The paperless pipe dream

While everything else in the office is going mobile, very few people in the IT world seem to be talking about mobile printing.

Over the past few years, many people have proclaimed the imminent arrival of the paperless office but the reality is that printing is often a necessary business task.  Figures released by The Economist last year revealed paper usage increased by 50 per cent over the past three decades despite the explosive use of technological gadgets.

One of the main reasons why we’re printing more is because we’re more likely to remember information when it’s printed or written down. But, when it’s part of the mass of letters and digits overcrowding our monitors, a lot of that data is easily forgotten.

That might explain why so many of us resort to printing documents even though we could effortlessly read the words on screen. There’s something about holding the hard copy in your hands that somehow enhances your concentration.

Surprisingly, while everything else in the office is going mobile, very few people in the IT world seem to be talking about mobile printing. It’s not a hot topic like other mobility issues, but that’s not because organisations have already figured out mobile printing or because it’s not important.

It’s because IT is avoiding the issue.

Some IT experts assume we just can’t implement mobile printing on a large scale. In an article on the topic, one blogger said,Unfortunately, we all have to wait for mobile printing technology to catch up to printing demands.” Most understand that it can be done; they assume they don’t have the money and manpower to make it happen. Many are waiting until someone forces them to think about it.

What if you are one of the few who likes to prepare rather than react? Are there mobile printing solutions that are easy to implement and manage?  Can you do so without having to buy new printers?

The mobile shift is here

According to industry analysts at IDC, shipments of smartphones alone already surpass PC shipments. Add tablet sales to this fact, and it’s easy to see that more and more of the devices employees use will be mobile ones. IDC predicts that by 2015, 37 per cent of the world’s workforce will be mobile.

So what? Mobile workers don’t need to print, right? Wrong. A recent IDC study found that the percentage of those that print or want to print will increase from 50 per cent in 2012 to 75 per cent by 2015. Mobile users may not be demanding for printing capabilities now, but soon the vast majority of them will be.

Most employees who don’t yet know how to print on-the-go have found an alternative way of printing from their mobile device. They may not even consider mobile printing an option, so they email documents from their smartphone or tablet to their desktop and print later. But what happens when a section of the workforce stops using desktops and laptops? When your field crew only has tablets, do they have to email their documents to coworkers to get things printed? One user doing this once seems senseless. On an enterprise scale this would be a disaster.

What's IT up to?

It may be that the IT department is happy to let employees twist themselves in knots with strange workarounds because there seem to be so many difficulties with the alternative. It’s easier for them to ignore mobile printing until they have no other choice. Yes, mobile printing is really easy—if you have wireless printers. Due to the short lifespan of home printers, many of us have upgraded to wireless printers at home. However it’s a different story with all the old, clunky printers in most offices.

Replacing any medium or large size organisation’s printers with wireless printers would be very expensive and IT budgets are tight enough. At the same time, print management is already a pain. IT can spend huge amounts of man hours running around an organisation installing drivers and granting print access. The idea of extending all this work to mobile devices is an IT department’s nightmare.

There are some mobile printing solutions out there, but sadly, most are built for consumers. Users can download these apps and they often work pretty well in getting one user’s documents to one printer, but they generally come with a lot of caveats. On an enterprise scale, these consumer apps just won’t cut it, which leads to a strange situation, because lately the consumer solutions (iPads, Dropbox) have seemed much more functional and easier to use than the enterprise-class solutions. Today, that’s changing, with the launch of new enterprise solutions that give users all of the features they want whilst working better than their consumer counterparts. Below are a few tips to find one that works for you.

Not so hard after all

There is a lot to consider in any mobile printing implementation. Here are a few things you should expect from a solution:

  • Cross-platform support – There are a lot of different device types out there these days. The ability to print from mobile phones or tablets of any kind satisfies users and is essential for making IT’s life manageable. Many organizations have adopted BYOD policies. Mobile printing should follow that pattern and work with any device.
  • Integration with existing printers – We know there are many solutions that require new hardware and printers, but even those that work with the existing fleet sometimes only work with one brand of machine. The best solution will work with printers of any brand or age. This will make the solution’s total cost of ownership lower, and will also lighten the installation and training burden on IT.
  • Centralised management – Optimal printing solutions will manage your mobile device printing and desktop printing from a single console. If that console can also automate driver updates, all the better.
  • Self-service – There’s a bright side to the consumerisation trend: Users have gotten accustomed to helping themselves. A great print solution will let them do so. Point users toward the apps, clients or drivers they need and they’re usually happy to install them. The best print solutions can also let users select printers from a list and print to them without the input of an administrator, saving a lot of time for IT.
  • Security and control – Printing solutions that send print data to the cloud for conversion and rendering are an issue for some organizations. If a doctor’s office wants to enable mobile printing, patient confidentiality would make a cloud solution unacceptable. More secure solutions perform the rendering and conversion on your servers.

Many enterprise-level tools have taken a new form in the mobile world, but organisations still need to manage basic productivity. Some core functions, such as printing, remain vital. If your organisation doesn’t have a mobile printing plan or mobile printing solution, then perhaps it’s time to consider one.

Chris Gacesa is technology specialist at Novell