Effort of Duplication

"Managed print services" may help companies rein in an insidious expense.

Making copies isn’t brain surgery, but at Florida’s Health First chain of hospitals it had become what chief information officer Richard Rogers describes as a “convoluted mess.” Nursing stations were overrun by copiers, fax machines, and printers, taking up precious counter space and impeding day-to-day operations.

If getting to (or away from) the machines was a chore, so too was keeping them running. There was no consistent process for ordering toner — departments purchased from a range of suppliers, sometimes buying poor-quality reconditioned cartridges. Some nursing units stocked up on a year’s supply at a time, others bought on a more ad hoc basis, and no one knew what anyone else had on hand.

Rogers sought a cure in so-called managed print services, a form of outsourcing that addresses the rationalization of office equipment and its maintenance. Lexmark International won the bid, and its consultants set about analyzing document output patterns throughout the company. They replaced many single-function machines with strategically placed multifunction devices that print, copy, scan, and fax. They also rolled out a system that automatically reorders supplies when needed with no hospital-staff involvement. As a result, Rogers says that hard costs alone have dropped from 3.1 cents per image to 1.4 cents per image.

Increasingly, companies are going beyond the usual lease-versus-buy calculations and asking instead whether they can achieve greater savings by outsourcing the entire copier/printer/fax “imaging” caboodle. Toshiba America Business Solutions estimates that five years ago only 10 percent of the RFPs it received in the commercial sector mentioned managed services, while today the figure exceeds 50 percent. By leveraging economies of scale and rethinking how many devices they actually need, vendors claim that companies can save 25 to 50 percent.

That’s in large part because most companies manage their document output so poorly that there’s nowhere to go but up. Xerox reports that organizations average about one device for every two knowledge workers, with a typical machine used only about 15 minutes a day. Given its estimate that the average company spends $800 to $1,000 a year per employee on document costs, even a 10 percent savings would be substantial.

Most companies, of course, have no idea how much they spend, which is what makes this such ripe low-hanging fruit. Health First’s Rogers knew the costs associated with printers, which were handled by the IT department, but he was in the dark when it came to copiers, which were leased by the purchasing department.

Acquisition of devices and supplies is usually so decentralized that it’s almost comical. For example, “we’ve had clients continue to order supplies for machines they no longer own,” says Ashby Lowry, vice president at Xerox Enterprise Services. Blame it in part on the declining cost of things like printers. Today a worker may think nothing of calling an office supply store and putting the cost of a small desktop unit on a purchasing card. That printer will need supplies and servicing. Multiply that by the number of workers who could conceivably follow suit and the potential to hemorrhage money becomes clear.

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