By Graham Lowes, Marketing director, OKI Printing Solutions

The future for the UK economy remains uncertain. Although it grew by 1.2% in the second quarter of this year, most economists do not expect this level of growth to continue. There are persistent concerns that the scale of the government's cuts may heighten the risk of a double-dip recession. David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, recently asserted, "threats of a setback to growth remain more serious than risks of a surge in inflation."

Against this backdrop of uncertainty, SMEs and start-up organisations need to ensure that they are doing all they can to protect themselves and provide a firm foundation for growth by driving operational efficiencies and keeping costs under control.

In this difficult environment, they can perhaps be forgiven for considering giving in to the temptation to chase cheaper alternatives to consumables from the original printing equipment manufacturer. After all, on the surface, this may seem like a smart way to cut costs.

The truth, however, is that this kind of approach is unlikely to ever prove a good investment. The simple fact is that in failing to meet the high technical demands of an individual printer's hardware, these poor quality compatible substitutes will almost certainly have a negative impact on both performance and print output quality.

Worse, they may also impact significantly on the life expectancy on what is a costly and often business-critical piece of office equipment, by increasing 'wear and tear' and the need for related maintenance support.

The availability of compatibles, can also present problems not immediately apparent at the point of sale, including the invalidation of the manufacturer's warranty.

The often substantial price savings which can be made on non-standard printer ribbons and toner cartridges can seem very seductive, especially if there is little to distinguish the imitation from the real thing.

However, the ultimate victim is inevitably the end-user, who will not be getting the bargain they imagined. Far from being a mere marketing slogan, 'original is best' - this is the route any user looking to achieve optimum performance and print quality should take. Quality is critical if their collateral and other materials are to accurately reflect to customers and partners alike the quality of the overall business.

An Alternative Approach to Driving Efficiencies

Today, there is no reason for SMEs to be seduced by the possibility of cost savings on print consumables when there are many other ways they can save money through changing their approach to printing. One of the most effective ways they can do this is by implementing a smarter approach to business printing.

In a recent report, the centre for economics and business research (cebr) estimated that by adopting best practice in print management the overall printing bills of UK organisations could be cut by between £900 million and £2,100 million a year.

SMEs can help to achieve this goal by choosing a solution precisely tailored to their required applications and print volumes. In addition, they should definitely consider a printer that can handle A3 as this offers much greater flexibility. A3 printers no longer need to be huge in size, with some models being just a few centimetres larger than an equivalent A4 device, such as the OKI C800 range.

When making this important decision, users should look past the initial purchase price and consider running costs. To help its customers choose the right solution, OKI has developed both reseller and end user tools that are based on total cost of ownership models that match customers' needs with the right product.

SMEs should also focus on developing a culture supportive of responsible printing. It is becoming increasingly common to read on the bottom of emails "please don't print this email unless you absolutely need to." This simple measure - locally enforced - is the first step to making positive attempts to reduce the impact of printing on the environment.

In line with the popular maxim, 'think before you print', organisations should also discourage users from printing emails just to read them and encourage them to use the print preview option in order to ensure that their output is 'right first time.' In addition, they should always use power save functions and switch off printers when not in use.

Managing Printing more Closely

SMEs can further reduce wastage by migrating from outsourced printing to an in-house approach, especially for short-run jobs. Companies invariably print more than they need when they outsource jobs, usually in order to get the most cost-effective deal available. The excess, typically around 20% of the total print job, is often thrown away.

The ability to print on-demand using an in-house device and to customise each job depending on the size, shape and texture of the paper required also helps eliminate wastage, by further supporting 'right first time' printing and reducing the total size of each print run.

Another simple measure which is often overlooked but which can make a significant impact in reducing the wastage incurred by SMEs is to always use double-sided (duplex) printing for multi-page documents - cutting paper usage by up to a half at a stroke. In addition, users can put multiple images on one sheet of paper i.e 2, 4 or 6 images per page (N-Up printing) and with a duplex printer produce A5 booklets of user guides or service manuals. As a result, they can make significant savings on both paper and toner.

Summing Up

In conclusion, it is understandable that the UK's SMEs will be looking to save money by adopting a new approach to business printing. However, there is no reason why they should look to achieve this by buying in compatible consumables. Not only will the pursuit of such an approach compromise quality and performance it is also likely to reduce the product lifecycle. Instead, SMEs would be better advised to drive savings by focusing more on in-house printing and the adoption of smarter, more efficient printing practices, helping to cut costs and reduce wastage and put themselves on a firmer footing as the economy begins the long, slow process of recovery.