Administration | April 2013 Digital Edition

Using Technology to Tame the Print Monster

Districts are finding technological solutions to the pricey problems of paper and ink.

Taming the print monster with technology
Matthew Daley

This article, with an exclusive video interview, originally appeared in T.H.E. Journal's April 2013 digital edition.

Lewis Wynn knows that Caldwell Independent School District's teachers love their inkjet printers. Positioned on or close to educators' desks, the machines have been pumping out color and black and white copies for years--all the while eating up ink, paper, and maintenance hours. The idea of getting up and walking to a communal laser printer was so foreign to teachers that a few years ago they turned to Parent Teacher Organizations for the financial support needed to keep the inkjets in place.

"The ink got so expensive that the district refused to buy any more of it," says Wynn, director of technology for the 1,800-student school district in Caldwell, TX. "Teachers were so attached to the inkjets that they just found someone else to foot the bill." Undeterred by history, Wynn says his department is slowly replacing all existing inkjet printers on campus with workgroup laser printers, each of which will serve two to three classrooms. Every last inkjet will be gone by this summer.

Wynn, like CTOs around the country, knows that print management is more or less a mandatory step toward reduced printing costs and waste. But transitioning from a system where every teacher has her own printer to one where printers are shared and centrally managed requires finesse, patience, and good communication.

Wynn is confident that having towalk to the printer will naturally cut down on printer use--a reduction that will result in less money spent on paper, toner, and maintenance. Acknowledging the cultural shift that will ensue, Wynn says the bottom line is simple: It's time for teachers to ask themselves, "Do I really need that content printed out on a piece of paper or not?"

Managing Without Micromanaging
Deep-sixing inkjet printers is one facet of Caldwell ISD's overarching attempt to use effective print management, which can be broadly defined as the controlling, maintaining, and monitoring of a print environment and its productivity levels. In most cases, print management provides real-time status updates on a network itself and on all printers linked to that particular network.

When Wynn moved into his current position in July of 2012, the district had a large number of printers and multifunction machines in use, but no print management program. "All computers were set up to individually print via the IP addresses of the respective printers," Wynn explains. "We had no idea how much we were printing or how much paper and ink we were buying. It was a completely unmanaged environment."

After conferring with a few fellow members of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) about what was and wasn't working in the realm of print management on K-12 school campuses, talking to a few IT vendors, and conducting his own internet research on the topic, Wynn selected a few products "to help get us out of our pickle." Upon testing out those options, the district selected a Windows 2008 print server and the Print Manager Plus application to handle the task at hand.

The server generates notifications when printer problems, such as "no longer processing printing," arise. It also enables quick redeployment of printer resources or attention from the repair team. The print manager monitors activities and print queues, generates reports, and allows the district to "better drill down on who is printing what and where," says Wynn, who is quick to point out that the district isn't interested in micromanaging printer use. The district has yet to use the system's print quota capabilities, although it does share generated reports (on metrics like color versus black and white usage, for example) with individual campuses that in the past had no such baseline to work from. "For now, we're simply trying to understand what we're doing, and next we'll look at how we can reduce our printing costs," says Wynn.

The print management system also frees up the IT department's time and resources, and gives users access to printers that aren't as prone to failure. In the past, for example, a problem printer was "pretty much an individual issue," says Wynn, that the IT department addressed on a case-by-case basis--typically in person. Those activities are now centralized across all machines. "The print management system helps us nail down the problems and find solutions much faster," says Wynn, "rather than having to chase down the issues one at a time."

Trading Printers for Toner
As director of information services for Barrington (IL) 220 School District, Patricia Haughney knows the district spends too much money on toner and paper, and that IT staff spends too much time addressing problems with the "inordinate number of printers" across its K-12 campuses. Concurrently, today's eco-conscious students are pushing for better environmental responsibility from their schools. "We've worked hard to convince students of our environmental consciousness," says Haughney, "and yet we are consistently printing too much."

To solve the two-sided problem, the district implemented a long-term strategy in 2009 that would touch every classroom, workroom, and office that currently housed a printer. Even a fully-staffed print shop "with a lot of printing power," didn't escape the scrutiny, says Haughney, whose department spoke with teachers about issues including the safety of leaving a classroom of 24 second-graders to pick up printing down the hall, as well as HIPAA and FERPA compliance.

After working through those issues with teachers and helping them understand the cost and time savings involved with a print management system, Haughney and her team set up a test site at a 500-student elementary school. In a district where individual schools are responsible for their own printing supplies, Haughney made a canny deal: If the test school would relinquish its dozens of printers, the district would foot the bill for toner.

In place of those printers, the district installed two large printers and one small networked printer, plus four Xerox multifunction machines. Because the machines are networked, her staff now spends much less time addressing printer issues. "The machines call the technicians automatically and let us know when they need toner or maintenance," explains Haughney.

Haughney says staff development was conducted across the district to get teachers and administrative users thinking about scanning and e-mailing versus always printing and faxing, for example. The physical positioning of the printers and the cost savings associated with the managed environment were also discussed.

With an eye on rolling out similar setups to other district schools, Haughney says she has put the district's print management contract--both for the machines and for the management--out for bid this year. "Several of our other elementary schools want to come on board now," says Haughney, who has taken advantage of several vendor demos, one of which she hopes will help further advance Barrington 220's print management efforts.

Don't Call Anyone Else
Up until three years ago, Palo Alto Unified School District (CA) had no clue what it spent annually on printing. Departments purchased their own printers, toner cartridges, ink, and paper. "There were so many different models that it was difficult for my team to go in and fix anything," says Ann Dunkin, chief technology officer for the 12,600-student district. "Users were calling in third parties to fix their printers, and department storage rooms were stockpiled with huge amounts of ink and toner."

When one high school principal announced that she was spending $80,000 per year on printing, Dunkin and her team knew it was time for a change. Because the bulk of its printer fleet was manufactured by HP (and to a lesser degree, Dell), the district selected the HP Managed Print Services solution. "Your printer management system has a lot to do with the types of printers that you have," says Dunkin. "It's difficult for one vendor to effectively manage another company's printers."

In exchange for a base monthly fee plus a per-printer charge, Palo Alto USD uses the print management system to tie all of its machines together across various campuses. The district also got rid of several energy-hogging printers and reduced the total number of machines on each campus. The latter move has presented challenges for the district, which has seen pushback from teachers who have come to rely on in-classroom printers.

"This isn't the corporate world where you can go in and rip out printers and ask teachers to use copiers that are down the hall," says Dunkin. "You have to design with your school culture in mind and start with a school that's supportive of the project." Incentives can also help move the initiative along. The first school to sign up for Palo Alto USD's print management program walked away with a new stable of printers, for example.

Prior to implementing the print management solution, Dunkin estimates that the district's libraries wasted two to three boxes of paper per day when students printed out papers and either forgot to pick them up or became frustrated with the delay (and subsequently sent out multiple versions of the same print job). The district now uses "pull printing" to manage the problem. Now, with some printers, for example, students must send their jobs to the machine and then physically input a PIN on the printer in order to get their materials, eliminating a lot of paper waste, according to Dunkin.  

Finally, Dunkin says that third-party printer-repair firms have been all but absent from campuses. "Our contract includes service, so if something breaks down, HP will come out and fix it at no additional charge," says Dunkin. "Early in the process we had folks calling on third parties for help, but now every machine has a big sign on it that says 'Call this number--don't call anyone else.'"

Dunkin, whose department is now in the process of transitioning the remainder of the district's schools to the print management system, says she and her team are addressing issues like location optimization for the printers themselves; low printer usage for those who used to print two pages per month, for example; and the current use and positioning of large copiers.

According to Dunkin, each printer has a cost--the acquisition cost of the machine itself and the monthly cost--not mention the time and effort that goes into managing the printers.

"If I purchase a $400 printer and pay a $13 a month base charge, as an example, and if someone only prints two pages," she explains, "those are two very expensive pages."

Move that printer somewhere else, however, where multiple people can share its use, and the printer that was underutilized is amortized over many more pages. "In a large school, just the base charges for printing can be significant," says Dunkin.

Caldwell ISD's Wynn says his district's print management is also a work in progress, and remarked that his department is now wrapping its arms around printer, paper, and supply usage. "We're starting to get a good understanding of it, and by the end of the 2012-13 school year we'll know how much each campus is printing and in what format," Wynn says. "Once we get a handle on this we'll be able to start looking at what we can be doing differently--like centralizing the laser printers in lieu of the inkjets--to reduce our overall costs."