Office printing, a key part of any business’ IT strategy, is slowly declining mostly due to better printing options. Better, higher capacity printers, networked throughout an organization are often cited for small declines in printing activity in part because taking printers off desktops causes people to consider whether a printout is worth a trip to a printer.
That’s more or less organic decline and the question is why print at all? Are there ways to avoid moving information from computer to paper only to return new information back to a computer?
Keith Kmetz, program vice president, IDC’s Imaging, Printing, and Document Solutions research says, “Print remains a huge and very relevant piece of an organization’s overall IT strategy,” which seems to imply that printing will be important until it isn’t. In other words, the emphasis still seems to be on printing but printing more efficiently when the need is increasingly to avoid printing all together.
Strategies for avoiding printing, like locating printers away from users so that they have to walk to pick up their papers, are qualitatively different from moves to eliminate printing completely through process redesign. The latter can have bigger impacts on a business beyond savings in printout supplies.
Business processes that avoid printing are different in that they remain in the digital realm rather than committing information to paper. Digital processes operate at computer speeds while the same process involving printed matter becomes a prisoner to the speed of manual transport.
For instance, a process that captures a signature, perhaps through the mail, is relegated to the speed of the postal system. In contrast, the same process mediated by an eSignature paradigm operates much faster even when considering that such processes are often asynchronous meaning the people on each end of the transaction are not necessarily waiting around to receive a document.
So why print at all when digital processes are so attractive? There are many reasons, some social or psychological but none of them stand up.
- Force of habit. Some employees will just print documents regardless of whether they have more efficient technology at hand. For them a walk to a printer might be a motivator for changing behavior.
- To have a “hard copy” in case, you know, the system goes down, or just to have. Advances in IT have made this reason obsolete when compared with the costs of printing.
- To take to a meeting. Lots of people still print documents for evidentiary purposes but the arrival of good, fast corporate Wi-Fi and portable devices from phones to tablets to laptops, means any document can be available anywhere in the building. And for meetings at remote locations, often the same is true but certainly sometimes people just need the hard copy. But using hard copies should be much rarer than it is today.
- Some employees lack the necessary software to access and save documents electronically or to circulate them for signatures.
The last item deserves some comment. Document management or productivity has long passed the point where it could be considered optional in a host of industries that live on documents like healthcare, insurance, and finance. While virtually all employees in these industries have access to office productivity software like word processing, many still lack access to document management systems. The irony is that these employees can create documents, but they can’t effectively manage them once developed. So, the papers grow.
Organizations determined to do something about their printing consumption find that they can’t simply press a button or flip a switch. There’s a bit of process re-engineering to do before the business can change paradigms. Usually change management is one of the most important jobs associated with changing the print paradigm. But the effort is highly worthwhile.
Businesses that implement document management for all find they can recoup the cost of their new systems based on drastically reduced printing costs and improved employee productivity and morale. Just imagine how much more productive anyone can be without taking trips to a remote printer. And even if one has a printer on the desk, avoiding printing means higher productivity, lower costs, and more engaged personnel.
There’s never been a better time to fully engage in document productivity. Even businesses that bought productivity systems decades ago are finding that costs of automation are now much lower and that it’s practical to ensure all employees are covered by the technology.
The key to successfully transitioning isn’t simply picking a software or hardware vendor any more. It’s picking a vendor that understands change management and that can put a plan in place that automates your specific processes and gets your users engaged and active. There will still be employees that prefer to print but they make up a small percent of your population. Over time even they will see the benefits of working digitally over dealing with printers and supplies.
(Cross-posted @ Beagle Research Group)