by Bob Raus of Océ North America's Digital Document Systems Division Digital printers have become as much a part of the office landscape as IBM Selectric typewriters and file cabinets were a generation ago. The difference is that their costs are real--and substantial. July 25, 2005 -- Every business has rules--a variety of policies and procedures that define the ways they operate. Some are less well-defined, part of the corporate culture. Others, like those surrounding IT, are orchestrated by a standard data infrastructure that provides a level of monitoring, management and control. There's one area, though, that commonly lacks an overall strategy of any kind and few standard policies are in place to manage and control costs. But there's an irony associated with the ongoing battle against redundancy, complexity and inefficiency. As departments within an organization struggle to meet immediate commitments, reduce immediate costs, and manage immediate requirements—many implement specialized, quick-fix solutions that compound overall IT architectural complexity and compromise tomorrow's costs and manageability. The result of this myopic departmental view is that many organizations don't have just one infrastructure. Instead, they have multiple, islanded mini-infrastructures, with products from multiple vendors and dedicated systems and server hardware that required specialized maintenance routines. Printing--both color and black and white--involves scanning, faxing and document archiving. Although they take place virtually everywhere within an enterprise, are commonly disjointed and uncoordinated processes from department to department. Fax machines, copiers, desktop and hallway printers, plus higher volume machines in in-house print shops are typically purchased and operated without a thought to their real costs to the enterprise. But those costs are real--and are substantial. Peaks and valleys of usage stem from departmental, rather than corporate purchasing decisions, and the lack of an enterprise-wide view of document production. Normally obtained and operated at the departmental level, these machines have become as much a part of the office landscape as IBM Selectric typewriters and file cabinets were a generation ago. But while typewriters and file cabinets were inexpensive and required little in the way of maintenance, digital laser and ink-jet print engines have voracious appetites for paper, toner, ink, and require routine servicing and maintenance. Today, with virtually all documents created digitally, the costs associated with these appetites add up quickly. Yet even as they continue to grow, they remain invisible, buried in departmental overhead. A further layer of costs comes from under-utilization of equipment. Printers in corporate data centers, for example, often sit idle except during monthly peak periods. Meanwhile, an in-house printshop runs two shifts a day to keep up with demand, while outsourcing jobs its equipment is unable to handle. These peaks and valleys of usage stem from departmental, rather than corporate purchasing decisions, and the lack of an enterprise-wide view of document production. Areas of Opportunity It is not a matter of printing less, but a matter of printing smarter. These facts add up to areas of opportunity for companies--namely developing a print infrastructure. It is not a matter of printing less, but a matter of printing smarter. A print infrastructure comprises a variety of hardware and software assets that include connected and unconnected printers, copiers, multi-function devices, servers, scanners, and output management software. This requires an executive-level commitment to examine printing and document production as cost issues that are every bit as vital as those associated with other controllable expenses such as travel, IT and employee benefits. Such attention could address situations like: A marketing department, customer service and human resources all have similar 110-page-per-minute workgroup printers on leases that cost $X month. However, each machine operates at less than 25 percent of rated capacity. The three departments would be better to either share a single machine, have smaller, less costly machines in each department, or better utilize the in-house printshop. Equipment for a data center that sits idle for half the month could be replaced with newer machines that could still handle the data center volume but also take some of the workload from the in-house printshop, perhaps even to the point of eliminating the second shift. Equipment for an in-house printshop could be acquired with the features necessary to eliminate most outsourcing, thereby controlling expenses. Selecting machines that will serve the needs of multiple departments is an excellent way to reduce the overall cost of document production Separating the true costs of document production from departmental budgets, and understanding their impact on the bottom line shows the tremendous potential for cost savings by adopting a print infrastructure. Because modern digital printing equipment is so capable, selecting machines that will serve the needs of multiple departments is an excellent way to reduce the overall cost of document production while actually enhancing productivity. Software Crucial Software is the key element in making a print infrastructure as effective as it can be. As important as selecting the right equipment is, the software behind the machines can actually be a more important part of the decision. While the specifications for many print engines seem similar, the software is the key element in making a print infrastructure as effective as it can be. We'll delve deeper into the software side of this issue in my next column. Until then, the high-level view is to implement modular, integrated software that can interconnect the office, in-house printshop and data centers. The right print infrastructure can improve the productivity of people, systems, and processes; maximize equipment utilization; and encourage enterprise-wide connectivity, compatibility, and usage of assets. With flexible and fully featured support for equipment from multiple vendors, an intelligent print infrastructure can deliver lasting dividends in several operational and strategic areas because it: Gives an enterprise the agility to shift workloads and adapt to change Makes maximum use of existing assets—without locking a company into devices or software from one vendor Minimizes costly duplication of equipment, servers, and human resources, freeing IT staff to focus on business-critical projects Do you agree? Or not? Drop me an e-mail at [email protected] and I’ll share the feedback I get as well as more thoughts and ideas in a couple of weeks.