Printer services

Change is afoot in the printer services market as managed services take hold and vendors nudge their way in. Find out how to stay competitive in this increasingly commoditized space.

By Yuval Shavit, Features Writer

Printer services are services such as printer installation, maintenance and upgrading that value-added resellers (VARs) and other members of the channel can provide to companies to ease some of the technological or logistical headaches of keeping printers in the office.

Like many other mature technologies in IT, printers and printer services are becoming commoditized as software makes configuration easier. But with so many network configurations and with so many offices running several operating systems, setting up a printer still takes some expertise. Printers also need to be constantly monitored, so you know when to buy more supplies, and occasionally fixed.

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Managed printer services are a growing trend in which a VAR takes on monitoring, restocking and break-fix maintenance for printers on behalf of a client. Software allows you to keep precise statistics on how many pages each printer is printing; that helps determine when to order supplies and where additional printers, or an upgraded printer, might be useful.

Managed printer services are usually billed per page or per client, although some companies also charge a flat, monthly rate to cover all expenses. If you are considering a flat-rate pricing scheme, make sure to do your research first and have a good handle on your client's printing habits so you can price accordingly.

Several printer vendors are also interested in printer services; Dell announced in 2006 that it would offer managed printing services and even supply the hardware for free, making up the cost through the sale of services and supplies.

Maintenance can be a significant part of printer services, and resellers can provide value by supporting printers after their vendors no longer do. This can extend the life of the hardware, saving your clients money and making them more loyal to you. One technological shift that is prompting vendors to declare old hardware obsolete is the rise of 64-bit computers -- 32-bit drivers won't work on 64-bit systems, and vendors may choose to stop supporting older printers instead of porting their drivers.

Because printers have been around for so long and the technology is so commoditized, the printer services market is fairly crowded. Rather than relying on such services as a stand-alone source of revenue, you should consider them as part of a general package that can include other peripherals, like scanners and fax machines, as well as general computer maintenance.

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