How many printers do you support? If your company provides a printer for all or most of your end users, you’re probably wasting money on printer infrastructure that you just don’t need.

But how can you pull the proverbial plug on those desktop printers without upsetting your end users? In this column, I’ll tell you about how one company plans to change the printer infrastructure when the office moves to a new location.

Doing the printer math
Recently, I was hired by the CFO of a nonprofit agency to help plan an upcoming office move into a new building. We started out talking about ways to make sure that equipment doesn’t get lost or damaged during the move. However, the conversation quickly turned to the CFO’s biggest concern: too many printers.

For years, the agency’s 50-odd users had been spoiled by having their own printers. The problem with supporting all those printers, of course, is the cost. The premove printer costs included part of the salary for the agency’s full-time IT person, who spent an inordinate amount of time cleaning printers, fixing paper jams, and replacing toner cartridges. In addition, the agency was paying monthly maintenance on many of the newer printers.

The CFO asked, “Do you think the move would be a good time to get rid of them [the desktop printers] and move to network printers?” I agreed, and we estimated we could lower the number of printers being supported from more than 50 to less than a dozen.

The challenge is convincing the end users that losing their printers won’t mean the end of the world, and then providing the right level of printer support after the office move.

Planning the transition to network printers
The CFO and I created a checklist of action items to be completed before, during, and after the move. Here are some of the highlights from that list.

Cancel the support contracts on the old printers as soon as possible
This smart CFO is planning almost a year in advance for the upcoming office move. The first item on our list was to make sure to cancel maintenance contracts on existing printers at the earliest possible date, and start putting that money back in the budget.

Plan to sell, store, or donate the printers to be retired
The CFO hadn’t thought much about what to do with the old printers. I recommended that they be sold outright, placed in storage, or donated to a worthy cause such as another nonprofit agency or a school. Whatever you do, I told the CFO, don’t let the users keep the old printers—they’ll wind up using them instead of the network printers.

Identify the users who get to keep their desktop printers
A few agency employees, including the human resources director and the payroll manager, routinely print documents containing confidential information. So the CFO decided those users could keep their local printers.

Determine how many network printers will be needed
In the agency’s new offices, employee offices and cubicles will span two full floors. We decided to start with six network printers: one on each end and one in the middle of both floors. That made the ratio of employees-to-printers about 7:1. If six printers weren’t enough, the CFO figured she could always add more.

Decide how many color printers to install
In many shops, color printers are a complete waste of resources, because most end users simply don’t need full-color documents. However, because this agency has one team that routinely prints color documents, I recommended that the CFO install only one color printer, and that access to that printer be limited to the team that needs it.

Decide exactly where the printers will be located
In reviewing the blueprints for the new office space, I noticed that there weren’t locations designated specifically for network printers. I’ve worked for companies where special alcoves are created just for network printers, and I’ve worked for companies where the printers get stuck on the top of a filing cabinet or any old tabletop. The CFO was leaning towards custom alcoves for the printers, but was going to discuss it with the architects before the build-out.

Make sure there’s power and network access for the printers
This item should be a no-brainer. However, if you’re going to build special space for the network printers, you want to make sure you allow for electric supply and network access points in your building plans. You don’t want to be forced to string cables along the hallway walls just to hook up your network printers.

Orienting users so they don’t freak out
Once you’ve finalized your plans for moving from local printers to network printers, you must turn your attention to educating your end users. They’ll want to know why you’re taking away their coveted personal printers, and they’ll be very upset if they can’t start printing right away. To help them prevent user duress, I gave my nonprofit client the following recommendations.

Sell the benefits of networked printers
When you announce the new printer infrastructure, be sure to explain to end users the benefits of using shared printers, which includes lower costs of doing business for the company, lower printer support costs, and usually faster and higher-quality printouts.

Name and label the printers
One idea that hadn’t occurred to the CFO was naming and labeling printers. Some IT departments ignore printer names completely, and it’s a big mistake. I recommend naming network printers using human-friendly names like Blinky and Gizmo. That way, users will get used to referring to the printers by name. Then—and I can’t stress the importance of this enough—label the printers with tape or paper labels. Nothing frustrates end users like wondering, “What’s the name of this printer? I can’t find it on the network…” Even if you use IP addresses to identify printers instead of human-friendly names, put the IP address on each printer in clear view.

Preinstall the printers, if possible
IT personnel are stretched thin during an office move, and you hate to add too many items to their to-do lists. But consider how the end users will feel if they show up to their new offices, power on their computers, press [Ctrl]P to print a document, and discover there’s no printer installed! If at all possible, the IT person who moves and installs user machines should invest the five minutes or so it takes to install the new network printer. Make installing the printer part of the setup checklist.

At least provide printer installation instructions
If your IT staff simply can’t take the time to install the closest network printer on each PC, at least provide users with documentation on how to do it themselves. Most users know how to run the Add Printer wizard. However, to install the new network printer, they’ll need to know the name (or IP address) of the network printer. I recommend leaving on the user’s desk a set of generic instructions on how to install a printer, plus the name of the network printer closest to the user’s office.

When you change the infrastructure by taking something away, such as local printers, you run the risk of flooding the help desk with calls from frustrated users who just want to print a document. When you combine a change in infrastructure with an office move, it’s even more important to be sure your customers have printing capability from the first moment in the new office space.

How many printers do you support?

To comment on this Help Desk Advisor column, or to share your own tips for deploying printers, please post a comment or write to Jeff.