Amidst the relentless technological change, rapid hardware obsolescence and ever-rising electronic waste (e-waste), "reduce, recycle and reuse" has become a mantra for sustainable IT. Left uncontrolled, one area that can have a significant environmental impact is printing - in energy usage and ink, toner and paper consumption. But rather than strive for a paperless office, businesses should aim for a "less-paper" office that combines the best of both worlds.
The digital era of smartphones and tablets may see us favouring pixels over print, but the reality is that many offices still remain reliant on printing to support business processes. In fact, over the past decade, the explosion of web content and digital communications has led to increased printing rather than paving the way for the utopian paperless office.
Like it or not, paper still has an important role to play in today's 21st century business. For many, paper is still a preferred communications tool, and this is unlikely to change for some time. It is tangible, can be easily shared, referenced and is personal. In particular, high-quality colour printed material can be an engaging and compelling medium in today's cluttered online world.
However, in many businesses, printing is perceived as a free resource, leading to excessive and wasteful printing - be it the unnecessary printing of emails, use of single sided rather than double sided (duplex) printing or use of expensive colour devices for draft documents. This is often exacerbated by highly paper-dependent processes such as invoicing that can be cumbersome and inefficient.
Alongside the obvious cost-savings and productivity benefits for reducing paper consumption, there is also an environmental need that is resonating with businesses looking to digitise paper workflows. However, rather than removing paper completely, a more realistic, and sustainable approach, is a "less-paper" office that combines the strategic use of paper and digital workflows. First and foremost is the need for a print policy that encourages and automates responsible printing practices. Ultimately, print should be used in moderation, eliminating excessive or wasteful printing while optimising the use of print when needed as a valuable communications tool.
Many organisations are already using a managed print service (MPS) to consolidate their printer fleet with energy efficient MFPs (multifunction peripherals). By consolidating devices, reducing waste and consuming less energy, MPS backed up by intelligent print management software, can play an important enabler for the sustainable office.
Additionally, by leveraging today's advanced MFPs, which are evolving into document collaboration platforms, businesses can take advantage of mobile document workflow capabilities and businesses can set the scene for broader paper-to-digital transformation.
Intelligent print management tools offer a variety of capabilities that enable organisations to control, track and monitor paper usage. The tools may be available as either device-embedded or console-based software. Best-of-breed examples typically work with any manufacturer's printer, copier and multifunction devices. This eliminates the need for disparate systems for different devices.
When considering an intelligent print management tool, look for the following features:
- Secure pull printing - One of the biggest sources of print waste is the documents that are printed but never picked up, thrown straight in the recycling bin or fall into the wrong hands. Secure printing provides an answer. Users can send their documents to print as usual, but the job only activates when they log in to the printer, usually with a key card. This also offers the benefit of making it easier to track each device's usage.
- Rules-based printing - Applying smart printing rules can direct print jobs to the most cost-efficient device on the network, depending on factors such as the number of pages and which program the user is printing from. Enforcing print rules prevents abuse of high cost-per-page colour printers.
- Cost recovery - This provides the ability to charge scanner, printer, photocopier and fax usage to a specific client, division or cost centre. For instance, legal firms can bill clients for every page printed or copied on their behalf, and colleges and universities can provide students with print quotas.
- Scan workflow - Some print management tools offer a capture and send capability that distributes scanned images from the MFP, via email, or stores them in repositories such as SharePoint. This encourages users to store and share files digitally rather than in paper form.
- Reporting - Reporting features provide clear visibility of document production and workflow costs. Detailed reports enable administrators to analyse usage by user, device, server, mono/colour, billing code and so on. More advanced features can capture and report on end-user print behaviour in more detail. For example which programs a user printed from, which output devices they chose, the names of the documents they printed and how many documents they printed in colour. Some tools even detail the resulting cost savings and environmental benefits, such as the reduced consumption of trees and water and CO2 emissions avoided.
The paperless office remains a pipedream and tomorrow's workplace will be one that optimises the use of both paper and digital communications to support the increasingly mobile worker. Businesses should leverage MFPs to bridge the paper-to-digital gap and develop a robust print policy, enforced by intelligent print management, to ensure that printing is controlled, secure and sustainable.
Read Quocirca's paper A Sustainable Print Agenda, commissioned by Nuance.