The mobile printing challenge

Mobile devices are transforming business productivity. For many, the workplace is no longer defined by the traditional office; employees are now accessing corporate applications, data and services from multiple devices and locations every day. With a highly mobile workforce, organisations need to ensure employees have the same access to corporate applications as they would from the desktop, while protecting sensitive data. One area in need of better control, which has yet to catch up with the desktop experience, is printing.

Most businesses are reliant on printing to a certain extent, and although print volumes are flat to declining, there is still a need to provide easy access to printing for mobile workers. This could be simply being able to send a print job wirelessly to an office printer from a smartphone, sending a print job in advance to an office printer while on the road or allowing guest visitors to print securely from their mobile devices.

Whilst the explosion in the variety of smartphones and tablets used in the workplace is boosting productivity, enabling mobile printing across multiple platforms and printers can prove a real IT headache. Mobility has shifted control of IT from the IT department to the users. In the past the IT department (IT) would usually have complete control of the print infrastructure, managing the installation and deployment of printer drivers. Now, users may be installing their own printer apps, without IT’s knowledge and often expecting support for mobile printing from previously unsupported devices. Consequently IT is grasping for any available options that ensure mobile printing is controlled, reliable and secure.

Essentially, there are several ways to print directly from a smartphone or tablet device:

  • Integrated Mobile OS support. This native printing capability most closely matches the “File > Print” Windows desktop user experience. Apple’s AirPrint, for instance, is built-in to the OS, making it easy to print to a supported printer or MFP.  Although Airprint is a good tool for local network printing, Bonjour, Apple’s automatic printer discovery technology is normally confined to a single subnet, so does not discover printers across broader networks. Various products, including Breezy, PrinterOn and EFI PrintMe Mobile offer automatic printer discovery for Airprint as well as for the Android platform, via an app.
  • Email Attachment. This is a basic approach of sending a document attachment, for instance as a PDF, JPG, TIFF, BMP or Microsoft Office file, to an email address associated with a specific printer/MFP or print queue. While this works for any mobile OS, most mobile printing solutions lack controls for printing options such as number of pages, duplex, colour and multiple copies. Unless integrated with a print management application, there is no way of tracking print usage via this approach.
  • Mobile Print Apps. Many print vendors have their own printer apps which allow direct printing to compatible printers or MFPs on a wireless local-area network.  Mobile print apps can also take full advantage of printer options, so offer more control than printing via an email attachment.
  • Google CloudPrint: enables printing the over the web via Gmail and Google Docs to supported Google Cloud Print Ready printers.  In addition, EFI PrintMe Mobile now offers a Chrome extension that allows direct Wi-Fi printing from Google Docs to any MFP. As above, in order to track and secure printing via a mobile app, integration with a print management tool is necessary.

In response to the lack of standards around mobile printing, the Mopria alliance was established in late 2013 by Canon, HP, Samsung and Xerox. In February 2014, other vendors including Adobe, Brother, Epson and Konica Minolta also joined the alliance. Mopria aims to align standards that make printing compatible from any mobile devices to any printer. Initially support is focused on sending print jobs over Wi-Fi connections or “tap-to-print” through near-field communications (NFC). Conspicuous by its absence currently is Apple, which has bypassed NFC in its new iPhones, in favour of iBeacon technology, which is based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and has a much longer range than NFC (tens of metres versus a tenth of a metre).

While most printer manufacturers offer a range of solutions based on the above approaches, third party solutions have emerged that offer a one-size-fits all approach across mobile platforms and printer brands. These include EFI PrintMe Mobile, EveryonePrint and PrinterOn. Given these diverse choices, businesses need to carefully evaluate the available options and determine which features and benefits are important. For instance while smaller businesses with a standardised printer fleet may find mobile print apps sufficient for their needs, larger businesses with a mixed fleet (both mobile OS and MFPs) should consider integration with brand agnostic secure printing solutions.

Secure printing, through third party products, which include Nuance Equitrac or Ringdale FollowMe, are an effective approach for larger mixed fleet environments.  When a user prints, the job is held in a server queue until it is released at the printer or MFP after following user authentication (ID badge, or username and password).  This offers a range of benefits, including an audit trail of what is being printed and eliminating paper waste as documents are not left uncollected in output trays which in turn reduces the chance for sensitive documents to be picked up by the wrong recipient.

With many IT departments already stretched, they may struggle to keep up with the demand for supporting printing across new types of mobile devices that are introduced, not to mention the new wave of connected smart MFPs. Many businesses are turning to managed print service (MPS) providers to handle the management of their print infrastructure. More MPS contracts are now encompassing mobile print and handing over this to an expert third party can minimise the drain on IT resources that mobile print could incur.

The IT department cannot afford a half-hearted mobile print strategy. With the right approach, mobile productivity can be boosted while security risks managed.  With BYOD showing no signs of abating, businesses need to act fast and get smart about managing and securing mobile print.

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