Where once there was a printer on every other desk, a growing number of organisations are now making do with one or two per division or floor. Photo: Andrew Quilty
As electronic document sharing and the proliferation of mobile devices bring the paperless office promise closer, slashing the size of the printer fleet is proving one way for companies to boost the bottom line.
Where once there was a printer on every other desk, a growing number of organisations are now making do with one or two per division or floor.
Canon assistant general manager Jeremy Plint said the concept of "printer fleet optimisation" – otherwise known as cutting back on under-used machines – had risen in the corporate consciousness over the past two years.
Companies embarking on this sort of rationalisation were typically looking for savings of around 30 per cent on their total printing spend, Plint said.
Some had achieved this by reducing the ratio of staff to printers from four to one, down to 20 to one, he said.
It's a trend which has seen worldwide shipments of printers, copiers and multi-function products dwindling steadily for the past six quarters, according to Gartner research. The firm predicts worldwide sales of 117 million units in 2012, down 2.6 per cent on the previous year's numbers.
Gartner analyst Lai-ling Lam says desktop printers are first for the chop in most offices.
"Companies are becoming more mindful of fleet management and trying to get control over printing costs and they're trying to reduce the number of printers especially personal printers," Lam said.
In the past, IT divisions had been less aware of what they were spending on printing but many had realised it could be a painless means of cutting costs, Lam said.
Sydney based property trust GPT is one firm that's found itself able to do less with less. It embarked on a paperless strategy 18 months ago, following a head office redesign which saw dedicated workstations replaced with an activity based set-up where desks are up for grabs every morning.
Paper consumption has dropped 75 per cent since the change; allowing the firm to cut printer numbers from 38 devices to 29, across its 19 locations.
"By introducing swipe to print technology and encouraging employees to work electronically, we have been able to reduce our reliance on paper," GPT organisational change manager Amy Davies said.
Marketing materials and legal documents still require physical signatures on printed documents but the firm believes the process of weaning staff off paper is ongoing.
"We continue to strive towards being totally paperless and I think with good practice, behaviour and technology we will continue to reduce what we print," Davies said. "For example, we can increase the use of digital signatures to sign off contracts or proposals."
It's a similar story at Hyundai, which employs around 200 staff in its Australian offices. Following a relocation three years ago, the firm cut printer numbers by more than half – from 25 units within its departments to 11 centrally located communal devices.
At the same time, it instigated a policy of default black and white and double-sided printing; simple measures which have seen paper consumption drop from one pallet a month to one per quarter.
Hyundai's general manager for ICT Bala Kothandaraman said the change had come in response to a cost cutting drive and was accompanied by a steady push away from paper within the business.
For others, old habits die a little harder. At Geraldton Council in WA, the organisation's 17 printers still get a decent work-out, despite the introduction of electronic records and workflow systems designed to stem the tide of paper. The Council counts its print bill at $750 a head for its 331-strong team.
Geraldton CEO Tony Brun says it takes people time to lose the habit of keeping hard copies of important papers just in case.
"The real issue is the cultural and practical change to the old habits of 'needing' paper copies, where the reality is all our roles could functionally do their jobs completely without paper," Brun said.