Multiple-choice answer

Multiple-choice answer

A costly gizmo or the answer to document distribution?

By Mark Chillingworth

Multi-purpose devices have dominated the document management devices discussion of late. Although having your printer, scanner and fax machine as an all in one device has obvious space advantages, if you already own all three and only need to replace one, is there a compelling argument for the multiple device option?

The office of 2002 already has a printer, a scanner and a fax machine.

Use of the Internet has driven down the use of fax machines, but printing and document scanning remain high priorities. So if a multi function device were to break down would you be stuck with a rather expensive paper weight in the corner of the office? All the vendors that Image & Data Manager spoke to assured us that the multi- function devices are as, if not more reliable as individual units.

"Multi function devices are twice as reliable as single units," Neil Patterson of Fuji Xerox Australia claimed.

No enterprise device comes cheap; least of all document and imaging technology. Purchasing a multi purpose device to replace the aging printer could lead to your existing fax and scanner becoming redundant, despite another few years of worthy service left in them. Suddenly the cost of the multi purpose device seems inhibitive of good business sense.

"There is no cosy answer to that. If people have devices or infrastructure in place that is of some value to them, they should stick with what they've got, unless there is a significant value from changing," Mr Patterson said.

Part of the policy

If your enterprise is one that relies on documents and creates and distributes many, like the companies that we spoke to, then the multi purpose device becomes the Swiss Army Knife of document management.

The multi purpose essence of these devices ensures that the modern document management policy actually takes place.

"They were a natural progression once documents started to get shared," Mr Patterson said. "After the advent of the networks it allowed for a departmental approach."

Stephen Arnold, Ernst & Young national director of information systems and communications said of their Canon multi purpose device adoption, "Because Canon's multi function devices are networked, the IT department can now centrally control the printer, copier, scanning devices."

The analyst community is backing the multi purpose device. In a recent report Gartner believes these will form part of the return to spending from the enterprise IT department. "Consumers and business buyers are looking at multi-functional products as lower cost and better solutions than their single functional predecessors," said Andrew Johnson the report's author.

User reports

Mr Arnold at Ernst & Young said of the 150 multi purpose devices they use across Australia, "The value here is that we have reduced network traffic, as print jobs now go direct from the user's desktop to the printer, rather than queuing at the central server room." Ernst & Young has experienced some change management issues with replacing a fleet of different devices with one. "Some staff have now become accustomed to the convenience of using the same unit for printing and photocopying , and we anticipate that more people will come to use this inherent convenience," Mr Arnold said. "The convergence of a photocopier, printer and document scanner into one easy- to-manage device makes it cheaper to run and consequentially share between users from different departments," Ross Marshallsea of Chisholm TAFE said.

Cable harnesses and wiring loom manufacturers Markerry Industries in Victoria have adopted a Fuji Xerox multi purpose device system. As an engineering company they receive documentation via fax and have to scan designs.

"With [Fuji Xerox's] DocuShare, a drawing can be scanned and, when the company re-orders the same product years later, we can immediately retrieve the original drawings without having to search through years of archived documents," said Luke Saville the company sales manager. The technology is networked so that documents can be delivered to an individual's desktop.

Suncorp adopted multi purpose devices to reduce costs. "Our original objective was to reduce print management overheads and reduce costs," said Peter Barnett the team manager of IT procurement and assets at Suncorp.

"As happens with most businesses, these systems had grown on an ad hoc basis, rather than as part of a clear strategy and had become unreliable and costly," he said, claiming they have reduced their costs despite increasing volumes.

"Sending scanned documents is more cost effect than sending faxes, the ability to share a networked device amongst users reduces printer total cost of ownership and the ability to remotely manage devices reduces labour costs," Mr Marshallsea said. He also claims that paper and consumable costs have reduced at the Victorian TAFE, which uses an HP solution.

Multi, the choice answer?

So are multi purpose devices the answer? With one proviso out-source your document devices. Suncorp has outsourced its document services to Lexmark's Managed Print Services division. Lexmark provides all of Suncorp's help desk support, monitors the companies imaging costs and provides monthly reports and replaces the devices at set times. Mr Patterson at Fuji Xerox also heralds outsourcing as the ideal way to bring multi function devices into your business.

"Our DocuCare provides onsite maintenance and desk side assistance. Four devices is complex, then you add two software applications, so it can be very complex to manage," he said. Fuji Xerox offers four to five year contracts for enterprises such as BHP, all using multi function devices.