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FEATURE Network printers

FEATURE Network printers

The right tools

Being equipped with the right tools goes a long way towards getting the job done the right way on the first attempt. When was the last time you saw a carpenter making doorframes with a chainsaw? Equipping an office with the right stuff can be a difficult job, especially when half the time your customer doesn't know exactly what he needs. Armed with a ream of paper and an Ethernet cable, Ellen Cresswell discovers how to sell the right workgroup printer to your customersThere's more to selling a network printer than meets the eye. Naturally, speed is a major consideration. And chances are, that's all your customer is thinking about. But it's important for you, as a reseller, to be able to determine exactly what your customer needs, and that should cover more than just ink and paper.

Kyocera managing director David Finn is quite frank about what customers know about printer usage.

"You ask people 'How many pages do you think you print per month?' and they usually say 'I've got no idea'. Then the question is: 'How much paper do you buy?' and they discover they buy bucketloads of it," Finn said.

"There isn't any site that's suddenly transferring to networked laser printers. It's usually upgrading individual lasers hanging off the back of a PC to hanging off a network.

"Then it's a matter of matching the product to the paper output. The trick is making sure you don't underspec the printer for the job, because then the printer's going to be struggling. Then look at what you want that piece of paper to do: does it need to be duplexed? Does it need to be sorted, collated and so forth. And that determines the type of printer as well. So the finishing is becoming just as important as printing the initial page," he said.

"I think printers are like PCs. It's very hard to overspec because you tend to generate more. If you overspec, all you're doing is spending a little more money upfront, and you'll be fine for a little longer. But there are circumstances where you shouldn't buy a nuclear reactor to boil a cup of water, either. It's very flaky at the best of times, but you've got to analyse what's going on," Finn said.

Asking the right questions

Forest McGregor from Fuji Xerox lists some considerations resellers should keep in mind when selling a network printer. "If you put it in customer terms, the sort of things they need to look at are: what sort of speed requirements do they have and how many users? what sort of documents are the users printing? Are they printing single page documents, primarily e-mail, for example, or are they printing 50-page documents that need to be collated? Also at that level, you need to look at what geographic dispersment they want. How are their people positioned? Are they comfortable with 20 people getting up to go to a central location that may be a bit of a walk, or are they more likely to want smaller units closer to, say, four people?"

McGregor said colour has become more of an issue, now that price points have become less prohibitive.

"If you've got a marketing department, it's very likely you'll need a colour printer. Therefore, you might isolate a colour printer for that department. Colour laser printers are more expensive than mono machines. They're a little more expensive to run, and they are slower. Most of them these days will print 12ppm in black. And then you make the decision on whether you want that colour available to other users on an ad hoc basis," he said.

"So it comes down to a question of how much volume you want to do. It's all a balancing act between what you want to do, what you really need to do and what you might want to do in the future. You have the opportunity for marketing departments to do letters and whatever, so long as it's relatively low prints. You would probably spot good colour around an office.

"So you might have one colour to every four monochromes today," McGregor concluded. He added that security is often a requirement, particularly in human resources or personnel departments of an organisation.

Colin Boyle, Hewlett-Packard's printers marketing development manager, says the priority for the customer should be reliability.

"The prime factor is transparency of the printer to the user - it must be as simple as having their own personal printer," Boyle said. "With most network printers you get the added value of extra features like the need for paper handling, and things like that."

He compares buying a printer to buying a car: you don't want a car to break down when you use it, and it's the same for printers. When you're buying a car, if you can get reliability for an extra $1000, it's worth paying for, Boyle says.

Customers won't pay more for speed gains of a few pages per minute, but will pay for increased reliability.

Who buys it anyway?

The people who buy network printers are typically IT managers and MIS people, Boyle says. And he thinks one of the major considerations for those buyers is how fast the user can get back to their work.

"They're looking at return to application times and how quickly you get the page out. And that's related to how fast the network is, how much or how little data you put out, how quickly you can get that into the printer, how quickly it's processed and then how quickly it can produce single and multiple copies," he said.

"It all breaks down into a few areas of key customer benefits, such as less interaction with the printer. These include performance - not just pages per minute or resolution - what I call enabling technologies underlying the performance.

These include things like fast processors, to ensure return to application is very quick and at the same time we also want to ensure the output comes back into the users' hands very quickly."

600dpi

Paul Cosgrove is the manager of IBM's printer group. He says the standard in laser printers is now 600dpi.

"I see no real requirement for anything higher than that coming from customers. High resolution is being marketed to customers as opposed to customers demanding it. We can throw this capability into this printer and we'll sell the hell out of it, but I have never seen a customer come and ask me for higher than 600dpi," he said.

However, Cosgrove says one thing that customers forget is trying to match the printer duty cycle, or capacity, to the workload.

"It's very difficult to guess what the requirements are going to be. Some printers are cheaper because they're built to do only so many prints per month, whereas other ones are built more sturdy, but you normally pay a little more. That's important if you know what sort of volume you're going to print. I've seen customers buy one printer and it's only lasted a few months; they were trying to make it go too hard. They tend to forget about volume versus capability," he said.

The average office document is three pages of text. So it's not so much how many pages per minute the printer can do, it's an issue of the first page out, says Kyocera's Finn.

"It doesn't matter if it does 6ppm or 24ppm. It just comes out at that speed. You wouldn't buy a high-speed printer. But if you're doing a lot of invoices or running reports or deal with big documents, you want that thing rocketing out," Finn said.

"People think they print graphics and in their mind call a bar chart or a pie chart a graphic. The majority of people use their network laser printer for bulk standard text processing. Why would you waste your time with black graphics when you can buy a colour printer? Colour is so affordable. We've all seen how people have tried to print graphics in shades of grey, but it's never any good," says Finn.

When it comes to speed, McGregor said the customers' intended use for the printer is the main consideration. "If you're printing a lot of big documents, the first page out isn't so important. What is important is that once the machine starts to print, it keeps close to its engine speed. If you are printing things like e-mail for personal use, typically you want it to come off the printer fairly quickly so you can go and talk to someone about it or write on it."

McGregor says between 10 and 20 seconds for the first page to come out is a reasonable time. "Faster machines don't do it any quicker, but will print multiple pages very fast.

"One of the constraints in network printers has been that they can't handle the paper throughput, because they're not built to," McGregor said. "Most 24ppm printers have options to staple and collate. You have to look very carefully at what they actually do, because some of them are constrained by where they can staple, for example. It's a growing requirement. People are printing more information and most of the growth is in multiple set printing in offices."

Boyle says a technology that has reduced the return to application time and reduced the amount of network traffic is Mopying, HP's term for multiple original printing.

"Say you want to print 10 copies of a large document, we transmit the data over the network only once, not 10 times," Boyle explained. "Then once it's in the printer, we actually process it in the printer, right down to the dots in the laser and we store the information and print off that. The first copy might take 10 minutes, the others might only take two minutes each, running at full engine speed."

High-range printers are already encroaching on the photocopier's territory, it seems like only a matter of time until the network laser printer takes over from the photocopier.

A printer is only as good as the amount of paper you can feed into it. With most high-end networked printers able to hold about 3000 sheets of paper, there's quite a range of options for management of that paper. For example, will there be a bin that permanently has letterhead in it, and can the printer accept A3 paper? Part of this is a purchasing decision, and part of it comes down to management.

Cosgrove says most customers in Australia are still A4 users. "We do see some A3 requirements come through, especially in the bigger printers where capability to have A3 seems to be important. But realistically, 90 per cent of printers would just be used for A4," he said.

Finn says a printer's ability to handle, and manage, large amounts of paper, is paramount to the success of the printer in a workgroup.

Paper handling

"You have to be able to say: 'I want this copy to be a pink page, I want this one to be red and I want the following white pages all duplexed, sorted and stapled and ready to go in 10 minutes.' "Finn said Kyocera's printers have proven popular with legal customers and the health sector because of their paper handling abilities - the top model can have 3000 sheets going in, 3000 out tray, a 3000 sheet paper stacker with three different bins or a 10-bin stacker for individual collation of jobs.

Most built-in management utilities will tell the manager what's going on with the paper bins.

"You can address the printer by the bin, or you can just give me A4 or letterhead, because you can assign the trays. Users don't have to know where the paper is, or what paper's in it," Boyle said.

McGregor says there are a few levels of management tools, and it comes down to overall network management. Vendors supply management tools for their own products. The trick is to find a bundled application that supports printers from other vendors, as well. It is an unrealistic situation to imagine every printer on a network comes from the same vendor.

What these tools should do is tell the network manager exactly what's going on with each and every printer on the network. Even the most simple utility should show the user the status of the printer, toner supply and error messages. Ideally, the user can also be informed of what paper is in each tray and the level of those trays. Tektronix's tool will even e-mail the administrator, or reseller, when the ink levels get low.

Tektronix was also the first vendor to release a management tool that is Internet-based, called PhaserLink. Tektronix National sales and marketing manager David Bates explained the importance of the Internet to printer management: "Everybody's got a browser - if they're on a network, they've got a browser. And I think beyond the Web browser or using the Internet as a medium to get there, you don't have training difficulties," he said.

"You go up to Queensland and take the Department of Mines or somebody who has offices all over the state - this is a tremendous benefit for them. They aren't all on the same network, they aren't all on the same software and by using a common Web browser you can get the information."

Bates says the key notion of a management utility is to get the users back into printing as soon as possible.

"If somebody can't print, the service person has to actually come in and check statuses or somebody's error codes. And again, if it's a hardware failure, somebody's got to go there.

If it's not a hardware failure, which more often that not it isn't, they can fix it on the spot or send someone a note telling him what to do.

Bates identifies three audiences a management utility should look after. "One is the people who want to print; one is the administrative people, the IS department, who want to administer things; and the other is the support organisation that wants to either solve problems that the end user is having, or fix things," he said.

"It's simpler that you think. You want to print and if you can't print you want to be able to look at what's going on."

Finn says consumables are the "most significant" part of the printer.

"Two levels of thought occur. Sometimes a decision is made to buy a laser without any thought given to how much it costs to run. And that's one decision process. The other decision process is where the financial guy and the directors look at how much a laser is currently costing them and they say 'I want a cheaper alternative'."

McGregor says printing is essentially a cost to a company.

"The company can save money with some really simple changes by mixing what you have and matching it to the appropriate requirement." McGregor isn't the industry's strongest advocate of re-manufacturing toner cartridges, but gave examples of other areas where users can save money.

"It's things like duplex printing, things like being able to put draft mode or toner save mode in the machine, and things like using 'booklet printing' instead of full page. So you can actually save quite an amount of paper, more than anything else, and also some toner," McGregor said.

The last word

Cosgrove says increasingly, more information is being electronically delivered to the desktop, so it's already in electronic form.

"So rather than get stuff in hard copy and going to photocopy it, it's already in digital format," he explained. "By default, the network printer is taking over a lot of work from the photocopier."

The need for high-capacity networked laser printers is increasing. So too is the opportunity for resellers to on-sell the associated consumables to customers.

Understanding the market will give you the best opportunity to make the best of it.


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