Penny-wise or pound-foolish?

So you think that printer which they 'gave' you when you got that new computer was free? Well think again! That printer is the most expensive component of your computing environment.
Written by Marc Wagner, Contributor on

While perusing "Between the Lines", I just came across "Do consumables (notably ink) matter to IT departments?"  I was shocked that this question would even come up in an IT setting.  The answer is...

Of course IT departments need to pay attention to printing consumables! 

To ignore printing consumables as a component of the IT services you provide is to find yourself forever chasing your tail just trying to keep up with the unfettered growth of spending on such consumables.  Paper and ink were once considered 'office supplies' but today, like it or not, those consumables end up being funded out of IT budgets. 

Unfortunately, no one outside of IT thinks of paper and ink as being anything but an absolutely essential commodity.   Aside from the fact that this need not be a fact of life (and the topic of another blog), if we assume for a moment that it is, what can IT in general (and Education IT specifically) do to reduce the impact of printing consumables on your already frightfully small IT budget? 

Know where your printing budget is going.

The first thing you need to determine is your per page costs (that's a single page-image on one side of one sheet of paper).  The simplest way to do this is to take last year's expenditure for ink (or toner) and last year's expenditure on paper, add in any expenditures on printer parts, and divide the total by the number of sheets of paper you purchased last year.  That will give you a very close approximation of your consumable costs per page.  While this doesn't include the total cost per page to provide printing, it does give you your incremental cost of printing within your existing printing infrastructure.  If this number exceeds four cents per page, you are spending way too much for your printing consumables.  If these costs come in under 3 cents per page, then you're probably okay. 

Know your expenses for printers.

If you operate on life-cycle funding, this is easy, just calculate your cost of printers over the last year.  Otherwise, you are going to need to estimate how much you spend on printers over the last three to five years to get an approximation.  Once you have an annual average, divide that number by the total number pages per year that you calculated above.  This should add no more than two or three cents per page to your overall printing budget. 

Adding the cost of printers into your calculations above should yield a total cost of printing of no more than five cents per page in a high-volume printing environment.  In a moderate printing environment, perhaps as much as ten cents per page -- but certainly no more than that.

To keep your printing costs low, ...

Don't rely on personal ink-jet printers.  There is a reason that these printers are given away with new computers -- so they can get you to buy printer ink -- often at very high retail prices.  Instead, use laser printers shared among multiple computers.  Per-page, toner is far less expensive than ink and, unlike ink, it has a virtually unlimited shelf-life. 

Utilize those large institutional contracts for your printer, toner, and paper purchases.  (See Chris Dawson's article, State contracts are your friend.)  Remember, You are not consumers looking for one good deal.  You are IT professionals looking for ongoing cost management.  All too often, what appears to be a good deal going in turns out to cost a great deal more than you bargained for.  If you cannot match this year's great deal in subsequent years -- it can cost you lost dollars because you created an impression that you won't need those extra funds in the future. 

Don't turn to duplex printing as a solution.  Paper savings rarely translate into dollar savings.  First, paper is only a small component of your per-page cost of providing printing services.  Second, duplex printing increases wear & tear on your printers -- consuming any savings in added maintenance costs.  Third, many materials are not well-suited to a duplex format.  Forcing duplex on your users (who then reprint the materials to get what they want) can lead to more waste, not less.  And lastly, in a educational setting, many materials are only one page long -- duplex printing buys you nothing on these materials. 

Life-cycle funding for your printers is as essential as life-cycle funding for your computers.  You can expect to spend two to three times as much on each printer as you spend on each workstation but if you are fully utilizing your printers, you may be spending as much as ten times as much on consumables as you are on your printers.

Right-size your printers.  Use high-volume laser printers whenever possible to enjoy the economies of scale available from such devices but, if you don't have the volume to exhaust the printer of choice over a three-to-five year life-cycle, choose smaller volume printers.  If different locations have widely varying printing volumes, shifting printers each year will help balance your printing volumes to maximize your printer lifetimes.

Understanding the printing needs of your users -- instead of their wants -- is the first step.  But, understanding the costs associated with those needs is the key to controlling those costs.

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