MFPs: Passing Grades on All Fronts

Do more and do it with less. Manage more data and do it efficiently. Reduce waste to be more environmentally friendly without sacrificing quality. These are only a few of the challenges facing school administrators and staff. On the printing and data management front, the needs are just as demanding. Thankfully, the tried-and-true printer has evolved over the years to help answer many of these challenges.

Enter the multifunction printer (MFP). If you haven’t been in an office lately, you may not realize the important benefits that MFPs offer when it comes to improving the bottom line, increasing efficiency and helping to meet sustainability objectives. For school administrators, a strategic use of MFPs can help improve the bottom line by reducing the equipment inventory and waste while improving print production for all users.

Meeting the Challenge
Denise McLaughlin, director of Integrated Marketing, Enterprise Business Group for Xerox, says that education decision makers face multiple challenges. “These individuals must demonstrate fiscal responsibility, meet IT challenges and provide resources to meet the needs of multiple constituents,” she says. “When it comes to document and data management resources, they must be able to show that any new investment will help to meet performance goals, standards, financial requirements and other demands.”

McLaughlin advocates completing a fact-based assessment on actual current use patterns, applications and user needs as a necessary step before considering a system overhaul.  She says that the data from the assessment can then be used to set targets for improvements while helping to determine how MFPs can be part of a larger return-on-investment story.

“The baseline is used to work out a realistic plan to optimize equipment placements and to implement solutions to help lower costs and mange printing on the right devices,” McLaughlin says. “By directing print jobs to the most appropriate device, users can manage documents more efficiently and reduce consumables and supplies waste in addition to reducing storage space needs. The scanning features available on many MFPs enable users to manage more documents electronically. In addition, the use of MFPs can help to achieve reductions in handling time or data rekeying, costly physical storage costs and hardcopy mailing costs.”

Be Strategic
MFPs should be viewed as an integral part of an overall information management strategy. The equipment and its accompanying technology provide a cost-effective solution for producing and scanning a wealth of documents, including promotional and fundraising materials, performance evaluations, reports, test results, handbooks and budgets.

When evaluating MFPs and potential suppliers, it is important to keep several key factors in mind when analyzing proposals. One of the most important considerations is cost and the return on investment, especially if a district-wide MFP strategy is being implemented. In addition, administrators must evaluate both on-line and off-site customer service support, maintenance and environmental considerations.  All units are not created equal, so developing a process and evaluation tools that will facilitate detailed comparisons is vital.

IT Interface
Both public and private schools have experienced tough economic conditions in recent years and, unfortunately, improvements on the financial side are slow in coming.

“The technology aspects of MFPs are very important and can help to meet many critical IT requirements,” says Valeria Phillips, WW market development consultant, education, managed enterprise solutions, imaging and print group for HP. “IT personnel must provide their districts with the tools they need to administer education while reducing the cost of doing so.”

Phillips says that MFPs offer three important benefits. First, they consolidate output technology (copiers, single-function printers and fax machines) into one unit, which reduces costs associated with the management and maintenance of three separate systems. Second, an infrastructure of networked MFPs can be managed remotely and proactively to reduce the management burden on IT and Help Desk personnel. Finally, MFPs can provide even greater customer service benefits when combined with additional software such as document capture or document management programs.

“Once MFPs are in place, there are several key elements to maximizing this investment,” Phillips says. “Use authentication mechanisms to ensure security and control access. In addition, customers should take advantage of available MFP scanning functions to automate paper-intensive faculty and administration processes.”

A-Plus Results

Bubble-sheet test grading systems are still in use in schools in districts across the country. In the Oak Hills Local School District in Cincinnati, Ohio, bubble-sheets tests have been replaced by a more teacher-friendly system that offers important benefits.

The district’s teachers were involved in finding a better way to administer and management the state’s standardized tests and brought to district administrators the idea of switching to a system — the HP Assessment and Grading Solution — that was demonstrated at a state conference. Technology improvements associated with the system include batch scanning speeds, the ability to print personalized test forms and the capability to upload test results directly to a school’s Student Information System. Since installing the system, the district has achieved cost savings by eliminating the pre-printed forms, improved scanning and grading, and facilitated immediate reporting availability, which allows for data-driven curriculum planning and individualized instruction.

MFPs alone do not provide all the answers when it comes to data management and document production, but they are a valuable part in finding a positive solution. The keys to success lie in carefully evaluating existing technology and user requirements and then in analyzing the equipment and capabilities of potential partners for the services that are required. At the end of the day, a school district cannot go wrong with implementing a comprehensive MFP strategy.