Improving Print Management at The University of Oklahoma

The Department of Computing and Telecommunication Services (DCTS) is a nonprofit organization that provides computer services to students, faculty and staff at The University of Oklahoma in Norman. When problems associated with printing services began to escalate due to increasing print demands, DCTS engaged a group of students enrolled in the Management Information Systems program in the Michael F. Price College of Business to compare the current printing/billing systems to alternatives and make recommendations for improvement.

The changes resulting from the investigation lowered the cost of laser printing to one-fifth the price charged before (black-and-white laser prints reduced to $.05 a page from $.25, and color prints reduced from $2.50 a page to $.50), reduced waste associated with free dot matrix printing, brought higher-quality printers to the campus and, at the same time, allowed DCTS to recover completely the cost of printing services that were previously subsidized.

Finding the right solution was not easy. DCTS dealt with a number of suppliers and tried many hardware and software packages. The students balanced the advantages and disadvantages of several proposed alternatives carefully, looking for long-term benefits versus short-term fixes. Both the early conclusions of DCTS and the conclusions of the students are worth sharing.

Charge for All Printing

Like many other universities, The University of Oklahoma offered free dot matrix printing to students, faculty and staff. Consequently, patrons tended to use the difficult-to-maintain, noisy and slower dot matrix printers, rather than pay a fee to use the laser printers. With unlimited printing and no automatic check on print jobs, a vast amount of waste was being generated. Patrons developed a habit of reviewing clean printouts after every document change. Also, patrons desiring to print only the page in view of an Internet article would accidentally print 500 pages.

Linking printers to debit card readers causes users to share the cost of printing; and the financial accountability inspires more discretion, reducing the amount of waste paper.

Use Fewer and Better Printers by Networking

Some colleges and universities still operate with each printer linked to only one computer and one card access system. With so many printers required, dot matrix printers seem to be the only affordable solution. Only certain computers can print in color, and some computers do not have printer access at all. With printers scattered around library and computer lab floors, staff members find themselves devoting much time to maintaining paper supplies, replacing ink cartridges, fixing paper jams and guiding patrons in using computers and printers.

Networking the equipment allows all computers to send jobs to any printer so that fewer printers are required. Consequently, laser printers can be purchased and maintained at a lower cost than the more cumbersome dot matrix printers. The right software helps extend printer life by load-balancing printers. Also, keeping printers in centralized stations minimizes paper and ink refill tasks to fewer locations.

Choose the Right Charging System

Printing is becoming a bigger and bigger job to manage so that labor-intensive systems must be replaced, including labor-intensive charging systems. The incumbent punch cards for laser printing at The University of Oklahoma were available for purchase at the university’s bookstore only during store hours. Students had to make frequent trips to the bookstore to buy new punch cards, and bookstore cashiers were kept busy selling the cards. The system also required lab assistants to monitor copyprinting and to punch cards manually. An automated system was needed.

The student group concluded that a more automated and convenient system of charging was needed. Card reader systems, as well as direct log-on billing systems, offered these advantages. The card system chosen was the existing Copicard system in use in the library for making photocopies. The academic community was familiar with this system, and it was determined to be more cost effective than bringing in a new debit card environment. Copicard self-service kiosks were strategically placed throughout the campus. The university chose to install Copicard CX-125 debit card reader devices that are networked to the computers and printers in six computer facilities throughout the campus. Value can be added to the cards at kiosks in the student union, the library, two academic classroom buildings and two residence halls. Then the cards are debited upon use at print stations. The student union and the Couch Computer Center in the residence hall area are open 24 hours for student access.

This year, DCTS plans to implement another convenience by linking printers to the campus one-card identification system so that a single debit card, which is the student ID card, directly debits a student’s university account for printouts. The system works through the existing campus infrastructure. Students can add money to the account at various stations around campus.

Another option that the student group endorsed was a direct log-on billing option that eliminated the need for card reader systems. Such a system could be managed by the same hardware/software that runs the current debit card system.

Choose the Right Hardware and Software

DCTS spent three to four years trying various hardware and software packages to manage their printing services before finding one that worked. DCTS knew that the difference between a reliable, user-friendly network printing system and a high-maintenance one could mean a difference in the nature of staff jobs. They didn’t want graduate students and professors to become a crew of on-call troubleshooters for a difficult-to-use and crash-prone system. Reliability, compatibility, technical service and user independence were significant factors to the overall cost of maintaining a system.

DCTS chose a cost recovery and printing resource management system called UnipriNT Print Manage-ment System to manage computer lab printing. Considerations for this choice were based on several needs.

1. Inter-Networking Compatibility. The university needed a system that could be installed on a Windows NT server so that users could print via means provided by DOS, Unix, OS/2, Windows 3.11/95/98/NT and Macintosh. The system had to work across TCP/IP, NetBEUI and IPX/SPX networks.

2. Flexible Billing. The university supports several billing systems, including a preprogrammable card for copying and a campus one-card system, and they wanted to maintain an option to move completely to a direct log-on billing system if desired in the future. The software’s flexibility of operating with any of these systems was an advantage.

3. Flexible Charging. DCTS wanted to charge a different price for color versus black-and-white prints, an option UnipriNT provided. As a possibility in the future, they also like the software’s option to prorate the print cost based on the percentage of color on a page, so that a black-and-white page with only a color heading costs less than a full-color page.

4. User Friendliness. The instructions had to be clear for users and staff. The chosen system alerts users to the exact number of pages and the exact cost of a print job, and then asks the user if he or she agrees to the terms. A patron can send several jobs to a print spool during a research period and later view a list of the jobs, delete any no longer needed, review the cost and print. The users are able to tag jobs with personalized names, which prevents confusion at the print stations.

5. Reliability. To service 28,171 accounts at The University of Oklahoma, the system had to be reliable. Through on-site testing, the UnipriNT system was found to be tight and crash-proof. In just a six-month period, more than 627,460 pages were printed with full cost recovery.

After two academic years of flawless performance, the decision to use the UnipriNT Print Management System with the Copicard debit card system has been a success. Print management in the six computer facilities achieved every objective: Customer satisfaction is high, total payback was reached within just a few months, there is virtually no life-cycle maintenance required other than expendable supplies, print quality improved, and unnecessary print jobs were eliminated. Cost recovery operations are so successful that printing charges will remain constant for the foreseeable future.

Lee M. Colaw is the former director of the Department of Computing and Telecommunications Services at The University of Oklahoma in Norman. He currently serves as the director of University Information Services at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore.

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