In the first part of this tip on managed printing services, I talked about the specific hardware and software needed to create managed printing services packages. Now it's time for some discussion about how to assemble the services themselves -- a task that's much harder to do well. It requires an understanding about how to provide managed services and how that becomes incarnate in offering printing.
People are your biggest asset
Not printers, not a connection in the supply chain, but people working for you. Knowledgeable, reliable people in your team are far more important than any service package or other offering. To that end, find people with printer expertise if you don't already have them, and make sure they understand the environment they're working in. For instance, they must understand Windows networking as well as Windows printing, if you're sending them to maintain a Windows shop. Train them well, pay them well and give them a reason to stick around -- if they don't, they'll be putting money into someone else's pocket.
Determine cost models for your printing services
Determine what you can reasonably offer based on those cost models. The pay-per-page model is the default, but consider per-device or per-client models as other ways to slice and dice what you want to sell. Be wary, though, of offering "unlimited" usage for X number of devices for a fixed amount per month, since such terms can often backfire for both the customer and the provider. Keep in mind that the cost models need to contain everything: human resources, consumables, devices and all the rest.
Figure out how small you can scale your offerings
Are you planning to offer printing services for places that have as little as one or two print queues? Smaller companies may demand considerably more attention, but if you can live up to it, they'll be that much more loyal, and you won't have to sell them on something they may not be able to afford.
Make it as painless as possible for customers to switch
If managed printing is an adjunct to another managed solution that you're selling, customers may find it easier to switch to all of that at once instead of having their printing managed by you -- and five other services by five other people.
Generate at-a-glance feedback about device and consumable usage
More on managed printing services
Packaging printing software and hardware
Printer Services Learning Guide: Unix, Linux and Windows printing
In the first part of this article I mentioned how to do this via software; real-world usage numbers are crucial on both your end and the customer's. You want to know exactly what customers are doing, not what you guess they're doing, and if possible know it better than the client himself. If you learn that a given printer model is far more susceptible to jams than another, then you'll know which one not to recommend, and which one to consider offering to swap out. Likewise, you can make that information useful to the customer; in turn, he may see things that weren't apparent before. You never miss what you don't measure.
Know you may be facing competition from the printer vendors
Many printer vendors offer managed services as standard offerings. You're probably going to be entering a crowded garage, and they may be able to throw more manpower and printing offerings at customer's problem than you can. The closer you can stay to your customers, the better.
Back in 2006, Dell announced it would provide managed printing, and planned to bundle free printers with new systems, making up the cost of the printer in service plans and consumables. That's a hard plan to beat, unless of course you're offering something Dell simply isn't providing, like…
Support for everything you sell and then some
Find a way to provide support for existing products that the customer wants to support, even if they're not part of the package. They'll love you for it because it means you're listening to them.
One recent development that might cause a number of printers to fall off the map entirely over time is the shift from 32-bit to 64-bit processing. Many older printers (some only a few years old) simply aren't being supported by their manufacturers anymore, and if the organizations you're selling services to need to go 64-bit, that many more devices -- not just printers, but scanners and network copiers --might no longer be supported. In time, you can phase those devices out when the customer's ready.
Never stop looking for new things to offer
There is always something new coming out, whether it's a new high-speed printer, networking technology (e.g., Bluetooth-compatible printers) or whatever's just around the bend. Do your best to offer it before someone else does.
About the author:
Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter, which is devoted to hints, tips, tricks, news and goodies for Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Windows XP users and administrators. He has more than 10 years of Windows experience under his belt, and contributes regularly to SearchWinComputing.com and SearchSQLServer.com.
Printer security offers a significant MPS value-add