ICT Solutions Part II: Multiple choice for network printing

18 Jan 2005

While inkjet printers are taking a hammering in the market for colour business printing, the technology is still finding a home in business as the basis of multifunction printers that also provide copying, scanning and even faxing capabilities. The small office/home office market was the first to embrace multifunction machines that were based on inkjet technology.

While early models did often fall into the category of jack of all trades but master of none, that is definitely no longer the case and multifunction devices are now a tried and proven solution for small offices. They save on the capital purchase costs of buying a printer, scanner and fax machine separately, there are ease-of-use benefits from having these functions in a single integrated box and the physical space saving from not having three or four separate machines are clear to see.

Larger enterprises are now also realising that multifunction devices can form part of a wider strategy to get control on costs, according to Bob Horastead. “There’s a definite advantage from having all the technology in one place,” he says. “You are getting your fax, copier and printing in one purchase but traditionally there are different buyers in a large enterprise responsible for each of those areas. The IT department may buy a printer but not a copier, so you have to bring it to market in a cohesive way.”

As with standard printers all-in-one machines can be based on either laser or inkjet technology. Inkjet models tend to dominate at the small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) level while larger enterprises are favouring network-connected laser-based machines that are taking on the role of a photocopier while also providing other capabilities. Phyllis Fox, major accounts channel manager with Brother, advises small businesses to opt for inkjet machines that have four separate ink cartridges rather than two (black and colour) as these have lower running costs.

“There’s increasing confidence in the multifunction area by users,” says Fox. “People were initially slow to move as they thought if they lost their printer through a fault their fax would be down as well, but the reliability has improved. We’re also seeing it growing in laser as enterprises are attracted by a cheaper cost per copy than with traditional copiers.”

Network-attached multifunction devices also have the advantage of providing scanning facilities to a wider proportion of employees at a relatively low cost. This in turn means the amount of paper being pushed around the office can be reduced — although the reality seems to be different.

“People are still more comfortable with paper,” says Horastead. “Multifunction opens up opportunities and gives more people access to network scanning and other features. People may access a document on the network in a soft medium but they still want to take away a hard copy. We don’t see a huge reduction in hard copy when we introduce multifunction to a business.”

Stephen McDonald, commercial manager with Hewlett-Packard’s (HP) Printing and Imaging Group, believes that the imaging aspect of multifunction devices is only really being harnessed by large corporations that link the facility to their document and content management systems. He cites clients such as Microsoft, AIB and Vodafone as examples of companies HP has worked with in this area — predominantly linking scanning facilities to users’ email in an effort to reduce fax costs. One of the more sophisticated projects was at An Post where scanned documents can be linked to a Sharepoint Portal on the company intranet. “A lot of SMEs are scanning in documents for recording purposes but they are not doing it in any structured way,” says McDonald.

High-end multifunction machines with network print speeds in the order of 50 pages per minute and higher tend to fall into two main camps. On the one hand are devices that are primarily copiers but also provide printing and faxing facilities. In contrast the traditional IT companies with a printing legacy provide machines that are primarily printers that can scan and fax as well. Your organisation’s usage patterns will dictate what kind of machine is most suitable for you.

Not surprisingly given its dominance of the printer market, HP favours the latter approach. McDonald highlights HP’s LaserJet 4345mfp series as an example of a printer-centric workgroup machine that also provides facilities more usually associated with copiers such as stacking, stapling and sorting. “These devices give you the functionality of a copier but the reliability of a printer,” says McDonald. “Analysts at IDC have predicted that the 4345 series will disrupt the copier market as a comparable copier is almost double the price.” The downside of a machine like the 4345 is that it only handles paper up to A4 size, unlike most copiers which can go up to A3, but McDonald contends that most businesses, particularly SMEs, make minimal use of this facility anyway.

Martin Deignan, sales and marketing director with printer company Oki, also predicts a decline in the market for copier-focused machines. “In the past bigger companies who wanted a total printer management system would have looked at a traditional copier company such as Canon or Xerox,” says Deignan. “Oki is coming at it from the other end with copying as an extra to printing. I think most customers are predominantly interested in printing, which gives us a greater advantage.”

Pictured is the successful Hewlett-Packard 4345 multifunctional device

Next week: Printing as a managed service

By John Collins