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Tue 1 May 2007 12:02 PM

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Hard copy battle

Despite vendors' bold estimates, the region’s enterprises don't always read from the same page when it comes to their print spend.

Print vendors inevitably champion the merits of having a reliable printing system in place outlining various reasons for a business to invest in what is a relatively unglamorous piece of kit. Increasingly, the print set up of an enterprise is becoming a core function of the office set up, and as more documents are printed by a company, document waste, cost efficiency and security are issues that should be weighing heavy on a CIO's mind.

"Reliable printing solutions are incredibly important. It's not just a question of productivity; it's also about the customer. If you're an insurance or legal company, which is reliant on paper, then the documents you provide - if they're the only tangible product you provide for the customer - become increasingly important. If companies are investing anything in printing solutions, that's a good sign," says Dan Smith, office product manager for Xerox MEA. Smith also explains that the scale of investment in printing solutions differs depending on the enterprise and companies should only invest in the right printing solution for them after addressing their direct needs.

"Spend really depends on the enterprise. Enterprise is a difficult thing to quantify, because different companies actually qualify for enterprise.

"If we consider the Xerox measure, an enterprise organisation would require 1,000+ employees and an enterprise could be doing many different things," Smith says.

It is not simply a case of printing off a basic document anymore. Different companies have different needs and uses for documents and as such, require tailored features. Banks and legal firms place an emphasis on security with the majority of documents printed in those environments likely to contain sensitive or confidential information; copy shops, with printing as their core function, might concentrate on producing high volume documents and highlight cost efficiency as a driving factor; while customer facing documents, such as the ones produced by publishing houses, provide a direct product to the customer, therefore a higher quality of document is important to the business.

"One of the biggest enterprises could be a chain of copy shops, and those copy shops could easily employ over 1,000 people yet documents are their core service to customers, so their spend on printing equipment is going to be well above 15% of their revenues. If you also look at a publishing house, the paper you're putting in front of your customers is your product and the spend should reflect that. It's difficult to draw a figure per head but we are looking at studies to catalogue this," he adds.

A major bank in Europe recently adopted solutions from Canon to ensure the privacy of its printed output. "The nature of bank documents is confidentiality," says Gautam Chakrabarty, senior product manager, Canon Middle East. "If you have a network printer and copier, papers remain in the exit tray. They asked Canon to design a printer where you don't have any output."

"Canon reengineered the drives so each compartment can have sub-compartments," says Chakrabarty. "You can go to the machine, access your mailbox, scan and send by email. You can read the document from the display, and combine documents and print them as a booklet." Documents can be scanned, then sent as an encrypted PDF file.

"The person you are sending it to cannot open it or print it without the password," says Chakrabarty. "The way we have built the machine now, it's completely secure. We can also customise it for individual customers."

Fastlink, a Jordan-based mobile phone services company, houses 33 multi-function printers at its main office and a further 23 at its primary branches. The company employs 1,070 staff with a combined monthly print volume of more than 310,000 documents per month.

"Our printing set-up is considered a top priority because it makes our life a lot easier," explains Firas Karaman, administration supervisor at Fastlink. "Our printing solutions improve the company's cost efficiency dramatically."

With no set benchmark for print investment - Gartner predicts that over the next two years enterprises will spend between 1% and 3% of their revenue on document output - quantifying companies print spend is extremely difficult. As such, analysts, enterprises and vendors all have vastly differing estimations of what constitutes an enterprises's average print spend.

"Businesses invest enough in printing solutions but it's not in a conscious way. Ask any large corporation accounting department: "under what category does the office printing cost fall in the balance sheet?" The answer most likely will be: "other expenses." Other expenses can reach as high as 5% to 7% of total expenses. Basically there should be a better plan for printing solutions to get the optimum of what is available," says Ravinder Kumar, product and marketing manager for Sharp Middle East.

However, some vendors claim that as enterprises look to printing as an important function of the company, the level of investment can represent over one sixth of a company's revenues - a five-fold increase of the Gartner prediction.

"In our experience, the Middle East is beginning to understand that investing in printing solutions is important - an average company can spend up to 15% of its revenues on printing documents and that investment should be commensurate with the level of spend on documents. To put in a nutshell, there's no point producing poor quality documents if they're going to be customer facing or if the documents need to be specific about the information they contain," Smith explains.

It is an outlook that isn't shared by Rashed Al-Mekhyal, VP head of support services at Rasameel Structured Finance, a Kuwait-based finance company that provides a basic network printer service to its 23 employees. Housing 23 standard printers, the company produces 20,000 documents per month and chooses to outsource its printing function to 'professionals'.

"We try to outsource the publishing jobs as much as possible so we try not to invest in heavy printing machines or a high resolution colour printing system. I have a policy where you aren't allowed to print more than 50 colour pages in-house," Rashed Al-Mekhyal, VP head of support services at Rasameel Structured Finance, explains.

"Investing in a print set-up isn't that important to us. Outsourcing the majority of our printing functions saves the company time and money and it's better for us - we are not professionals in the printing business. It's important to provide a reliable black and white printing service. I have to provide an available network printer," he says.

According to Smith, a comprehensive assessment of the enterprise printing market and level of investment solutions is required to quantify the scale companies invest in printing solutions. And unless measures are taken to catalogue and analyse the average print spend of a company, vendors and companies alike won't be able to truly assess the level of print investment or implement alternatives better suited to their needs.

"I think companies need to make an assessment of how important documents are to the company to ensure that they are spending enough. There tends to be a move towards sweating assets - making sure the asset has produced the right amount of payback. That depends on the origin of the enterprise. Are they spending enough? Probably not. Are there better ways of getting better return out of your spend? Most definitely," Smith says.

"All of the industry data collected by IDC shows there's been a move away from inkjet and into laser - this could be a quality driven move at a base level but you have to ensure the technology is correct for the application. Some companies are looking at universal business drivers - if they have a mobile workforce - to improve cost and business efficiency, so there's a raft of different technologies that companies can look at. What we advocate is that enterprises should make an assessment of their document needs, look at what they want to achieve with those documents, and then drive out the correct solution," he says.

Vendors believe that businesses in the Middle East region are taking a pro-active stance when it comes to getting more from their investment, even if it doesn't directly translate into a spend increase.

It is a sentiment echoed by Pradeep Kumar, regional manager for electronic imaging division Toshiba Gulf, who believes that as print investment in the region grows, businesses will look to multi-function products to deliver upon their objectives.

"The amount of investment will largely depend on a company's printing requirement. To maximise the value of their investment, it is important to select a suitable printer or multi-function printers with the right capacity to meet their requirements. With the growth of networked office environments and the demand for digital multi-functionality, firms are expected to invest more in multi-function printers to get the best out of their spend," Kumar says.

"It is a common trend to own a multi-function printer nowadays. Device management plays an essential role when an organisation owns multiple multi-function printers. A management solution can help to ease cost planning, minimise downtime and improve business processes," he continues.

The larger the enterprise, the more you would expect it to spend on its print set-up. However, the companies don't have to invest high levels of their print spend to get the best out of their existing system; alternatively, they could focus on smaller savings to streamline their processes and improve cost efficiency.

"Enterprises can be looking at savings of 30% upwards by making simple savings. You can ask users to use double sided printing, cut down on printing, only print when it's necessary; if you're looking at multi-billion dollar companies and 15% of their revenues are tied up in document printing, it's a significant area," explains Smith.

As companies look to save money and improve cost efficiency, some enterprises have turned away from outsourcing their document printing and looked to an in-house printing solution to better serve their needs.

"In general the volume of business printing remains almost the same. However, there is a shift with regards to the type of documents printed. The paperless office concept has significantly reduced the printing of general documents but with the advancement of technologies and lower printing cost, many companies have actually decreased outsourcing and converted more documents such as brochures, catalogues etc to in-house printing," says Kumar.

Despite noting a shift in companies' print processes, vendors remain bullish that the paperless office doesn't represent a threat in the near future.

"The paperless office is a concept where we are looking at less paper as opposed to no paper at all. This doesn't mean that documents won't be scanned and stored in an electronic format at a later point but I think the paperless office is a long, long way off," says Smith "It is presumed less paper leads to fewer printers but it will take a long time because so many offices in developing countries still aren't automated yet. As products become more affordable, these people will need and adopt the printing technology available," says Ranjit Gurkar, GM printing & solutions division at Brother.

As the printing business continues to grow, there is the expectation companies will look to multi-functionality, high quality colour printing and contracts reflective of customer usage to get the best out of their print spend.

"We are already seeing single laser function printing demand dropping. The trend is definitely towards multi-function printers and that growth directly offsets the drop in sales of single function printers," says Gukar.

"Most manufacturers will be shifting from single function printers to multi function printers and there is a strong trend in the industry moving towards full service maintenance contracts whereby the customer will pay according to their usage," Kumar explains.

Fastlink is one enterprise, which has adopted the pay-per-usage system because it believes it will improve its long-term cost efficiency.

"Some companies pay a lot if they buy the machines, papers and consumables but our machines are leased. We only pay for the successful printed copies upon the counter reader and this saves us money in the long term," says Karaman.

Despite the growth of the market, there remains a disparity between vendor predictions and the level of enterprise print investment. Until an assessment of the market and average spend is made, quantifying the level of investment in the region will continue to prove problematic, and it is an issue vendors are keen to address.

For the time being, the message from the print vendors is a little clearer: enterprises need to assess their requirements and optimise their existing assets before they begin to drive costs down.

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