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Control Printing Chaos

How to reduce waste, lower costs, and improve service.
University Business, Aug 2004

Remember when computers were supposed to herald a paperless society? Unfortunately, that prediction turned out to be about as accurate as WorldCom's accounting statements. Even with advances in digital archiving and document imaging, the world still turns on the printed word, especially in higher education. Besides the massive amounts of handouts and student papers that are written each semester, schools produce a mountain of printed materials for recruitment, admissions, and fundraising. It's an expense that can quickly get out of control. Here's a look at how two universities corralled their print services--and saved money in the process.

Administrators at the University of Rochester (NY) needed to find a way to create order from chaos. "It wasn't just about saving money, it was about the service--or the lack of service--we were providing," says Director of Technology Phil Ponella.

The print services at the university's main library and computer lab facilities consisted of 22 networked printers, accessible to all 4,440 students, around the clock. And that was the heart of the problem.

Printing was free for students, who seemed to print anything and everything. The heavy demand took its toll. Although the printers were supposed to have four- to six-year life cycles, the school was going through them in one or two years at a clip.

When one printer stopped performing well in the high-volume area, it was replaced with a new one and moved to a low-volume area. And, as new printers were put online, they weren't always compatible with the system. Frequent intervention from staff was often needed to keep up with tasks such as loading paper, changing toner, clearing jams, and making service calls. Staff time was increasingly being taken away from helping students, to spending time and attention on printers and other hardware.

"We were spending a lot of time and money on just keeping the printers operating," Ponella says. First, students complained the printers were too slow, so faster, high-volume printers were installed. Then they complained the printers were too fast--there was so much material being printed that students couldn't find their print jobs. "Whatever solution we implemented, it solved the immediate problem but it created a bunch of new ones," he says.

Approximately $20,000 a month was being spent just on paper, equipment, maintenance, replacement purchases, toner, and supplies.

Student inconveniences aside, the bottom line for Ponella was...well, the bottom line. A quick study revealed just how costly U Rochester's printing services were.

Approximately $20,000 a month was being spent just on paper, equipment maintenance, replacement purchases, toner, and supplies. Worse, at the time, students had unlimited access to printers. This generated excessive waste, and in many cases, students

didn't realize how many documents they were printing at one time.

"We estimated more than 400,000 pages were printed monthly, and about a third of these documents were either discarded immediately or not even retrieved," says Ponella. "We found, for example, an entire copy of Homer's Iliad, printed from a Web site and then thrown in the recycle bin. And we weren't even counting all the pages that were picked up and thrown away somewhere else."

Clearly, the chaotic nature of the printing processes needed to be improved, so the school worked with Xerox Global Services ( to analyze the problem. The solution was a networked technology system called Student Access Management, built around Pharos Systems' ( Uniprint software. Uniprint enables students to print to any location on the network using their ID card.

But perhaps the most significant improvement was making students pay for what they printed. The costs were minimal--8 cents per single-side black-and-white page, 14 cents for black-and-white duplex (double-sided) pages, and 50 cents for a single-side color page--but the fact that they had to pay made students think first.

A student choosing the print option on a computer is first presented with a dialog box that calculates the cost of the job and asks whether to proceed. If the job is accepted, the screen indicates where the job will print. Next to the designated printer is a "release station"--an older PC that has been taken offline at the computer lab--that manages all the queued print jobs. The student swipes her ID card through a reader and releases her job from the queue.

The Student Access Management solution has reduced waste, lowered cost, and provides an easier and faster method for printing student documents. "That's what drove us," says Ponella. "We were struggling to offer better service. Now we can provide color printing, duplex prints, and all those things that were too expensive and too outrageous to consider when we couldn't even get the basic jobs running properly."

Not everything went smoothly, however. Switching from years of free printing to a pay-as-you-go model caused some minor outcry from students, but involving the student government in the initial planning phase proved beneficial. "Yes, we wanted to minimize the backlash," says Ponella, "but their input was important so we could implement a print system that really met their needs."

One compromise was that each student was given a small print allowance, managed through his or her ID card. Students start the year with a $10 credit to their account, equal to 125 single-side black-and-white prints. As a result, the students are now more conscious of what they print and waste has been significantly reduced. "The $10 credit is not a lot over the course of a year," Ponella admits, "but it's something that students felt strongly about. Some classes do require a lot of printing, and we wanted to make sure that we didn't adversely affect students who were already financially troubled. When you think about the cost of textbooks, lab equipment, and other things students have to buy, 8 cents a page didn't seem too bad."

Interestingly, the gripes about paying for the service were limited mostly to returning students. "Now we find that high school students coming through the university on admissions tours will ask how much we charge for printing," Ponella says. "They're already used to paying to print in their schools and libraries. Printing isn't free in many places anymore."

Students are already used to paying. Printing isn't free in many places anymore.

The other glitch? "We had a few minor issues with how some older printers interact with the system," Ponella says. "Nothing insurmountable, but eventually we'll consolidate the printers into just a few models. Then, when a particular error message flashes the people who are responsible for the support end--largely students these days--will know exactly what to do and how to fix it."

In a little more than 18 months since the system was installed, the old problems have largely vanished, and Ponella says the school will eventually realize a return on its investment. "It's too early to say we're going to make any money," says Ponella, "but then, that wasn't our goal. Xerox predicted our print volume would drop by about 60 percent when students had to begin paying for what they printed. That was in January of 2003. Over the succeeding months we've seen steady increases, and it should gradually approach its old level. We'll have paid it off in four years, and then the system will finance itself."

That's the kind of success story that hasn't escaped notice in other parts of the university. "Some of our departments that have their own small computer labs that provide public printing services have seen what we're doing and have expressed an interest in it," says Ponella. "Our Medical Center--which includes the School of Medicine and Dentistry, the School of Nursing, and Strong Memorial Hospital--didn't go in on this initially, but they're now looking at it very seriously."

Like many universities, Trinity University (TX) reached a point where it had to weigh the necessity of providing quality education against the cost and time of providing services. For the university's PawPrints printing service, outsourcing was the answer.

PawPrints had long operated its own facility on campus, printing letterhead, envelopes, and photocopies, but it was hardly a heavy traffic area. "PawPrints was like a dungeon. Not many students used it at all," says Oralia Corrilla, assistant administrator for the university's OneCard office. "It was used mostly by the faculty and a few departments that knew it as there."

Last year when Trinity opened its new "technology commons" in the Coates Library, PawPrints found a new home--and new management by FedEx Kinko's ( Kinko's staffs and manages the PawPrints store, but also maintains and services the other networked printers on campus (which operate on a Pharos system). Kinko's relationships with paper and toner suppliers mean it can purchase these materials at deep discounts to the school. Another benefit for the school: Because Trinity already owned much of the equipment in the PawPrints facility, it wasn't necessary to enter any longterm leasing arrangement with Kinko's.

The rechristened "PawPrints Powered by Kinko's" offers most of the services that can be found at any of the chain's outlets. And with Kinko's locations nearly as common as Starbucks, specialty print jobs could be easily sent to a larger-scale Kinko's facility a few miles away. The Kinko's online DocuStore gives faculty, staff, and students access to an online, print-on-demand feature, enabling them to place print orders from anywhere that has Internet access. A student in a residence hall can write a report, complete with charts or other graphics, log on to the PawPrints Web page, and upload the page for printing. Just as at a Kinko's retail outlet, the user can specify paper size and color, single- or double-side prints, special binding instructions, and schedule a pickup time.

"Everyone seems to love that convenience," Corrilla says. "In fact, we discovered that before Kinko's came on campus, our students were spending much of their time going to a Kinko's store about five miles away."

The service also promotes the use of Trinity's Tiger Bucks system, the student debit card that also pays for meals, laundry, and other services. "The on-campus Kinko's accepts only the Tiger Card for payment; you can't use cash or credit cards," says Corrilla. "If you don't have a Tiger Card, we sell 'Cub Cards,' with a dollar value, for library guests or people that are here for conferences." The card system makes it easy to track volume and usage, especially helpful since Trinity gets a percentage of the revenue from every print job.

Faculty and staff have a separate price structure, and Kinko's bills the university each month for document services associated with various departments. All jobs are tied to a budget code for easy charge backs.

Trinity instructors, like those at many institutions, rely on coursepacks as a key part of their teaching. There's no doubt the articles, book excerpts, and other materials enhance regular textbook learning, but there's a catch: Someone else owns the materials. "The local print shop that used to do this before would copy and print whatever the professors gave them to create the coursepacks," says Corrilla. But fears of legal action stopped that practice.

Kinko's knows this only too well. In 1993, after being involved in a landmark suit regarding the scope of "fair use" for copyrighted material, the company quit producing coursepacks to concentrate on other print services. Last fall, though, the company re-entered the coursepack market, partnering with the University of Southern California's University Custom Publishing which specializes in securing copyright clearance.

"There was initially some flack when Kinko's took over that job," recalls Corilla, "because professors who used to print whatever they wanted for coursepack content now had to pay for the rights to copy the materials. But now everyone realizes it's something that has to be done."

Faculty can manage much of the coursepack content online, through special accounts, to upload and change documents. Each user has an individual password that tracks the job for budget control and approvals. A keyword function lets users quickly search by course or form numbers or parts of names, saving time and eliminating waste.

Whether in-house or outsourced, getting control of your prints will keep you from becoming a pauper.

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