Will a managed print service lower costs?

Vendor promise that a managed printing service will lower printing costs. Is it the truth? Scott Lowe discusses an underway pilot at Westminster College.

AIn my previous posting, I discussed the merits of Westminster College's switch to the PaperCut print management software. The deployment of a package to impose enforced limits and visibility into printing behavior has allowed the college to reduce overall printing costs by helping users become more aware of their habits. In short, we've reduced a lot, but not all, of the waste in the system.  Frankly, I doubt we'll ever eliminate 100% of the waste, but any efforts we can take to get to, say, 95% are good.

Westminster College has also changed from using OEM toner cartridges to using refilled units that, believe it or not, work extremely well. Between the two steps, we've been able to bring skyrocketing printing costs under control.

However, I've recently been told that we continue to leave money on the table when it comes to print costs and that we can continue to reduce these costs by outsourcing overall management of our printers to an outside group. In the past, other things have gotten in the way of looking at this managed printing service, but this time, I decided to let the company give it a shot. In their pitch, the sales person promised to either meet or beat our current costs for both toner and printer repairs and indicated that we can keep our current printer fleet intact. Over time, if we find that we can get better costs with different printers that meet our reliability goals, we'll consider it.

The company we're working with has a local presence, and the references with which I've discussed the project spoke very highly of the company and indicated that their promises of lowered costs and less printer management hassle were very true. As a result, over the past few days, we've installed software on one of our servers to help the company gauge the use of our networked printers so that they can determine a cost per page that makes sense for us.

Assuming that we get results from our printing analysis that show the company that we can actually reduce our overall print costs -- and I will obviously independently verify the results -- we will enter into a month-to-month arrangement with the group under which they will monitor, manage, and repair our printers as necessary. Also under this agreement, the company will advise us on ways in which we can redeploy our printer fleet in order to maximize the program's effectiveness and, in turn, minimize our printing costs.

At present, we do devote some staff time to overall printer management, including toner management, which involves stocking and replacing toner, and printer repairs. For repairs, we have a break-fix arrangement with a local repair shop, and so far, this arrangement has been effective. That said, if we're truly able to meet or beat our current costs and we can reduce the amount of IT staff time that goes into the administration of our printer fleet, it seems like a no-brainer proposition, particularly since we'd be on a month-to-month contract with no long-term commitment. In my opinion, the risk for this arrangement is very low while the upside could be potentially significant.

If things work out and we're happy with the results, we can consider future opportunities that might include hardware replacement, but those options require a longer-term commitment, and for now, I'm interested in seeing how things go first.

Within the next 30 days, we'll have the first-pass results for the first vendor, and depending on those results, we'll decide whether or not to move forward with that company, look at other options, or simply maintain the status quo. As always, I'll report back on progress.

In the meantime, I'd be very interested in reader feedback on managing print services in general.

By Scott Lowe

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 w...