Q&A: The Role Of Printing Technology In IT

A Hewlett-Packard executive sees printing as one of the keys to overall IT infrastructure management.

Darrell Dunn, Contributor

December 27, 2004

5 Min Read

Printing and imaging are often overlooked, and undervalued, as components of a company's information-technology infrastructure. Printing and imaging have benefited from investment on the consumer side of the market and therefore are ripe for innovative use and efficient deployment on the business side.

They're also significant business areas for Hewlett-Packard. Kriss Kirchhoff, VP of connectivity for the Business Imaging and Printing Group at HP, recently talked with InformationWeek about how business-technology executives can get the most out of their investments in printers and related products.

InformationWeek: What is your business mission at HP?

Kirchhoff: We target business customers, from [those with] one employee all the way through the largest enterprise customers. We've got technology focused around laser printers, and we also have the market responsibility for the small- and midsize-business market space, from a printing and imaging perspective. Specifically, we're the Imaging and Printing Group.

InformationWeek: Why should CIOs and other business-technology professionals look at imaging and printing as critical to their overall infrastructure?

Kirchhoff: It's a category that continues to be misunderstood from a cost perspective, and that's true for most companies, whether they're small businesses or very large. The procurement of printing and imaging capabilities has been a mixed model, with a lot of procurement at an individual or departmental level and less at a company level. So you have a situation now where businesses have printers and multifunction devices attached to corporate networks, and they've got hidden costs associated with the supplies, management, and administration [of them]. As companies are increasingly interested in the total cost of their IT investments, printing and imaging is one of those categories that's not well understood, yet represents a significant cost.

InformationWeek: How should IT professionals approach imaging and printing within the technology infrastructure, to get the most out of them?

Kirchhoff: When you look at it from an IT point of view, what IT typically sees is the support side of the equation. They have responsibility for supporting their internal user population, and they've got visibility into the cost to support printers. But in many cases, the IT organization isn't involved at all, and it's the facilities organization or the administrative organization that has responsibility for printing and imaging.

From an HP perspective, we believe it's a category that IT should pay more attention to, because of the hidden costs, because of the need for greater manageability, and for the opportunity to improve user satisfaction.

InformationWeek: What kind of return on investment or cost savings can a customer expect from improving the management of the imaging and printing resources?

Kirchhoff: It depends on where they're starting from. We've seen returns typically in the range of 30%, but they can go higher than that, and often do.

InformationWeek: What is your biggest opportunity going into 2005?

Kirchhoff: Unquestionably, the biggest new business opportunity for us over this next year is color printing, There's a wave of upgrades and conversion taking place, and it's really color printing that's the No. 1 theme. In the small-business space, it's color printing for external communications, and in the larger businesses, it's color printing for internal communications.

We expect this trend to continue for the next five-plus years. Unmanaged color printing can be more expensive than monochrome printing and can be a new expense driver for the business. We recommend that IT organizations pay attention to this and proactively design for the introduction of color into their business environments.

InformationWeek: How can working with HP, and your group in particular, provide customers with methods for improving their security?

Kirchhoff: In small businesses, wireless networking has been very popular over the last several years, and we offer wireless printing across our entire printer offerings. We don't use standard, off-the-shelf network interfaces in our printing and imaging products. We've developed custom chipsets and custom wireless capabilities because security is important, and we want to make sure were able to offer the greatest performance and accommodate the full range of security options available.

For larger businesses, we also offer services where we will consult with the business on how printing and imaging fits into an overall security plan for their business. They might want to think about content security, the physical security of the device, and, in a broader sense, document security and revision control.

InformationWeek: Do IT professionals miss the point if they view imaging and printing as strictly a commodity business?

Kirchhoff: The cheapest solution is fairly simple to think about, but administratively can be fairly complex for the business. It might sound trite, but the total cost of what we offer includes the purchase price of the device, the cost of operation, and the service wrapped around it.

We have an offering for our business customers we call "balanced deployment," and much like you would develop a computing strategy for a company, we develop an overall printing and imaging strategy for a business. We look at how printing and imaging devices get deployed in a business environment.

There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. A lot of businesses that look at printing and imaging from a commodity perspective are only looking at the cost of a printed page. That's one measure. You've got to step back and look at the purpose of the business and how printing addresses those needs.

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