Can the office printer stay relevant in the mobile workplace?

While mobility and the cloud are transforming today’s workplace, many businesses still operate a hybrid mix of paper and digital workflows. The transition to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) places more demand on the need for an accessible, reliable and secure print infrastructure. This is vital in boosting mobile productivity and collaboration whilst ensuring document security and compliance.

The key component of a secure and reliable print environment is the smart multifunction printer (MFP) which has evolved from a peripheral print and copy device to a sophisticated document hub that can be integral to business processes. The emergence of advanced integrated software platforms turns the MFP into a powerful productivity tool, effectively bridging the paper and digital divide.

At one level, it may be as simple as using the MFP to scan a document and store it in a cloud service such as Google Docs or Evernote. At an enterprise level, the MFP can be used to connect and route documents across existing enterprise content management (ECM) technology, improving productivity and efficiency of paper-intensive processes. Think scanning an expense receipt at an MFP which automatically routes the information to accounting for approval. Or the scanning and routing of new account applications from MFPs in remote bank branches to centralised repositories.

Smart MFPs not only enable increased productivity by speeding up paper-dependent business processes but also allow a distributed mobile workforce to collaborate and work more effectively. For instance, most Smart MFPs enable mobile workers to print directly from their mobile device by authenticating at any MFP on the corporate network using either a user ID/password or ID card authorisation. As more employee-owned smartphones and tablets proliferate in an organisation, security and the tracking of the printing of documents from these devices becomes ever more important.

With the majority of vendors expanding their smart MFP portfolios – including Canon, Dell, HP, Konica Minolta, Kyocera, Lexmark, Ricoh and Xerox – what should businesses look for when evaluating a cloud connected Smart MFP?

  • Multi-layered security. MFPs should be treated like any device connected to the IT network and has to be considered as suffering from the same vulnerabilities, as well as some specific to the device itself. Areas to evaluate includes hardcopy security, ensuring documents are only released to authorised users and not left unattended in output trays; and hard disk security, such as hard disk drive (HDD) encryption and data overwrite security. Look for MFPs that are compatible with network security protocols such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol, IPsec and SNMPv3. All printing, copying and scanning should be tracked and monitored for auditing purposes – typically available through either device logs or more comprehensive reporting tools.
  • Flexible mobile printing. Smart MFPs should offer flexible, user-friendly and secure ways to print directly from smartphones and tablets across all mobile operating systems.  Look for compatibility with AirPrint, Google Cloud Print and third party solutions such as Cortado and EFI PrintMe Mobile.
  • Cloud enabled. Most MFPs support scanning to multiple destinations, including scan to email, scan to FTP, scan to fax and scan to network. Smart MFPs will also offer the ability of sharing documents to the cloud. Look for MFPs that also connect to the most popular cloud services such as Google Docs/Drive, Evernote, SharePoint Online, Dropbox, and Office 365. However, also make sure that this is fully audited and that accounts used can be controlled – scanning direct to cloud in an uncontrolled manner is an ideal way for a disgruntled employee to copy intellectual property into their own environment outside of the organisation.
  • Customisation. Embedded software platforms enable customised workflow icons to be created on the MFP panel, making it easy for users to capture and route documents to the relevant enterprise application. These custom scan-to-workflows allow users to eliminate multistep, manual and time-consuming scanning-and-processing tasks.
  • Document conversion. Look for OCR scanning into native formats where documents can be scanned into editable word processing documents, spreadsheets, and searchable PDFs. For instance capturing paper-based financial statements and converting and sharing to Microsoft Excel format. Some MFPs perform OCR scanning in the cloud eliminating the need to install additional server-based technology.  This may raise security issues as OCR in the cloud will involve the document’s content being moved into the cloud: the stream of data in both directions needs to be encrypted, and there must be guarantees around how the data is stored and securely erased.
  • Flexible remote administration. Look for an integrated solution that handles the single solution for device management, print queue management, and accounting. Centralised web-based device management helps network administrators to control all network enabled printing devices.

For businesses operating a larger shared MFP fleet, they should consider using the expertise of a third party managed print service (MPS) provider.  MPS can help organisations to reduce costs by consolidating outdated, energy-inefficient devices in favour of MFPs, minimise downtime and improve productivity through advanced software solutions. Consider independent providers that can advise on the right combination of hardware, software and services that suit a particular business need.

Like it or not, paper documents will be around for some time with many businesses continuing to rely on them to support certain business processes. Businesses should leverage the MFP to improve businesses processes that are paper dependent. With careful evaluation of how they can integrate with existing enterprise systems, MFPs can play a vital role in today’s mobile workplace by improving productivity, increasing collaboration and reducing the burden on IT staff and budgets.