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Looking to cut costs? Go to the printer

Carol Hildebrand

It was the filing cabinet that broke the camel's back. When Ohmite Manufacturing moved its headquarters from Skokie, Ill., to Rolling Meadows, Ill., the company had to put tons of filing cabinets stuffed with paper into storage. And as Ruben Luna, Ohmite's information technology manager, saw the masses of paper, he became determined to find an answer. Luna installed eCopy, scanning software that runs on Canon copiers, in an effort to drive paper out of the workflow.

The myriad paper files -- such as invoices and shipping orders -- that are generated by the company's ERP system are now sent straight to the desktop. "It never gets turned into hard copy," Luna said. Instead, the documents get routed to the appropriate desktop, where they are filed in Luna's nascent centralized electronic document base. "We've set up a place on the central server for all documentation," he said.

Luna expects

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the company's use of eCopy/Canon to grow. "It's spreading across the company and changing the way that things flow throughout the company," he said. "That's a lot of business advantage at a very low cost."

Luna isn't the only IT executive with a desire to snuff out paper. As companies hunt under every possible rock in an effort to cut technology costs, the cost of printing is finally beginning to come under the microscope after years of stealth spending.

"Companies really don't understand what printing costs are," said Keith Kmetz, program director for IDC. "There's a lot of money being spent on printing from output, input, distribution, and maintenance, but the costs are completely unmanaged."

In fact, according to Michele Morris, the Worldwide General Office Segment Executive at IBM Printing Systems, the purchase price of a printer is only 5% of the total cost of the device over three years. However, by following these simple suggestions, CIOs can get a jumpstart on controlling costs in an area of technology that touches every portion of their company.

Estimate the damage

Companies such as HP, Lexmark and IBM are eager to show potential clients the pitfalls of uncontrolled printer spending, and many will come on site and conduct an assessment of the situation. "We find that many vendors are getting the C level executive involved," said Kmetz. "If they can put together a plan that shows a customer could save X% on scanning, faxing and distributing documents, the CIO or CFO is going to be interested."

Morris said that for an assessment to be done right, CIOs shouldn't settle for a quick and dirty thumbnail sketch. Rather, they should expect the assessors to take the time to thoroughly examine how printing is set up in a company, and the business needs to drive that set up.

Kmetz said that an assessment should take the following under consideration, at the very least: the number of printers, copiers, multifunction printers and faxes that are on site; what they're doing and what volume; and who has access to which devices.

Consolidate

One of the big issues with printing is the uncontrolled proliferation of inkjet printers, which are cheap enough for many corporate workers to buy and expense. The result? Rogue printers sitting on many individual desks, each demanding its own expensive supplies and maintenance. Worse, it's actually more expensive to print with inkjets than it is with laser printers, said Kmetz. "In terms of cost per page, the inkjet is typically more expensive to operate." Once the assessment is finished, CIOs need to consolidate those under-the-radar printers into networked lasers that can accommodate a crowd.

Set policies that save paper

CIOs can also create some printing policies through canny use of software. For example, Kmetz suggests that users can be encouraged to print double-sided pages if IT staffers set the default setting for their print function to 'duplex.' "A lot of times people just print what the default is," he said. "When they have to go in and make the change themselves, many will succumb to inertia."

There is also software available that tracks printing volume, such as the document accounting system made by Equitrac. "This technology gives the ability to track how much is being printed, what devices are doing what," said Kmetz. It can help CIOs better balance the utilization rate of networked printers, and it also affords a somewhat Big Brotherly peek into users' printing habits. "You can make sure that people are using the devices appropriately and not just printing personal stuff," said Kmetz.

Go for multifunction devices

Companies can consolidate maintenance and purchase costs by buying the popular multifunction devices that combine scanning, faxing, copying and printing into one box. Consolidating these devices into multifunction devices does several things. It reduces capital expenditure; saves office space; makes managing consumables easier; and allows hard copy documents to remain electronic until needed. Moreover, using the scanning feature to electronically distribute images, as Ohmite did, saves money by cutting down on printing all together.

"One of the ways to reduce printing costs is to get less stuff printed," points out Edwarf Schmid, the CEO of eCopy. "It's part of the MFP pitch —- a single device with multiple personalities."

Consider outsourcing

According to Schmid, one final method of saving money is to offload the whole shebang to a printing expert. Companies such as IKON and HP will manage the entire printing and copying operations process for a corporation. "They charge a basic flat fee per copy and take care of everything: toner, paper, equipment, maintenance," he said. The notion does make a certain amount of sense, particularly if you buy into the concept of outsourcing cost center activities that are not integral to the business goals of a corporation. Nothing could be further from most corporate goals than printing, and it could be the poster child for a cost line item.

Today's smart companies integrate technologies into their business that demonstrate real bottom line value, and that should include printing. After all, a no-brainer type of activity shouldn't be an expensive one.


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