HP enters network MFP market

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) made a few strategic hardware moves at last month’s Comdex, as the company unveiled its family of hybrid printer-copier products.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based firm launched the HP LaserJet 9055, 9065 and 9085 enterprise devices. HP terms the new copier technology-based devices “multifunction products,” or MFPs, which allow end users to print documents off a network. HP also released document workflow software for automating forms processing and managing documents.

But the issue isn’t about speeds and feeds, according to Vyomesh Joshi, executive vice-president, Imaging & Printing Group. HP’s strategy is to shift away from the cost-per-page debate and more towards an overall IT cost strategy; printing, copying, faxing and other output issues have jumped to the top of IT priority lists. “We want to go from desktop to print shop,” Joshi said.

When it comes to reducing costs within the enterprise, network printing is often overlooked, Joshi said. Organizations have managed to consolidate their servers and PCs; now it’s time to consolidate printing and copier costs, he added.

According to HP customer Katherine Roth, an IS senior manager for National Semiconductor Corp., consolidating the company’s network printers reaped significant cost savings and enabled IT staff to focus on more important tasks. Using the HP offering, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based firm managed to cut the number of its network printers from 300 to 136, she added.

Printers are primarily the domain of the IT department. Peter Grady, director of the commercial marketing, imaging and printing group for Mississauga, Ont.-based HP Canada, noted that the average organization spends more than $800 per employee running its copying and printing environments. HP is aiming to reduce this expense by 30 per cent, he added.

HP’s moves are intended to muscle in on the highly competitive copier market where the firm faces rivals Lexmark International Inc., Ricoh Corp. and Xerox Corp. Expanding its printer division to accommodate copier products shouldn’t be difficult for HP but experts note that HP’s printer business, while strong, is witnessing declining growth.

Peter Grant, principal analyst for Gartner Dataquest’s Digital Documents and Imaging Worldwide group, noted that within the enterprise, copiers are becoming more connected to the network. In aiming at the copier market, HP’s network connectivity strength also gives it an edge over traditional copier vendors, Grant said.

The 9055 and 9065 models are designed for workgroup and departmental use, HP said, adding that 9055 can process 55 pages per minute, and costs US$18,000, while the 9065 can print or copy 65 pages per minute for US$25,000.

HP also introduced technology designed to help businesses reduce the costs of form processing. The HP Forms Automation System prints out a company’s forms on special paper that allows information to be digitally captured when a customer fills out the form using a special digital pen. The form is printed out onto standard copy paper using a special dithering technique that prints a series of dots. Those dots resemble colors that can be read by the digital pen. That information can then be uploaded directly to a database without the need for manual data entry, HP said.

The forms automation software can be used only on select HP LaserJet printers. The software fills out the standard portions of the form that are already present in the database, such as the customer’s name, address or telephone number, according to HP. This allows the customer to fill out only the portions of the form unique to that transaction using the digital pen, which can read the new information against the special background laid down by the printer, Joshi said.

In addition, HP released the next version of the company’s printer management software, HP Web JetAdmin 7.5. The software links to HP’s System Insight Manager server management software, and helps customers reduce help desk costs, HP said.

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