Printer Buying Guide: FAQ

Your guide to choosing the best printing hardware and services for your small or medium business

Every enterprise owns, and regularly replaces, printers, copiers, multifunctional products and fax machines. The problem most face is not too few choices, but too many. How do you even begin to select the right one?

Here, in part one of Computerworld Ausralia's guide to buying a printer for the enterprise we present some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) when sourcing a print services for your business.

How do I get value when purchasing printers for my organisation?

It is all about meeting the needs of your organisation while still optimising resources to ensure your printer spend is cost effective. This is achieved by undertaking a thorough needs assessment. This type of planning is known as a Printer Fleet Optimisation (PFO) project. In recent years enterprises have moved more aggressively to rein in their runaway office printer and Multi Functional Product (MFP) fleets reducing costs by between 10 and 30 per cent, saving space and conserving power.

What should I consider in a fleet optimisation project?

Personal printers cost at least twice as much to own and operate as shared workgroup printers or multifunction products (MFPs). The supplies for a shared workgroup printer or MFP can be around two cents per page less, according to IT research firm Gartner. Similar disparities carry over to colour, but at several times the cost. Personal printers also increase power consumption, therefore, it is often better to use MFPs.

What about senior managers who claim they need personal printers for confidential documents?

Today’s workgroup printers and MFPs can hold confidential jobs until a designated person arrives at the printer. It is as simple as keying in a four digit code number of your choice when issuing a print job, then key in the same four digits on the printer keyboard to release the document. Many organisations now deploy pull printing solutions which enable users to swipe their ID card to view a list of print jobs they have issued before printing them out. As well as being secure these solutions can reduce page volumes by 10 per cent. The only time a personal printer is required is when it involves disabled workers or isolated locations such as a stockroom or home office.

How many different printer models should an organisation with around 5,000 staff have?

Gartner advises most organisations to reduce their standard models list to 12 or fewer. The best answer depends on where users are located and how much page volume can reasonably be consolidated into one printing location without walking too far (typically 10 to 25 metres). An enterprise might identify clusters of workers who sit near one another and can share the same equipment.

Does an enterprise need to replace all existing equipment to streamline the number of brands and models?

No. Keep some existing equipment by listing more than one model for each of your categories. Keep existing printers that fit into one of the categories you have created, if they are in good condition. Dispose of the printers that don’t fit, or are old and broken. Old printers have higher supply and repair costs even if they are still operable. Dispose of printers you do not need.

Why spend money on new printers and dispose of workable old ones?

The problem with owning many different printer models is keeping the right supplies in stock. Technical support is much easier with a few standard models. Keeping ageing printers until they are beyond repair tends to drive up service calls, and supplies also cost more. Over time the ageing printers accumulate.

Over the page: Is colour really necessary?

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How big is the price difference between colour and black and white?

The shift from monochrome to colour print has accelerated in recent years but colour pages in the office still command a price premium. Although the cost of colour is falling, it is still relatively high compared to black and white, sometimes up to a factor of 10. As a result, Gartner says more organizations are implementing usage policies to manage colour printing and keep costs under control. Gartner estimates some providers have reduced the colour page cost by as much as 40 per cent compared to 2007 levels.

Is colour really necessary?

Most users need to print colour, at least sometimes. If users are denied access to colour printers they often waste time and money on rogue personal printers, or ask favours from other users who do have colour access. Today’s colour-enabled printers and MFPs print both colour and black economically on one device and are a cost-effective way to meet the needs of an enterprise.

How do I determine the best location for each printer?

Carry out a needs assessment. Gartner says the most common enterprise ratios are between 10 and 30 users per device, with walking distances of eight to 25 metres. But it really needs to be tailored specifically for your organisation. A thorough needs assessment helps map out where to place printers and optimise resources.

What is a cloud printing service?

Cloud printing services are hosted cloud computing offerings that enable users to print documents and other materials on any device associated with the cloud. Users create content with any software tool they want and transfer the file to a cloud printing service provider via whatever device they choose. It then routes the file to a cloud attached printer at a location selected by the user, an offering that will certainly appeal to mobile workers using mobile devices. This will allow users to have documents printed without being encumbered by actual printing equipment and still have it delivered where they want it. Some providers may enable CPS as part of a Managed Print Services (MPS) offering. Gartner believes the business case for CPS is so strong that it will drive rapid acceptance by global 1,000 companies.

What is Managed Print Services (MPS)?

This is an outsourced services offering provided by a vendor. The vendor will assess the organisation’s printing needs and manage it as a service. MPS can reduce costs and improve workflows as the vendor will also track how the printer fleet is being used and user satisfaction. By analysing this information the vendor can make recommendations to ensure fleet efficiency. As a result Gartner estimates more than 50 per cent of large organisations worldwide will employ MPS by 2015. The customer pays a monthly or quarterly fee based on Cost Per Page (CPP) which is agreed on when setting up the contract. There are a large number of vendors providing this service including Canon, CSC, HP, Lexmark and Toshiba.

How is pricing determined?

Today most customers pay for printed pages in one of two ways: either a fixed per page rate or according to supply consumption. However, neither of these pricing models has anything to do with a customer’s ROI and both approaches are only loosely linked to the vendor’s cost of producing the document.

Gartner anticipates printer technology providers will offer more varied pricing approaches in which the cost per job will vary with the kind of document being printed, the person who is requesting the printed pages, or whether it is meant for internal or external readers. These approaches will price printed pages in relation to their value to the customer, rather than the amount of ink or toner consumed. Gartner expects this shift to a value based pricing model to be more prevalent in coming years.

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