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Forgotten elements of Total Cost of Printing – Reliability – Part 1, Why is there a cost?

Issue #0938/1 – !***ERROR***! Is this a common experience with a printer? If so, how serious was the problem? Could it be self-resolved? Did it require a replacement part or unit? How much did it cost to resolve the issue? How long was the printer out of action? These are questions we may all have asked ourselves at some time. Some users will question the reliability of their printer very early in its life while others may never even think about reliability because the printer never fails to do its job. Whichever is true, all printer users should understand the time and cost implications of printer reliability – or unreliability!

So why is the cost of unreliability so rarely factored into Total Cost of Printing?

At one time, it was reckoned that 40% of all service desk calls were printer related. Although I don’t have an up-to-date figure on this, a conversation with a senior IT support manager at a research establishment revealed that printer related calls to the help desk are almost non-existent. Of the very few faults that have been recorded in the past couple of years, there is a strong focus on paper feed issues together with supplies related issues. In one instance a communications/networking error required attention.

However, I suspect that this situation represents an unusually low incidence of failures resulting from two major organisational policy decisions. Firstly, the research site in question is primarily a mono site and, secondly, the installed printers are from two of the largest and most highly respected manufacturers in the industry. What it also means is that any inkjet printers that may be present do not figure on the official hardware manifest. There is no doubt that inkjet printers do exist within the organisation but they are there unofficially and are therefore not supported by the IT help desk but by the individual concerned.

I don’t believe that the reliability factor is necessarily ignored, at enterprise level in particular, but I do believe that the cost implications are not well understood and that many smaller organisations make mistakes in their choice of printer and MFP provider as a result. It is certainly not because faults do not occur that reliability tends to have a low profile in the market place!!

This lack of understanding surrounding the reliability issue means that Total Cost of Printing is often taken as existing only at its lowest possible level – meaning the purchase price of the hardware. It is this that governs many purchase decisions. The next step is to add in the price of buying a print cartridge but, even then, all too often it is the price that is factored in and not the cost. If we assume that electronic hardware is reliable in the 21st century, then this combination of hardware purchase price and on-going cost of consumables should be enough for most printer users.

However, this cannot be assumed always to be the case. Electronics may fail at any time. My usual attitude is that if an electronics item is going to fail, then it will do so either within the first few weeks or months of life or after a very long and healthy life – but rarely in-between. Printers, however, deviate from this theory because they have a strong mechanical element to them and mechanics wear out, often after a fairly predictable life-span, and are also susceptible to other stresses and strains.

Every time a piece of equipment does not behave exactly in the desired manner, there is an associated cost – and that starts from the moment the box enters the building. This cost is largely time-related and we all know that time does not come cheap! From the user’s point of view, all of this is wrapped up in reliability – either hardware reliability, software reliability or the reliability of the manufacturer to produce consistently high quality, trouble-free equipment.

Let’s look then at the range of factors that can determine a printer’s ‘reliability’, as perceived by the user. Essentially, they fall into three categories:

  • Setup
  • Hardware/Operation
  • Supplies

These categories will be explored individually, along with the associated cost implications, in a series of articles over the several issues of TCPglobal.

In preparation for those articles, it has to be understood, and accepted, that the customer experience and overall printing experience is highly dependent on the manufacturer’s ability to build a reliable printing system with a reliable, effective and efficient installation process. If a customer has a printer that is easy to install, never fails and never suffers from annoying minor faults and errors, not only is the on-going cost of running that machine kept to its most basic level but the customer is far more likely to return to that manufacturer for hardware purchases in the future.

Although it is probably true to say that printers today are more reliable and give fewer problems than they did 20 years ago, even now some printer manufacturers have a better reputation for product reliability than others. To make a choice of device based at least in part on the reliability record of the manufacturer only makes good sense because buying purely on purchase price is very likely to lead to significant additional costs being experienced over and above the original purchase price, together with higher on-going running costs of the device itself. When manufacturing costs are slashed to meet a target selling price, compromises are usually made that prejudice the integrity and reliability of the product.

If ANY time at all is spent (= wasted) attending to a printer for any unscheduled reason, then cost is incurred because the individual involved in sorting the issue is not able to attend to their primary duties.

Throughout this series of articles we will present cost comparisons and examples to illustrate how the reliability issue can impact on the cost base of an organisation – and ultimately the profitability (which is why companies always tend to seek to reduce non revenue-earning staff first at times of financial pressure).

Therefore, we will use the example of an IT technician earning €20 per hour for all calculations of labour costs.

However, what we also need to remember in all this is that the cost (the total cost of employment) to the company of an employee earning €20 per hour is actually much, much higher. Not only does the employer have to add National Insurance (UK), or equivalent taxes, to the cost of the employee but there will also be an overhead associated with the employee being on the payroll. This overhead includes the cost of:

  • providing space for the employee to work in (size of workforce determines size of building required)
  • providing relevant equipment for the employee to work with (PCs, printers, desk, chair, paper, telephone, car perhaps, tools, etc.)
  • utilities for working and living (electricity, heating, lighting, air conditioning, water and sewerage, business property taxes)
  • administrative staff and any agencies involved in the process of doing business – all of whom are non revenue-earning
  • plus many other costs associated with operating a business

When I worked in a sales estimating roll early in my career, we would calculate the cost of fulfilling the contractual obligations of the project and then multiply the result by a fixed percentage that varied year-by-year according to the overhead burden. Depending on the industry sector and type of business, it is estimated that the cost to an organisation of employing an individual can be anything up to 170% of basic salary, in addition to paying that individual! This means that a €20/hr technician actually costs the organisation up to €54/hr.

For the sake of simplifying these examples, we’ll assume that overheads of 170% is higher than most companies will experience and we’ll work on the basis of 150%, to round the figure off, even if that is still on the high side for some smaller organisations.

So, using a figure of €50 per hour as the total cost of an IT technician, the following articles will begin with a consideration of the printer setup process.

Please note, however, that the examples are mostly based on the involvement of one member of staff (probably implying a small company) whose work place is at the printer’s location. In a large organisation, there is instant added cost involved because one of the local users will investigate any error first, then call in the IT support team if they cannot resolve the issue themselves.

Under these circumstances, there is extra time involved, additional to the process of actually rectifying the fault:

  • when making the phone call to the IT department
  • while the technician makes the journey from the IT department to the printer concerned
  • for both members of staff while the user explains the problem to the technician
  • and while the technician makes his way back to the IT department

So, to many of the scenarios and illustrations presented in the following articles, an additional cost could be added for the involvement of an IT technician in large organisations, as follows:

Time for user to telephone IT department 2 minutes
Time for technician to take telephone call 1 minute
Time for technician to walk to offending printer 5 minutes
Time to explain fault to technician (two people) 3 minutes x2
Time for technician to return to IT department 5 minutes
Total work time expended 19 minutes
Total additional cost of time @ €50/hr €15.83
Additional printer downtime involved 19 minutes

Note: Cost of time at €50 per hour is based on cost model outlined above.

… and this is assuming that the user does not stand and watch the technician investigate the problem and attempt a resolution!!

Also, if we assume that the technician downs tools and goes straight to the offending printer, then the overall printer downtime can be reckoned to be equal to the time to resolve the issue. However, the technician may not be able to attend immediately. In this instance, printer downtime could be hours longer, which, for a minor resolvable fault, could represent a considerable inconvenience to the users.

Or indeed, if an on site repair is required by an offsite technician/engineer, there may be a period of 24 hours or even 48 hours involved in waiting for the engineer to call, again adding to overall downtime.

It is easy then to find added ways of escalating the realistic cost of a printer failure. In these next articles we will investigate the primary sources of cost.

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