Recent Perceptive* survey could have business managers taking a much closer look at the office printer. 71 percent of respondents did not know how much printing costs their business, says Tara Worley, marketing operations manager for Canon Business.
“By quantifying the cost it’s possible to identify where savings can be made and efficiencies gained.”
Another interesting figure comes from Hewlett-Packard, where research has found approximately 30 percent of jobs submitted to the printer queue are never picked up.
A print audit is an important first step when making a decision on new equipment; it takes only a matter of minutes and can be done online, says Toshiba sales and technical support manager, Martin Drew. “It captures all print related data from every machine on the network and places it on an easy-to-understand report that shows the total cost of ownership.”
A printing fleet often grows organically, with printers being added as needed, explains Richard Bailey, vice president, Imaging and Printing Group, Hewlett-Packard South Pacific. “Older printers are replaced with multi-function units which copy, fax and scan – just in case this functionality comes in handy – but this can lead to an unbalanced fleet that doesn’t match the business’s needs. It’s critical any print solution is based on a sound assessment of the business, printing environment and printing needs, rather than simply focusing on technology and current trends.”
“One of the scary things about being a small business is often not knowing what’s best for you in terms of a printer, and over-capitalising on technology that becomes redundant. By establishing exactly what your business needs really are, you can ensure you get a device which is fit for purpose, but able to assist you in running the business more efficiently whilst being mindful of cost,” says Worley.
The word ‘device’ is an important one here; yesterday’s printer is today’s multi-function device, or MFD, offering not just print and copy options but a range of functions, including faxing, scanning, storage of material and email.
The amount of print material produced is just one consideration when replacing printers. How important is the printer to the business? Are the advantages of in-house printing – the ability to print exact quantities as and when required, the protection of confidential information and the flexibility to handle last minute changes – outweighed by those of outsourcing?
Brent Jameson, marketing communications manager at Konica Minolta highlights further issues to be considered. “Will a new device be used to print material currently outsourced? Do you require a device that provides the opportunity to increase volumes without increasing costs dramatically? Are staff numbers expected to grow?”
The type of industry also comes into it. “For example architects and engineers may require large format plans to take to clients.”
And is owning office equipment the smart way to go? Or, does one of the many different lease or contractual options available, offer the small business owner better value for money? Martin Drew; “This depends on the individual business but you need to ask the question ‘are flexibility, cost and convenience important to the business moving forward?’ There’s more to an MFD than just printing and copying.”
Steven Caunce, marketing brand manager Fuji Xerox, questions the wisdom of tying up capital that could be better used elsewhere. “Leasing offers flexibility in a way that can adapt on the fly to changing business needs. Vendors can add, change, or remove equipment as needed, depending on usage, with simple contract amendments. Often they can package deals on equipment so that they end up only paying for the device usage instead of the device itself.” Caunce advises financing directly though the vendor. “They have a vested interest in keeping you happy and demonstrating value for your money.”
Keeping the customer happy needs to involve end-to-end training and support. “Users should be trained so that product features are maximised and they feel comfortable using the equipment. Service should be fast and efficient and device downtime, through fault or preventative maintenance, kept to an absolute minimum,” says Konica Minolta’s Jameson. Look for service levels that are consistent nationwide he says. “There’s no point in a Timaru business partnering with a provider that can service Auckland in a few hours yet takes 12 to service businesses in the South Island.”
“Today’s MFDs are deceptively smart,” says Caunce. “When it comes to replacement parts many will automatically sense a level is low or a part nearing the end of its lifecycle and email an automatic order to the supplier for a new one. The device watches itself and you’ll have new components on hand before they’re needed.”
Remote diagnostic systems can communicate directly with a support base, often identifying a problem before the user is even aware. And – a boon in a busy office – MFDs can transmit meter readings directly from the device to the service centre.
The cost of consumables has often been a concern for businesses (a few years ago it was reckoned that printer ink cost more per ounce than Chanel No 5). The introduction of managed print solutions, whereby both consumables and servicing are integrated into one cost per copy has become a cost-effective answer and one more businesses are signing up for. Where multiple devices are required, savings will also be made by sticking with one brand. And, rather than having separate department budgets for print work, consolidate it through one desk.
SOHO print needs
The SOHO business segment has its own special print needs; one that’s amply catered for by Epson, says marketing manager Nika Maltseva. “Most micro-businesses have very small budgets and want a solution that’s efficient and reliable.” She says they’re also more likely to have just one printer and choose a multi-function device. “Recent trends in the print industry show further improvements in inkjet technology that significantly reduce running costs and offer an affordable, fast and efficient alternative for small businesses.” It’s cost-effective to own a 4-colour multi-function inkjet, rather than leasing and servicing an expensive MFD that requires a lot of space and is not cheap to run, she says.
While cost savings and productivity have been key considerations for businesses over the past year, environmental issues are still important and Martin Drew says they’re seeing more commitment to a sustainable and environmentally conscious workplace.
Introducing green printing practices means a reduction of the environmental footprint plus benefits such as lower costs and improved productivity.
MFDs manage printing and electronic distribution of documents in a smart, cost-effective and environmentally sound way, says Canon’s Tara Worley. “Having one machine that can manage several forms of output is an efficient smart solution for small-to-medium businesses.”
IDC’s Diverse and Exploding Digital Universe report forecasts that between 2009 and 2012 printable content will triple due to analogue to digital transformation, explosion of printable content and colour output, mobility and wireless printing and growth of services-based printing models. Richard Bailey says companies need print technology solutions to help them take control of the abundance of documents, translate their information into useful insight and manage any compliance requirements. “There’s increased interest in printing and document management solutions which help them improve workflow and the movement of documents through an organisation.”
Outsource or DIY?
More businesses are opting for electronic rather than print communications. This is rapidly changing the whole print space, says Andrew Durrans, general manager at GEON.
“We’re no longer just printers. We now provide print and communications solutions. Off-set printing is still our core business but we’ve added new services like digital print and design.” This enables them to handle smaller print runs and a growing demand for rapid turn-around, more cost-effectively, he says. (Global industry predictions for the next five to ten years are for digital print, which currently represents about ten percent of output, to increase to around 50 percent, says Durrans.)
Quality is tremendously important to commercial printers, but Durrans says ‘the in-house colour copier scenario’ is leading to an acceptance that near enough is good enough. “However, having said that, for many of our corporate clients, quality is absolutely paramount.” You get what you pay for, he says. “One of the things that happened during the recession was that price became a higher component in the decision-making process.” Customers are going online to find the cheapest prices. “What we try to do is educate them about the total cost of doing business, rather than the cost of an individual product.”
Durrans also has issues with a lack of understanding of the print process and says their people spend a lot of time working alongside clients to ensure the job measures up. “Graphic designers are trained to do magnificent designs but not necessarily take into account the end use.”
Despite the versatility of MFDs, commercial printers still have their place in providing a high quality service to small businesses, says Konica Minolta’s Brent Jameson. “They can provide professional advice and recommendations such as the type of stock used and finishing options for large print runs.” Outsourcing also means you’re freeing up time to concentrate on growing your business, he says. Something Andrew Durrans knows from experience. “I’m thinking about a couple of real estate people who have taken out their colour copier. They’ve decided that while it may be only 20 cents a click and that sounds really cheap, they’re not very skilled at doing it and it actually takes them a long time and there’s a lot of wastage. So they’ve taken out that internal production capability and outsourced it.”
Patricia Moore is an Auckland-based freelance writer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
*Perceptive Omnibus Research April 2010