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The chances of achieving a paperless office – at least in academia – remain remote. But after introducing a range of new technology – from iPads to print consolidation – the Faculty of Education has learned valuable lessons about how to encourage staff to print less. Here, the Faculty's Jay Pema passes on his top tips.

The challenge

The drive to reduce print bills at the Faculty of Education began more than five years ago, when the Faculty was analysing its energy efficiency in response to the University's Electricity Incentivisation Scheme.

“We were over our target so we had to pay money, which is never a nice situation,” says IT manager Jay Pema. “So we spent a lot of time looking at our energy consumption and putting in place measures such as lowering the lumen of our lights, installing timer switches on printers and photocopiers and ensuring that computers were switched off when not in use.”

The Faculty then turned its attention to printing. “It's about both cost and best practice, so we started looking at different ways of improving what we were doing,” he explains, “and like many other parts of the University we are a very paper intensive organisation.”

“The aim was to never get in the way of working, but to help alter views and promote better practice” Jay Pema, Faculty of Education

At the start of the print consolidation process, most staff had access to one or more small printers in their offices. Printing was direct and unmetered, with staff deciding whether to print mono or duplex. The result was a great deal of single sided and colour printing, as well as a large amount of unnecessary printing.

While technical solutions to managing print are easy to find, managing expectations – especially when it comes to removing items of equipment from staff offices – can be more challenging and requires sensitivity and clear goals and outcomes.

“It's about working out what you want to save, and we wanted to save on single pages and colour printing, because colour printing is more than 20 times the cost of mono,” says Pema. “We also wanted to save on printer cartridges, paper and time. It sounds trivial, but ordering cartridges and paper is time consuming. When paper arrives in huge bundles it must be broken down and distributed – a process that has an opportunity cost and gets in the way of people doing their job.”

He also wanted to raise awareness among staff of the cost of printing. “Just because you print it at work doesn't mean it's free,” he says. And, most importantly, not to lose sight of the fact that for staff, their research and teaching came first. “The key aim was to never get in the way of working, but to help alter views and promote better practice.”

The solution

The process began five years ago when the Faculty installed display screens in public areas to replace the paper timetable sheets outside meeting rooms. Unlike paper, the screens are always up-to-date, can help promote seminars, and allow receptionists to concentrate on other tasks.

Next the IT Team installed PaperCut NG, software that connects printers with a server rather than directly with computers. “There are a whole host of advantages, but the main one is that you're able to deploy new printers and update drives more easily, set duplex and mono as standard, and users have to opt in for single sided and colour printing,” Pema explains.

At the same time the Faculty looked at printer provision, replacing the many small printers in individuals' offices with larger managed devices, including multi-functional devices (MFDs) where appropriate, which are both lower cost per-page and produce higher quality prints.

Finally, the Faculty issued staff with iPads, which for certain groups such as University Teaching Officers who sit on many committees has been an effective way of replacing printed agendas, minutes and papers with electronic versions. To encourage staff to use the iPads, committee chairs were enlisted to help get the message across and provided iPad training, which users had to complete in order to collect their device.

“It's a different way of working,” he says. “To make it work we've had to increase our wireless coverage, and increase backend server storage so staff can keep more documents digitally rather than stow printed papers on shelves, but it's been a very successful project,” he says.

The impact

Because the change has occurred gradually, its impact so far is hard to quantify. Hard data will be available in coming months – which Pema is keen to share with colleagues interested in following suit – but savings on printer cartridges alone have been in the order of £10,000 – £12,000.

And providing monthly reports via PaperCut to managers enables them to do even better. “We decided to send the reports to managers rather than individual users because they can then encourage staff to find better appropriate solutions to large print jobs,” he says. “We didn't want to name and shame. It's an opportunity for change.”

In 2015, the Faculty will install PaperCut MF, which will offer a print release system enabling users to collect prints from any device after authenticating and confirming the number and type of copies. “It reduces orphan prints,” he explains, “those documents that get sent to a printer and then forgotten or thrown away because they're no longer needed, and will provide a far more flexible solution for our users.”

He will also be introducing a print policy and introducing 'soft limits' to show staff the real cost of their printing.

Asked what advice he'd give others in the University thinking of tackling their own print bills, he offers several pointers.

“Firstly, you need to have a strong IT infrastructure to make this work. We have an authenticated domain that's allowed us to do what we have. Secondly, while we worked piece meal, if I did it again I would take a more holistic approach,” Pema concludes. “Thirdly, I think the iPad project came too soon, we could have done with a stronger backbone and processes, and finally I would have started with a comprehensive print policy – agreed by all stakeholders – and begun from there, and most importantly you need top-level buy in.”