Honk if you hate dot matrix printers. They’re loud, slow, and dirty.

But the business world can’t live without them. And since we’re stuck with supporting them, we’ve got to do like Andy Taylor and Barney Fife did with Aunt Bea’s homemade pickles: We’ve got to learn to love ’em. If we fail to support dot matrix printers correctly, our companies suffer huge losses in productivity.

Just print it already
The other day I went to a local government office to order a copy of a car title. I waited and watched as the poor souls behind the counter conferred about how to print the multipart form on the brand new dot matrix printer. I swear I heard this exchange:

“Do you know how to print the XYZ form on this new printer?”

“Somebody said you had to turn it off and hit reset.”

“That’s what I had to do yesterday, but I know that can’t be right.”

“If I could just get it to print right once, I’d mark on it, you know, where it should line up.”

They ruined two multipart forms and reset the printer three times before they got it right. Naturally, I was freaking out because I was in a hurry. (It’s a law—you never go to any government office when you have plenty of time on your hands.)

I was thinking, “You have got to be kidding me. They put in this groovy new printer and didn’t even bother to show their users how to load it!”

That’s right; I say that the IT department failed these end users. The IT department was so far out of touch with reality that they didn’t bother to double-check how this brand new dot matrix printer worked in the hands of end users—people who have to print umpteen multipart forms every single day.

I wish I could believe that the IT people who ordered and installed this “new printer” innocently assumed that the end users would know how to use it. Unfortunately, the attitude probably was: “Hey, we set up the printer, and it’s up to them to figure out how to make it work.”

The support people probably overlooked that the old printer—the one the users had figured out—bore pencil marks designating where to set paper guide margins for five or six different forms. Instead of making print jobs easier, the new printer made customer service suffer.

The costs of dot matrix waste
If you haven’t checked on your company’s dot matrix printers in a while, here’s your chance to be the hero. Judge the value of the dot matrix printers based on the answer to this question: Is there paper waste?

The whole reason dot matrix printers still exist in our shops is because they’re used to print the most expensive paper products in the office supplies budget: labels and multipart carbon forms. If you want to find out how much your dot matrix printer is costing you, ask the users of the dot matrix printer to save the forms that get ruined instead of throwing them away—for a month.

Count the forms. How much have you lost?

  • Take the number of unused forms and multiply it by the cost per form.
  • Factor in the extra time (wasted) an end user spends resetting the printer and rerunning the print job.
  • Don’t forget to factor in the human factor—the resentment and frustration your end users will feel about a piece of technology that’s supposed to be helping them do their jobs.

Teach your users well
The best thing you can do for dot matrix printers is spend some time with them. Show up one morning with a dozen donuts, declare you’re there to help, and sit with them. Don’t intervene until or unless you’re asked, but watch how end users handle the printer and the forms.

By being there in person to answer questions—and remember that the only stupid question is the one that isn’t asked—and to show them the right way to use the printer, you’ll score major points with your end users. And by helping put an end to the waste, you’ll be adding to your company’s bottom line in increased productivity.

Dot’s all there is to it
To share your opinion or your experiences supporting dot matrix printers, please post a comment below or drop us a note.
Each Tuesday, Jeff Davis tells it like he sees it from the trenches of the IT battle. And you can get his report from the frontlines delivered straight to your e-mail front door. Subscribe to Jeff’s View from Ground Zero TechMail, and you’ll get a bonus of Jeff’s picks for the best Web stuff—exclusively for our TechMail subscribers.