By Andrew Hall, marketing manager, Oki Systems UK

Most small businesses whether well-established or fast-moving new start-ups are spending more than they need on printing. Sometimes they are run by busy entrepreneurs with little time to focus on this challenge, often though the issue is that the business simply does not know how to manage, control or measure their day-to-day printing overheads.

When asked as part of a recent survey from Oki Systems UK, if their organisation measures overall printing costs, 63% of respondents said that they had ‘no understanding’ of their level of spending. Only 15% said that their printing costs could be accurately predicted. These survey results would be surprising at any time. But coming as they do following a downturn, when most organisations were paring overheads to the bone, they represent a missed opportunity.

Of course, savings are needed during better times too — and there are still areas of a business where these can be made. Besides, as disruptive technologies such as the cloud and mobile continue to change the way we work, perhaps now is just as good a time for small companies to review their printing processes.

OKI’s recent survey indicates that this could be the case, suggesting that the current ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) trend is having a major impact on printing efficiency. Almost half (49%) of respondents said that they either can’t print at all in their office, using their own smartphone or tablet, or that the printer is supposed to be enabled, but still presents a challenge when trying to print from a mobile device.

So how can small businesses and start-ups reduce their costs, while still accommodating the evolving needs of their workforce? The following are my top tips of how SMEs and the decision-makers that are managing them can do just that.

• Stop seeing printing as merely an add-on to mainstream business processes, but rather a task that should be integrated into business workflow;

• Recognise that although businesses should take every step to reduce unnecessary printing and paper wastage, they should accept that the need for printing is not going to disappear overnight despite digitisation and calls for the paperless office. There is always going to be an intrinsic need for printing within any business. So wise investments in new printer stock can give fast returns and savings in the long run;

• Instead of ignoring printing costs, audit them. Or rather, record who is printing, when and where. Do you have disparate models from different suppliers with different support agreements, all with different terms and timescales? Do staff need to print from mobiles and tablets? Before you take control, you need to know what you are dealing with.

• Small quick wins. There are numerous small steps that can be easily taken and won’t impact anything other than the bottom line. For example; make double-sided printing the default option — ditto mono printing except, of course, when colour is essential. Make sure printers are switched off at night.

• Consider new buying models — instead of purchasing new printers outright consider a managed services option. These enable businesses to buy printers, supplies, maintenance and support in one, all-inclusive ongoing contract. The best will also enable the business to optimise its printer fleet, consolidating with new multifunction, energy saving devices and advising on best practices. These services are often offered on an ongoing basis with continuous monitoring and strategic recommendations.

• Working in this way can lead to more sophisticated assessments of overall document workflow and security. New multifunction printers come with an open platform enabling the customisation of the user interface to integrate all document-related tasks into an organisation’s document workflow. This enables a move from a manual to an automated workflow, making it easier to track and reduce printer usage.

• Don’t ignore the issue of mobile printing for too long. Many affordable printers are now cloud-connected which means users can wirelessly print documents form any mobile phone, laptop, tablet, PC or other web-connected device. The printers and mobile device find one another via a mobile app. For example, Google Cloud Print integrates with Chrome, Gmail for mobile and Google Docs for mobile and can also print to third-party native mobile apps on Android and iOS platforms. iPhone, iPad users can take advantage of Apple’s AirPrint as this is embedded natively in these devices.