by Tom Bayersdorfer, MNPS
Education: easily one of the hardest professions on the planet. On top of the enormous challenge of preparing students for productive, rewarding lives for decades to come, every school district faces the same mundane operational challenges that any organization does. One of those operational challenges is cost-effectively managing people, processes and equipment — especially when it includes thousands of users in dozens of locations.
For example, I work at the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), a large school district in Nashville, Tenn., comprising 80,000 students and 10,000 staff in nearly 140 schools. Each school has traditionally been granted significant autonomy for managing document output. As a result, most of our schools had a mix of centralized network devices and standalone printers, causing inefficiencies to spiral out of control.
Take, for instance, the standalone printers littered throughout classrooms within the district. Many teachers had purchased these personal printers out of their own pockets because the schools’ equipment wasn’t meeting their needs. Eventually, we found these printers, along with school-owned printers, to be outdated and inefficient.
Because there were only spotty records to determine which printers were the district’s responsibility and which were personal printers, maintenance became increasingly difficult for our IT staff. Many maintenance issues weren’t even reported. As a result, printers sat inoperable for service issues as minor as toner replacement. The district struggled to control centralized printing, too. More specifically, we struggled to control unauthorized and excessive usage.
Since paper is still an integral part of the educational experience, district leaders realized that new output devices were needed. We also knew that new printers alone wouldn’t quell escalating replacement and operating costs. So, MNPS issued an RFP for what we really needed – a new document management strategy throughout the district. All three vendors that responded to the RFP claimed they could deliver up to $1.5 million in savings. But, when pressed on exactly how they would deliver those savings, the answers were generally vague and unrealistic.
One vendor stood out to us, however, and they welcomed the opportunity to provide the specifics of their efficiency strategy. Ricoh Americas Corporation proposed a detailed, comprehensive scope of work, including interviews, plant maps and Web surveys customized to meet the specific requirements of each school.
Ricoh explained to us that their strategy for MNPS was based on their mission to help every customer achieve information mobility – the condition of having instant access to the right information in the right form on the right device for the task at hand. They believe if a customer is working too hard to get at their own information, as we appeared to be, something needed to and could be fixed.
The Ricoh team knew it couldn’t garner an accurate assessment of the existing document management environment from afar. As a result, school visits were planned to better assess the district’s needs. Working together we also developed a detailed, customized survey to determine the needs of print users in the district.
The survey helped identify what users wanted. A comprehensive assessment of the existing print environment helped determine what they needed. Findings also highlight what we were actually spending on document management. Armed with this information, we looked to develop a new, more efficient output strategy immediately.
To start, the on-site Ricoh team used asset mapping software on a portable tablet device to locate and catalog existing assets. It also deployed its @Remote device management software to monitor fleet activity and to compile raw data on existing networked printers. As a result, the team was able to provide detailed pricing for both new equipment and supplies for deployed devices. The report also detailed surprising usage trends across the district. For example, the color printers were used at an alarming rate during the lunchtime hours, indicating teachers could possibly be using them for personal reasons.
The next step was to demonstrate how transitioning to centralized, shared printing could quickly improve service and reduce operating costs. Ricoh recommended we replace all inkjet classroom devices with hub printing. This new approach would enable the district to regulate how many printers were deployed and ensure proper maintenance on the devices. More importantly, we would be able to manage operating costs much more accurately.
New digital MFPs with print, fax and scan capabilities were placed in strategically located work rooms. Color output was limited to color-designated MFPs. Inkjet printers and standalone fax machines were eliminated, and older monochrome laser printers were marked for gradual phase out. In addition, we implemented the Ricoh TRAC Web-based reporting tool to help us more efficiently manage people, space, assets, and document management functions. For example, administrators can use it to track asset utilization and chargeback costs.
Overhauling print environments for 138 schools didn’t happen overnight. First, we conducted a pilot program with seven schools, including two high schools, two middle schools, two elementary schools and a magnet school. Initial print efficiency varied significantly between the schools.
Ricoh started with maps of the current state of printer usage and projected the optimal future state. The team visited with principals at each school and walked the hallways to determine the best printer placement strategy.
Ricoh used its proprietary PCS Director software to accurately track usage at each device in every school. It provided centralized management and reporting for printing, copying and scanning so the district could reduce waste, curb excessive usage and allocate proper resources moving forward. For the first time, users would need to provide authentication directly at the device to gain authorization to approved functionality. It even allows our IT staff to set limits for individual users or groups.
Previously, print expenses were primarily the responsibility of each school. With centralized printing, our operation is now more strategic. The district pays for the devices, toner and maintenance costs, and ensures optimal efficiency with strategically located, cost-effective devices. This new approach has worked exceptionally well for us to date. The next step is to leverage the district print shop for more efficient printing. This initiative includes the implementation of a Web-based job submission and ticketing system to streamline the process and improve accuracy.
Working with Ricoh, we’ve implemented this new centralized printing and monitoring at about 30 MNPS schools, each using a mix of legacy and new devices. On average, there are two large high-speed MFPs and one smaller MFP at each location.
We are already seeing significant cost reduction for devices and printing across the district. We estimated that about 100 devices have been removed from our fleet. With default duplex printing and authentication controls, the district is projecting to reduce paper costs by at least 30 percent. All devices are equipped with “sleep mode” to adhere to environment stewardship initiatives. Some schools are leveraging an electronic portfolio through SharePoint to reduce costs even more. And the schools will continue to work with a professional services team to monitor service calls and assess operations to identify trends and best practices moving forward.
This coordinated strategy to streamline district document output management means one less headache for busy educators. It also means potentially more money that can be directed toward the bigger challenges that professional educators face: preparing the next generation to create a better world.
This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of The Imaging Channel.