Bring corporate printing costs back under control: experts

Often viewed as an unavoidable cost of doing business, and with little overall corporate strategy dictating its use, printing is increasingly becoming a target of corporate cost cutters.

At a recent printing seminar in Toronto, Ken Weilerstein, research director at Gartner Inc., warned attendees that the percentage of corporate budgets going toward printing will increase to between one and three per cent by 2008. For multi-billion dollar companies this can represent hundreds of millions of dollars. Just by reducing printing costs by 10 per cent, companies can save millions of dollars.

The reason cost cutters view printing as low hanging fruit ripe for picking is due to its history of being uncontrolled while at the same time being relatively painless to reign in. “Most (companies) don’t manage their (printer) fleets in an active way,” Weilerstein said. “The responsibility for them is splintered…no one is overall responsible.” Simply by centralizing printing savings can be had. But Weilerstein warned that controlling printing costs, like most corporate-wide initiatives, needs executive level sponsorship.

The first place to start is gathering data on exactly how many printers, copiers and faxes are in use – this includes their brands, model numbers, locations and work loads. The statistics can be surprising.

Anthony Small, a telecommunications analyst responsible for all the printers at the Ontario Securities Commission in Toronto, said when he took on responsibility for all the printers (he also manages the telephone systems) there were about 150 printers for 250 users. “I had 150 down to 50 but now its back up to 90,” he said.

Small’s bane, and one which afflicts all printer managers, is the personal printer. Their existence often defies logic and, as Weilerstein warned, their costs are prohibitive. Supplies for desktop printers are about two to three times more than large corporate printers. They also require more maintenance on a per-page basis.

One of Small’s users had an old HP3 printer, at least 10 years old and well past its prime. The individual wanted it repaired. Small explained to her that the parts necessary to fix it were almost impossible to find and that there was a newer, faster printer not 15 feet away. She wouldn’t budge. In fact the number one choice, when Small’s users choose which printer they print to, is proximity not quality. This goes a long way to explaining the personal printer problem.

Weilerstein likes the carrot approach to weaning people off of personal printers by having them use better, faster printers. Small installed a trial printer – “bigger, faster stronger” – and was blown away how much it was used. “13,000 pages were printed in three weeks,” he said. Though Weilerstein admitted it is not always easy to get rid of personal printers(Small agrees completely) he said an overall corporate printer policy has to be followed, though not one written so completely in stone that it ends up being a stick.

Some users argue that their documents are so private that they need personal printers, but Weilerstein said with today’s PIN code technology (print jobs are not released until the person arrives at the printer and enters a PIN) that argument loses its weight. Small said the Securities Commission’s enforcement department, which actually requires a paper trail for legal reasons and prints extremely sensitive documents, ironically is the one group that almost never complains about its printers.

Another way to save money is by streamlining the number of different printers used. One very large school board in the US had 220 different makes and models of printers for 2000 users, Weilerstein said. The cost to maintain them was out of control. A large stock of supplies had to be maintained, drivers had to be constantly updated and the harried help desk had to know how to deal with dozens of makes and models.

Weilerstein also suggested getting rid of older printers. Monochrome printers last about five years, colour about three. [Companies] “think they are stretching the maximum benefit (keeping old printers)…but the opposite is actually true,” he said. Older technology breaks down more and has more costly parts, he explained.

The final piece of the puzzle is whether to buy, lease or outsource printing needs. For companies with large printing needs, outsourcing is often a good solution. The cost per page can often be reduced to three cents from five. By outsourcing one company was “able to save over $1 million over three years, penny by penny,” Weilerstein said. Leasing is another good option, he explained, since most contracts are for three years, a healthy life span for a printer. “It’s not a bad idea to lease”, he said, “so you don’t keep them around forever.”

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