitor and service networked devices to optimise product performance, reduce downtime and offer automated supplies-replenishment capabilities.

Today most printer manufacturers offer a remote service platform which typically provides three main capabilities: automated meter reading/page counts (for devices on a pay per use contract), supplies management and proactive maintenance alerts. Remote service platforms typically offer 24x7 monitoring and secure web portals for customers and service providers to submit and track service requests and download usage reports on-demand. These services are either delivered directly by the manufacturer, often as part of a managed print service contract, or through reseller partners.

Remote monitoring systems now available include Canon's e-Maintenance, HP's Remote Monitoring, Konica Minolta CS Remote Care, Ricoh's @Remote and Xerox Smart eSolutions. These platforms are either embedded in the device, or provided through an appliance at the customer site which communicates with a central server at the manufacturer's location.

This server collects device data that is used to send alerts relating to device usage and performance. This information is then used to initiate supplies delivery, generate service requests and provide audit trails for automated meter reading purposes. In addition to these services are generic third-party tools which resellers typically host themselves, such as FM Audit and PrintFleet which support a range of printer and copier brands.

The benefits of remote service platforms for the enterprise are manifold. Automated meter reading eliminates the manual processes involved in collecting and reporting meter reads as well as eliminating estimated meter reads. Accurate meter reading also can help companies understand which devices are over and under-utilised, which can support consolidation efforts when determining how best to optimise the overall print environment and reduce total cost of ownership.

Automated meter reading also increases invoice accuracy, particularly when systems are linked to CRM, ERP and service management systems. Evatic's service management system, for instance, supports a number of manufacturer's platforms, meaning it generates new supplies orders and creates service calls. For some devices, such as those from Sharp, the Evatic integration enables customers to also automatically create service requests and order consumables such as toner supplies by detecting the requirement directly from the device. Such proactive and automated management ensures customers have the right supplies at the right time and eliminates the need to maintain an expensive toner supply inventory.

Finally, proactive maintenance alerts automatically deliver diagnostic data to the supplier, enabling support organisations to troubleshoot problems and restore equipment. Through proactive fault detection and notification, service visits may be shorter or replaced by remote diagnostics where these capabilities are available.

Many suppliers of document output devices rely on their channel partners to deliver service excellence, and in a market characterised by shrinking margins it is even more important that these partners have the tools to offer them recurring revenue opportunities from both supplies and service.

For the enterprise, remote monitoring services provide a way to reduce the costs associated with unplanned printer downtime, as well as improve efficiencies around supplies management.

However to fully exploit the benefits of remote monitoring it should be part of a wider managed print services solution. This would assess current print costs, develop a plan to optimise the environment which should be then continually managed and monitored to ensure cost savings and productivity benefits continue to be gained as business needs change.

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