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Forgotten elements of Total Cost of Printing – Reliability – Part 2, Printer/AiO/MFP Setup

Issue #0939/1 – When you buy a new printer, AiO or MFP, what thoughts are passing through your mind? Excitement? Exhilaration? Anticipation? Impatience? I would probably be on to a sure-fire winner if I were to bet that they are not feelings of dread, horror, irritation or trepidation! And yet, this is what many people end up experiencing by the time they have finished setting up the device. Why? Because the software and installation design are not robust and reliable enough to give the new owner a good experience. We explore what can go wrong and how much it can cost.

A normal printer installation may take just a few minutes to install (as little as 15 minutes including unpacking the box), depending on the complexity of the tools and software supplied with the device. Or the process can be seemingly never-ending! Successful installations have sometimes taken us as much as one hour to complete.

But, the point here is that we have fought with some laser AiO devices for a couple of hours while attempting to get even basic functions operational!

Problems may occur with software incompatibility (less of a problem in 2009 than it was in 1989!) or as a result of a computer having picked up multiple system registry problems over time. Installation errors may occur, system files may be missing or corrupted and communication errors may prevent the device from installing.

Probably the biggest failing of AiO installation software is the ability to interact with, and make the necessary adjustments to, the computer’s firewall. Perhaps the most common and frustrating problem, though, is that some installation programs appear to be incapable even of setting, or acquiring, an IP address for network installation automatically. The only way around this shortcoming is to set the address manually – a process that has involved us in needing to search for and download the user manual, scour through the manual for a default password to unlock access to the device’s setup menu and then navigate the menu structure to set the IP address manually. Nightmare!!

So, we have experienced devices that are capable of setting themselves up, IP address and firewall included, but others that have needed manual intervention at almost every stage.

On the other hand, one of the most recent devices I have set up, was not so much intelligent enough just to get on with the process itself but was also respectful enough to ask me if I wanted it to go ahead and adjust firewall settings automatically or whether I would like to have manual control over the process! That dialog box was greatly appreciated because it told me, before running the installation, that the software was capable of handling the process from beginning to end – and it did, smoothly, efficiently and successfully!

Even following the (apparently) successful installation of a different AiO in recent months, right now I have an error occurring every time the device’s software suite checks for software updates. The system tells me that updates are available, the updates are downloaded successfully from the internet but, at the end of the installation process, the update manager and the software update both report an ‘Installation cancelled’ message – with absolutely no indication of what the problem is or how and why the process has been cancelled. The implication is that I cancelled it, which, of course, I did not.

Simple lack of time is preventing me from following up with this error and the update process is now just being cancelled each time it attempts to initialise. This points either to a software corruption or a flaw in the manufacturer’s installation process or software. However, pointing the finger more at a manufacturer error than a PC error is the fact that exactly the same symptoms have so far occurred on four different PCs – all without resolution to date! Not only has this error resulted in time being wasted (running the update several times to see if the error would clear itself) but it also means that I have a potential long-term issue of running with software that does not include bug-fixes for security issues!

So, suppose we illustrate the hidden costs of this part of the ownership cycle by comparing devices where one takes 15 minutes to install (5 minutes to set up the hardware and 10 minutes to install drivers/software), another takes one hour to install (15 minutes to set up the hardware and 45 minutes to install drivers/software) and a third takes two hours because the installation is not fully automated and there are problems finding the necessary information and instructions to complete the installation successfully.

We’ll assume that all three devices cost the same to buy, at €400, and use the standardised hourly total cost of employing an IT technician, as defined in the previous article, at €50 per hour.

Device 1 Device 2 Device 3
Time to install 15 minutes 1 hour 2 hours
Cost of installation @ €50/hr €12.50 €50 €100
Total cost to achieve operational status €412.50 €450 €500
Cost of installation as percentage of purchase price 3.125% 12.5% 25%

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

Needless to say, the happiest employee (and employer!) is the one whose device installed reliably in 15 minutes without hiccups, failures or hassle. Experience shows that AiO installation times (within a manufacturer’s portfolio) are generally fairly similar whether the device is laser or inkjet technology. The precise time taken really just depends on the quality and reliability of the software processes designed by that manufacturer.

Therefore, these timings can be applied just as easily to a consumer inkjet, business inkjet or a laser device. But, if a difficult installation can cost 25% of the purchase price for a laser device costing €400, then it costs 50% of the purchase price of a €200 business inkjet device or 100% of the purchase price of a €100 consumer-oriented inkjet!

Can businesses afford to add 100% to the cost of buying a printing device and why should they even have to add 12.5% to the cost when just over 3% might have done the job?

What we must also remember here is that the time shown above for installing the device includes installing drivers for one single user! If there are additional users sharing the printer, then the driver installation time has to be multiplied by the number of users.

Also, consider the position where a large organisation needs to install hundreds of devices for thousands of users.

Firstly, multiple units, one for each user:

    • 1) If it takes 15 minutes to install a good device, with 15 minutes between installations to dispose of packaging and collect the next unit, then the technician could potentially install as many as 15 machines in one day.

2) If, on the other hand, a device takes an hour to install, then there is time in the day to install only six machines.

3) In the event that problems are experienced, a two-hour installation process could mean that the technician can only install three machines in a day. However, hopefully, experience from the first installation will allow subsequent installations to run much more smoothly. But, there is bound to be a learning curve, meaning that a 2-hour first installation may only reduce to an hour and a half for the second, an hour and a quarter for the third and then – hopefully – an hour from then on. This would result in there being time for only four installations in the first day followed by six per day thereafter.

This represents a realistic cost increase of 2.5x for installing a batch of machines that take one hour to install instead of 15 minutes. For those machines that present problems, the cost increase is about 3.5x on the first day, falling to 2.5x thereafter.

Secondly, one unit for multiple (say 5) users:

    • 1) A good installation, taking 15 minutes for one user (as above), would require approximately 10 minutes to install the drivers for each additional user, probably with five minutes between each installation. Thus the process for five users would take approximately one hour and 15 minutes.

2) For a device taking one hour to install, where 45 minutes is driver installation, then the total time to install for five users would be four hours and 20 minutes.

3) In a problem situation, where the first installation takes two hours, we might hope that the remaining four software installations will be faster, as above, perhaps taking an average of one hour and 15 minutes each. Adding in a five minute transition between installations, the total time for five users would be seven hours and 20 minutes – or an entire working day.

Under these circumstances, the costs for these installations would be as follows (using the same €400 purchase price):

Install 1 Install 2 Install 3
Time to install 1 hr 15 mins 4 hrs 20 mins 7 hrs 20 mins
Cost of installation @ €50/hr €62.50 €216.67 €366.67
Total cost of hardware plus install €462.50 €616.67 €766.67
Cost of installation as percentage
of purchase price
15.6% 54.2% 91.7%

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

Again, consider multiplying this up to represent the costs of installing multiple machines, each for multiple users, in a large organisation! With installation cost as a percentage of purchase cost varying from 15% to over 90%, the implications to the organisation of buying a problem machine are enormous with considerable time wastage and cost wastage elements involved.

As a testing specialist, I am all-too-familiar with time being wasted while attempting to work around issues with the hardware being tested. But, for me, it is part of the job – it contributes to the test results and the final report on the project. For the business trying to maximise productivity and bottom line profit, wasted time represents a serious problem.

Only by choosing a reliable supplier of reliable equipment can a business be sure to minimise the impact of wasted time with hardware installations.

Continuing this series on reliability, the next article will tackle the issue of mechanical and electronic failures – in other words, hardware failures.

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