Electronic document management–including printing, copying and scanning–is a significant expense for most African organisations.

By Robin Lloyd, GM: HP printing and personal systems at Tarsus Distribution

It is also one of the areas of the business that all too many companies neglect when searching for cost-savings. Yet most organisations can find relatively painless ways to drive down document management costs once they start looking, in turn freeing up funds for more strategic priorities.

Here are a few ways that you can drive down your document management costs, while getting better performance and value from your printers, scanners and copiers.

Audit your office automation environment

A lot of African organisations don’t have a clear view of how much money they spend on printing, scanning and copying; larger enterprises might not even know which equipment is in use in their business. To gain control over document management costs, you should start by auditing your document management environment, so you know exactly what you’re spending each month and what you’re getting for your money.

The direct costs of document management are relatively easy to evaluate: they include the upfront purchase cost of machines or the monthly lease you pay for your equipment as well as the cost of consumables such as paper and ink supplies. There are also hidden costs to consider: for example, lost productivity when an ageing printer breaks down yet again, the energy costs of running inefficient, older printers, or the time your IT department spends on supporting your office automation equipment. A reseller should be able to help you with a professional audit if you have a large, complex environment.

Consolidate and standardise where possible

Once you have audited your document management environment, you will have a better idea of which printers, copiers and scanners your employees are using and for which purposes. If you have office equipment from multiple suppliers, or multiple leases and support contracts, it might make sense to replace old, inefficient machines and standardise with one vendor.

For example, it might make sense to sign a lease with one reseller or vendor covering all your printing, copying and scanning needs to get better pricing. In addition to simplifying admin and vendor management, standardisation means that your users and IT department will only need to learn how to troubleshoot on one vendor’s products. Plus, you’ll only need to keep consumables and spares on hand for one brand.

Printer consolidation is also an effective quick win. Rather than managing several desktop printers scattered across your organisation, it might be more cost-effective to have a single, better machine shared between a workgroup. And rather than running separate printers, scanners and copiers, it might make sense to put in place a multifunctional device that can handle everything.

Put clear usage policies in place

Employee abuse and misuse of office printers and copiers is one of the biggest sources of wastage in the office printing environment. Many employees may, for example, think it’s okay to print their child’s 30-page school project in full colour from the office printer. Others will waste ink and paper through thoughtlessness: printing internal documents in colour, printing every email they receive, running off prints and forgetting to collect them, and more besides.

Organisations should outline printing policies for their employees, covering areas such as:

* Should people use draft mode, grayscale and both sides of the page when printing for internal needs?

* Who may use colour printing and when is it appropriate for them to print in colour?

* How many pages should users in different roles be allowed to print per week?

Track and manage printer usage

Companies today can use a range of software solutions to monitor printer usage within their businesses and enforce the printing policies they set.

This software can enable you to establish end-user rules, such as access to colour or defaulting to duplex printing. Some tools can help you identify under-utilised printers, so you can get rid of them or use them more effectively. Printing software (such as HP’s Web Jetadmin) can also streamline the management and deployment of printers, so that the IT department has more time to focus on the things that really matter to the business.

Look at opportunities to digitise your workflow

One of the best ways to save money on document management is to digitise more of your business processes. For example, rather than sending a driver out with papers to be signed and then scanned when he returns to work, look at using a smartphone app that allows someone to sign with a finger on a touchscreen.

There are also powerful solutions that enable you to rapidly scan documents, such as signed customer contracts, so that you can store and share them electronically. It may even be possible to get customers and other people to sign documents online, rather than hassling with paper. Less paper means less cost for the business.

Its always a wise decision to seek expert assistance when looking at how to get the best value from your printer, or printer fleet. Your technology partner should be able to answer all of your questions and get you on the path to a world of efficient and effective printer use.