Six tips for controlling printers

By Patrick Trudel

(The author is a federal IT manager who has led major printer rationalization projects for a number of government departments.)

Government departments often take their printing services for granted. Printers are typically seen as just simple plug-and-play devices that require paper, toner and are replaced when broken.

They are found scattered throughout the offices; some are networked and some are dedicated to one user. There are a wide range of models, all requiring different supplies and not all model functions are the same. Printouts are often left behind and too much paper is wasted. New Multi-Functional-Devices (MFD) are often seen in hallways and business centres but are regularly used only as photocopiers. When a printer stops working, users scramble to find another, resubmit print jobs to an elusive print queue or they have to wait for repairs.

If you see yourself in this chaotic picture, you should consider coming out of the dark ages of printing. Here’s some key steps to printer success:

1. Managed Print Solution

The Canadian Government has recognized an efficiency and effectiveness opportunity in the print services area and is now making a Managed Print Solution (MPS) standing offer available to departments. MPS is essentially a service-based arrangement to help optimize, centralize, standardize and help account for your print environment’s resources throughout the entire life-cycle.

This service capability can be operated in-house or transferred to a dedicated external service provider. The current MPS supply arrangement is not yet comprehensive with pricing options and some software features, but it’s a great start, and is a valid basis for your Statement Of Work (SOW) and contract.

Although not always necessary, the MPS also provides a consulting service option to help with baseline assessments of your print environment. To support your business case, a targeted assessment of a small representative sample area should be made in-house and then these numbers should be extrapolated to the entire work space. The MPS Managed Services (MS) option will be sufficient if a standardized approach is taken.

2. It’s not just a printer

One important technology option that should be added to the SOW and contract is the advantage of using secure print technology. Part of this secure print technology is a feature often referred to as “print release” or “pull printing”. This feature provides the user with the ability to submit a print job to one virtual print queue and then retrieve it from any of the MFD locations at any time. This technology is ideal when using MFD authentication via a user’s existing building pass. Part of the authentication also includes access to centralized network scan and photocopy functions for added convenience and accountability.

The added security is not the only reason to adapt this technology. There’s a practical benefit in better controlling print output: no need to worry about users forgetting to pick up their prints or long line ups. Users can control where and when they choose to release their jobs for printing. If one device is busy or not working, a user can simply walk up to the next closest device without having to resubmit their job. Additional capabilities can be designed into the solution to fit your environment and business requirements. From a user perspective, submit the ‘print’ at your workstation, walk to the most convenient MFD, swipe your card and out comes the print job.

3. One size usually fits all

There’s nothing better for users than one-stop shopping when it comes to print services. Make it easy for everyone by providing one solution where they can get monochrome, color, paper sizes up to 11 x 17, scans, photocopies and high performance all on one device within the same network in each location. This can easily be achieved with the various high-end MFD models in the market. Don’t worry if certain functions are rarely used in some locations. Maintaining standards offers a consistency with functions and economic efficiency on supplies. The MFDs should not be considered custom or owned by any specific person or group, but more as corporate devices for all users. The MFDs also act as backups between themselves, because if one MFD is unavailable or out of order, the user can just walk to another MFD.

4. Location, location, location

In a typical work environment, especially newer buildings, each floor populates about 100 users in an open area. This varies from building to building and floor to floor, but there are usually a couple of business centers on a typical floor where users can print, photocopy, scan, fax and perform other paper related activities.

A scalable standards approach is to simply provide each of these business centers with one standardized high capacity networked MFD with “print release” capabilities. Even in older buildings where there are no dedicated business centers, there are usually suitable open areas where a networked MFD could be located. Keep in mind that users will not like an MFD and associated noise and traffic next to their workstation, so make sure you choose locations strategically. A successful target is to ensure that MFD’s are within a 30 metre radius of any user. There are always exceptions so some special adjustments may be needed. When the “print release” features are incorporated, an impressive 50:1 user to device ratio or more is possible.

5. Dedicate your print support

One of the biggest lessons learned in all the years I’ve been involved with printer rationalization is that it is crucial to include a dedicated on-site resource to support your print environment. Most internal department IT support staffs are not dedicated solely to print services and other priorities usually means print services suffer.

As part of the MPS supply arrangement under the Managed Services section, there is an option to include an On Premises Site Manager. This site manager becomes your “go to” printer person and the central figure in
keeping everything working smoothly. They act as the coordinator between the department and the vendors; they manage supplies, repairs, reporting and will be available when users need help. There is a cost to this dedicated service, but is integral to the total print solution.

6. Build consensus
After you build your business case for modernizing your print environment, based on the key steps above, engage all impacted department stakeholders, including the project group, IT support, finance and security. Buy-in up front at all levels across the organization is critical for success. A strong communications plan with frequent updates is a key to success. Senior management can visibly lead by example and volunteer to surplus their personal printers.

Departments are eager for costs savings, users love the added functionality and convenience, and there is proof of success in departments that implemented this solution.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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