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Print Cost Recovery: Recouping costs in an age of high demand public access printing

Laser print cost recovery (LPCR), pay-for-print services, networked print control … By any name, the ability to manage, track, allocate, and charge for printing from public access and faculty/staff printers is a major focus on college campuses today. By now, nearly every college administrator is at least aware of the concept. Using special software systems, a print job is held at a print server until the job’s initiator pays for it and releases it from the queue to the selected printer.

Building upon this basic description, hundreds of variations emerge as campuses mold a flexible solution to solve a unique set of infrastructure and policy needs. Many LPCR systems offer a wide variety of configurable options. In some cases, fees are not assessed for print jobs but rather the number of pages is deducted from the individual’s allocated total. In other cases, the number of pages or the price per page is accrued and charged against a departmental account or grant. Some sites provide a predetermined quantity of free prints for users and then charge for overages.

For example, California State University Sacramento installed the Uniprint LPCR solution from Pharos in the Spring of 2001. Students were provided 100 free prints per semester. After the free prints, a fee of just $0.05 per page is charged to the student’s campus card account.

During the initial semester of operation, student printing in the public PC labs dropped by an astounding 30% – and this cut occurred in spite of an increase of 20% in lab usage. According to a report produced by the institution, “students chose other ways to view and store information such as save information to disk, send information via email and view information on screen. Students also chose to limit unnecessary printing.”

Significant savings were also achieved at East Tennessee State University (ETSU). Using CS Print™ from Diebold, ETSU provided a base number of free prints after which a per-page fee was accessed to the campus card vending account. ETSU has reduced their cost of printing supplies by 50%.

Document Output Management (DOM)

But stepping back, at the root of all of these systems is the concept that with information comes the ability to plan, allocate, and budget. In a system with no document output management capabilities, the parties responsible for the system are operating blindly. They do not have the data to make informed decisions, such as:

  • Where do we need new
    equipment?
  • Are some labs overtaxed while others remain idle?
  • What quantity of consumables (e.g. paper, toner) will we require at each location?
  • How do we combat waste and misuse?
  • Who are our biggest offenders and where do they obtain
    services?

In corporate environments, dedicated software tracking tools command high dollar figures to help an organization understand their document output. The tools are put into the organization for a period of time, or permanently, to monitor the levels of single color and full color printing, photocopying, and faxing within all areas of the organization. A complete picture, detailing the time of day, type of file, even name of files printed can be compiled.

Costs can then be associated with each output device (e.g. inkjet, laser, color copier) and the weak points in terms of cost-efficiency can be highlighted. Organizations save hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading costly equipment, eliminating redundant equipment, and identifying abusing users or areas.

In the public access environments on college campuses, this can be a bit more complicated. The ability for an employer to dictate behavior to employees is stronger than the ability for an institution to control tuition-paying students. The concept of abuse or waste is also far more difficult to ascertain. At work, any non work-related output could be seen as abuse, however this is not so true in environments that foster research and open learning.

Painting the picture

Highlighting the importance of controlling document output costs, the Gartner Group estimates that corporations spend between 1% and 3% of total revenue on document output. Statistics and figures on the high cost of document output abound.

Estimates suggest that the average employee in an office environment prints 650 pages and photocopies 350 pages each month. The per page costs for single color document output is estimated at $0.05-$0.08 per page. Conservatively, that equates to $50 per month per employee.

Now let’s assume that the average student visits a public lab on your campus just once per course to research an assignment. And assume that on that visit the student prints 3 online journal articles, each 8 pages in length, and photocopies four additional articles, just 6 pages per article. With an average course load of 4 per semester, that average student has printed 96 pages and copied an additional 96 pages. Total cost to the campus per semester–$9.60. A campus with 10,000 students has just expended $90,600 in document output each semester.

That is a significant amount of money. But the problem is students don’t stick to these assumptions. With the proliferation of public access PCs, Internet access, online research, faster printers, color capability, and web-based email access–the volume of document output on college campuses has skyrocketed. It is not uncommon for public access labs to report garbage cans piled with discarded print jobs, hundreds of pages left unclaimed each day, and reams of wasted paper (a ream contains 500 sheets).

Imagine this scenario. If a campus with 50 public access printers experienced waste of just one ream of paper per day at each printer, that would equate to 25,000 sheets of wasted output each day–or more than 2 million sheets per semester. This wasted output adds another $100,000 in cost each semester to the conservative estimates described above.

Annualized, the conservative usage estimates added to the wasted output figures would total well over $500,000 dollars. If a campus is not recouping costs associated with this output, they are simply giving this money away. And it should be noted that the figure of $0.05 per page are direct costs for machine, consumables, and basic maintenance. They do not include administrative time, purchasing efforts, localized staff monitoring, and any number of other non-direct expenses.

What can a campus do?

As you can see the costs for document output are sizeable. But today, the solution to the problem is available, straightforward, and extremely cost effective. Print cost recovery systems are available from a series of manufacturers and there are multiple options available to support any particular environment.

Of course, the goal of a public access network of PCs and printers is to provide the appropriate level of service at the minimal cost. When an overall campus-wide network is examined, the focus tends to be on the overused areas–the squeaky wheels where complaints abound due to long lines and inadequate resources. Other areas are by default, assumed adequately served. The obvious solution seems to be to dump more resources into the overused labs.

But a better answer could be to migrate resources from underused areas or to encourage migration of users to the underused areas. Reports suggest that in corporate environments, certain printers are operated at less than2% of total capacity. Many campus labs experience similar under-utilization. Grossly underused equipment is a major drain on resources and can dramatically raise the enterprise-wide per page cost. Look at it this way, if a printer costs an organization $3000 each year (amortized purchase price and maintenance), prints just 10,000 pages per year, and toner plus paper costs are $0.02 per page, the resulting per page cost is $0.32 per page not the usually quoted $0.05 per page.

In terms of print cost recovery, this situation can be helped. Underused machines will experience some recovery of costs. But they will still be financial drains on the organization. Thus, alongside a LPCR program should run a comprehensive analysis of document output management.

So how does an LPCR solution work?

While different solutions utilize different architectures and terminology, the following description suggests a common configuration of an LPCR solution.

When a networked PC sends a print job to a networked printer, it is routed through a print server. Installing LPCR software on a print server, these jobs can be controlled inways not possible with normal print server software. Another PC called a release station corresponds with a specific printer or bank of printers. At the release station, the creator of a print job selects his job from the list of those pending in the print server. If applicable, payment is made and the job is sent to the selected printer. Unclaimed jobs are held in the queue for a specified time period and then deleted, thus never incurring the expense of actual output.

How do you make a decision and move forward?

LPCR systems impact many areas within a campus. Thus the proponent for the system on a campus
may come from auxiliary services, the card office, reprographics, the library, the IT department, or even an individual academic college experiencing a specific need. According to Chuck Sheppard, Director of Marketing, Pharos Systems, the developer of Uniprint “more and more we are seeing the card office or the auxiliary services group gaining additional clout on the campus and championing the acquisition of these systems. There is also considerable demand coming from the library directors and computer lab administrators. These areas usually find the budget and then go to the IT department and the card office to help implement a solution to eliminate the printing waste.”

Most college administrators agree that their campus could benefit from this type of system. However, many are overburdened with responsibilities and are unsure where to begin. There are some simple steps that can help lay the foundation for an LPCR solution.

(1) Detail what it is you want to do. How many labs are involved, what type of hardware, how will payment for prints be initiated?
By understanding these issues you will be far better prepared as you speak to vendors and users of the technology.

(2) Talk to your campus card vendor to see what solutions they recommend. Several of the major card system providers offer their own solution. They may also support one or more third-party solutions.

Diebold provides its own pay-for-print solution called CS Print™. With CS Print™, customers can use their Diebold Card System to pay for laser prints made in public access PC networks. It operates on any Windows NT or 2000 based print server. The release station too requires a Windows NT or 2000 based machine but once installed can handle print jobs originating from Windows, Macintosh, or Unix workstations. The product can be configured to enable print jobs to be authorized from the remote workstation or at a release station.

General Meters offers its Network Laser Printer Accountant™ module that enables pay-for-print functions using a General Meters One-Card account. The system operates on both a Novell and Windows NT networks. When work is sent to the laser printer from a computer on the network the system holds the job in the print queue. The cardholder then swipes the card at the Laser Accountant, selects his/her work from the queue, and is charged for each page that is printed.

Neither Blackboard nor CBORD offers their own solutions, however both work with clients to help them identify an appropriate solution. Blackboard is an authorized reseller of Pharos’ Uniprint solution.

(3) Involve your library, college lab administrators, IT department, and card office. Ask for their recommendations and try to win them over to your side. They will be involved in the process at some point so to have their buy-in from the beginning can make the process much smoother.

(4) Check out the upcoming trade show calendar. Often LPCR solutions are demonstrated on the exhibit floor and presentations are made by both vendors and campus users. Consider NACCU, NACAS, EDUCAUSE, and the ACLA meetings.

(5) Participate in one of the free online seminars offered by Pharos. Though provided by the developer of the Uniprint product, the seminars are a great way to learn about LPCR solutions in general. There is no obligation and the company welcomes the participation. The 60-minute seminars are offered each week via the web and include a presentation, product demonstration, and question and answer segments.

(6) Visit–or send a staff member to visit–nearby campuses using different solutions and talk to the people responsible for maintaining the product. Buy a guest card and experience the system in action. Keep track of what you like and don’t like about each.

(7) Invite the preferred vendors to your campus to present their product. But do this after you have done your homework. Too often, vendor presentations are done at the initial phases of a product selection process when the tough questions have not yet been identified.

Conclusions

Most importantly, begin the process of considering LPCR systems for your campus. It is too important to ignore. The cost savings and the waste reduction are good for the campus and the environment.

In these days of tightening budgets, campus technology projects are, more and more, evaluated in terms of their return on investment (ROI). Projects cannot simply improved service delivery or meet an identified need, they must pay for themselves. Card programs have struggled with this issue for years. The technology is essential to campus life, yet it seldom is cost neutral. LPCR solutions, on the other hand, often have a relatively short ROI. Some campuses report that the systems can pay for themselves in just 1 to 3 years.

But an attractive ROI is not the only benefit. Any steps toward better document output management improve the availability of resources for students–helping to ensure that PCs and printers are available to all students when they need them for actual learning-related work.

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