DAILY INSIGHT: Our move to managed printing & copying, part 1: The why & how

By Andrew Wallace, CIO Advisor

Recently our IT department was asked to reorganize printing and copying in our district. These functions were previously decentralized and supported by each school. We whittled down the dizzying variety of copier maintenance contracts to just two. With the two remaining vendors receiving far more volume, our per-page costs dropped by 10% in some schools and up to 80% for certain nearly obsolete machines that we quickly retired.

Often—even in urban centers—copier brands are supported by only one vendor. We picked one of the few makes that allowed for the type of competition that typically yields the best service and prices. If one of the vendors proves unresponsive or has questionable billing practices, we can default to the second vendor for full support. Our plan is to award the entire contract to one of the two vendors after a two-year test period in which they provide all parts, service, toner, and maintenance on half of the copiers each. Naturally we will weigh cost, but with per-page prices usually varying by tenths of a penny, we have also been keeping close track of response time and overall customer service.

Our vendors provided us with auditing software that sniffed printing activity on our network. They gave us monthly averages per building and identified copiers and printers that were under utilized or extraordinarily expensive to operate. The numbers were a little overwhelming, but they were illuminating (and they did not even take into consideration the contraband desktop printers we all know are hidden beneath desks and in coat rooms). It was at this point when I truly understood just how unmanaged, unsustainable and wasteful our printing and copying was.

We decided to purchase a print-management software solution that would interface with all of our copiers and printers. After careful consideration we selected PaperCut MF with Find Me. This solution's benefits are very promising.

Confidentiality: Because users are required to enter their network password to retrieve print jobs, every print job is only retrievable by the owner. No more final exams snatched off the unattended printer; no more abandoned special ed document begging for a lawsuit.

Fewer copiers and printers: We believe that all users from the nurse to the student deserve degrees of privacy in what they print; however, proving individual printers to everyone flies in the face of fiscal responsibility and is a case study in TCO. Since every print job is equally confidential, we no longer need to make decisions that demean people in their expectation of privacy. Copiers can be in public spaces, thereby eliminating the need for "student printers" and "staff-only printers." In some schools, we reduced the amount of printers by more than 80%. No replacement, no toner and no service on a decommissioned printer is a savings realized every year, even if recorded only once in the ledger.

Going green: Wasted paper has all but disappeared. Gone are the blue plastic bins teaming with unclaimed book reports and duplicate print jobs, because you claim only the jobs you want when you put in your password. Our paper consumption has definitely decreased, making us feel good about this solution, and saving even more money.

Accountability: Personal printing has almost completely vanished, because each job is authenticated. For most IT departments this was always the case; staff just never gave it much thought.

Targeted billing: The software can be configured to charge per-page costs back to specific schools, departments or individuals. Many districts set a monthly or yearly limit for students, or even staff. While we do not bill at this level, the dollar tally that pops up with each print or copy job reminds users of the real costs associated with their choices to print. This personal appeal to fiscal conservation can influence behavior.

Moving to paperless: I am sure the irony is not lost on copier companies, but advances in network-ready, active directory-synched machines coupled with print-management software like PaperCut means most teachers will print far less. Features like color scanning, multi-page feeders and group emailing allows even the more traditional teacher to make huge and effortless leaps into the paperless printing movement. Entire file cabinets can be digitized in only a few hours.

We have been very pleased with the results of this unexpected opportunity. However, it has not come without its challenges and has been one of the most difficult and contentious technology implementations of my career. In Part 2 of this blog, I will share what went wrong and what we would do differently, as well as some things to avoid and things to embrace when moving toward managed printing and copying.

Andrew Wallace is technology director for South Portland Public School Department in Maine. He blogs at Shooting for Seven, where this is cross posted. Follow him on Twitter as @andrewtwallace.