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4 Ways to Stop Losing Money on This One Sneaky (Sometimes Painful) Expense If you guessed 'printing costs,' you're right. Don't be cavalier toward them. There's a giant savings opportunity here flying under your radar.

By Kevin Pickhardt

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Now that we're decades into the digital age, you might think that printing is a bygone concern for businesses -- just a minor drop in the bucket of overall expenses. But think again: Many businesses spend millions on employee printing every year without giving this ongoing expense the attention it deserves.

According to the recently released Quocirca Print 2025 study, printing technology is expected to change significantly in the next several years, with an increased focus on security, mobility and digitization. During this time, organizations will shift their strategic relationships from print manufacturers to IT and service providers. Through it all, however, printing is not going away.

In fact, office printing has increased in recent years, which may seem surprising, given the many digital options as well as the abundance of millennials in the workforce. (Another study found that 77 percent of millennial decision makers polled believed print would still be vital in 2025, compared to 54 percent of Generation X respondents.)

Related: 4 Ways to Boost Your Business by Cutting Costs

The Quocirca study also revealed that 78 percent of business leaders surveyed considered printing important to their daily operations, and said it would continue to play a significant role, no matter how nontraditional or high-tech a company might be.

Unfortunately, many companies don't track their internal printing and related expenses. Therefore, they have no grasp of the true costs involved or the extent of wasted resources.

Correcting the problem

Nonessential and redundant printing produces a lot of waste. Correcting this is largely about deploying the right technology and changing employee habits. Too often, there's a cavalier attitude toward printers -- a perception that office printing is free or close to it. Most employees see printing documents as a convenient activity that's practically invisible to the organization; they don't think about the costs and how they can ultimately affect the company's bottom line.

My experience in this field, however, has taught me a consistent story: The right print strategy can reduce a company's annual printing costs by 40 percent or more. These results are achieved by reducing overall print volume to business-critical documents, minimizing toner and ink consumption, and improving the design and utilization of a company's printer fleet.

Taking print operations to the cloud enables even deeper savings: You can eliminate print servers, and IT resources no longer have to create and manage various print queues across the organization. Every IT manager also wants to reduce tedious maintenance tasks to focus on more important things.

For these reasons, the consensus is that offloading internal print operations will increasingly become the norm.

To contain printing costs and leverage the benefits that "print infrastructure as a service" offers, business leaders can take these four important actions:

1. Establish a baseline of printing activity across the organization.

With print-management software, you can track printing activity companywide to learn how your current printer fleet and employee printing habits are affecting company expenses. Data about your print devices and printing behaviors will provide a baseline to measure progress and savings. Reports will show outliers in your environment that are producing the most costs; these insights can reveal opportunities to educate and optimize.

Once you've analyzed the data (we recommend capturing about three months of employee printing activity), you can start to educate employees about how printing affects your organization's expenses.

This can help place personal choices into a larger context. You don't need to be overly restrictive, either: Most people are eager to change their printing behaviors once they understand the associated financial and environmental costs.

This is especially true when you communicate optimal printing choices. Best practices include:

  • Avoiding printing emails and webpages
  • Discouraging color printing if it's not necessary
  • Using pdfs instead of paper for large documents

2. Deploy secure pull-printing technology.

Anyone who's worked in a traditional office space is familiar with typical printing scenarios.

The first scenario is forgotten print jobs: You print a document from your workstation, then forget to collect it from the printer's output tray. The next person to walk up to the printer either places the document(s) on top of the printer where anybody can see it, or else tosses it in the recycle bin.

In that case, you, the generator, print the document again, doubling its cost. This common habit adds up over time and gets even more expensive when large or color documents are involved.

Double printing also takes place when an employee submits a print job and immediately goes to collect it, only to discover that someone else is now printing a large job that will take time to finish. So, the individual goes back to print his or her job again on another available printer. Yet that first document will still be printed when the colleague's large job is complete.

These scenarios, and others like it, all add up to significant waste, inefficiency and information security risk.

A good solution here is secure pull printing software. With this software, employees print to a single secure queue, then use their ID cards or login credentials to release, or "pull," their documents at any printer on the network. This type of workflow protects confidentiality and information security while greatly reducing unnecessary print volume and costs.

Related: 4 Ways to Cut Costs Using Technology

3. Get rid of personal printers; they're too expensive.

It might seem counterintuitive, but those small, easily acquired desktop printers end up costing a lot more than shared multifunction devices. According to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency, individual desktop printers cost up to 14 times more than high-volume network printers.

Employees may be reluctant to give up their personal printers (often in the name of document confidentiality), but pull printing is the better way to secure documents, plus it enables advanced tracking and print analytics for continual optimization.

We're helping one client -- Banner Health, a nationally recognized Integrated Health Network with more than 47,000 employees -- save millions of dollars with a holistic print management program. Eliminating expensive desktop printers was one of the first targets in our strategy to implement cost-effective technology and practices.

4. Have your organization's printer fleet optimized.

Print-service providers can help optimize your device fleet, but be sure to gather baseline data, educate employees about printing costs and implement pull-printing technology before agreeing on a new fleet design. That way, you'll arrange your fleet to address more mindful demand for print. This approach will translate to fewer devices, less paper and toner consumption, better workflow efficiency, less maintenance required and lower costs.

Related: How to Reduce Operational Costs

Fleet optimization starts with the same software-based data collection mentioned above, to reveal all the printers in use across the organization and how much volume they produce. A few months' worth of these reports, combined with employee printing data, will paint a clear picture of your organization's true printing needs. With some strategic guidance, you can quickly identify ways to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

Overlooked and unmonitored expenses can be hazardous to your company's IT budget, and many business leaders are unaware of how much waste office printing can produce. Don't let this expense eat away at your own IT budget; it's likely that this could be a giant savings opportunity flying just beneath your radar.

Kevin Pickhardt

CEO, Pharos Systems International

Kevin Pickhardt is the CEO of Pharos Systems International, an enterprise print solutions provider based in Rochester, NY. Pickhardt guides the continuing evolution of Pharos’s service to enterprise clients around the world, with a specific focus on cloud services, corporate strategy, change management and leadership development.

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