Archive for June, 2009


A Box is a Box, or is it?

June 30, 2009

I recently heard a Purchasing agent say “a box is a box”. He was attempting to make the point that (in his mind, at least) one manufacture’s MFD was the same as another. Is this true?

I can understand why a Purchaser would want to say this, and even why at some level that they may believe it to be true. The primary job of a Purchaser is to get the best price for the right equipment or product. So the Purchaser REALLY wants to compare “Apples to Apples”. They want to reduce it to a commodity so they can simply say, all else being equal (If it truly is) they can go with the best price. WOW, that was easy what’s next on my list of things to do today. Unfortunately this is an over simplification of a complex decision.

To be fair to the Purchaser there is an arguement to be made that one box has the same basic function as another. Each MFD, Multi Functional Devices have the “same” basic 4 or 5 functions; they can all 1) Copy, 2) Print, 3) Scan, 4) Fax, and more and more each of them can 5) load additional software on the MFD that can enhance and extend the capabilities of the MFD (like the Canon MEAP platform).

When a Sales person from company “A” shows up and says my box (MFD) can copy, scan, print, fax, etc. And I am a nice guy and I work for a good company please buy my box. Then right behind them the sales person from company “B” walks in and says my box (MFD) also can print, copy, fax, scan, etc. And I too am a nice guy, who works for a different good company please buy my box (MFD) instead of the Box that Salesman “A” tried to sell you. Add to that Salesman C & D with the same speach and the only logical question left for  a Purchasing agent to ask is the dreaded “Who is the cheapest”? If you are a sales person who finds his/her self constinatly battling to be at the lowest price then you are either talking to the wrong person (just the Purchasing agent) or you have not shown the Value that your company, your products, or you yourself can add to this deal. Shame on you.

Even with all of the “Boxes” (read MFDs) having the same basic functionality there are a few things that would and do still differentiate one Box from another. They are:

1) How easy is it for your End Users to Copy, Scan, Print, Fax, or use the additional software loaded on the “Box”? This is one of the things that BLI (Buyers Lab) said about the Canon product line when they awarded Canon the MFD line of the year for 2008.

2) How reliable will that “Box” (MFD) be in year 2, 3, 4, or 5 of your lease? They all work pretty well when they are brand new, just out of the box. But how many customers buy the same brand again and again and again because they are happy with how it performed not just at the begining of the lease, but at the end of the lease. This was the other main point that BLI (Buyers Lab) said about Canon when they awarded them the MFD Line of the Year for 2008.

3) Finally, how well does this “Box” (MFD) integrate with your network, or servers? How well does the company who sells this box, support it not just before the sale, but after it as well? This is what really separates the “Players” from the “Posers” in our industry.

These are the things that do differentiate one Box, one MFD, from another. While the Purchaser may hate to address these subtle value adds because they skew the Apples to Apples comparison, they are extremely important to how well this equipment will work in your environment. Which will have a direct correlation on how happy your end users will be for the term of the lease. This is the reason why only a few MFD vendors continually take up the lion’s share of the Pie Chart year after, year after year for MFD Sales in the US. You can’t be in that top tier group without making a pretty decent product. But even more to the point why do you think certain MFD manufacturers who have been selling MFDs for the past 10 – 20 years still have little to no discernible market share? A good sales person could convince a new Purchasing agent to buy a “Cheap” MFD simply on price, well at least once. But when that Purchasing Agent has to live through 3 – 5 years of their end users hating the “Box” (MFD) and blaming them for the purchase they begin to see the importance of the Value Adds that I speak of. Isn’t life hard enough without having to go to work every day in a place where everyone hates your guts for making them use difficult or unreliable equipment?

I often tell customers early in the sales process that WE WILL NOT BE THE CHEAPEST vendor that you look at. We will be competitive on price, but we will not be the cheapest. If you are looking for “Cheap” then you shouldn’t be looking at us. We don’t sell “Cheap” products. What I can offer you is the best value for the money that your company spends. And isn’t that what most of us look for when we shop for anything, Value! On occasion I see a purchaser put in a “Straw dog” Vendor. That is a vendor that is strictly selling on price, but is not really able to support this customer or offer them any of the real value add that we are talking about. This Straw Dog vendor is just being invited to bid to drive down the price. If this customer is truly considering doing business with them then they really don’t want what we can provide. After all does someone shopping for a new car compare a KIA to a Lexus? Aren’t these two very different people looking for very different things? If you are looking to buy a KIA or a Hyundai do you even look at a Lexus, or a Cadillac, or an Infinity? Not seriously!

When I went over to a direct _BS branch of a manufacturer I was able to convince a few of my former Canon customers to give us a try. And they did because they liked me, or one of the sales people that came over with me. Now that I am back with NECS many of those clients are returning to Canon because they now see the difference between the Value that the Canon “Box” offered and the cheaper _BS box that their end users hated! These _BS Boxes did not stand up as well towards the end of the lease. Now I know that the _BS sales person would be happy to “upgrade” those boxes early, at “no penalty” to you. Sure they would. Let’s get those _BS boxes out that aren’t working well in year 2, 3 or 4 and replace them with other _BS boxes that will work OK the first year they are there and then the cycle will start all over again. BTW, No Penalty doesn’t mean you still don’t have to pay off the rest of your lease, they will simly roll it into the new lease, but there is no penalty. Wouldn’t it be a greater value to your company if you could actually use the Box, the MFD for the whole length of the lease and not have to “upgrade” it because it is not working well. I am not against upgrading equipment early if it helps my customers. For instance they may need a new feature that wasn’t available on the original model, or maybe they have grown their business and need higher volume machines. But they shouldn’t be forced to upgrade because the box, the MFD just isn’t holding up at the end of the lease.

If you really want to compare Apples to Apples then you should compare a Tier 2 MFD manufacturer with a 3 year lease to a Tier 1 MFD manufacturer with a 5 year lease. You will find that the better equipment will be very competitive and will work well till the end of the lease.

That’s my $0.02
Vince McHugh


How can I reduce my Printing costs? – Part II

June 30, 2009

Let’s say you already did all the things that I mentioned in the first blog article, or at least as much as you could within your current environment.

What else can be done? There are 3 different strategies that you could look at, and we will discuss the pros and cons of each in this article. First let;s look at the three strategies:

  1. Managed Print Services
  2. Moving as much print volume as possible from your Printers to your MFDs
  3. Rules based printing

Managed Print Services: Either your current MFD dealer, or a company that specializes in this will knock on the door of your CEO or CFO and ask them “How much do you pay for printing?” To which the CEO\CFO will respond “I don’t know”. The Managed Print Services company or MFD dealer will offer to do a free analysis if your CEO\CFO will simply agree to let them come back in and present their findings. They will often make the claim that if I can’t save your company 25 – 40% of what you are paying now for printing then I will not bother you again. The CEO\CFO will typically agree and send them to work with someone high up the food chain in the IT Dept. to get this free study done. This top down selling works well because the Director of IT is not use to saying no to the CEO or CFO when they ask them to do something. If your company is not doing anything but letting your end users print to anything they want, and buy any printer that they want then managed print services will save you money.

This strategy often competes with the next one that we will discuss, although you could do both. If the Managed Print Services company does not also sell & support MFDs they may try to get you to minimize or in some cases remove completely your MFDs and print only to the printers or printer based multi functional printers (MFPs), that they will provide, all for the same “low price of 2 – 4 cents a page (B&W). The argument that the Managed Print Service Company makes is that IF we get rid of your Copier based MFDs you get rid of your leases and that will save you money. That would be true IF a printer or a printer based MFP could do everything that a copier based MFD can do. Can it? They can be equipped with the same basic functions Copy, Print, Scan, Fax, and even the newer printer based MFPs can add applications (like eCopy or AutoStore) just like their Copier based MFD counterparts. What they don’t do well is hold up in year 2, 3, 4, and 5. What they have never done well is handle the pounding that the end users typically give a copier based MFD. The Document Feeders and the Finishers on the printer based MFPs have always been considerably weaker than their copier based MFD counterparts. The truth of the matter is a Copier Based MFD can do everything that a printer can do, but a printer based MFP struggles to do all that a copier based MFD can do. It may be OK in year one, and you may be a hero for showing savings on paper. But when year 2 1/2 – 5 rolls around and they are just not holding up to the work load that your end users put on them gird your loins and prepare for an end user uprising. I would caution you not to remove all of your Copier based MFDs. it is in the best interest of the Manged Print Services company to get all of your clicks, but it is NOT in your best interest.

Moving print volume from printers to MFDs: Now you may have an MFD dealer (AKA: a Copier Company) that currently sells and supports your MFDs. They too want to do a similar study. And even if you are using Managed Print Services they will make the argument that if you move as much volume as possible from the cartridge based printers  to the toner based MFDs you will save significant amounts of money (or even more money if God forbid you are paying for Ink Jet, or Solid Ink Printers). Typical cost for a B&W click on an MFD is under a penny. Typical cost on a manged Print services printer is 2-4 cents. Typical cost on an unmanaged B&W printer is even higher, especially on the older ones.

The MFD dealer will do a pencil sell. They will show you a copy\print center on one of your floors. There are usually 1 or more of these on the floors of most large companies. And they typically look like this; a connected “Copier” (that also scans) sitting next to a High Speed B&W Printer, Sitting next to a Color Printer, Sitting next to a Fax machine. If you were to replace these four devices with one Color\B&W MFD you will save money in several ways. The first is the cost of a toner based MFD will be significantly cheaper than a cartridge based printer. You will see even more dramatic savings on the color side, and many of the small fax machines have astronomical supply costs. You will also save by not having separate maintenance agreements, or buying separate supplies for each of these devices. There is also the cost of power consumption especially on the older non energy star compliant devices. This will also help your companies Green Initiatives. We haven’t even addressed the soft cost of not having 3 print queues and 3 print drivers for your IT Department to support (for EACH one of these copy rooms). Even if you have a managed print program you will save money of you move as much print volume as possible from your cartridge based printers (Color and B&W) to your multi functional devices.

Some MFD dealers will try to get you to remove all of your printers. This is not a realistic goal, but maybe you could remove 90% of the printers, or at least move 90% of the print volume from the cartridge based printers to the MFDs. You might want to consider a combination of both plans above. Move as much volume as possible to the MFDs, and the printers that you can not remove you could put on a manged print plan. Ideally with the same dealer who handles the MFDs.

How can I implement this plan and then check to see if it is really working? It is said that you can’t manage what you don’t measure! So whatever strategy you decide to employ it is important that you continue to check to make sure that the policies that your company put in place are continued to be followed after the initial push. Unfortunately unless you continue to monitor these practices and the associated cost the environment that you fought so hard to fix will quickly deteriorate to it’s former state.

So you could simply use the initial tool that either your Office Equipment (Copier) Dealer or your Managed Print Services dealer used to do the initial study. Most of the companies that do these studies will want to keep these monitoring tools running on your network to automatically capture the printing clicks for billing purposes, usually for minimal to no charge to you.

Finally, you could choose to implement Rules Based Printing: This can be done with a number of different solutions, Canon’s UniFLOW solution, or Print Audit’s solution come to mind, there are of course others too. What rules based printing allow you to do is set up rules and responses to different printing situations. For instance if someone wanted to print 1-5 pages they could do that at their local desktop printer. But if they wanted to print 5 – 199 pages that would go to a workgroup MFD that was in their department. If they wanted to print 200 pages or more that would be sent to the companies Print Center. This is just one example of a simple set of rules.

This can be done typically in three ways, some more “heavy handed” then others. The lightest touch is to simply set a policy that the company wants the end users to print all of their larger jobs to the MFDs and then simply track the end users, and have a conversation with those who do not follow this policy.  The next lightest touch would be a pop up message that simply tells the end user how much his\her print job will cost, and also show how much they will save the company if they redirect the job to the less expensive, recommended alternative. With this level of enforcement you can allow the end user to choose to override the recommendation. Their choice to override is duly recorded in a report and they may be called upon later to explain their choice, which may or not have a legitimate business reason behind it. The last way, the most heavy handed way, does not give the end user a choice and simply informs them where they can pick up their print job. You will really need buy in at the highest level of the company to enforce this form of rules based printing, because there will be some push back from the end users.

I hope that this gives you something to think about regarding some of the other things that your company can do to drive down it’s cost of printing. I would recommend that if you are planning to do any of these that you form a task force or a comity that includes Purchasing, Operations, and the IT Department. If you have an Office technology dealer that is a real business partner with your company they will be more than willing to provide their expertise to help you do this study.  Once you have done the initial cost savings analysis present it to your CEO or CFO and get there blessing before you implement it.

Hope this helps!

That’s my $0.02
Vince McHugh


How can I reduce my printing costs? (Let’s start with what’s easy to do)

June 25, 2009

In today’s economy every business that I know of is looking for ways to reduce cost.

Many of these companies have long studied how they could reduce their companies printing costs, but due to internal political struggles these studies have often not been implemented. Now these same companies are dusting off those studies and finding the courage to make the needed changes. What changed? Two things; they finally have the support from the highest levels of their company and the end users are nervous about keeping their job, and their company financially healthy in this difficult economy. So there is very little push back today. This makes it an ideal time to implement a plan to help your company reduce it’s printing cost. But which plan?

There are both strategies that you could employ on your current equipment, as well as more dramatic changes that can be made. Some of these can be done without ruffling any feathers, the rest will require that you “break a few eggs, to make that omelet”. So let’s talk about what’s easy to do first. I am a big fan of picking the “Low hanging fruit” first. If your company has not considered the following then shame on your dealer for not at least bringing it up.

1) Set all of the Color or Color \ B&W MFDs to default to B&W (BOTH when your end users print & copy). This can be easily done on the MFD for copying, and on the Print Server when you print. Here is a hint; You can’t just set the Properties of the MFD’s print driver on the print server to default to B&W, that will NOT push the settings down to the End users. Your dealer should be able to show you how to do it.

When you default both the printing and the copying to B&W on MFDs that can do both, you immediately see a savings because you are no longer getting color email’s being printed out. People don’t print those in color on purpose, they just click print before they think to change it to B&W. There are a few departments (like Marketing typically) that may require the default to still be color, because 90% of what they print is in color, and they would only waste time and resources when they accidentally print in B&W what they need in color. But that is the rare exception.

2) This next step is a little more radical and will drive a few end users crazy, but the people who handle your company’s Green Initiative’s will love you for it. You can also make BOTH the printing and the copying on your MFD default to double sided. This could cut your paper use by 40-50%. How much paper does your company use? How much does it cost? Now notice I said “default” to duplex, not make it so that you can’t print a single sided document. There will be times when it will be appropriate for documents to be printed simplex, but the end user will need to make a conscious choice to do so, just like when they print in color. So if they print without thinking first. I know that it is hard to believe that your end users could possibly print without thinking first, but it really does happen…. sometimes,…… at least in some companies, ……. but maybe not in your company 🙂 But when they do they will get by default a B&W, 2 sided document and that will save you money. How much? That depends upon how much color single sided printing you are doing now, but those nickels add up quickly.

3) One last thing that you could do, at least with most major MFDs is set up people to print to a Mailbox, or a hold queue (on the MFD) and then have them go to the MFD and release the print job. Typically we set these up to purge the stored print documents every 3 hours – 3 days. You might be surprised at how many people print jobs and then never go and get them. Have you ever printed directions from MapQuest only to run out the door and drive away before you realized that they were still sitting in the printers output tray? You can do this with the Canon Mailboxes or the Konica Minolta User InBoxes, and I am sure that many other MFD manufacturers will have a similar feature.

Maybe in the next post we can talk about what to do if you have already done these steps, and the myths and realities of Managed Print Services.

That’s My $0.02
Vince McHugh


How’s your back room???

June 24, 2009

I met with another large account (several hundred MFDs) that currently has Ikon as their Canon dealer. They are concerned about the future level of support that ikon will or will not be able to provide after October 2009 when (according to the Canon letter) their support from Canon will end. And rightfully so. They have already seen a drop off in the service that Ikon is providing on their Canons, so they are talking to Authorized Canon Dealers.

But that is not what this post is about. What came up again at this meeting was how bad Ikon’s back room has been. Billing issue after billing issue. It would be one thing if this was an isolated case but it seems to be “par for the coarse” for Ikon. I have heard the same horror stories from account after account. I have also heard, from first hand accounts, that Danka has the same problems as Ikon, if not worse.

How do Ikon reps handle this? You can only apologize for your incompitent back room so many times before your customer just doesn’t care that you are sorry. What this customer said is what a lot of customers feel; “I don’t care if there is a problem, we all have problems. But what really ticks me off is when I have the same problem month after month after month. And your company can’t or won’t fix it.” They actually told us that they had been billed for a fleet of MFDs at a location that had not had that equipment for over a year. And it took Ikon 9 months to give them their money back.

The great thing about working at a large regional dealer is we have a great back room. Billing issues are few and far between, and they get resolved in days not months. One of my major account reps said that a terrible back room was the reason that they left Danka. It made it too hard to call on customers that were mad at your company for constantly screwing up their billing and then not resolving it even when the sales rep would get involved. The sales reps at Ikon & Danka have “no juice”. They are simply a small cog in a big machine. They can’t get it done, they can’t get these back room problems resolved and their custopmers know it. It is not because they are bad people or even bad sales reps (they aren’t either). they are just in a system that is broken, and people who try to fix it get beaten down until they just don’t care anymore. Unfortunately it is the only way to survive in that type of environment.

But if you are a customer of Ikon or Danka and you think that ALL Office Technology Companies do this, then you are in for a pleasant surprise. Your large regional dealers do it better. Their Sales Reps do have the “Juice” to get your issues resolved. Give ’em a call and see how much easier your life can be when you have an Office Technolgy Dealer with a compitent and responsive back room. If you are an Ikon or Danka sales rep who has never had a competent or responsive back room you too should call your regional  dealer, resume in hand. See just how easy it is to sell to a customer who isn’t pissed off at your back room.

That’s My $0.02
Vince McHugh


Ricoh abadon’s its RPCS print driver

June 12, 2009

I hear that Ricoh has discontinued work on Refined Printing Command Stream (RPCS) technology:

Like Ricoh’s Desktop Binder, RPCS was Ricoh’s attempt to create its own product to differentiate its products from the competition, however, Based on its current economic situation Ricoh has decided not spend any more research & development funds on either project. RPCS was advertised a new, innovate print driver, supposedly a better option than PCL or PostScript (true marketing hype).

The truth is both products were sub-standard. I say this from first hand experience, because I have personally supported both the Ricoh RPCS print driver and Desktop Binder. The difference between the two is at first glance I knew that Ricoh’s Desktop Binder was a poor imitation of either eCopy’s Desktop or Nuance’s Paperport. But the base version was free, so I guess you get what you pay for.

The RPCS driver on the other hand showed real promise, promise that unfortunately was never realized. When I first saw the Ricoh RPCS driver I thought that this is pretty cool! It is icon driven. If you wanted to do a double sided staple print job you had an icon for that. If you had an even more complex job like a report that you ran every Friday you could set up all the complex settings (landscape, double sided, top edge binding, staple in the upper left corner, and 9 sets) and you could save all those settings and give it a cool looking icon and even a name like “Friday’s Report”. Now every time that you want to print that report you just have to click on that icon named “Friday’s Report” and it will print with all of the correct settings, isn’t that great! Well it would be, if it worked, the only problem was that it didn’t work, at least not reliably.

The truth of the matter was even Ricoh’s Tech support recommended that you didn’t use the RPCS driver if the customer wanted to load it on a Print Server and download it to their work stations. For the record let me say that this made the RPCS driver all but unuseable. Can you imagine a modern print diriver that had to be loaded locally on each and every PC? Why? because the RPCS driver was flakey, poorly written. My persoanl favorite behavior was sometimes when you pushed it down from a print server to a work station and all of the cool icons would disappear and you would have to reinstall the RPCS driver to get them back, only to have it happen again. That was great! Network Admins loved that….Not! And Ricoh’s Tech Support had no solution, no explanation, only a disclaimer “we don’t recommend that you load the RPCS driver on a Print Server”.

So it is probably in all of our best interest that Ricoh has run out of money to support these two sub standard technologies. no one is really going to miss them. they never really worked well anyway.  Now Canon is the only traditional MFP vendor still producing a host-based driver, called Ultra Fast Rendering (UFR). The original UFR driver wan’t great, but the newer UFR II driver is considerably better, it even works on both the PC and MAC OS X platforms. It may not be as robust as PCL or Postscript but it is one of the only inexpensive printing option and unlike Ricoh’s RPCS technology, it actually works.

That’s my $0.02
Vince McHugh