Back off on colour message, guys

They might not be the most intriguing pieces of IT equipment you’re responsible for managing, but printers are certainly some of the most important. After PCs, the temperamental little beasts are the ones with which end users have the most contact. Because they’re used so often and relied upon so heavily, the minute they stop working, you’re hearing about it.

Usually easy to repair, the part that represents the challenge for network administrators is the volume of little fixes that have to be carried out. But unfortunately for those admin staffs, the world of office printing is getting more complicated – thanks to the very companies that make them.

If you’ve been hunting around for a new printer or 10 recently, you’ve no doubt heard the vendors’ new favourite word mentioned quite frequently: colour. The main reason it’s being bandied about so much is that, to a large extent, they’ve saturated the markets with their monochrome, or one-colour (black), offerings. They’ve scaled Kilimanjaro and are shifting their gaze to Everest. What it means for you is multiple sales pitches from printer sales guys spreading a message that you need colour. It’s getting tough to ask for a straight-ahead, good ol’ reliable monochrome number without hearing why, for a few dollars more, it’s a good idea to make the leap to colour.

What it amounts to is one of the most painfully obvious attempts on the part of vendors to create a market that doesn’t exist. The manufacturers’ shareholders demand better numbers, so the manufacturers have to respond with higher profits. Maintaining the status quo in a saturated market simply won’t do. New territory has to be annexed – hence the push for colour dollars.

Lost in the whirlwind is the poor IT manager, who has yet another unnecessary complexity added to the printer purchasing picture.

Let’s face it – most departments within most companies don’t need colour. Yes, the cost of such capability has fallen like a malfunctioning cartridge out a tenth-story office window. But if there’s no need for it, why pay even one cent more? Major departments such as Human Resources, maintenance and accounting don’t have any need to display their messages or numbers in anything but honest-to-goodness black and white, and they probably never will.

And it isn’t as if there’s no room for expansion in the markets where colour is required. Marketing, event planning, sales – all of these fields have an insatiable thirst for better colour printing technology. Add in the home market, where more and more people are discovering the benefits of digital photography, and there’s plenty of opportunity to keep a smile on the average shareholder’s face.

For the rest of us, though, things can remain decidedly Luddite-ish. We didn’t need colour injected into Casablanca (thank you, Ted Turner), and we don’t need it in our e-mail print-offs.