Last month, when meeting with the IT director of a mid-sized manufacturing company, he offered to show me his “printer supplies” room.
I wasn’t ready for the sight that met my eyes. Not so much a store cupboard as a small warehouse, with thousands of boxes stacked to the ceiling. Boxes of toner for the hundreds of mono laser printers distributed around the office, colour toner for machines in marketing and PR, scores of different inkjet cartridges for fax machines and whole rows of cartridges just for copiers.
The walls were a sea of logos – Hewlett-Packard, Oki, Sharp, Ricoh, Dell, Xerox, Canon, Brother, Lexmark. And alongside them, tower after tower of paper stock.
In all, my host estimated we were looking at around £200,000 worth of “consumables”, all to serve his organisation’s 400 printers and other imaging devices.
The scene was not chaotic. After all, the supplies room was organised so that that individuals did not waste time finding the replacement they needed. But its existence represented a chaotic state.
Printing is an expensive business: companies worldwide spend $112 billion a year on imaging products. It is also a wasteful one. In the UK alone, office workers throw away over half a billion pieces of printed paper every single day.
Reacting to that, organisations are desperate to find ways to reduce this print burden, to make printing more efficient and to bring discipline to what has been an under-managed area.
There are some positive signs. Cartridge prices are falling (at least for inkjet), and several vendors are now moving to a one-size-fits-many model.
There is also some rationalisation as a result of the replacement of standalone printers, faxes, scanners and copiers with multi-function printers.
And, after years of neglect, print management software is now becoming a bona fide systems management toolset, enabling administrators to centrally manage the print “fleet”, monitoring usage and availability, authorising user groups and allocating them with different privileges, and adding secure printing facilities.
That presents an opportunity for IT: to take full control of an area that is ripe for streamlining. If nothing else, just turning the supplies warehouse into the supplies cupboard would be an achievement.