The software at the heart of the document output environment is taking on increasing importance as companies struggle to come to grips with the mountains of electronic and paper documents they need to manage, writes Holger Groenert, product marketing manager at Itec Distribution.

There has been a distinct shift in the way companies make their printer purchasing decisions. They are no longer just buying multifunctional products (MFPs) based on the quality of the hardware or the features and functionality. Instead they are increasingly looking at the added value that their suppliers can offer to back up their hardware product.
This is especially true in a market where companies are under financial pressure and desperately need to drive down their print costs, while efficiently managing and processing an ever-growing volume of electronic and paper documents.
Software – some of it from printer suppliers, some of it from third-party vendors – is one of the keys to unlocking the best possible return on investment from the document output environment. It has an invaluable role to play in controlling costs, maximising uptime and optimising productivity.
Broadly speaking, valued-added software in the document output environment can be divided into three major categories: device management software, service management software and document management software. Let’s consider each of these in turn.
Device management solutions
Device management software gives companies greater insight into the running costs of their print environments and more control over how end-users use MFPs and other document output devices.
Companies can track and audit all printing and photocopying on a network. They can also control which users can access which devices and what functions they may use them for.
The level of information and control that device management software gives the company allows it to stamp out abuse and wastage of company resources – for example, unnecessary colour printing. It also makes it simple for organisations to accurately bill external customers and internal departments for their print usage.  
Service management solutions
When a centralised MFP in a busy office breaks down, it can bring productivity to a grinding halt for hours and disrupt workflow for days. Service management software allows proactive management of print environments and ensures that document output devices stay operational at all times.
A service management solution does this by automating the reporting of service and maintenance issues of MFPs so that users no longer need to report faulty devices or order toner, for example.
Furthermore, a proper service solution takes it a step further by integrating into the supplier’s ERP system, so that it takes just minutes from the time a faulty device is detected to the time a service call is logged and allocated to the next available service engineer.
The allocated engineers can then use the system to connect to the device in order to conduct the pre-service assessment remotely, and arrive at the customer site with the right spares for that particular fault. The solution not only speeds up response times and increases first call resolution, but also allows potential problems to be repaired before they even occur.
In addition, such a solution can automatically prompt the vendor to deliver consumables when the toner and other consumables are running low. These processes can all take place without the customer even needing to pick up the phone.
Document management solutions
Document management systems that integrate with printers and MFPs can also significantly boost a company’s productivity and streamline its workflows.
This class of software helps to simplify the management of documents by automating processes such as capturing documents or data, converting them into standard file formats like PDF, routing them to the correct storage destination and storing them in a structured manner to facilitate easy retrieval at any time. They also can eliminate the need to save documents in paper form, saving both space and resources.
While easy retrieval of documents using a single keyword is one of the major advantages of a document management system, there are many other compelling benefits. For instance, it provides a complete and auditable trail of documents and offers protection against unwanted changes to documents. It is also an essential component of any complete paperless environment.
Closing words
According to market research from Gartner, printing and imaging cost the average enterprise up to 3% of its annual revenues. With the right software in place, companies can understand and control this cost much better and achieve significant cost-savings – in some cases, they may reduce device running costs by 25% or more.
What’s more, they can also boost productivity substantially and drive better return on investment from their document output environments.