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Thu 31 Jan 2008 04:00 AM

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Multi-function magic

Printers have become mult-functional devices so choosing the right one makes a huge difference.

While a paperless office might not be a reality yet, the ability to efficiently manage the cost and quality of paper printed is at your finger tips. Seldom given a second thought efficient printers can be acompetitive cost advantage.

As consumer demands increase, the mundane printer is morphing beyond its core functions, offering customers more value for money. Not surprsingly, vendors are going all out to impress small and medium sized business with a myriad of models.

SMBs need to focus on their core business, not on IT. So we provide the best quality of products along with the tools to enable them to focus on their business.

The last decade has seen the mantra of smaller, cost effective and easily accessible technology being touted across the globe. Printers have become smaller and incorporate telephones, faxes, scanners and coffee makers.

Actually, scratch the coffee maker bit, that will probably be developed in the next decade. However, to an SME the ability to buy a one-stop solution for business needs is an attractive option.

Multifunctional printers

These Multifunction printers are marketed as MFP (Multi Function Printer/Product/Peripheral), multifunctional all-in-one (AiO), mopier (Multiple Optical coPIER), or Multifunction Device (MFD). In essence, these office machines incorporate the functionality of multiple devices in one. Also an ideal space saver in a home-based office or a small business setting.

An MFP also provides centralised document management/distribution/production in a large-office setting. A typical MFP may act as a combination of some or all of the following devices: printer, scanner, photocopier and fax.

The only caveat is that with improved technology comes the need for improved IT knowledge on the part of managers to effectively acquire and utilise the new technology.

Simply put, to ensure that the newly purchased peripheral devices actually delivers on its implied promise to revowlutionise an SME's productivity, it still requires a good understanding of the real business implications of such products.

Commenting on the thought process behind the SME and SMB focussed products that HP offers in the UAE, Asad Syed SMB Business Manager, Imaging and Printing Group, HP Middle East stated, "SMB's need to focus on their core business not on IT, so we provide the best quality of products along with tools to enable them to focus on their business.

As alluded to earlier companies such as HP, Lexmark, Canon, Samsung, Brother, Epson and Xerox have assessed the potential market and have developed solutions that specifically address the concerns and needs of entrepreneurs and SME's. All these well-known IT companies are now offering Home or SoHo (Small Office Home Office) MFP's.

The usual inkjet based units allow colour printing and copying but most SoHo units use a laser print engine for high-quality, low cost-per-page output at large volume.

Not surprisingly, vendors are having a field day with the huge demand. According to research firm IDC, the Gulf multifunction products (MFP) market is projected to touch US$508 million in 2007, shipping about 1.02 million units in total. Globally, the segment is expected to generate revenues of US$62.6 billion by 2010.

Similarly, Gartner Dataquest predicts that the MFP trend has rapidly gained momentum since the second half of 2006, with sales in this segment driven by the serial inkjet MFP, which accounts for 41 per cent of the total printer market.

The analyst firm estimates the printer market in EMEA will reach almost 54 million units in 2007, with copiers and MFPs slicing out more than half or 53 per cent of the market pie.

At Canon, SME focused products are a large business segment, the i-SENSYS brand laser printers are designed to meet specific and demanding requirements of SME's.

Currently the complete Canon laser category includes 27 products which ensure that SME's will surely find a fast, efficient, quiet and reliable printer to meet their needs.

Ideal for small workgroups, MFP's need to be sturdy and capable of volumes of up to 3000 pages per month at approximately 25 pages per minute. While larger workgroups can choose MFP's which can send e-mails and handle higher volumes of up to 20,000 pages a month at approximately 40 pages per minute.

The really high end models can automatically staple, sort and collate the printed sheets.

Industry trends• 91% of SMBs in KSA & UAE use color printing

• 38% believe they lost business opportunities due to lack of colour printing

• 51% concerned about costs of using colour printing

• 51% restricted color to certain departments: managers 83%, marketing 73%, secretaries 49%, finance 40%.

• 2/3 of SMBs believe they should make more use of colour

• 50 to 60 per cent of the single function printers in businesses replaced by the MFP

Choosing the best option

Once you have decided to purchase a MFP, a quick checklist can help make the buying process easier, efficient and effective. What is the current problem? If you need to regularly print documents just so that they can be faxed to a vendor, then use the option of mail merge option which is available on most operating systems.

If you need to print 10 - 15 copies a day you do not need a fancy multifunctional printer that does everything under the sun. By defining the exact need or problem the next step can help streamline the process further.

A key concern with SMBs is about being able to work with someone who can solve their problems, whatever they may be, with as little fuss as possible.

Mohammed Addarrat , Channel and SMB Manager Lexmark Middle East suggests, "First of all the customers needs to make sure that they purchase the right product for the right usage.

Secondly, an SMB customer should look at is facts such as the overall cost of ownership and cost per page when deciding which printer to purchase, rather than considering only the price tag. And finally, device consolidation by considering a multi-function printer to replace the fax, scanner, and copier.

Also it is necessary to gauge the quantity of paper documents generated daily. If the ratio of colour printouts to black and white printouts are very high then the option of purchasing a laser MFP for black & white (B&W) printing and a stand alone printer for the colour print-outs. This will minimise the use of toner or ink cartridges.

Samsung Electronics printers offer increased paper input capacity - 250 extra sheets with a second cassette feeder and additional 128MB memory. "With the CLP-350N, Samsung offers highly reliable and affordable colour printing solutions to small and mid-sized businesses," said Jang-Jae Lee, Senior Vice President of Samsung's Digital Printing Division.

Samsung continues to expand its business market by releasing compact but versatile products. With this new, smaller and smarter product, we are covering the spectrum from home to corporate consumers.

Another parameter to consider is the type of business or work environment where the MFP will be utilised. Will it be a Home offices, small offices, a department within a mid-size to large organisation or in a wide-format environment. Small offices generally look for an MFD that is user-friendly and is extremely productive and flexible in function.

Beyond printing and copying, today's MFP's can help manage documents, reduce paper, simplify workflow and manage forms, among other functions. The question you need to ask is: Do you want to copy, print, fax, scan, and email jobs? Do you want users to share the device?

Or will you need it to be colour capable. Finally, a very key area that should be considered is the after sales service scheme offered by the manufacturer.

Every office has a simple way of being environmentally conscious in their day-to-day business activities.

Whether you as an entrepreneur or as an SME want to create a paperless office or just clear up the clutter that documents and print-outs create, an MFP can help streamline the digitisation of documents and sharing documents with colleagues across the office or vendors across the globe.

For instance the new ‘Duplex' printing technology from Canon can help SME's save money by offering the option of double-sided printing which basically means you can cut your paper usage by half

As stated by Munther Ayache, Product Marketing Specialist, Canon Middle East, "Our printers not only help SME's out by being cost-effective in the office, they also help out through energy-efficient charging that virtually eliminates ozone emissions in the workplace."

After sales support

Speaking about customer service HP's Syed added to his earlier comments, "A key concern with SMB's is about being able to work with someone who can solve their problems, whatever they may be, with as little fuss as possible.

After sales service is a point of contention for most SME's and single entrepreneurial businesses is the down-time or loss of productivity caused by slow and inefficient after sales service.

If a printer or any other peripheral device breaks down and it cannot be repaired immediately or if tech support is incapable of assistance, it translates to a waste of valuable time. Therefore in addition to creating products for SME's it is essential for manufacturers to set-up effective and efficient sales support teams.

Companies such as HP demonstrate their commitment to the SMB market through Channel education and training and promotors at the store level. "HP continues to engage its channel partners in ongoing trainings to ensure that they provide the best consultants for the SMB end users," added Syed.

PS. before you buy...1. Choose a price range or budget and stick with it. This will help steer you away from enticing models that do not serve your purpose.

2. Choose the functions that are the most important to you and try to find models that address your need in those areas.

3. Ensure that the device you choose has sufficient memory. For a business a device with 16-MB of memory wil help cache multiple print jobs and not "lock up".

4. Decide how the business will be using the device. Inkjet printers are best for color printing, but can't do as much high volume as a laser printer. If you are just concerned about text, then laser monochrome models are the way to go.

5. Comparison shop, either read reviews, ratings and articles or visit.manufacturers' websites to get more information about models you are considering. You can then decide on specs that are relevant to your business.

6. Warranty, Service, Support. Make sure that the vendor covers parts, labour, after sales support for all components of your device.

7. Consumables: Like the razor blade companies the real money for vendors (and costs for customers) are in the consumables such as cartridges, toner and paper. Do factor these in over a period of at least 12-18 months, when you make the purchase.

8. Compatibility is very important, you need to ensure that the device is compatible with your computer before you buy it.

Until recently Canon did not deal with resellers and did not sell directly to SMEs. However, the company has recently established the Canon Emirates Conglomerate.

It is a direct sales operator, that works both with SME's, large corporate and government accounts and dedicated product reseller partners. In addition, the recent setup of the Canon distribution hub which has reduced delivery time of products from Japan by as much as 26 days.

This new structure strengthens Canon's presence in the UAE market by offering a wide range of products geared towards business sectors of all sizes. "With this improved structure in place, we are better positioned to meet our customers needs," said Bertil Widmark, Managing Director, Canon Middle East. "This new set up will allow us to give our customers a complete B2B office efficiency solution for all their document requirements.

Unlike larger enterprises, the SME sector may not have alternative equipment to finish crucial jobs, making it essential that the devices they use are extremely reliable and easy to use and the company they deal with are offer efficient technology support.

Belal El Banna, Marketing Manager, Xerox Emirates believes, "The Xerox Emirates product range offers the SMB customer a wide choice along with the advantages of pre and post sales support by explaining to the user how a product can benefit his business as well as after sales support.

Our strength is that our customers look upon us as a trusted advisor and a consistent service provider.

What's hot?

In addition to increased stress on environmental friendly issues, technologies such as Quick First Print, On-Demand Fixing, Duplex Printing and energy-efficient charging that virtually eliminates ozone emissions in the workplace shows the continued importance that printer manufacturers have placed on this topic.

Small thing can matter when it comes to efficiency. For instance, HP has launched unique innovations such as the instant-on technology on the Laserjet printers.

This eliminates the delay from the current PowerSave mode that is common on all other printers. In typical office use, the printer has enough time to cool down, go into PowerSave mode, and then to warm up again when a print job arrives.

Instant-on Technology enables a printer to begin printing from PowerSave mode immediately, regardless of when it was last used, and then directly return it to PowerSave mode when printing is complete. There's also the added bonus that Instant-on Technology also leads to lower power consumption and less wear on the printer engine.

"Under the i-SENSYS brand Canon printers are designed to offer quick and cost effective printing. Technologies such as Quick First Print (QFP) facilitate faster printing," says Munther Ayache, Product Marketing Specialist, Canon Middle East.

Canon's patented On-Demand Fixing means i-SENSYS has zero warm-up time, using up to 75% less power than standard technologies, therefore a cheaper electricity bill at the end of the month.

Similarly, Lexmark, is offering multifunction devices that are faster and compact. In addition to the default features the new models will be compatible with wireless technology and offer sleeker designs.

The latest innovation from Lexmark comes in the form of the X9350, a wireless office all-in-one with Duplex that offers the convenience of wireless mobility combined with efficient 2-sided printing and business class speeds for increased productivity

Belal El Banna, Marketing Manager, Xerox Emirates states that, "Xerox has incorporated features such as Solid Ink technology, that deliver office products that are exceptional in their ability to render beautiful, accurate images with very high print resolutions.

This technology is used in the Phaser 8560 printer and Phaser 8560MFP models which deliver exceptional colour consistency and quality at the lowest possible cost."

The reason why companies are looking to improve their use of printing equipment is often cost-focused and tactical rather than long-term and strategic.

One of the main objectives of SMEs is to reduce costs however, the measures taken to achieve this objective are due to tactical measures. The most common way to save printing paper is to use electronic communication such as e-mails. rather than strategic changes, such as better office workflow.

The ideal approach to cost reduction, for SME's is introducing strategic, productivity-focused methods. As far as technology goes, in regards to MFP the technology is improving and the choice is increasing. The bottom-line is for SME's to choose wisely and ensure the technology is utilised efficiently.

Make the most of your MFP1. Print out a page at least once a week as printer cartridges tend to dry up when unused.

2. Proofread and preview your text first. Proofreading your documents before you print can help you use less printer ink and buy fewer cartridges.

3. Purchase original cartridges from reputed supplier. Counterfeit products may help you save money in the short run, but eventually they will affect the life of the MFP.

4. If possible invest in original ink refill kit. Refillable cartridges allow you to simply buy the ink and refill the cartridges when the ink runs out.

5. By selecting black ink to print your documents you save on printer cartridges by printing in colour only when absolutely necessary.

6. Furthermore, some printers simply use more ink than others. If you find that you are spending a lot more on ink than you thought you would, then it's a smart idea to monitor ink consumption, and then decide whether a different printer might, indeed, be more economical.

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