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Analysis

Printing as a service: Outsourcing printing to the experts
Louella Fernandes By: Louella Fernandes, Principal Analyst, Quocirca
Published: 2nd May 2008
Copyright Quocirca © 2008
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Despite the growth in digital communications and promises of the paperless office, printed documents continue to be critical to the operation of most enterprises. However the printing and imaging environment is becoming more complex and costly to manage and, according to industry estimates, accounts for between 1% and 3% of an organisation’s total revenue.

In today’s competitive business environment, the print environment demands the same strategic focus as other elements of the IT infrastructure. The benefits of a managed print environment are manifold—including reducing costs across the enterprise, boosting employee productivity, securing confidential and sensitive information, and helping support environmental targets through more efficient printing practices.

However the reality is that most organisations simply do not know how much their print environment is costing them. Many businesses cannot answer the following basic questions relating to printing in their organisation: What is the total number of printers? How many pages are printed daily? What are the operating costs of printing devices? What are the total printing costs across the enterprise?

There are several reasons why organisations have so little insight and control. Firstly, the management of the printing environment is often fragmented among IT, procurement, facilities, department managers and even individual users. These groups typically operate independently leading to organisations owning a range of printing devices from multiple vendors with incompatible software, consumables and supplies.

Uncoordinated procurement is not only time consuming but also costly by reducing purchasing power and complicating service control. An unmanaged print environment also leads to lower productivity and inefficiencies for end users as well as creating support headaches for help desk staff and problems relating to managing the process of stocking and re-ordering supplies as they are depleted.

Uncontrolled printing also raises security issues—not only are printed documents a potential source of data leakage, but many devices also store information in memory or hard disk, posing further risks to document security.

When it comes to the total cost of ownership (TCO), most organisations do not fully understand the hidden costs of printing. This relates not only to the upfront purchase price but also the running costs (consumables, power, maintenance and support) and environmental impact. On top of all this, few organisations have document accounting systems that accurately measure the true usage for printing and imaging.

A fragmented and disparate printing environment is unmanageable, strategically ineffective and costly—but through better print management these problems can be mitigated. Often organisations may take the first step to assess their print environment using internal resources to save the cost of running a more costly third party assessment. However, more often than not, because of the scale, complexity and escalating costs of their printer usage, many are turning to managed print services offered by outside specialists such as device manufacturers or other specialist providers.

Managed print services aim to take control of all or some of the print environment and achieve an optimum and balanced mix of printing and imaging equipment, efficient network controls and improved workflows. Through consolidation of existing equipment, management of supplies and remote print management, businesses can reduce costs, improve productivity for IT, end-users, procurement and facilities.

Many take an out-tasking approach enabling these organisations to choose which elements of managing their print infrastructure they wish to hand over to a third party. Features to look for in a managed print service are:

Document assessments
This is the first step to understand actual printing costs and how savings can be achieved through “rightsizing” the printing environment and adapting document workflows.

Utility-based pricing models
Contracts can offer a range of pricing models in contrast to the traditional pay-as-you-go model where consumables are purchased as required. Contracts can be usage-based or “cost-per-page” which tell the customer upfront what the cost of printing will be each month, and can cover everything from the equipment and consumables to maintenance and help desk support.

Multivendor management
This is important where organisations need to retain multiple brands due to functionality or cost issues. Independent specialists are worth considering, although some manufacturers such as HP and Xerox also offer multivendor support and a single point of contact and accountability for negotiation, procurement and management of multiple service contracts.

Ongoing management and support
Often managed print service providers will take complete control of the administration, monitoring, maintenance and support of the printing environment which can include an extended help desk facility dedicated to print related problems.

Document workflow
This can involve integrating paper processes with electronic business processes using either a manufacturer’s own proprietary tools or third party document capture and workflow solutions.

Change management
Through training and education a managed print service provider needs to address both the technical and cultural impact of transitioning to new printing practices.

As the outsourcing of non-core IT functions is becoming more popular amongst mid size and large companies, turning to a third party to manage and optimise the print environment can benefit an organisation in many ways. Time, money and resources are no longer wasted due to inefficient printing and copying, cost control tools ensure visibility on document costs and document security can be enhanced through confidential printing capabilities.

Whether printing is managed in-house or outsourced to specialists, any print management strategy should gain support and collaboration among departments to manage vendor selection, implementation and ongoing management, as the print environment will need to evolve as business needs change. Taking a “think big start small” approach can quickly demonstrate how assessing and optimising the printing practices of one department or location can eventually translate into savings and efficiency improvements across the enterprise.

For more details on how better print management can create business value download Quocirca's white paper Creating the Print Intelligent Enterprise.

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