Office automation still a growing market

Von Theo Boshoff

Ashley Groenendaal, sales and marketing manager at Bytes Document Solutions, says companies should focus on reducing document output costs to improve the bottom line. ?There is one area of significant cost that remains a black hole for many organizations, regardless of size: office document output,? Groenendaal says.

He notes that, while many companies know their capital expenditure on office equipment, few have a real understanding of the costs of their documents; and, without this understanding, the costs of office documents can spiral out of control.

Groenendaal?s tip to address this issue is to look at assessing the business impact of documents on the company.

?Take the time to assess how your people create, share, store and access documents, and develop a clear understanding of your document environment, because this will enable you to more easily and accurately identify inefficiencies and losses in productivity, and highlight unnecessary costs,? says Groenendaal.

Canon?s GM for Canon Consumer Imaging (CCI), Nigel Taylor, expresses the same view, and says that companies should first of all establish exactly what it is they need to have done, and evaluate their current usage levels. In respect of printing, Taylor says: ?True cost of ownership is only known when you realize what your printing needs are.?

One up

Taylor says that it is still a regular occurrence for companies to buy the cheapest machine, and overwork it to deliver what they want, without realizing that it is in fact costing them more money. He suggests that companies should rather acquire office automation devices that are ?one up? on what they need to be delivered.

It is a fact that the cost of hardware has dropped. It is therefore possible to acquire a printer or MFD that can do more than is required. The cost of ink and toner cartridges is, however, still very high, and puts a strain on the budget.

In the view of office automation solutions provider, Epson, inkjet printers have become one of the most essential peripherals for organizations. They produce impressive outputs and, unlike laser printers, are more cost-effective to purchase. The company, however, adds that the only issue with inkjet printers is the real cost of operation.

Says Hans Dummer, GM of Epson Africa: ?A significant number of businesses are not using the correct type of printer for their printing requirements. Although the cartridges are compatible with their printers, they are using the incorrect type of printer, resulting in an increase in printing costs.?

There are basically two types of cartridges -- the single black/tricolor cartridge, and separate ink tanks, consisting of yellow, cyan and magenta color cartridges.

Dummer?s advice is that a single black/tricolor cartridge would be better suited to the home user, as normally the quantities of ink used are relatively low, whereas separate ink tanks are more suited to the office environment, where the quantity of ink used is significantly higher.

Color printing set to surge

Robin Mowatt, business development manager at Itec, believes that color printing is the next big thing in office automation for enterprises, and says: ?Between 2004 and 2007, color will be the biggest change in this market in the past 20 years.?

Due to the disparity in cost between hardware and new cartridges, there is a trend for some home users to go and buy a new printer when the consumables are empty. There are printers on the market for less than the cost of a new ink cartridge, depending on the color. Taylor says, however, that large business does not do this, purely because of the frequent mass replacements it then needs to re-install.

According to Gary Pickford, sales director at Advanced Channel Technologies (ACT), insufficient management of color printers, and not the devices themselves, is responsible for high printing costs.

Says Pickford: ?While output costs on the color printers have become much more affordable, abuse of the ability to print in color is the major culprit in an organization"s rising print costs. The reality is that today, most organizations do not have an individual or department tasked with monitoring the output costs of printing devices.?

?There is strong financial justification for the appointment of an output ?chief?, since research shows that the appointment of such a person allows an organization to reduce recurring spending on their document output by up to 30 percent. The savings from which an organization could benefit include running less printers, and putting more cost-effective document workflow processes in place, particularly with regards to color,ö Pickford continues.

Not a one-off

However, he adds that simply cutting the print fleet as a once-off thing will not give organizations cost control. ?Monitoring and management should be a continual and consistent process,? he says.

Local IT infrastructure distributor, Axiz, believes that, despite the introduction of inkjets, the arrival of multifunctional laser printers can provide users with stable and cost-effective printing solutions.

Printers are, however, not the only devices within the office automation space. Multifunctional devices that have seen the merger of printers, copiers, fax machines and scanners into single units, are today at the cutting edge of a new style of ?facilities management?, according to Zandre Rudolph, a business manager at Rectron.

Rudolph says that there is a definite ?boom? in the office automation arena, and notes that the drivers for this are the high cost of office space, and the need to reduce the desk-top footprint of many traditional machines to meet demands for more compact offices.

Added to this is also the need to link office machines into the corporate wide network, as the proliferation of digital copiers, laser printers and other digital devices underlines.

Rudolph says: ?One area of caution centers on the ubiquitous fax machine. While many manufacturers are paying lip service to the ?all-in-one? concept, some are conveniently leaving out the fax -particularly in entry-level or ?bargain basement? multifunction devices.

?The latest MFDs are the ?5-in-1? models incorporating printer, scanner, copier and fax, as well as the option of ?digital sending?. Digital sending allows the user to scan a document and save it directly to an e-mail archive for immediate onward transmission. Most ?5-in-1? machines are network-ready.?

Depending on the needs of an organization, digital sending can save a lot of time and money.

Check the basics

Neil Rom, MD of Printacom, says, when looking for a solution, first make sure that the basic specifications offered by an MFD meet your requirements. ?Secondly, one should look at the added value the device brings, like low running costs, versatility and performance. Most often this second area is where the real value lies, since value-adds like remote management are where the real cost savings will stem from,? he says.

Holga Groenert, product marketing manager at Itec, says that one should not talk about TCO anymore, but rather about Total Cost of Application (TCA), of which printing is just a small section. ?As an example, companies posting 1 000 plain black and white letters to possible clients, including stamp costs, can save by personalizing the letters in color, and sending out only 500 letters, which will save them postage and stamp costs, and will see them getting a larger response rate. One should take into account the other costs involved, which most tend to overlook.?


Minolta SA MD, Alan Griffith, says decisions are increasingly influenced by financial savings, as more and more companies opt to buy prints and copies rather than printers and copiers. A clear shift towards outsourcing office automation is present today.

Says Griffith: ?The outsourcing model means that clients pay for output and not process.? The outsourced company installs the hardware, software, tracking and billing systems and provides the people to manage the process.

?Clients only pay for the prints and copies made. A document management system allows the outsourced company to recover costs and manage expenses, by breaking down document production costs per user, department, cost center, project or billing code,? says Griffith.

New technology

Another factor to consider pertaining to new technologies in the office automation space is wireless connections of PCs to printers and other MFDs.

According to national marketing manager at Gestetner, Michael Stanley, customers are talking about it, but take-up is slow. ?It is in the back of people?s minds and things will probably move in that direction, but the soft benefits of wireless, like no ugly cables for instance, will be more than the cost benefits,? Stanley adds.

Groenert also feels that wireless is not up to scratch yet and believes a wired environment is still the best. He does note that wireless office automation will grow though, but more within the SME environment, rather than in large corporates.

The paperless office

As with the wireless office, for years there has been talk about the creation of the paperless office, where everything is digital and filing cabinets are replaced by network-attached storage (NAS) devices, but, according to the industry, it seems for now that the paperless office is a myth.

If one looks at the growth in printer sales around the world, as well as the amount of paper consumption, it is obvious that the paperless office is still a far way off. Taylor says that with the uptake of e-mail, printing has actually risen, as people quickly need to take a copy of the mail to a meeting without taking their PC or laptop.

Groenert says: ?The paperless office will only work when you can connect your PC to your brain, before then there will always be paper.?

The conclusion is that office costs can be contained through proper management of your environment and through constant monitoring of your usage, because paper is here to stay.