Mobile Printing is Not Printing for Mobile Employees: A Guide Through the Jungle of Solutions

Despite the digital world we live in, a piece of paper is still an important and useful part of day-to-day life. For example, when you’re trying to check into a hotel after a long day of travel and need a confirmation number, but your phone battery is drained and your reservation can’t be found, all you need is that hard copy. This is one of many situations mobile employees encounter in which a printout is useful.

With printing continuing to be an incredibly handy medium to productivity, it begs the question, how does “mobile printing” fit into situations like these?

Whenever I speak to customers, I notice that everyone has their own definition of what mobile printing actually is. There is a difference between mobile printing and printing for mobile employees. To bring clarity to this ongoing conversation, below is a guideline to making the best decision for your organization.

What is mobile printing?

The fact is, mobile printing typically describes the technical point of view of printing from a mobile device to a printer. Printing for mobile employees, on the other hand, describes the use case of who is doing the printing – regardless of how the printing is initiated. For example, a mobile employee could simply be sitting at a desk with a PC and print to a network-attached printer. Both involve mobility and printing.

To clarify, here are some of the different use cases:

  1. A user moving around within company-owned properties (e.g., a territory manager for a retail chain)
  2. A user moving around outside the company at a customer’s or supplier’s organization (e.g., a supply chain manager or sales rep)
  3. A user without a device moving from stationary workstation to workstation within the organization (e.g., a doctor or nurse in a hospital)
  4. A stationary user with an Android or iOS device (e.g., customer service reps in a bank branch)

Once you establish if your needs fit within one of the four use cases listed above, you can then look at the situation from a technology point of view. There are two scenarios to consider: Traditional Windows- or Mac-based applications and iOS or Android applications.

Traditional Windows- or Mac-based applications

Any job that happens in local applications on a Mac, PC or a virtual Windows desktop and is delivered to any type of device via Microsoft RDP, Citrix, VMware Horizon View or Parallels Remote Access Server can be covered by an enterprise print solution.

Using criteria like the workstation’s name (if the user is mobile but logging into stationary computers), IP address ranges (if the user and their device are mobile), the user’s membership in a particular Active Directory group (if you don’t want every user to have access to every printer in a given location), or a combination of these, automatically connects users to the right printers as they are mobile within the organization.

If you’re especially security conscious and are tired of managing printer assignments for every user and every printer, but still want to offer mobility to your users, you could implement a company-wide personal printing/tap-to-print/release or follow-me printing solution.

What do these terms mean? Instead of picking the printer the document is supposed to appear on before printing, a user always prints to the same virtual printer. For security, the job is not actually released to a printer until the user walks up to any printer within the organization to enter a PIN code, tap a badge or use their mobile device to authenticate.When choosing a solution for a scenario like this, it’s important to pick one that is printer agnostic, provides a range of authentication methods, and securely stores the job on a server so they can easily be routed to any printer in the organization for user mobility.

iOS or Android applications

So what’s left? Users with mobile devices like iPhones, iPads and Android phones or tablets who are running applications from the respective app stores and need to print from these apps.

Both iOS and Android devices support direct connections from the device to a printer that supports Apple AirPrint or Google Print, but these technologies are not made for enterprise use. In these cases, the printers have to be on the same network as the devices, which is not ideal from a security point of view. Any device can print to any printer, which can easily become confusing and lead to abandoned print jobs and unintentionally disclosed sensitive information all over the place. To avoid this, you want to separate infrastructure from easy access by users.

Why invest in an enterprise mobile print solution?

Fortunately, enterprise-grade mobile solutions are readily available and very cost effective.

They can either tie mobile devices into the same “authenticate at the printer” solution described above or connect users to individual printers like you would on a Mac or PC.

To implement a mobile print solution, turn off the hardware support for AirPrint or Google print on the printers or separate them on to a different network and use the admin tools to define which user should be provided with which printer. Users can either download a profile (Apple) or an app (Android), or have those pushed to their device through your MDM/EMM system (e.g. VMware Workspace One, Citrix Endpoint Management, MobileIron, BlackBerry, Cortado, etc.). Users will find their printers in the same operating system provided with the print options they are used to, so no user training is required. Once a job is printed, it is routed from the mobile device to the mobile print solution’s server, and then to the printer within the company infrastructure.

Some solutions also support users outside of the company network by scanning the network the mobile device is connected to for printers, even if those don’t support AirPrint or Google Print. This ensures users outside the company network, such as salespeople, service technicians etc., can print whenever they need to.

The vast majority of mobile use cases concern users that are not actually using a mobile (iOS or Android) device. They are simply users with a rather traditional desktop who need to have easy access to a printer in more than one location. As organizations increasingly move to more flexible floor plans and open offices without assigned seats, the group of mobile users is growing quickly and can no longer be solved by training users how to manually add a printer to their desktop. It’s time to invest in an enterprise-grade print solution that can deliver mobile printing and enhance productivity.

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Henning Volkmer

Henning Volkmer

is president and CEO of ThinPrint, a leading provider of print management software and services for businesses.