Computerworld

Four-way Fusion

Far from the myth of the paperless office, company printers -add scanner, fax, copier and e-mail, to make it five-way fusion - now produce more paper than ever, for more uses than were available to the early printers. Siobhan McBride checks out the multifunction devices.

Relocating a business brings opportunities to rethink equipment use and ownership and with nearly 200 printers to maintain and monitor, Gary Smith, IT director at delivery and logistics giant TNT Express, took it.

After two decades in the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern, delivery and logistics company TNT decided to move both its Australian head office and the finance and administration teams onto one site, a new, open-plan facility in nearby Mascot.

Smith said the move was a golden opportunity to replace its motley fleet of almost 200 printers, copiers and faxes with a new output solution incorporating 73 multifunction devices and laser printers.

Until 2004, TNT's collection of printers, copiers and faxes had simply evolved without an overall plan, especially whenever TNT acquired, through mergers and takeovers, operations that used a quite different range of output devices.

The result was more and more models from different vendors connected to the network, each with its own software, training requirements, supplies and service support.

"CIOs have made invaluable contributions to business strategy with a focus on PCs, infrastructure and enterprise applications," Smith said.

"In the past, we tended to neglect output fleets, like printers, copiers, faxes and MFDs, but there's no reason why we shouldn't work closely with the general services department, applying a similar approach to this area too."

TNT engaged a consulta nt and together they examined the floor plans of the new building and the print volumes of each part of the company, liaising with the respective departments. The result was a planned output fleet that would maximize the availability of powerful print, copy, scan and fax services to all employees while minimizing the number of devices.

Then TNT put the entire project out to tender, with the organization selecting Canon for its overall solution, which consisted of a mix of colour and mono MFDs of various print speeds and configurations, as well as a handful of colour laser printers.

Canon was able to deliver and install the equipment over the course of a weekend, with an account manager and a network consultant from Canon on hand all day on the Monday to answer user questions personally.

According to Smith, users can now make true colour reproductions, rather than scanning in colour, returning to their PC, finding the scan file and then printing it.

They can now also produce documents at 50 pages per minute, including automatic stapling, and create A3 posters and full-colour brochures in-house.

TNT is now preparing to install NetSpot Accountant, a software solution that measures and controls the total number of pages printed by department and individual user, by device and device group, by paper size and paper type, and by billing code.

When it comes to printers the demands are high. Companies want a lot more in terms of functions, features and use. But they expect to pay a lot less when it comes to cost and maintenance.

It is in this climate that the multifunctional device was born.

When it comes to printing, faxing and copying, Gartner analyst Jackie Leung says the attitudes of Australian companies have certainly changed. In a recent user survey, Gartner found that one-third of large businesses in the Asia-Pacific region will increase their multifunction product budget in 2005.

The total number of copier/MFP shipments to Australia has increased by 62 percent from 50,000 units in 2003 to 81,000 units in 2004.

"Companies now have a greater awareness that equipment convergence or consolidation can improve workflow efficiency and reduce redundancy in machine use," Leung said.

Organizations simply expect a lot more from these devices like easy management of output, savings on administrative costs; the printers it should also be user-friendly, have basic document management features and be small and compact in size.

Leung said when selecting MFPs or copiers, the top three factors for companies include output quality (77 percent), product features (77 percent) and a reputable brand name (76 percent).

But when it comes to printers, there is a shift in the top three with a reputable brand name topping the demand at 95 percent, then its reliability and durability (95 percent) followed by total hardware costs (94 percent).

"According to the user survey, more than 50 percent of respondents in Australia have already started the migration from single function printers to MFPs," Leung said.

But are vendors trying to address the needs of customers looking to migrate to MFPs? Leung says they are making inroads by offering a broad range of options from A4 monochrome and colour laser.

"Copier vendors started to offer and focus on document management solutions to companies who want to manage the output devices easily and effectively improve the workflow in office environment," she said.

However, while Fuji Xerox printers operations manager Paul Harman has seen a big shift to more functionality required in printers and copiers, he says the bigger emphasis is on cost.

"For years, printing in the office was one of the largest costs for the company and yet it was virtually invisible," Harman said.

"We're now seeing a much bigger focus on costs, as well as a bigger need for more justification on total cost of ownership for these sorts of purchases."

But of course, multifunctional devices still have a lot of fans, and their numbers are growing.

"We have certainly seen a significant shift to more multifunctionality, and with the advent of the scanner," he said, adding that the MFP has become a must-have piece of infrastructure.

"Also there is no longer as much emphasis on just copying; people want to be able to scan a document and then convert it to a digital format.

"Toner recycling is also high on the list, as well as ease of use. Most people in the office have no idea how a printer works and don't want to know; it needs to be simple."

With more and more companies calling for multifunction, Panasonic has now entered the colour multifunction device arena with the launch of the Panasonic WORKiO DP-C262 and DP-C322, aimed at SME and other corporate environments.

Panasonic Australia marketing executive for copiers, document solutions, business systems division Alexandra Bohme, claimed that with colour now a far more affordable solution, Panasonic had to offer the option in its line of solutions.

"We have a track record with our WORKiO MFDs in the SME market, and now we are able to bring our customers colour as well as some very smart business features," Bohme said.

"These new products are designed for organizations that want their multifunction device to offer the convenience of colour - from a workgroup involved in sales or marketing within a larger organization, to a real estate company that wants a colour image of a property to put in its window.

"At the same time, our compression technology ensures that high-resolution colour files don't slow the network."

Konica Minolta is also ramping up its efforts in this space, launching new compact models that consolidate an A3 digital copier, printer, scanner, and fax.

According to Konica Minolta product marketing manager commercial print Daniel Gard, in recent years the need for space-saving digital office machines with copier, printer, and scanner functions has grown because multifunction printers save both space and money.

"The current multifunction printer market trend is towards multiple functions and good value," Gard said.

"The bizhub 162 and 210's (the new models) show that Konica Minolta is prepared to give small businesses what they want at a price they can afford."

However, Canon has been tackling this market for some time now, with Kevin Ferrari, manager of its business imaging solutions group market segment, believing there's been a massive change in the printer and copier space in recent years, and it's all to do with a focus on image management.

"Going back over the past few years the industry has delivered a standard digital platform, but has now moved to an intelligent platform, and to be fair, a lot of our competitors have done this," Ferrari said.

"With this intelligence has come affordable workplace cover, and we are now including things like being able to access the Web from the control panel on the device."

And it seems the days of the photocopier in the office are over, according to Ferrari.

"The days of having a stand-alone copier are clearly numbered; it's all moving towards multifunction," Ferrari said.

"I think the term copier is rarely used in the market space. It's now more about enabling tools to deliver the requirements of a normal office. "But the most basic requirements are for it to work on the existing environment."

One organization that has learnt the benefits of multifunctional devices is TNT Express, a multinational provider of express freight solutions, with 43,000 employees servicing more than 200 countries.

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Line matrix finds favour

While laser printing has captured much of the office printing market in recent years, line matrix printers have found a strong value proposition in high-volume supply-chain and back-office printing environments, particularly in logistics, production, and retail.

One vendor of this solution is Printronix, with business development manager Bruce Wong claiming that the capability to print 24x7 without overheating, combined with a total cost of ownership up to 20 times less than laser printers, has made line matrix the most cost-effective solution for workhorse printing applications.

"The main reason our customers continue to select line matrix technology is reliability; no other technology delivers more trouble-free, high-volume printing than a Printronix line matrix printer," Wong said.

The vendor has recently announced deals with Microsoft and also with IBM, in which the company will continue to use Printronix technology for its line matrix and thermal barcode printers.

IBM, which is Printronix's largest customer, entered into the technology agreement in 1993.

Secure print pickup

As any user who has flipped through numerous pages of printing has experienced multifunction devices in workgroups can raise security and physical problems.

Ernst & Young dealt with the security aspect via Secure Print for MEAP, a software application that Canon and CISRA (Canon Information Systems Research Australia) developed for the company and which Canon has now made generally available.

The application, launched this month, works in conjunction with a user's building access card to both provide security and reduce wastage. Unless a user swipes the card on the MFD before the expiry time, the document won't be printed.

Secure Print was developed using MEAP, a solutions platform that allows Canon, customers, system integrators and developers to simplify the way organizations work by creating embedded applications that transform the behaviour of MFDs, a spokesman said.

The client or Canon can quickly tailor Secure Print for MEAP so that users see the organization's own branding and are instructed in the organization's own language when they walk up to the MFD.

The solution also provides a secure e-mail function, whereby the user swipes their building access card, places a document on the scan bed, and presses Start. The MFD then automatically scans the document and sends the image to that user's corporate email address.

Secure Print for MEAP is available now though Canon direct and dealer channels. For a customer with 10 MFDs, the recommended retail price would be $2200 per MFD, including the software, the card readers and a year's support and maintenance.

The spokesman said the application is compatible with Canon MFDs that include MEAP technology. Canon has been extending MEAP across its line-up for more than two years. Today, every monochrome (above 20 pages per minute) and most colour models are MEAP enabled. By early next year, Canon's entire colour MFD line-up will also be MEAP enabled.

HP to buy large-format printer

Hewlett-Packard announced last week that it plans to acquire Scitex Vision in a move that will expand HP's large-format printing business.

Scitex Vision, in Israel, is a maker of wide and super-wide format printers for industrial applications and signs, such as billboards and banners. HP will buy the printer maker for $US230 million.

"The acquisition complements HP's existing product portfolio of large-format printers and HP digital presses," HP said in the statement.

Scitex Vision had revenue of $142 million for the one-year period that ended on June 30, HP said. The company has principal subsidiaries in the US, Belgium, China, Mexico and South Africa, in addition to presence in 75 more countries, it said.

Wide-format printing is one of the fastest growing segments of the printing market and acquiring Scitex Vision will give HP access to its proprietary print head technology, HP said. As part of the deal, HP will receive a licence to use the Scitex brand name from Scitex Corp Ltd, Scitex Vision's parent company.

HP expects to close the acquisition of Scitex Vision within 90 days, at which point it will be rolled into the company's Imaging and Printing Group, it said.

With Sumner Lemon