Many organizations spend a considerable amount of their annual budget on print resources, and those expenditures are often hard to quantify. An administrator may have no idea how many printers exist, how heavily they are used, and who is using them until a centralized management approach is applied to the problem. With a system in place large cost savings are often obtained, as well as better management of consumables and the implementation of a rational retirement and acquisition program. That's the idea behind the largest printer vendor's initiative, HP's Total Print Management Initiative.
To begin a centralized management approach to printing it is best to remove heavily used printers from local computers or from network shares managed by a computer and move those printers onto print server appliances. HP makes a range of these appliances, but so too do other vendors. The key feature that you are looking for in this deployment is the creation of a central console from which you can view the status and history of your printers, at a minimum. Better still is if you can service the printers from afar. Given the nature of current technology it is better to eschew proprietary software solutions and seek ones that are browser based. Many of the current software offerings use Java or some other method to produce browser-based printer management software. If your company uses a network framework like HP's OpenView or CA's Unicenter TNG then you may want or need to work with software offerings that are available for that platform.
A program of this type can provide almost immediate benefits as more and more of your printers fall under your management scheme. In addition to being able to provide quantitative answers to usage questions, management provides a number of improvements such as better print efficiency through more effective routing, pooling print resources to better utilize capacity and improving security by concentrating access responsibilities in fewer hands. Many features like printer pooling are found in network operating systems such as Windows Server, but often these features are found in printer management software and have better cross platform support in the print software.
Establishing an initiative of this type in your own company means justifying the costs involved for the purchase of hardware and software as well as the establishment of any new organizational structures for consolidated management. You should be able to use some of the examples found on the HP site to provide a quantitative measure of your company savings. Several white papers are offered on HP's site that deal with exactly these kinds of calculations. It's not uncommon with initiatives of this kind to have paybacks in under six months.
Barrie Sosinsky is president of consulting company Sosinsky and Associates (Medfield MA). He has written extensively on a variety of computer topics. His company specializes in custom software (database and Web related), training and technical documentation.