Buyers' guide: MPS advice

Printing is hardly the most exhilarating technology the IT industry has to offer, but Gwenyth Taylor seems genuinely excited by the potential of managed print services (MPS).

That strange state may have something to do with the environmental and cost impact her employer has seen – some 37 million pages saved annually since 2004 – during the five-years since it switched to from plain old printers.

It could also be the number of personal printers legal firm Allens Arthur Robinson has eradicated and the consolidated printer fleet that resulted, not to mention the improved efficiency and reduced requirements for end-user support.

Most likely, however, it’s a combination of all of the above, and the continuing opportunities for improvements that make an almost evangelical example of why any company should switch to managed print services.

Of course, like many firms, Allens Arthur Robinson is a big printer – a “sausage factory for documents” according to Taylor’s partner in crime, Peter McGrath – and it ultimately has a big stake in the printing arena.

Still, it’s likely that more Australian companies will exponentially increase their own stake in the near future.

(CSC, IDP share managed print implementation strategies)

After all, the MPS market is booming. IDC statistics indicate Australia accounts for more than 45 per cent of spending on the service in the Asia Pacific region, with forecasts the market will see double digit growth to reach $440 million in value by 2014. The usual suspects, Fuji Xerox, HP, Canon, Lexmark and Toshiba, are battling it out to get attention from potential customers, and signs indicate that even Dell wants to move in on a maturing market.

As that market grows, the number of vendors and the types of services on offer are likely to multiply, making the MPS uninitiated a little uneasy, but McGrath says there is little argument against the service: “I’m amazed there are still some companies that aren’t doing it”.

Outsource the boring

Like the “cloud” conundrum, there are multiple connotations for managed print service. As a point of differentiation, Canon even scraps the term in favour of “managed document services”, indicating its focus on documents rather than printers. To follow the old adage, the cheapest document is one not printed.

We’ve now got people coming into meetings with a one page agenda and other people looking at them and saying ‘did you really feel you needed to print that?’ It’s a cultural thing.Gwenyth Taylor, project manager, Allens Arthur Robinson

To add pressure to pain, analyst firm IDC refuses to refer to MPS as an isolated term. While MPS can be generally defined as enabling organisations to outsource print related services and solutions so they can re-focus on their core competencies, IDC’s research manager of the Asia Pacific services team, Suchitra Naryan, argues “value-add MPS” is a more apt term for the wider market.

In the value-added version, MPS is a proactive service designed to improve business workflows and reduce costs in a targeted manner. Beyond the basics of consumable and paper supply, and even hardware maintenance, the vendor or third-party supplied service often encompasses document workflow management, fleet consolidation along with financial and environmental assessment with a view to set key performance indicators designed to cut down both.

The process, often available in five year contracts, involves close negotiations with the customer to set service level agreements, deployment preparation, and ongoing communication to ensure the best efficiencies are met.

In many respects then, there is some truth to Canon’s methodology. What is clear is that it isn’t about the bulky beige piece of plastic churning out pages.

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“A fundamental shift has occurred, however, in the way MPS is perceived in the market,” Naryan says. “It's no longer about services that you buy bundled with hardware; it’s hardware that comes bundled as a services offering. It is a cost management solution, that is able to provide a predictable OpEx (operational expenditure) model for the end user.”

A managed print service enables the company to replace existing printers with a view to implement a more controlled system which provides granular reporting, down to who printed what, when and how much colour they used. Assumptions of control aside, though, the end result is, ideally, a highly managed printing environment where the waste is cut out.

While some analysts suggest companies with at least 100 employees should consider adopting MPS, others find a low-level managed service can make improvements in any organisation albeit in different orders of magnitude. The ultimate benefits of a managed service will ultimately change based on how extensive the implementation and the size of the contract.

(Managed print customers stick with the basics)

Some may prefer to see it as a loss of management and subsequently responsibility over printing within the organisation, but others will naturally be wont to forgo the full “valet” service in favour of a slightly managed approach. For Ben Knappstein of Burnside War Memorial Hospital, the ability to implement device-agnostic print monitoring software allowed him to scale a roll out of Kyocera Mita printers while looking to gradually implement printing restrictions as he saw fit, even past the length of his current contract.

“We’re trying to achieve a further 10 per cent [reduction] in printing over the next 12 months and we’ve put some restrictions in place to achieve that and so far it’s looking pretty good,” he says. “Printing is now visible to each user; there’s a little widget that sits on each user’s computer that shows their print usage so they can monitor it and we have set up pop-up alerts when users attempt to print a job either in colour or simplex mode. They can override those alerts obviously, but there is now an end user focus on responsible printing and printing costs.”

Vendors are seemingly more than happy to implement an open, rather than closed, system based entirely around their portfolio of products. Rivals HP and Canon even have a long-standing relationship in the space which sees products from both companies offered to customers along with managed services. It is ultimately about fitting service to device to reach optimal efficiencies, and of course, to outsource those aspects that aren’t particularly appealing to IT staff.

Warming up

If there’s one piece of advice successful MPS customers have for those looking to get into the game, it’s around preparation and planning.

“We had the planning, time and the development of the contract and statement of works so both parties clearly knew what they were supposed to do and if something was grey there was a process to ‘un-grey it’, and that made it a pleasure to work on,” Allens Arthur Robinson’s McGrath says.

The lack of preparation, however, can lead to unforeseen problems, and unaccounted-for increases in rollout time.

“It wasn’t until we were about 80 per cent through our process that we realised we were gong to have a problem,” says John Gilmore, project team lead of shared services at Western Australian roadside assistance and insurance group, RAC.

It's no longer about services that you buy bundled with hardware; it’s hardware that comes bundled as a services offering.Suchitra Naryan, Research Manager, Asia/Pacific Services Research, IDC

Though he found the company’s Canon-based MPS implementation fairly early, they discovered during the rollout that the devices and back-end infrastructure being implemented wouldn’t be compatible with the Oracle financial systems the company relied on. The issue - a make or break one for the company’s accounting department - required a database analyst to reset hardcoded parameters each time to enable printing; hardly a workable solution.

“If we could have anticipated that problem we might have been able to take a week or so off the length of that project,” he says.

A solution was ultimately found in the form of middleware that wouldn’t significantly alter implementation or existing systems, but the lack of preparation in the first instance was ultimately to blame.

Proper preparation, according to IDC’s Naryan, must focus around clear communication with the chosen vendor, concrete service level agreements and a deep understanding of how the company’s existing systems would integrate with the planned services. Internally establishing key performance indicators for reductions in cost, environmental impact and paper use ahead of implementation would also likely determine whether the vendor’s supplied monitoring software would be suitable or whether additional systems are required to ensure those are met.

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PC load letter

While MPS can address a number of common print-related business problems, it should be noted that MPS isn’t an out-of-the-box wonder cure.

Like any enterprise-wide rollout, the headache of cultural management is likely to be the ultimate obstacle that stops an organisation from fully rolling out a managed print service, if at all.

Opposition to change, for instance, prevented the CIO at legal firm Gilbert Tobin from implementing PIN-based or swipe card printing for confidential documents. Instead, Andrew Mitchell decided on a Lexmark solution which included printers that had personalised multi-tray bins, automatically separating each employees’ prints.

“It’s very hard to change the mindset of lawyers,” he says. “Like anything else they like to have it close by and they are dealing with sensitive data so we do need to make sure that people are confident.”

Some, like Knappstein at Burnside hospital, are resigned to modest gains as a result of ingrained culture as well as pure business requirements.

“For certain parts of the hospital, you cannot change too much,” he says. “The medical records department will print ‘X’ amount of pages per admission and that can never change so we’re not going to see any great improvement in those areas.”

But there is a secret to cultural management that some organisations have discovered in their travels, particularly when it comes to removing pesky personal printers: Work from the boss down. At Allens Arthur Robinson, its rollout began with the manager and the precedent simply followed.

“The managing partner said ‘I don’t need a personal printer, would you like to explain to me why you need one?’” says Allens’ Taylor. Once his decision was made, Taylor says there was a “ground swell” of support for the new system.

Debbie Louttit, IT customer services manager at Deakin University, saw the same effect when the institution’s new vice chancellor led the way.

After 18 months of trialling its managed Lexmark service for students, which currently averages a million impressions a month, the educational institution Deakin University is set to commence a wider rollout over its staff from next year, but the precedent is already in place.

"It will still be difficult, I have no doubt, but given the vice chancellor has said ‘I can go to a centralised printer, I don’t need one on my desk,’ it will make the discussion with staff a bit easier.”

For RAC’s Gilmore, showing the organisation’s employees how much paper they wasted – the equivalent of 300 to 400 trees each year - prompted a change in thinking that resulted in the organisation effectively halving the number of printers in its Perth rollout.

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An MPS blueprint

Depending on your business objectives, MPS is unlikely to enable a great many benefits in isolation. A combination of workflow and document digitisation, employee recognition and moving to smaller offices has formed part of Allens Arthur Robinson’s attempt to cut its carbon footprint by five per cent each year.

Printing has certainly had its effect – the legal firm went from printing 61 million pages annually in 2004 to 24 million last year – but greater digitisation, server virtualisation and the deployment of widescreen monitors, helped to encourage the desired outcomes of the organisation’s virtual corporate social responsibility team.

“We’ve now got people coming into meetings with a one page agenda and other people looking at them and saying ‘did you really feel you needed to print that?’” Taylor says. “It’s a cultural thing.”

It also needs to be remembered that MPS can be a long haul. The NSW Department of Education and Training, on the edge of renewing its first three-year contract with HP, is yet to see a significant portion of the thousands of institutions it encompasses turn to the service, but support is accelerating.

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