Printer management goes to the output level

Enterprise printer management is moving beyond the device-control level and starting to actually administer the printer output.

This approach – called output management — differs from standard office printing management, which routes applications like Microsoft Office through a Novell or Windows NT print server. While NT and NetWare are good at getting a job to a specific printer, they don’t generate reports or track problems if something goes wrong, said Jim Lundy, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

“More mission-critical applications – like ERP solutions – require more information,” he said. “These (new) products will allow you to track the delivery of a specific print job to a recipient. They can take a document and either print it to a specific printer or e-mail it, fax it or deliver it to a Web server for viewing. And they run independent of your network.”

Over the last six months, Lundy has seen the calls about output management software increase dramatically. He believes this is a result of two factors: more companies are moving away from the mainframe to a client/server-based infrastructure, or they are implementing ERP software. ERP vendors generally rely on third-party vendors for output-management capabilities, he said.

“These companies realize that when migrating to client/server, they don’t have the same control of printing that they had with their mainframe,” he said. “They may overlook [output management] and get into trouble in the deployment stages. I get calls where a company says something like, ‘We’re going live in less than 90 days with a SAP application and we didn’t think about output. Now we’re in trouble, what do we do?’ “

Dazel Corp.’s Enterprise Output Management products, Macro 4’s VTAMPRINT software and IBM Corp.’s InfoPrint Manager lead the pack in the output-management arena, according to Lundy. But JetForm Inc., based in Kanata, Ont., also has an output product that works with SAP, and Tivoli Systems Inc. has an Output Manager component for its enterprise management system, TME. Because there are few vendors in the output-management space, most are experiencing a 35-per-cent average annual growth rate, according to Lundy.

But even with improved tools, one stumbling block is many organizations are not aware of the number or type of printers they own. There is often no centralized purchasing control, industry observers agree.

“Some companies can get quite shocked by the numbers,” said Alan Spence, a product manager for the Printing Systems Division at IBM Canada Ltd. in Markham, Ont. “They never had the intention [of acquiring so many printers], but it just turns out that way. Printer management is not new but there are a lot of people who aren’t aware of its capabilities.”

Jean-Paul Desmarais, business development manager at Hewlett-Packard Canada Ltd. in Mississauga, Ont., concurs. “Organizations don’t usually have a hard-copy printer-management strategy. Printers for most part are very poorly managed within organizations. People buy printers when they want to and just plug them in.”

Gartner Group predicts that in the next four years, all forms of output will be centrally managed under IS because there’s such a “redundant overlap that begs for a consolidation,” Lundy said.

But with year 2000 and other pressing technical concerns looming, output management often isn’t a top priority for most IS managers.

“Printers are not sexy and generally speaking it’s not an area that on a regular basis becomes critical,” said Ana Volpi, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass. “If someone can’t print to the printer that they normally print to, they can print to another printer. But if the network goes down, for example, everybody that is on your network is affected.”

But she admits that output management is a hidden gem because it can help companies reduce their overall printing costs. If more IS managers realize this fact, they can avoid a lot of headache later.

“If companies looked at printing on a regular basis, they would see that there is quite a bit of money being spent over the lifetime of printers,” Volpi said. “They could examine how much it’s costing on a yearly basis to print and which departments are printing the most.”

It would be a mistake for Canadian Tire Acceptance Ltd. not to take print and output management seriously. The Welland, Ont.-based company receives output from two IBM mainframes and has 80 LAN-based printers as well as one mainframe printer, and the company needs to keep track of it all, according to Mike Powell, relationship manager for CTAL’s call centres.

“That doesn’t include the printing we do of internal reports, letters, and documents that come from office-productivity suites,” he said. InfoPrint Manager is meeting CTAL’s expectations with no problems so far, he said.

As for the future of output management, Lundy sees the software as something that operating system vendors like Microsoft and Novell might be interested in pursuing. “Output management software could become a middleware where it’s embedded in the operating system,” he explained. “Microsoft might decide this is something they want to bite off and chew.”