The case for outsourcing your printing needs

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The case for outsourcing your printing needs

A managed print service can save your business money – we look at the other benefits, the traps and the options.

The term ‘managed print services’ covers a lot of ground, but the basic idea is to offload the task of managing your organisation’s printing to an outside specialist and hopefully save money and possibly even improve productivity in the process.

In its very simplest form, you pick a printer just as if you were buying it, but all the hardware and consumables costs are rolled into a per-page charge, typically with just-in-time delivery.

At the other extreme, the provider comes in, looks at what you are and should be printing: for example, can copying be replaced by scanning and digitally distributing the images? The provider then determines the optimum printer fleet, taking into account productivity and cost, and actively manages and maintains the fleet, and rearranges and refreshes the hardware as requirements change and wear and tear takes its toll.

Managed print services are offered by printer vendors  directly – for example, Canon through its Harbour IT  subsidiary, HP, Konica Minolta, Ricoh and Toshiba – and through channel partners, such as Fuji Xerox's Xerox Partner Print Services, Kiss Print Services, LaserChange and Rodin.

There are also independent providers that are not tied exclusively to any particular brand of hardware, such as CSG, Mitronics, Nuance, PrinterCorp and Viatek.

Broader document management services

Some providers take a broader view and look at the workflows around paper documents, and may even look for current paper-based workflows that are ripe for digitisation. Examples include Fujitsu, Lexmark and Ricoh.

Even when we focus on printing, the idea is to pay someone else to worry about what printers and related devices you need, take on the 'care and feeding' of the fleet, provide a help desk, and so on. Then your people get on with their real jobs, print what they need when they need to, and your only concern is paying the bill, which providers often say can be reduced by up to 30 percent – sometimes 40 percent – compared with doing everything for yourself.

Pricing models

One of the simplest models is to charge by the page. That sounds attractive, but there is often a minimum monthly commitment. The provider wants to be certain that it can amortise the fixed costs as planned, but it serves as a disincentive to significantly reducing the amount of printing you do. It can be a particular problem if your business changes significantly during the life of the contract.

For example, if you cease an activity that was the source of much of your printed output you may end up paying a much higher average cost per page than you expected because you have dropped below the minimum. Or if your print volumes increase substantially, the provider could make cost savings by swapping-in heavier-duty hardware without having to share the benefits in the form of lower prices.

You may see 'per page' deals for printers that you purchase, lease or rent. What happens is that the prices you pay for a ream of paper, a toner cartridge and any other consumable items are averaged to give a page rate, usually with some basic remote monitoring so the provider can deliver consumables just before they are needed. Some providers (such as Kyocera) include service and maintenance in the per-page cost.

Rather than charging by the page, some managed print services providers (such as SmartPrint) offer per-user billing. One big advantage is the predictability – print costs only vary with the number of people you employ, not how much they print, so there are no nasty surprises when the bill arrives.

A downside could be that knowing the marginal cost of each page is zero could lead people to print more, and apart from ecological considerations that increased volume could mean a higher price the next time your contract comes up for renewal.

What’s right for you

“There are ways of offering managed print services that are great for the customer,” said Fuji Xerox Printers value product marketing manager Glenn Gibson. Managed print services “encourage businesses to grow” and accommodate the peaks and troughs that occur.

So it's probably worth getting a quote for managed print services unless your print volume is very low. If you're not spending much, there's little room for savings. However, certain providers such as Merge ICT group require no minimum volume commitments from their clients, so not having to worry about ordering and stocking consumables may be sufficient benefit to make it worth switching to managed print services.

Whatever size business you run, do your own analysis of your current printing costs in terms of money and time, and look very closely at any managed print services proposals to make sure you really will be better off. It's called due diligence.

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