Looking for a new office printer? Cost is always an important factor, but making the decision on price alone is a big mistake, writes Ernest Leong, product manager, office printing business, Xerox division, at Bytes Document Solutions.

Here are some questions to consider which will help users to choose the right printer for their needs and environment:
* Do users want a printer only, or a multifunctional printer (MFP)? If they want the ability to scan documents, make photocopies and fax, an MFP will be perfect. If users decide on an MFP, choose one that that can truly multifunction.
Can users access each function they need, even if other functions are already in use? Be aware that some all-in-one products offer multiple functions all in one device, but can't multi-task, so they cannot deliver all the functions of a multifunction printer concurrently.
* What will the printer be used for? A large, busy office requires a more robust and capable machine than a small office where only a few invoices are printed every month. If printing numerous documents, such as letters and reports, a laser printer will be best.
Colour laser printers cost more than monochrome devices, but that’s what users will need if they use colour in their documents. The other plus is that laser printers are faster than inkjet printers.
* What print quality do the users need? Print quality or resolution is more important in some environments than others. If the business is document-intensive and relies on high-quality presentations, they’ll need a printer that has excellent print quality.
* What is the total cost of ownership? Beware of looking only at the cost of the initial hardware and not the consumables. A reasonably cheap printer may have inkjet or toner cartridges that are as expensive as the device itself.
It’s often advisable to buy a pricier printer with cheaper cartridges and lower running costs. Once ink costs are taken into consideration, inkjet printers, initially perceived as being low cost, often turn out to have an equivalent or higher TCO than laser and solid ink printers.
* Is networking important to the business? If yes, then buy a printer that has networking/connectivity options. Find out how easily the system will integrate with the existing network. Is it easy to deploy? Does it require minimal start-up training? Does it come with software or wizards to guide users through installation, troubleshooting and upgrading?
* What bi-directional communication capabilities do the users need? A failure to communicate timely and accurate information to users and IT administrators on the status of jobs, queues and devices will result in more intervention by staff to solve, prevent or anticipate problems. Look for print job and device status capabilities from the desktop, and the ability to view all job queues at the device and across the network.
* What device management, remote intelligence and support is available? This is something users may want now or in the future. Look for device relationship management software that optimises the device's availability and uptime. Does the vendor provide superior response time and consistent quality of service? Users want to trust their printer will stay up and running to ensure they have an efficient, productive office.
* What about the level of security and confidentiality users need? Does the device offer the appropriate level of security for the business? Is it scalable to provide more security if needs change?
* What software and solutions are available? These can streamline duplicate and cumbersome document processes and electronically organise, edit and archive paper documents. For example, with an MFP and a simple software application, users can turn paper documents into electronic format and send to multiple destinations – e-mail, document repositories, network folders and remote printers – with a single scan.
* What’s the word in the industry? Compare the data on the actual performance and management and support issues promoted on the vendor's spec sheets with data from independent testing agencies. What are experienced people in the industry saying about the quality and performance of the product the business is considering?
Once armed with the knowledge gathered by asking these questions, users will be prepared to make the right decision for the business.