Vendors push MFPs at trade show

At the TechXNY trade show in New York earlier this month, both Xerox Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) unveiled peripherals and software geared toward office workers and small and medium businesses (SMBs). But according to some of their customers, the printer’s brand doesn’t seem to matter as much as the convenience and reliability the device offers.

At the show, Xerox announced seven WorkCentre Pro multifunction products (MFPs), five CopyCentre digital copiers as well as Smart eSolutions, a suite of software for the administration of Xerox devices on the network.

Donna Wittman, vice-president of sales for Xerox Canada’s channels group, said that lately, customers have been focusing on managing printing costs, and the migration to MFPs is a way for them to consolidate their assets and save some money. “We (also) see customers looking for a lot of new technologies out there and … looking for vendors to help them understand those technologies, simplify implementation into their work processes and help them understand what’s out there.”

The University of Saskatchewan recently signed a four-year lease with Xerox to replace its 200 office copiers, 95 to 98 per cent of which are analogue devices, with a whole new fleet of MFPs.

John Olson, the university’s director of consumer services, said the move to MFPs was mostly driven by a desire to reduce printing costs and improve efficiency, but it is not clear yet whether users will initially take advantage of all the MFPs’ capabilities.

He said users tend to grow attached to their peripherals, which means it will probably take some time before they start using the new MFPs for more than just copying. “We’re going to let [the use of MFPs] evolve around here …. In educational institutions it is sometimes difficult to change en masse.”

Part of the struggle is caused by users’ desire for convenience, Olson explained: many people want their own printer at their desk so they don’t have to walk a few feet over to an MFP to pick up their printouts. While this scenario is handy for the individual, it doesn’t take into account long-term concerns like supplies and maintenance.

“The initial cost of desktop printers … is very economical but support services and supplies cost money. The customer doesn’t realize that,” he said.

HP also announced the extension of its Smart Office suite of SMB products and services by introducing new printing, services, support, storage and desktop solutions. Paul Brosseau, SMB segment marketing manager for HP Canada, said this was a “pretty significant rollover” of the vendor’s core monochrome printing lines, with 33 new products introduced.

He said usability was the main focus when developing the new devices. “From the end user point of view, you want minimal user intervention. We put in a consistent user interface in our monochrome Laserjets. So say you’re deploying 50 new printers across the organization — they are not all the same model, but all user interfaces will be the same now. From a training and end user perspective, they will be easier to deploy.”

Two years ago, Keen Engineering, a North Vancouver-based firm focusing on sustainable building design, signed a leasing agreement with HP and rolled out a series of duplexing printers in an effort to cut down on paper usage.

Remi Caritey, Keen’s manager of information systems, said that at press time his firm had just begun a review to determine whether it should now replace those separate printers, copiers and fax machines with MFPs. Although he foresees peripheral maintenance costs going down, end-user acceptance could still prove to be a barrier, he said.

“We want to see if people are willing to walk an extra five feet for a faster printer,” he said. From a previous survey, he concluded that users probably “don’t care about what kind of printer they use so much as its location and the privacy thing.” Since many printers give users the option of holding a print job until they punch in a code, the only remaining adoption barrier is how far the printer is located from the users’ desks, he said.

For Keen, printer speed is often less of a problem than is reliability. In this case, size matters. “Bigger printers as opposed to little ones are sometimes more reliable because they are built for more usage. A lot of people don’t realize how much printing they actually do. It’s sometimes worth the cash to pay for slightly bigger machine than a smaller machine that you put on every desk because you end up with fewer problems,” he said.

The biggest thing Olson would recommend for IT managers is to consider what kind of service the vendor offers for its peripherals. “That is the key to any piece of equipment, whether a printer or an MFP, and uptime is key.”

As for brand, it really doesn’t matter, he added. “Suppliers will tell you differently, but quite frankly, the difference between [printer brands] is not that great. It is a commodity, much like a phone or PCs these days. As long as it works and does its job, that’s really all we want.”

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