Grasping print patterns key to utility printing uptake

Businesses, particularly large enterprises, need to fully understand their print patterns and required resources in order to benefit from utility printing services, suggest industry watchers.

For companies to enjoy the cost benefits of customized, pay-per-use packages, or utility printing, they would first need to determine their print patterns and the resources consumed over a specific time period.

To Lim Kok Hin, senior director and general manager of Canon Singapore's domestic business imaging solutions and business solutions division, this is a good starting point for companies to help reduce their printing costs.

"[Utility printing] is an opportunity to bring transparency to billing details and for organizations to better understand their printing habits and needs, which in the long run would help reduce print costs, optimize devices and generate better returns on their print [expenses]," he told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail.

Within the region, Lim noted that many organizations are still unaware what proportion of their revenues is spent on printing. On top of that, they do not have a clue when "peak" and "off-peak" print periods take place. The lack of awareness is a potential obstacle for utility printing to take off, Lim said, adding that another adoption barrier is the resistance from corporate clients who are "not familiar with" the metered service concept.

According to Lim, Canon already has a "variant" of utility printing in the market--its Global Managed Document Services (MDS).

"The MDS provides a more effective and efficient way of managing document input-output environments," the executive said. Introduced last September, the service was "driven by customers' needs and demands", added Lim.

When quizzed on how their MDS customers are billed, Canon said pricing depends on how individual customers had customized their plans.

Brother Singapore's spokesperson, Tan Jing Jun, too pointed out that many organizations overlook the importance of tracking their printing costs.

"According to Gartner, print spending can amount to 1-3 percent of a company's annual revenue, but many organizations lack the tools to keep track of what they have spent in the last 12 months to be able to forecast what they will spend in the future," she said in her e-mail.

Tan added that utility printing is a concept that will help customers save on costs, and the company is "exploring" this, and other alternatives, for their enterprise customers.

Canon and Brother are not the only ones keen on the utility printing path. At a media event last month in Singapore, Lexmark Asia-Pacific's vice president Chin Hon-Cheng said the company was looking to offer a "printing-as-a-utility" service that would be "similar" to local telcos bundling mobile handsets with a tiered subscription plan.

Printers and a set number of prints, explained Chin, could be bundled and offered as a subscription package to customers, who will have to pay for each additional copy after they exhausted the amount stated in the plan. The challenge however, he noted, was in determining the pricing of the scheme.

When ZDNet Asia contacted Lexmark to find out more, the company was unable to discuss additional details on the idea. Competitors Hewlett-Packard and Fuji Xerox also could not comment by press time.

At least one small and midsize business (SMB) has expressed interest in Lexmark's utility printing concept. Alvin Gan, managing director of Singapore-based publishing company Paperclip Communications, said he would "definitely buy into the idea in principle" as it could help his company cut costs.

"The machine I'm currently using is leased at a cost of S$800 (US$570) per month for five years, and at the end of the term, I [still would] not own the printer. The other option offered to me by the vendor was to buy the machine outright at S$40,000 (US$28, 516)," he said. "With this [utility printing] option, I could potentially save thousands of dollars."

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