PRINTING MIGHT SEEM to be an unlikely candidate for more investment in the current economy but there are plenty of cost savings to be had. Many companies still have plenty of room to tighten up their printing infrastructure, perhaps because of legacy or an ad-hoc approach in the past. Holger Groenert, manager of product marketing at Itec Distribution says there has been growing customer interest in document management solutions (DMS) for their ability to save time, boost productivity and achieve cost savings. "Companies are looking for more creative ways to save money and to do business more efficiently," he says.
"DMS technology promises to do both. We are finding that customers are increasingly acknowledging the substantial hidden costs of lost productivity in areas such as document management. While these expenses are not reflected on the balance sheet, the fact is companies today contend with an overwhelming number of documents within their organisations and employees waste hours searching for critical documents in both physical and electronic filing systems and e-mail software. Efficiency drops. Additional work is generated including follow-up calls or alternate plans. Customer service suffers. Business literally stops for as long as it takes to find the elusive document or the person simply gives up." The solution is to make every document within an organisation searchable by name or keywords contained in the document.
"As long as different versions of the document are automatically generated every time a change is made and every version is checked in and out of the system, carefully categorised and saved, everything will always be accessible, traceable and auditable," Groenert says.
THE MFP PHENOMENON
Most companies have become well versed in the difference between traditional printers and multifunctional devices (MFDs) and that the functionality, security and cost benefits of MFDs have been clearly established. But Andrew Griffith, product manager for office products at Konica Minolta, notes that while an MFD can copy, scan and print, it has become much more than just an output device.
"The sheer volume of information that the average worker is exposed to is currently doubling every 18 months, creating a knock-on effect on how this data is stored, produced and distributed. This highlights the intense need for companies to stay abreast of technology in order to harness the information explosion. This is where the real advantage of MFDs comes into play, with the customisation of how this type of device is integrated into a customer's environment. These machines have also become an information storing kiosk for organisations, where users can utilise them to surf the web or in an intranet capacity, viewing, printing or saving all necessary types of business documentation such as policies, manuals, procedures and brochures on the device itself."
Griffith maintains that from an office automation point of view, hardware has become the mere platform on which software runs and it is the document management software solutions that provide the real value on helping businesses not only save time, but also to reduce costs and increase productivity.
MFDs are growing quickly. Ravi Perumal, HP IPG product manager at Axiz, says that MFDs, also known as All-in-Ones (AiO), have been growing faster than the overall market for several quarters now. "People print to share. You share by copying or scanning (and even faxing still) and so the increased uptake of MFDs is inevitable. The declining price difference between single and multi-function devices provides the impetus for this trend."
He adds that the creation, sharing and customisation of digital content within the home space is growing.
"Home users want to be able to manipulate, print and share their own digital content, he says, and with MFDs becoming more cost-effective, this is easier than ever. Another trend that is growing as a result of the increased market penetration of MFDs is colour printing. Think of the positive and professional image you'd have of a painter or travel agent who gave you their quote in colour."
The basic document management behind MFDs is quite mature. Michael Powell, product marketing manager at Kyocera Mita South Africa, says that of the typical multifunctional devices that customers are buying today, just about all of them offer some kind of basic document management functionality bundled with the machine itself.
"This is more than a nice-to-have feature. It really adds value to the device, what it can do and the impact it can have on productivity. The basic document management system can handle a small number of users and is really aimed at the individual machine and the few desktops that connect to it. It is largely useful in allowing users to manage their own documents and workflow. It's helpful to have the most frequently used documents and templates stored for quick access."
Powell says what has inhibited expanding these abilities into the main IT network has been a historical dependency on proprietary systems.
"While you can interface with these and connect a group of desktops to them, the full use of remote management and monitoring has been complicated by the range of different systems that vendors have produced. Right now, there is a gap in the market for third-party solutions providers offering products to resolve these integration issues. Equipment manufacturers have, perhaps somewhat belatedly, realised that the primary need in the modern office is to get all the equipment onto the same network. It's a trend in telephony solutions and it is no less a concern when it comes to scanners and printers. Achieving this integration has been the problem, but most vendors are now offering software development kits that enable different machines to work pretty much seamlessly with the main software platforms and back-end systems."
The full value comes though only when document management is linked to the ERP, CRM, workflow and management systems.
It must be noted that, to unlock the full value of document management, it is necessary to interface with enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), workflow and database applications.
"There is a lot which can be achieved, in terms of cost savings and productivity, just by managing from the user end or some central point. But the real business value is in how you utilise the information in these documents and make it accessible to the rest of the organisation," concludes Powell.
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