Print Management – What to know before buying
Getting toner on paper, i.e. printing in a work environment, can be a waste of valuable resources. Printing can actually eat up to 3 % of revenue in a company, not to mention the waste of your colleagues’ precious time, when printers are not working smoothly. Printing is not simple or cheap to manage, unless you know how. Likewise, procuring a print management solution is not easy and it can be very expensive unless you know the field. The smartest guy in the room usually gets the best deal so read on to become that guy. The number of reasons for large printing expenditures increases with the size and complexity of an organization – hence the savings potential gets bigger. This is how print management is justified. Simply handling the task or getting on top of something is in essence more (cost) efficient and this is what you can accomplish.
DownsidesNo print management solution is a cure-all for the requirements of varying organizations. In general, there are also some downsides to be expected. Speed – the user has to walk up to the printer, authenticate and wait until the document is transferred from the print server to the printer. It can feel like a waste of time waiting for a 100-page print, especially if you are busy executive. Cost – nothing in this world is free and print management software and solutions are certainly not. You have to buy extra licenses to operate the software, operating system, possibly SQL Servers and card readers. You might also have to upgrade part of your printer fleet if your printers or drivers are not compatible with the software. Maintaining servers takes time and costs money – $3500 per year according to IDC. You might need to install extra software on the printers, which takes time and cost money. Finally, it takes time to pre-configure, install, maintain and upgrade print management software. Maintenance – It often requires a constant focus from your it staff to keep the lights on the solution.
The puzzle pieces in a solutionThe area can seem complicated for the non-printer-techie. There are a few concepts you must understand if you are going to sit at end of the table and procure a PM solution. Below are listed some of the key concepts that I will walk you through in this article.
- Print management software
- Pull Print (also called Secure Print Release)
- Print drivers
- Rule-based printing
- Print servers
- Mobile Print
- Consumables (toner and ink)
- Printers and card readers
- Printer repair
- Managed Print Services (MPS)
Print Management softwareThere are several vendors. Some of the more well-known brands in the industry are SafeCom, Pharos, Equitrac, Papercut, PrinterLogic, Cortado and Printix. Printer vendors like HP, Canon and others also offer similar software. A catch with these are however, that you can get “locked-in”. HP’s software works best with HP printers. If you have a mixed fleet of printers and don’t plan to purchase extra new hardware, then you might want to go for one of the vendor independent solutions. Traceability and accounting is a cornerstone of controlling print costs. Questions like, how much did Peter print last month and who printed the large 200-page document, can be answered by standard software solutions.
Pull PrintIt has become an industry standard to include some kind of Pull Print i.e. secure print release functionality. This enables you to have a “Secure Print” workplace. A main advantage of Pull Print is that the employee can collect their print by swiping their employee ID card at a card reader, at a random printer, and then the printer starts humming. This also offers simplicity for the users, as in having only one print queue installed on their desktops, but the flexibility to print from any Pull Print enabled printer in the workplace they walk by and feel like printing on. You can expect roughly a 15 % decrease in the total amount of print-outs when implementing a print management solution that includes a Pull Print type of technology. The reason is that a lot of colleagues send something to print, but never actually pick it up at the printer, which results in a lot of wasted, uncollected paper. With Pull Print you only print documents that you collect at the printer, because you have to walk all the way up to the printer, login and wait for the documents to print. Part of the software is often also printer specific software, which means software that runs on the actual printers. This is done to use the display on the printer for login, document selection and to lock the printers for anything else other than the Pull Print print jobs, so the printing statistics are accurate. The “wisdom” in this, is that you don’t have anybody printing “outside” the print management solution. Otherwise, you will not know if it was Peter or Bob who printed and then the accounting part of the print management software is not completely accurate. In order to be sure that you are procuring a solution that supports all of your printers, I would advise you to ask the vendor if they have a list of the printers they support. For instance, Equitrac does not integrate with all printers on the market. If you have a non-compatible printer to Equitrac, then you have two options; replace the printers that the vendor does not provide embedded software support for or purchase an external card reader or tablet to install on the printer. The external card readers or tablets can do the job, but they can be expensive. One card reader can easily cost more than $500 per unit. If you have a collection of many different printer brands, then you must be careful about the software you purchase, unless you are about to buy a whole new printer fleet or want to buy a bunch of expensive external card readers. Deciding on procuring a new print fleet will make you a real “snack” for the vendors and ensure that you get a good deal.
Print DriversFiddling with print drivers (or printer drivers) is one of the trickiest parts of getting a print solution to work. Choosing the right driver for the right printer, for the right Operating System and then seeing the print-outs correctly reproduced when they come out on paper; this is an eternal challenge in any print solution implementation – and that’s not all. Occasionally, job accounting can be incorrect depending on the driver selected. For example, if Peter prints a 5-page document 3 times, it is not necessarily accounted for as 15 pages. Instead, it may be shown as 5 pages or 45 pages or another random number like 39,865 pages. It might be registered as a color print even though it was black/white. Believe me, getting print drivers to work correctly, and not just 95 % of the time, is one of the biggest time robbers in any implementation. When drivers don’t work, the questions arise; Is it due to a buggy print driver, is the print management software not performing the accounting correctly or is the printer sending the incorrect data etc.? I have never seen a case, where the meter readings on the printer and the print management solution agree on the number of printed pages. They are always different!
Rule-based printing and economical defaultsOne of the tricks to saving money on any printing budget is to make it cumbersome for employees to print in color and easy to print in black/white. Color prints cost more than three times as much as a page printed in black/white. Enforcing printing in duplex for the users is a good way to save money on your printing budget. Duplex is printing on both sides of the paper. It requires a printer that supports printing on both sides of the paper. You also need a little skill, the right print management tool or enough knowledge about print drivers in order to roll out so that printing in duplex and black/white is set as default.
Print serversMost organizations have print servers. This helps centralize the system administration tasks and makes driver fiddling a little bit easier. Let’s say you have 10 printers in your workplace. All of these printers are typically connected to a print server. When you print something, the print job gets sent to the print server and then from the print server to the printer, which could be standing right next to you. There are some arguments for doing it this way, despite having to send the same print job over the network twice. One advantage is that you can have printers on a separate network than your users. Another is that you can easily roll out printers with Active Directory Group Policies. Group policies only works in a Windows environment – so if you have a Mac, then you need to do something else. If you want your default setup to be black/white and duplex, then you need to be advanced in scripting, but it is possible. Print management software typically runs on top of the print server. One way to look at the software is like an add-on to the print server that gives you more tools to administrate printing. A print server is typically a Windows server with some additional features installed. There are some alternative solutions to having print servers – one is PrinterLogic another is Printix. With PrinterLogic, you will get rid of the print server and replace it with a PrinterLogic server instead. With Printix, you eliminate the print server and replace it with a subscription-based cloud solution, that orchestrates print infrastructure tasks for you.
Mobile PrintThe mobile printing industry is in some ways a contradiction. Why would you print what you already have available at your fingertips on a tablet or smartphone? It should not be necessary. However, getting it on paper is still a preferred way for many people to work and then you need a way to get the information you have on your smartphone/tablet on to paper. Mobile printing solutions support a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategy. Some of the known providers are EveryonePrint, ThinPrint and PrinterOn. If you only have a few printers or if you like being Locked in, almost all of the printer vendors do also have their own mobile printing solution. Printing is accomplished differently on mobile devices than on desktop computers. The most common methods used to retrieve documents to print are:
- Email print
- Integrations with Dropbox, Google Cloud Print etc.