We’ve all done it. For me, it usually involves hand tools. I’ve always worked on my own cars, doing everything from routine oil and brake changes to rebuilding and installing engines. I’ve got a nice set of high-quality tools to handle most jobs, but on rare occasions I require a specialty implement that I’m sure I will only need for a single job. So I sometimes visit an inexpensive tool store (well known to shadetree mechanics around the United States), which shall remain nameless.
In short, the chain is known for selling cheap tools of somewhat dubious quality. Most of the time, they are “good enough” and enable me to finish that one job. But sometimes they break before the repairs are complete, and I end up wasting both that original money and the time needed to go shopping a second time for the higher-quality tool I should have purchased in the first place.
You likely see where this is headed. For as long as I’ve been at LRS, I’ve known organizations that took this same approach to print management and document systems in general. Sometimes their management doesn’t see printing as a priority or believes that employees will eventually stop printing altogether. This is how many organizations end up maintaining environments with dozens or even hundreds of “free” Windows Print Servers, which can end up costing some companies hundreds of thousands of dollars or euros.
In other cases, IT organizations are fixated on solving only their immediate printing challenge, with little thought of how their document needs may change over time. For example, a company whose current device fleet consists of MFPs from Vendor A may choose to implement Vendor A’s own bundled print management software. This makes some sense in the short term but limits their options if they later decide to switch hardware vendors for cost or other reasons. It also causes difficulties should they need to merge IT landscapes with another organization in the future, as some critical functions of Vendor A’s software may only work with their own hardware devices.
The list goes on. There are countless reasons why project teams may choose a “free,” cheap, or vendor-specific solution to manage document delivery in their organization. Most come down to the idea that the solutions are “good enough.” But unlike a shadetree mechanic seeking a cheap tool for one-time use, we know that the need for reliable, secure, efficient delivery of business documents will never go away. In fact, experience tells us that core infrastructural requirements like secure document delivery are likely to grow and evolve over time. Changing strategies in midstream can be both risky and expensive, so it’s best to pick a proven, reliable solution designed from the ground up with scalability, security, and flexibility in mind.
LRS output management software is such a solution, but there are others as well, both in the realm of output management and in other areas of enterprise computing. How can you identify a robust solution that offers long-term reliability and performance when you have to make decisions in the short-term? Here are some factors to consider:
- Platform independence: Look for a solution that runs on – and can handle output from – a variety of computing platforms and operating systems. Yes, your current need may only include printing from Windows-based user workstations. But does (or will) your organization have business applications running on other platforms? Wouldn’t it be simpler and less expensive to use one output management solution rather than several duplicate ones?
- Standards: Similarly, in the long term, it pays to insist on a solution largely designed around widely accepted industry standards instead of proprietary technology. For example, data streams like PCL and PostScript work the same on almost any modern output device. PDF has become a de facto standard for electronic documents. Solutions based around these and other standards like POSIX, HTTPS, IPPS, etc. are more likely to be reliable in the long run and help you avoid vendor lock-in.
- Breadth of functionality: Today you may only need to manage print from PCs to network printers and/or let users scan documents so they can be delivered via email. But before long, you will likely need the ability to print from mobile devices, provide long-term document archiving, or capture document scans, retouch them for legibility, and publish them to a Cloud-based repository. You don’t have to implement all that functionality from the get-go, but it is wise to work with solution providers whose products go beyond your immediate requirements. That way, when your needs change, your IT systems won’t have to.
- Scalability: Today, your output management volumes may be modest. But the goal of your business is to grow. If you succeed at expanding your business, the last thing you want to do is have to replace a core element of your IT infrastructure because it cannot handle dramatically higher volumes without throwing countless server instances at the problem.
- Reputation: Again, you want and expect your business to be around for the long run. When looking for something as fundamental as an output management system, you need a partner with a proven track record of innovation, financial stability, and support for customers a least as large and complex as your organization (and ideally much larger).
My first vehicle was an old British sports car, so I spent a lot of time reading repair manuals. These is one phrase I will never forget: “Buying cheap tools is a false economy. Poor quality tools will become a source of immense frustration.” While I haven’t always heeded those words, they still ring true to me.