Taming the paper tiger

We’ve given up on the paperless office, but at least we can reduce paper costs

Far from creating the paperless office, the digital age is responsible for an increase, not decrease, in document generation. We have the Internet, PDF files, and e-mail, to name a few technologies that have more folks than ever feeling the need to hold the results of their own insignificant creations in their hands.

No one seems to have considered that, although electronic media provide a convenient way to archive, people still prefer to read print on a page, which often results in the same document being printed many times.

The digital age has also changed the workflow, according to Dan Corsetti, a research analyst at IDC. It used to be that we would print and distribute; now we distribute and print. Instead of making 50 copies to send around, we send one e-mail and everyone prints it out individually.

Face it. There is more paper floating around than ever before.

Statistics from IBM say that the typical office-based employee generates as much as 13,000 pieces of paper annually at an average “hard-cost revenue loss” of up to 3 percent per company per year.

Does 3 percent sound like a meaningful number? Well, help is on the way.

Inspired by the avarice of lawyers looking for a cost-recovery system to bill clients for every piece of paper they touch, a company by the name of Equitrac was launched way back in 1977.

(By the way, I speak from personal experience. A lawyer once sent me a bill for $15 for a single fax. And would you believe he faxed me the invoice?)

Marketing itself to the legal profession for all of those years provided Equitrac with a solid platform on which to develop a document accounting technology to track paper — printed, copied, or faxed. The company is now launching an application for the enterprise, Equitrac Office 3, which calculates and records printing costs per user based on the device used to print. It also prints out detailed reports of printing activity and optimizes printing jobs by selecting the best device for the job.

Office 3 dovetails nicely with enterprises’ recent fondness for networked multifunction printers, which not only print but also copy and fax. In cases where hard-copy pages are generated from an out-of-network copier or fax, Equitrac installs one of its old-fashioned hardware counters, which require user or department ID before use.

Chris Wyszkowski, vice president of product management at Equitrac, puts the average cost per page across all devices at about 1.8 cents.

Corsetti tells me that higher-end devices, when used at optimal level, offer the lowest cost per page. They generate pages faster, which means the cost is distributed over more pages and consumables are sold in larger quantities, lowering the per-page cost.

There are many more features in Office 3: rules and routing, server clustering, and even dual pricing for internal charge-backs to departments and external charging schedules.

Of course, keep in mind that if an application like Office 3 falls into the wrong hands, such as an anal-retentive print administrator, reducing hard-copy output costs could be at the expense of worker productivity.

Wyszkowski calls paper the “last bastion of untamed costs in the enterprise.” Untamed may be a bit over the top for your laser printer, but you get the idea.


Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.