With many organisations switching to managed print service providers to save money and resources, it pays to look carefully at all the options, says Louella Fernandes.

Many businesses operate a complex print environment consisting of various makes of printers and copiers with different consumables and servicing patterns. But printing is showing no signs of disappearing, so businesses are facing escalating costs – both in paper and consumables. An unmanaged print environment is not only costly – both financially and environmentally – it also poses security risks, such as documents being left exposed in output trays.

However, businesses are now realising the need to tackle the complexity, cost and risk of operating an unmanaged print environment.

Quocirca estimates that 45 per cent of enterprises have turned to an external managed print service provider to help them run their print infrastructure.

Managed services can save anywhere between 10 per cent and 30 per cent of printing costs

Managed services can save anywhere between 10 per cent and 30 per cent of printing costsPhoto: Shutterstock

This approach allows an organisation to focus on its core business activities because staff no longer need to spend time ordering paper and ink, processing invoices, and responding to printer-related helpdesk calls.

The cost savings can be significant. Managed services can save anywhere between 10 per cent and 30 per cent of printing costs. In addition, when services such as pull-printing are introduced, they can boost employee productivity, enhance security and reduce environmental impact.

Managed print services comprise three main phases – assessment, optimisation and ongoing management. A comprehensive assessment will analyse the existing printer fleet, along with usage, and make recommendations for a consolidation and optimisation.

A typical recommendation might be to replace outdated, single-function printers with the latest networked, energy-efficient, multi-function printers.

At this stage, software can be introduced such as secure or pull-printing, which ensures print jobs are only released to authorised users. This approach, together with regular monitoring, ensures the print environment adapts to changing business needs.

Managed service providers broadly fall into two categories. First, there are hardware vendors such as HP, Ricoh and Xerox, which deliver services directly or through third-party providers.

Most hardware vendors deliver print services directly to larger organisations and may use channel partners to target smaller businesses.

Second are independent providers, for example, system integrators or value-added resellers, many of which by definition will be channel partners for certain hardware vendors.

They are particularly appealing for enterprises that…

…operate various makes of printer because they can offer a comprehensive assessment of a multivendor fleet that is not tied to a particular brand.

Their vendor-neutrality also means that they can often negotiate the best prices on equipment and supplies, based on need, use and quality. As it may sometimes be cost-effective to retain existing equipment until end of life before replacement, a managed service provider should be able to rationalise an existing fleet without immediately installing new hardware.

The longer established independent providers such as M2 have already carved a niche in the market and often use a proven set of print management tools to assess, manage, track and report on equipment across a mixed fleet.

Such independent providers also have full helpdesk services backed by a network of multi-vendor service engineers. A recent Quocirca study showed that service reliability, after cost, was one of the key drivers for using a managed service.

With organisations lacking the skills and resources to manage print inhouse, they should look to providers that commit to given service levels for toner delivery and installation, preventative maintenance and availability.

An effective provider offers a range of benefits. Printing costs become known because page volumes and devices are tracked and managed. Devices and vendors are standardised and consolidated, the print environment is managed holistically and IT staff involvement is significantly reduced.

M2’s work for the Jardine Lloyd Thompson (JLT) Group illustrates some of these benefits. M2 helped J2 consolidate its fleet of 470 devices by 25 per cent, reducing suppliers from eight to one.

M2 provides centralised print management and support along with two dedicated onsite engineers who provide break-fix and preventative maintenance. As a result of M2’s involvement, JLT has saved about £300,000 per year.

Hardware vendors will continue to have the scale and reach to serve large global or multinational customers but independent providers can offer value to the smaller enterprises that still face the same print management challenges as their larger counterparts.

Medium-sized businesses should consider providers with a range of capabilities and skills to deliver a comprehensive service. These providers may also offer more flexibility on pricing – not always using contracts that require volume commitments but instead those that are based on actual print usage.

The availability of managed print services through the channel means they are gradually moving beyond the exclusive domain of the large enterprise.

However those businesses with a large or mixed printer fleet need to ensure their supplier can fully deliver a service that covers assessment, optimisation and ongoing management.

The key value of any managed service lies in the initial assessment. Cutting corners here may mean cost savings will not be sustained in the long term.

Read a free copy of Quocirca’s full report on independent managed print services.

Quocirca is a user-facing analyst house known for its focus on the big picture. Made up of experts in technology and its business implications, the Quocirca team includes Clive Longbottom, Bob Tarzey, Rob Bamforth and Louella Fernandes. Their series of columns for silicon.com seeks to demystify the latest jargon and business thinking.