Print management encompasses several technologies, services, and best practices: device management, print output management, cost management, information security, and the optimization of printing habits in corporate and educational environments.
In any office or campus environment, the distribution and variety of printers made available on the organization’s network, and the typical print volume that is driven to those devices, presents many challenges for the IT manager:
Without a means to centrally manage these distributed printers and track and secure their output, printing typically gets out of control, leading to information security risks and runaway costs.
Print management software helps to resolve these problems. The network manager now has a centralizing tool with which to monitor device operations, ink and toner levels, and user-driven output volumes. Print management software also captures data on every transaction from the user’s perspective: who printed a document, what were the output parameters, what was the cost to print the document, what application submitted the print job, what department is the user associated with, and so on.
Armed with these insights, IT managers and other stakeholders are empowered to continually optimize their environment to best serve their people. They also have an audit trail for every document printed in the network, to comply with certain regulations or to manage risks associated with proprietary or personal information.
By making it easy to monitor and manage device fleets, (which are often distributed across an organization and comprise many different makes and models) the supplies they consume, and the costs associated with printing, network managers and other IT professionals have more time to focus on their core responsibilities.
The solutions side of print management entails certain levels of customization that are often required by an organization due to their unique environmental requirements, network topology, cloud strategy, mobile device integration, and organizational policies with regard to employee printing, information security, and cost management. Not all print management software fits into this category; off-the-shelf software is usually a “one size fits all” approach that is insufficient for the needs of the corporate enterprise.
Enterprise print management solutions involve more than just software installation. Solutions architects and various degrees of customer consulting are required to solve for the factors mentioned above, as well as the customer’s backend systems, user authentication options, the makes and models of printers and multi-function devices deployed across the organization, and internal policies around information security and document confidentiality.
Many enterprises have a “mixed fleet,” a collection of print devices either purchased, leased, or both. These fleets are typically part of a Managed Print Services (MPS) contract with an equipment manufacturer or reseller. MPS contracts include device services and supply management. However, device repair and supply services are not usually the domain of print management solution providers, who are more focused on securing print devices for authorized use, making print services easy to use across all end-user devices, tracking print activity for reporting and optimization insights, and reducing unnecessary or non-essential printing as a matter of cost management.
In the college or university setting, most print management solutions take on the added service of integrating funding sources such as departments, grants, and individual student debit accounts. Campus printing volume is usually very high and constant. Students expect the printing experience to be easy, consistent, and accessible from their mobile devices. Successful print management solutions for higher education achieve this while making it easy for IT staff to deploy software and manage campus-wide printing operations.
The increasing complexity and variability of security threats in our digital world has created an environment in which security is a top priority for all businesses. Protecting networks and information today means that no stone can be left unturned. Over recent years, several hacks involving printers have made headlines, calling attention to a facet of network security that had been largely overlooked.
Securing output devices (printers, copiers, and multi-function devices) is a broad topic that involves many standard network security measures, such as the disabling of unnecessary ports and protocols and staying up-to-date with all firmware updates. However, the primary aspect of security that print management addresses is the user authentication requirement.
In the same way that employee workstations are secured with their login credentials, so too are network printers when secure printing software is deployed.
Locking down devices to prevent unauthorized use goes a long way toward protecting an organization’s network resources. Enforcing user authentication while the individual is physically present at a device to collect their prints helps to ensure that documents don’t end up in the wrong hands. When successful solutions are properly deployed and administered, these two fundamental vulnerabilities related to print are considered secure.
IT professionals are continually seeking ways to improve efficiencies and create strategic advantages to their internal and external customers. This has led to an enormous upswing in cloud services in practically every IT category. Cloud print management is part of this growing migration away from internal systems and toward the software as a service (SaaS) model.
In the print domain, cloud print management enables organizations of all sizes to reduce their IT infrastructure and dependence on the internal data center. This appeals to a growing number of organizations because it means they do not have to license, deploy, and manage print servers, or spend time managing print drivers and various print queues.
In short, managing print operations involves a complex and time-consuming set of tasks, and IT administrators are increasingly leveraging cloud services to offload these burdens.
Eliminating servers and their inevitable resource drain provides an immediate return on investment and frees up IT resources for more important tasks. The subscription pricing model of cloud-based print management also provides cost predictability and flexibility.
Cloud print management can at first seem paradoxical because it involves physical printers within an organization’s network environment. In the print-as-a-service model, the solution resides entirely (or in hybrid cases, partially) in the service provider’s cloud; there are no internal servers, applications, or databases for IT resources to manage.
Administration is simple and browser-based. Mobile devices are integrated for easy access to print services, and transmission of print data is secured via the Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) over secure ports.
Files (documents, images, spreadsheets, etc.) are securely submitted into the cloud-based system, where they are encrypted at rest. While standing at a preferred device, the user authenticates using their phone, proximity card, or login credentials. Successful authentication provides access to the print jobs in the user’s personal queue. They can print all documents at once, or select specific documents to print. This action pulls the documents from the cloud service down to the device, where the document owner is present to collect them. This workflow protects document confidentiality.