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We run a medium sized (400 users) healthcare organization (aka hospital). We are a Windows organization; our printers can be categorized in three groups:

  • departamental printers hosted by a server in our matrix organization (I think it is a linux)

  • departamental printers hosted in one of our servers

  • local printers

For years, I have seen in our logs the reams of paper spent in non-work related jobs, but nobody wanted to "shake the boat". Now, the most important thing is spending cuts so something can be done.

I would like to ask for tips/strategies/tools to use to avoid the abuse. I see two main paths:

  • restricting printing, so you can only print from approved paths. I do not like this approach because:

    • it causes administrative overhead, because it is different to know beforehand all the relevant (services are different, many times they get documentation from external sources, etc.)
    • when printing from IE, we need to restrict by the source URL.
    • as we need to be able to print local documents (Word / PDF), any control that we can set will be probably
  • checking logs for abuse and reporting it. The issues with this method are:

    • administrative overhead, periodically logs will be revised.
    • the number of pages is not a reliable guide to abuse (the user that prints 100 pages a day may need to print these for his work, while the user that prints only prints 10 may be printing a chapter of a novel each day).
    • once you suspect something is not right, how do you check it? If you report that an user has printed "The Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy.pdf", it is clear that it is an abuse. Also it is clear that the next time, the user will rename it as "Clinical History of patient 12.pdf", so our logs will probably need to be more extensive.

I somehow prefer the second approach (I do not care if an user prints occasionally a few pages, and I think that it is less disruptive).

In order to discuss tools, they must work on Windows. It would be better if they also work on linux, but it is not strictly needed (I could migrate the printers on linux back to my windows servers).

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A route we went down which might be worth considering is to find ways to reduce the printing requirements by looking at the business reasons for printing. We had people printing documents to transfer from department to department as their tools did not work across departments. We fixed these tools and integrated a document management system for sharing documents. We also found users were printing so they had a paper copy to type from (data entry) adding second screens reduced printing by 50%. And if people print less official work they will print less unofficial as it will be harder to hide. –  PCurd Sep 1 '11 at 13:24
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7 Answers 7

up vote 5 down vote accepted
+50

We went through a similar deal and ended up with "social justice" if that's even a catchphrase.

We had no desire to deal with extensive logging/reporting or the time it would take to arrest and convict someone of printer abuse.

So...we ended up doing the following:

  • Put signs on all of the printers that stated "Think Green and control spending! Please use the printers and copiers for work purposes only. Print in black and white and double sided when you can. NOTE: all print jobs are logged and weekly reports are sent to management to maintain adherence to the printing policy."
  • Set everyone's default printing to black and white even on the color copier/printers.

All of a sudden our printing costs dropped dramatically, especially for color printing which is the most expensive.

Even though we aren't actually doing any logging/reporting, the little white lie that we are is enough to make most people not abuse the printers.

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+1 - put the responsibility for reviewing the logs on the managers of the printing individuals. What might be even more fun is to just post the logs somewhere public for anyone to read. –  mfinni Sep 2 '11 at 14:46
    
Oh hell - you didn't even bother doing the logging in the first place? Genius! –  mfinni Sep 2 '11 at 14:47
    
Does not this situation degrade? As users see that they can print personal documents and nothing never happens... –  SJuan76 Sep 6 '11 at 8:48
    
Similar experience: Executive decision that all e-mail signatures should contain "Think of the tress before you print this e-mail" and a small tree icon. Default printing settings were changed to black/white; the only users who cared were the users who needed to print in color, they were educated to manually change this setting when needed. We never really had a problem of excessive private printing, but costs did go down. Also, we installed an agent for our printers connected to supplier's system with excellent statistics and tools, which was handled by the Purchase manager. Everyone happy. –  Mahriman Sep 8 '11 at 10:16
    
SJuan76 -- For us the situation degrades a bit, but tends to correct itself because others have taken it upon themselves to take personal printouts and put them on the printer with a sticky note saying "please don't print personal stuff". –  TheCleaner Sep 8 '11 at 13:55
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If it's a tool you're looking for, I can recommend PyKota; I used it to implement printing quotas in a public school environment. It's GPL and has commercial support.

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I am more for the log solution; in our bussiness strict quotas are risky (if the patients sheets with the details for drugs or diet do not come properly due to IT policies, shit will happen). In order to restrict, I would need to allow for documents from certains origins to be "free". –  SJuan76 Sep 6 '11 at 8:51
    
@SJuan76: For quotas you need logging. PyKota therefore has logging. –  Teddy Sep 6 '11 at 9:34
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I think that you should be looking into a MPS solution probably the best for your environment as I have read would be Papercut (MF if you have MFP's or NG if you dont).

This package allows you to quota users, monitor trends in print, restrict certain documents to mono etc. It is a very very powerful utility which will without doubt reduce your spend on printing. - It is also free from requiring you to use 3rd party port monitors.

There are far too many benefits for me to simply list in one answer here, take a look at the companies website to find out how it can benefit you further. Of course if you have anything which you would like to ask me please feel free to send me a message.

One last thing to add feature wise is the ability to add javascripts to your print queues. This enables you to use popup prompts should someone print a large document in colour, then give opens to drop the job, force it to put on a high volume/more cost effective printer. I'm sure you would find what you require with this product.

Not to mention you are welcome to the free 40day fully working trial from their website.

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I'll check it, thanks –  SJuan76 Sep 6 '11 at 8:53
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Are you using plain printers or copier/multifunction devices? If the latter, there are accounting tools and MFP functions that can help with this. Keycode-protect the color printing functionality. If you're on AD, run job accounting by user, perhaps. Leverage your printer vendor if there is one. These are common scenarios, and they may have more specific suggestions to control usage.

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A mix, multifunction are used for the more demanding places. –  SJuan76 Sep 6 '11 at 8:55
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There is already a couple of ideas but I will add one more:

Locate the printers so that they are well visible to the surrounding work environment.

If everyone knows that they are not supposed to print non work related stuff, then other people seeing it will discourage violating the policy. Do not locate the printers behind shelves in the darkest corners of the corridors. Instead put them in places where people will see what happens there.

If your organization has security cameras here and there already for other reasons, you can place some of the printers somewhere close to the camera locations (it does not necessarily even need to be in the field of vision of the camera :).

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Try "PaperCut" which lets you set budgets for different users and groups.

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I'll check it, thanks –  SJuan76 Sep 6 '11 at 8:53
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Before you tackle the technical problem you should first take into account that there are three different scenarios that affect your ability to save printing costs:

- Network printers managed by you.
- Network printers managed by another organization.
- Departamental printers.

Your first action should be to "play office politics" in order to have a single way to print controlled by you: You cannot save money in an area that you don't control.

This has an additional advantage towards savings: by standarizing printing, and centralizing consumables purchasing you can get a better price quote from your providers. Probably just this is worth the effort.

Once you have control of the printing, you can decide what technical measures you can take.

Since you're in a healthcare organization, I advice you to implement a "pull printing" solution to ensure confidentiality as well (you can sell the idea to upper management with just the confidentiality idea).

With "pull printing" your users will send their printing jobs to a print server, and then they have to walk to the printer and log-in in order to get their print job. This has the disadvantage printing is slow (you cannot just send the job to the printer and pick it 10 minutes later); but also reduces the urge of printing everything (when users have to wait to get something printed, suddenly the economics of printing change: printing isn't FREE anymore).

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