Discovering Printers

By David Strom  |  Posted 2008-09-29 Print this article Print

It’s rare for an enterprise to have a coherent plan for managing its printers, which makes it difficult to predict the overall cost of consumables without monitoring and accounting tools.

Discovering Printers

Before you can manage your printer fleet, you first have to know where all your printers are located. Unfortunately, finding them isn’t always easy. “A lot of the time, when IT managers go into these exercises [of finding printers], they don’t even know how many printers they actually have,” says Steve Reynolds, a printer analyst with Lyra Research.

“In every case, people have more printers than they thought they had. In some cases, they have more printers than there are users in their organizations. Most organizations need to carefully examine their printer fleets. These network discovery tools are important and can find more savings than IT managers can do on their own. It’s worth going through them.”

The printer management tools all have discovery mechanisms that are based on Simple Network Management protocols, but not all printers are network attached, and some can be offline or on unreachable network segments (such as at branch offices or behind firewalls) when the scan takes place.

What makes these scans truly vexing is that each tool will find a slightly different collection of printers, depending on whether it can recognize off-brand models or older printers. IT managers should plan to spend some time after the initial scan cleaning up and correcting their reports and tracking down any printers that are MIA.

One other dimension involves the ability to track printer usage over a period of time in order to spot trends or abuses. A good tool will record this time-series volume of pages printed. This enables managers to identify where their higher-cost locations are and take steps to economize if necessary.

Another aspect of fleet management is the daily chore of keeping printers running: fixing jams, feeding paper and toner, and killing jobs that turn a whole forest into a stack of mostly blank pages. Tools like Web Jetadmin are good at handling these real-time tasks, but a tool such as Synnex’s Printsolv is less useful because it merely takes a series of snapshots of your network.

Calculating Costs

Finally, the ultimate goals of this exercise should be to calculate overall enterprise printing costs and then to reduce those costs through a variety of strategies: replacing expensive-to-operate inkjet desktop printers with more efficient workgroup printers, and so forth. The desktop printers are priced low, but they cost more per page to operate and can break down quickly. Also, they are harder to track because they are often purchased by individual departments and fly under IT’s radar.

Part of any total cost of ownership (TCO) exercise is being able to incorporate accurate page-cost accounting information for each of the printers in your fleet. A ream of paper that is printed by an $89 inkjet desktop printer is going to cost more than a ream printed by a high-volume multifunction printer down the hall.

So managers need to have more than just aggregate page counts; they need a complete TCO profile for their fleets. Sometimes this information is difficult to obtain, and sometimes it is included as part of a vendor’s printer management tool. It depends on how diligent an IT manager wants to be and how granular he or she needs to get in order to figure out the TCO for operating each printer.

Another aspect of printer management is the ability to consolidate the purchasing of supplies. This enables companies to receive quantity purchasing discounts and reduce their supply inventory and fulfillment hassles.

“Typically, most enterprises don’t manage their printers,” Gartner’s Grant says. “They have fragmented purchasing, which is usually done departmentally. And supplies aren’t centralized, so [companies] are paying the maximum amount.”

After all is said and done, you should be able to figure out which printers are costing you more to operate, and which should either be retired or moved into more popular locations based on those numbers. One of the more recent trends is replacing workgroup printers with larger-volume multifunction machines.

The vendors sell consumables at a discount to encourage companies to move to these initially more-expensive models, which can fax and copy as well as print. Also, as the cost for color copies drops, it makes sense to revisit this issue and examine whether it’s worthwhile to migrate monochrome printers to color models in some situations.


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