​Don't say goodbye to paper: How AI makes printers--and paper--relevant again

AI breakthroughs for print management and support give IT new capabilities for managing paper documents.

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Just because an organization is undergoing a digital transformation doesn't mean that ancillary IT accessories should be left behind.

I'm referring to printers.

Sure, printers may have been displaced by digital processes in most customer-facing operations, but it is still very much at work in company back-end business processes.

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"Printers—and paper—continue to play a large role in enterprises because it's extremely costly for organizations to change their back-end processes, and also the behavior patterns of staff that have been established over many years," said Wouter Koelewign, chief product officer for Y Soft, which provides print management solutions.

Printer management (and investment) deserves a spot on your IT strategic roadmap. Not convinced? For one thing, the printer's role is evolving thanks to artificial intelligence (AI). A second reason for a printer strategy is security and data leakage. Can you think of a better place to avoid the security snooping of a corporate network than simply going up to a plain old printer and running a copy of the company's customer list?

4 reasons for printers

Here are four more reasons why printers remain an essential tool for the enterprise and how AI helps printers remain relevant.

1. Securing protection

Printer authorizations can be imprinted on badges that employees swipe when they're ready to run a copy or do a print. These badges can be coded to reflect the functions that individual employees are authorized to print. For example, if you're a truck driver doing deliveries, you can swipe your badge and print a packing slip—but if you're an engineer in the same company, you might not be authorized to print a packing slip. If you work in human resources, and you need to copy a passport, you swipe your badge and do the copy, but if you're in manufacturing, and you don't deal in passports, you can't.

"At the same time this happens, every department in the company gets a report of its printer usage—who in the department used the printer when and for what, etc," said Koelewign.

The ability to monitor use not only creates some security protection; it also assists departments in tracking (and keeping down) printer ink and paper costs.

2. Printer capability anywhere

Koelewign recalled an auto manufacturer that drew up plans for a new vehicle in the UK, but needed the plans printed for a meeting in New York the next day. The manager sent the print request over the company network to a printer in New York, and the print was there waiting for him when he arrived.

"He could just as easily have sent a print request to a printer in Belgium or in Australia," said Koelewign. Being able to print anywhere is an agile solution for business travelers, and it saves time and money.

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3. Driverless mobile printing

Equally important is an increased ability for new printers to operate without having to install printer drivers for every single device that wants to print. Loading individualized drivers for desktop and mobile devices has been a user pain point for years, so endowing printer-related software with AI that can detect a device and then configure a printer for it automatically provides a great benefit. Most importantly, new AI-driven printer capabilities enable more mobile users to print directly from their devices without any hassles.

4. Fleet management

Finally, printer sensors can be monitored on the network, sending signals when ink replacements or other machine maintenance is needed. This reduces printer downtime—but if downtime should occur, AI built into the system can automatically reroute printer jobs to another printer.

Summing it all up

AI breakthroughs for print management and support, combined with the creation of "smart" printer networks that can now auto-failover and redirect print jobs, or raise an alert when a suspected security breach occurs, or when maintenance is needed give IT new capabilities for managing paper documents.

At a minimum—and as a reminder that digitalization won't digitalize everything—CIOS should write printer management into their IT security and automation plans.

Also see

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Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

By Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...