In my sixteen years of service in the IT industry, one thing has remained constant: printers suck. Buying them, supporting them, feeding them and making sure end users can use them - any way you look at it, making sure that printers are meeting the need can be painful. On the other hand, for the business, printers are a life line necessary for all kinds of tasks and, without them, there probably wouldn't be a business. As such, it's important that IT keep these critical - albeit finicky - devices in working order. At the same time, organizations need to be cognizant of how much printing is taking place as inappropriate printing can truly "nickel and dime" a company to death.
Prior to my arrival at Westminster College, the IT department had implemented a product called Equitrac to handle print management. A group of environmentally concerned students actually pushed the administration to place reasonable limits on printing and asked that a solution be implemented in order to compel compliance. Shortly thereafter, Equitrac was implemented. While the software did its job, for a variety of reasons, we ended up on an outdated version of the software without the ability to upgrade to the newest version without paying for a full license again. Upgrading was too expensive, so we ran that way for about three years before we began running into compatibility issues stemming from running the older software. As a result, it was time to either upgrade or move to another platform.
I'll cut to the chase. We discovered another product called PaperCut that had been getting very positive reviews on a number of higher ed listservs to which I subscribe. After a short scan of the market and getting a few members of my staff involved, we decided to give PaperCut a shot. For what it does, the product's pricing is spectacular, particularly for educational institutions. For our 1,500 user licenses, we didn't end up having to pay much more than we did for Equitrac support alone, so, from a financial standpoint, the decision was a no-brainer. We moved to PaperCut over the summer of 2009 and have had very few problems, but have enjoyed a great number of the product's features, including:
- A web-based console used for both administration and user access. Users can very easily get a list of every single one of their print jobs.
- Automatic refunding in the event of a failed print job with no need for IT to get involved.
- Multiple easy ways to add money to a student's printing account. We haven't yet implemented what PaperCut calls "TopUp" cards, but we plan to do so.
- No problems working with Windows, OS X 10.4, 10.5 or 10.6. Lack of OS X 10.5 and 10.6 support is what drove us away from the older version of Equitrac.
- Automatic creation of user printing accounts through integration with Active Directory. Under Equitrac, getting new printing accounts created was a true hassle.
- Excellent, intuitive reporting tools, including an "environmental impact" report for each user that provides them with information about how their printing affects the environment.
- A very regular release cycle. Last year alone, there were close to fifteen releases, all of which added features and corrected issues.
- Meager system requirements for the server component - 1GB RAM; Windows, Mac OS X, Linux OS support; and less than 1GB of disk space. We run ours on a VMware-based virtual machine.
- Easy, easy administration.
The intuitive reporting capabilities have allowed my staff and I to better assess which printers belong where and to understand print cycles. The result is better on-hand inventory of supplies and a better understanding of who has high printing needs that might require additional equipment or support. On top of that, by closing down free-for-all printing in our computer labs, we've seen a significant reduction in waste, which translates into lower costs and a lower environmental impact. Once we moved away from Equitrac to Papercut, we've experienced a whole lot less administrative hassle related to print management, more features and better overall support.
We have yet to tap the full potential for PaperCut and, so far, it's far surpassed our wildest expectations. Frankly, we've not had any negative experiences or problems with the product.
Disclaimer: This is not a paid advertisement. It is, however, a review by an extremely satisfied customer.
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Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at email@example.com.