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Print Tracker Pro connects with locally-connected printers.

Gathering Information from Locally-connected Devices

Locally connected devices challenge even the best print management providers.  How can anyone call themselves a real managed print consultant if they continue to walk by USB and parallel connected printers like everyone else?

Locals are the biggest (and most expensive) challenge to any print reduction strategy.  Delays in action may be caused by the disconnect between management, CFOs, IT services, and office staff.  One may not know enough about the other’s position and duties to effectively help solve the challenge.

Furthermore, local device management appears as a big and scary “thing” … a project that no one wants to undertake.  Printers at everyone’s desk are there for convenience, yet each staff member has the ability to route jobs to more efficient network connected machines.  IT may not feel comfortable going to “Mary” or “John” or “C” level staff to confront them with the loss of “their” desktop printer. 

The CFO does not want (or may not know how) to advise the CIO how to cut business costs by eliminating office equipment.  CIOs have the pressure of keeping the network operational and they don’t want others to infringe on their area of the business, partly because they don’t need the aggravation of added tasking. Therefore some try the dictatorial approach … sending out the proclamation “ELIMINATE YOUR DESKTOP PRINTER”.  We all know how well that sort of thing is accepted by the workforce.  The problem perpetuates and in the end the locally attached printer remains.

Locally connected device challenges

Large and small customers alike want hard data that defines problems to be solved.  With the increased placement of all in one inkjet printers, machines seem to pop up from one visit to the next.  A good strategy to employ is to determine why the device is there in the first place and how it is being engaged.

We in the business machine arena know it is better to have a device on the network than to have it connected to a workstation for a variety of reasons.  The most obvious is that it can perform the shared print needs of multiple people.  Second, and less obvious to the user, network devices cost less to operate.  While upfront acquisition costs are usually low, a set or two of inks or toners may nearly equal the original purchase price.  And that does not even factor maintenance costs or parts.  Many desktop MFPs become “throw-away” equipment as they cost more to maintain than the purchase of another new machine.

But that’s not all.  Network connected machines report more conditional detail.  But when connected via USB, the print driver and workstation’s OS block most information from passing.  In fact, most collection software used to monitor imaging equipment can do no better than gather a tally of output that goes through the spooler.

Identifying detail like serial numbers and location information will not pass through and cannot be collected by the software.  The inability to gather device status makes it difficult for administrators to know when ink, toner or service is needed.  Internal IT staff and dealers alike simply cannot provide timely support because they do not know when service or supplies are needed.

Some software can collect more detail, provided the workstation has updated drivers and current firmware is installed on the device.  IT may be able to push commands to workstations but even then, the best way to ensure the modernization of firmware and drivers is go to each device and perform necessary updates … But IT has limited time and resources and may not be able to complete updates and/or get to all the printers.

One might suggest that IT simply put all the locals on the network, and while this might help, doing so adds to the already strained IT workload.  It also undermines IT’s ability to find ways of reducing network traffic and its related costs.

It all comes back to the data.  Print management providers need data so they can help the customer define needs to achieve a desired end result or outcome.  Local devices typically provide limited data, making the job of the print management specialist doubly difficult.  It is the advocate’s duty to convey the limitations of local device monitoring.  Those that can effectively communicate the challenges and offer ways to overcome them move into the driver’s seat to help their clients understand how to deal with the desktop printer.

Solution Deployment and Reporting Information

Software that gathers information from local printers must be easy to deploy and not add complexity to over taxed IT infrastructures.  Monitoring local printers requires software to be installed on every workstation where one is attached.  To be certain all local devices are accounted for, a device inventory that lists both the asset and the workstation (source) where it is attached should be secured.

NOTE – In small offices that may be relatively easy as everyone’s workstation may be easily accessible.  But what about large offices, institutions or environments such as hospitals or government facilities that have restricted access points?  It is unlikely that the dealer’s salesperson or IT staff member will be allowed behind the locked doors.

Ideal solutions gather both meters and capture service alerts.  However, because of the reasons described above, this may not be possible.  But still, simple wins the day.  Some software providers offer deployment assistance and can conference with the end user and print management specialist to assist with the complex installation.  Wherever possible, the collection software can be installed using commands sent to workstations by the on-site CIO or IT professional.

Once the software is deployed, the data about the imaging fleet will begin to flow. As printers are used, they begin to appear on meter reports and within the collection software’s administrative tools.  As they do, they can be checked off against the device inventory provided by the user’s IT team.  Notes should be made that indicate the accuracy of the data obtained.

Most locally connected machines will not report accurate meter detail.  In these cases MPS specialists must be able to convey that actual meter accuracy cannot be confirmed and representative meters will be used.  Often substitute page tallies begin at zero, which works fine as long as all parties are in agreement.  The tally escalates as spooler counts increase.  Whenever possible, configuration pages from all machines which show actual meter values should be collected, but as noted, that may not be possible. 

Some (typically PCL) drivers allow meter data to pass.  Notes entered should reflect the accuracy of collected meters.  Bi-directional (BIDI) drivers may allow even more detail to pass, but often require additional software be installed on the workstation.  When the most up-to-date firmware, software and BIDI drivers are in use, meter data, serial numbers, supply information and service status may be available.  In these cases, local devices report information as if they were on the network, providing accurate meters and supply levels.

As a fail-safe measure, collection software tools should have the ability to track volume.  When volume detail is established, alerts can be triggered at specific thresholds alerting the dealer to potential need.

Local device reporting is still challenging to collect.  Workstations and printers are routinely powered down (software can’t report if the workstation or printer isn’t running) and printers get moved from one station to another.  Any interruption in reporting causes volume inaccuracies.

Discovering the End Game, What is the Goal?

Continuous desktop printer monitoring should not be the goal of the dealer, MPS professional or even the end customer.  If it is, then the project is going to be mired in challenges.  A better direction might be a determination of where printing originates, individual equipment volume, the actual need for the locally attached equipment and where printing centers could offer greater efficiency. 

Communication of what can be expected when gathering information from locals is usually the biggest challenge to long term monitoring.  If, for example, a goal of “Fleet reduction” is be determined, a target for all the stakeholders allows effective processes to be put in place.

Along the way, benchmark dates should be determined — Local device output must be established over time, but the time is the enemy.  Longer local device evaluations yield poor results as workstations and devices are taken out of service or moved within the work environment.  Assessments of two to three months are usually sufficient and some can be done in less time.

When determining project viability, the people vested in the outcome should be determined.  Primary points of contact must all be involved and communication dates for follow up must be adhered to for the assessment to conclude with positive results.  If multiple locations are involved, web conferencing so gathered data can be shared often is the best approach.   Local device challenges must be minimized and this can only be done through communication.  

Workstation and device configuration are crucial to gathering information as is the type of devices being monitored.  Having knowledge of device location, the ability to gather configuration pages, and assurance that all printers have updated firmware and current drivers are also essential to success.  Having an on-location / go-to person will make this task easier.

Drivers and firmware must remain current or brought current.  Devices with PCL drivers may provide meters (some even serial numbers) and devices with bi-directional drivers may provide meters, serial numbers, supply levels and service alerts … as long as workstations and devices are left “ON” and not moved for the duration of the assessment.

If the assessment is scheduled from March through April, then all equipment must remain in place and operational during the assessment period.  Everyone from the executive committee down to the user level must be made aware of the goals to be achieved.  Whenever possible configuration pages need to be obtained to verify count accuracy.  When possible, secure machine inventories to account for all equipment.

… In summary

Desktop printer monitoring is the most challenging aspect of print management.  Local devices are why so many dealers got “burned’ when they first started down the print management route.  This may be why very few print management advocates tackle this bastion of image monitoring.ALL parties need to know that things will happen along the way that may cause some of the equipment to stop reporting.  Staying on top of what happens during assessments can provide the information needed to reduce the fleet, and ultimately move devices to the network.

Done well, end users can add hundreds if not thousands of dollars to the bottom line as printers and their peripheral expenses are eliminated and/or replaced with more efficient and share networked equipment.But it’s not easy.  We are conditioned to pay for convenience.  That’s why fast food, corner markets, and groceries in fueling centers exist.  If we all take just a minute or two to examine the ramifications of what we are spending on print, we can then begin to wrap our collective heads around the challenge.Dealers, MPS specialists, businesses, and end users need to look at the big picture.  While increasing the bottom line is the direction of all businesses, the reduction of the printed page, the elimination of the costly printer and its high cost cartridges and service should be the goal of us all.