University goes easy on student finances with managed print services

By Martin Courtney
03 Dec 2010 View Comments
Students and teacher working with computer

A report published by research firm IDC in November predicts that the market for managed print services (MPS) will grow by £1bn over the next four years, to be worth £2.5bn in 2014. It also estimates that 20 per cent of UK companies employing 500 or more staff are already using MPS to some extent.

The IT department at Liverpool John Moore's University (LJMU), which provides print services for 27,000 students and staff, is a good example of what can be achievedby opting for MPS. In 2007, it spent more than £1.7m on internal and external printing, generating an environment-busting 60 million printed pages in the process.

After the Dearing review into Higher Education spending in 2006 specifically identified printing as one area ripe for savings, the university initiated an MPS project.

"Our provider has made money out of the project, but we cannot profit out of students, only cover the cost of the services," said Martin Connell, LJMU senior computing officer. "Instead, the aim of the project was to deliver savings of up to £100,000 a year for our own IT department by controlling print spending and changing end user behaviour."

Various companies interested in the tender visited the university's multiple sites and offices and talked to its end-users about usage and expectations. Ricoh company IKON was eventually selected to take on a final MPS implementation that began in late 2007.

Experts and customers agree that the biggest problem for most projects of this kind is actually being able to document an inventory of existing print equipment within distributed environments in the first place. Then eliciting detailed information about usage and print volume in order to make a reasonable assessment of where cost savings can be made.

James Duckenfield, co-founder of Newfield IT, says having a full and accurate inventory is essential before negotiating MPS contracts, as it can determine which equipment if any can be reused and provide a better idea of current print volumes, which helps in predicting managed service costs more accurately.

"Most MPS contracts are predicated on a cost saving business case, so spending time understanding your current costs is very important," he says. "You should also identify document-intensive departments because they might be printing unnecessarily, for example. I have been to banks which created enormous amounts of reports everyday even though they only needed to look at one row of particular figures, as the big stack of paper behind the filing cabinet showed."

"We have a huge number of devices: deskjets, network printers, separate copiers and lots that were not even networked," said Connell.

"We had some idea of what and where they were, but it was very limited, and with the non-networked devices, we had no idea. It was a horrible mess and we were not getting any of the information we needed."

To further complicate matters, each individual LJMU department had its own print and printer maintenance budget, despite sharing open plan offices, and often didn't share resources. Duckenfield says it is important to involve end-users at every stage of the MPS planning and procurement stage to avoid disappointment and backlash.

"A collaborative approach is key, as is communicating to the end-users what is going to happen, and when, then sticking to it," he says. "If you haven't brought them in, they are going to revolt. You cannot just ignore them and hope they will play ball later on."

"If we had got our solution wrong, it would have been a real mess and very divisive," admitted Connell. "In the early stages of implementation I had a colleague who had to use an alternative entrance to the building because they were getting so much hassle from end-users."

After consultation with Ricoh, LJMU switched to using DHCP-enabled multi-function devices (MFDs) rather than separate lasers, copiers and fax machines in most locations which demand a single, set fee per printed page. It also implemented a single, centralised print queue – all jobs are held for 18 hours – for staff and students alike, which users access using a key card. Each MFD is set to double-sided, mono printing by default as the cheapest option, but colour, stapling and booklet formats can be provided if they pay extra.

"The crucial difference for us is that users cannot buy their own hardware any more, unless they clearly outline a justifiable business reason to IKON," says Connell. "We are constantly monitoring ink and toner levels, which means we no longer have situations where people are stockpiling £800,000 worth of toner."

Rather than use fax machines, LJMU originally wanted staff and students to scan documents into a network file share which can then be printed, emailed or otherwise processed as required. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned, though Connell has not abandoned the idea that this could be made to work in the future.

"Fax machines are the real bane of my life – users will always ask for them whether they need them or not, whereas the vast majority of people in our offices are just scanning stuff in," says Connell.

"That was one of the things that did not quite work in terms of implementation. We thought we would be able to scan to email or a network drive, but hope we will be able to do so in the future."

Alongside the MPS implementation, LJMU also installed an online e-payment service, which allows students, their benefacts (usually the 'Bank of Mum & Dad'), to put money into their accounts to pay for print, copy and library services.

"We are looking to expand the Virtual Purse even further to include memory sticks, CDRs and all sorts of other things that students want to buy," said Connell.

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