How We Transformed Student and Staff Printing at NIU

By Marisa Benson
Associate Vice President,
Northern Illinois University

Print Management Case Study

In 2016, Northern Illinois University (NIU) faced a challenging budget scenario the likes of which every public university hopes to avoid: for over two years, Illinois had no state budget. This meant drastic cuts to its state universities, most of which would never be recouped.

As each division within NIU was doing what it could to reduce spending, my group (the Division of Information Technology) proposed something radical. We decided to move beyond student pay-for-print toward comprehensive managed print solutions across all NIU campuses and departments, both academic and administrative. We called our new printing program “AnywherePrints.”

Northern Illinois University

The Northern Illinois University campus

Summary of Early Analysis and Program Goals

Our discovery process revealed that the university was spending more than $1.7M per year on student and staff printing on over 3,000 devices at a rate of over 24 million pages per year. Our business case proposed a pay-for-print software system and a large-scale reduction in personal printers for a total savings of approximately $700,000 annually. Or, by allowing a 50% exception rate on personal printer use, our total savings could remain as high as $500,000 per year.

The Results We Achieved and Still Maintain

Part of the plan was to start imposing a limit on free prints for students, with the goal of phasing out free printing entirely by the end of 2016. After deploying Pharos Uniprint, student printing volume declined by over 3M pages per year and this trend continues to improve.

We were able to achieve provable cost savings of more than $1M annually. For my staff at NIU, this was a huge win.

Eliminating small personal printers across staff and faculty offices also had an immediate impact. Something that might have been politically impossible to achieve in “fat years” became feasible in these lean times with no state budget in place.

After a two-year effort to reduce the number of locally attached personal printers across campus (from almost 1 printer per employee to a more reasonable ratio) we were able to achieve provable cost savings of more than $1M annually when combined with the reduction in print that we achieved with Pharos Uniprint. We achieved this while still having nearly 1,000 personal printers remaining on campus as special exceptions.

Pharos played a central role in all of this, and especially with reducing print volume across campus.

We exceeded our goals with an across-the-board reduction in printing volume, a less expensive fleet of standardized network printers, and a more optimal ratio of printers to people. For my staff at NIU, this seven-figure savings was a huge win.

Remarkably, this achievement didn’t have any downside. The experience for students and staff actually improved—it became more efficient and flexible. The security of our entire printing environment improved.

We realized that we had always had this huge opportunity to save money while improving operational efficiency hiding in plain sight. Pharos played a central role in all of this, and especially with reducing print volume across campus.

>> Jump to Details on Final Results

How We Exceeded Our Print Management Goals, Together with Pharos

With the introduction of pay-for-print for faculty, staff, and students, we knew we had to rationalize and ultimately lower the per-page printing costs. We also had to put printers in more convenient locations. Students lobbied for less required printing from instructors and we passed their concerns on to the Council of Deans and Faculty Senate. As a result of the software deployment, educating users flyers at the printer sites, and the students’ efforts to reduce the amount of printing required by their course work, we started to see immediate results that ultimately culminated in exceeding our goals.

A New Approach to Our Printer Fleet

With the change away from personal printers to shared network printers, some faculty and staff members were convinced that printing would be less convenient. This concern faded, thanks mostly to the strategic placement of printers to support the reduced demand we expected and the ease with which we able to deploy the Pharos print management software across campus.

Armed with a print strategy and a new fleet of printers, we were able to exceed our cost savings goal while also improving our device security and the printing experience for students and staff.

Armed with a print strategy and a new fleet of printers, we were able to exceed our cost savings goal while also improving our device security and the printing experience for students and staff.

With a managed printer fleet we were able to deploy print drivers that worked with all printers and not just the printer in an individual office or the one near the admin assistant’s desk. The simplified driver management component alone saved our IT team countless hours.

People at printer in school

We analyzed the state of employee printing by doing extensive walk-throughs of all campus buildings, capturing ink and toner inventories, printer models, and print volumes.

With around 3,000 printers scattered across campus, the university was over-provisioned with personal printers by any reasonable standard. And, NIU had no standard make or model for their printers. As a result of this ad hoc approach to personal printing, the university could not make volume purchasing agreements for printers, ink, or toner.

Also, sharing printers and spare parts between divisions was not common practice, resulting in increased downtime whenever printing problems arose. Our lack of coordinated efficiency in this area had been costing us a fortune.

Further Scrutiny Yields More Results

The more we dug into our printing problems with the help of Pharos, we kept uncovering new inefficiencies that were costing us time and money. A common practice among departments that produced small printing volumes was to buy the cheapest model of personal printer whenever a need arose, thereby stranding surplus ink and toner in storage rooms and cabinets (ink and toner are often specific to a particular printer model).

This practice was verified through physical inventory representing a loss of tens of thousands of dollars in just a small subset of our campus buildings.

The simplified driver management component alone saved our IT team countless hours.

From a financial perspective, the inventory taught us that the bulk of printing at NIU was being performed in the most expensive way possible: through locally attached personal printers. But worse, most departments did not track printing as a separate cost, and many print expenses are made through campus “credit” cards. These factors combined to make the analysis of print cost, either in total or on a per-page basis, an effective impossibility for most departments.

This doesn’t begin to mention inconsistent or nonexistent tracking for the indirect costs of printing such as the time spent by IT, procurement, materials management, and other factors.

Student logging into printer

Along the way, we conducted surveys of faculty and staff to learn more about their impressions of printing and more importantly, shared printing (on network printers). Student opinions about printing revealed that cost was their primary concern, especially for color prints. However, they also expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of printing required for course materials and assignments, the environmental impact of printing, system reliability, and the number and location of available printers.

Working with Pharos helped us to realize that we could tackle all of these problems and concerns holistically and that we could exceed our goals, which we had considered to be aggressive.

Early Phase Results

Deploying Pharos Uniprint was a simple process and student self-reporting made it clear that we were going to achieve a significant reduction in overall printing volume. The harder work for us was the removal of personal printers in favor of high-efficiency multi-function printers.

A survey revealed that 85% of respondents that had a personal printer said they also had access to a shared network printer. 70% of those respondents said they only used the shared printers to scan documents to email. This was incredibly wasteful and we went right to work driving these printing workflows to the more cost-efficient network printers.

Early adopters in the faculty and staff areas noted several advantages to the AnywherePrints program compared to using personal printers:

  • Higher quality printing and in some cases, additional finishing options such as collating and stapling
  • The ability to eliminate replacement costs for scanners and fax machines from their budgets
  • Dramatically reduced printing costs in areas that were tracking print expenses

Acceleration Phase Results

After a year of working through the AnywherePrints project, NIU underwent another round of budget cuts. We evaluated the program progress and the projected savings and proposed acceleration of the project from a voluntary effort that would take years to complete, to a mandatory project that would eliminate at least 50% of personal printing within a few months.

Students and staff have benefitted greatly from the AnywherePrints program as the overall reliability, availability, efficiency, and quality of printing has improved.

After reviewing with several committees, the acceleration plan went into effect. Two full months of planning was needed to modify the staffing and logistics associated with the project.

Early adopters began moving toward shared printers immediately, with late adopters mostly finishing within a few months. By the time we began tracking in January 2017, over 500 personal printers had been taken out of service. As of December 2017, 1,200 more personal printers were retired.

The current exception rate for personal printers stands at 29%, exceeding the project goal of keeping the exception rate below 50%.

Final Results

Students and staff have benefitted greatly from the AnywherePrints program as the overall reliability, availability, efficiency, and quality of printing has improved. All faculty and staff now have access to mobile printing options, free scanning and faxing, better finishing options, and higher quality prints.

The cost per page for student printing has been reduced substantially, with direct savings to students. Today, student printing costs 28% less for mono prints and 60% less for color.

With help from Pharos, NIU is currently on track to reduce our total cost of printing by 40-45%. That translates into annual savings of $1.05M per year when compared to the 2016 baseline.

Staff and faculty printing volume have fallen significantly too. The cost for employee monochrome printing has been reduced to a range between 9% and 37%, depending on their original rate plan. The cost of color fell by just over 50%.

NIU has seen a substantial drop in total printing volumes across the student population and even greater levels in the employee population. Annual printing volume for 2018 is on target to finish 10 million pages less than 2016 volume (the original baseline).

Environmentally, the university has made tremendous strides. Those 10 million unprinted pages represent over 1,200 trees covering 23 acres. In fact, it is this behavioral change that has driven the greater-than-expected cost savings for NIU. While shared printers cost less to operate and maintain than personal printers, the cheapest page to print is the one you don’t print at all. Those will always cost $0.00.

 

We had originally estimated a 30% reduction in printing and overall cost savings, in line with industry averages when print management software is deployed. With help from Pharos, NIU is currently on track to reduce our total cost of printing by 40-45%. That translates into annual savings of $1.05M per year when compared to the 2016 baseline.

We had also accounted for a personal printer exception rate of 50% but achieved a 29% exception rate. If we push this rate down to 20%, we would increase our annual cost savings to just over $1.1M per year.

With such a positive ROI on top of an operationally stable printing platform that saves us over a million dollars every year, the AnywherePrints program is a great success story for NIU.

Eliminating personal printers wasn’t popular at first, but people quickly became accustomed to using shared network printers and came to enjoy the improved quality and finishing options. Document security and confidentiality were improved using Pharos software, and the savings have made this a model program for process improvements elsewhere at NIU.

There is no denying that the combination of cheaper per-page costs and reduced printing volume has led NIU to greater savings than our most optimistic forecasts. With tight budgets, achieving seven-figure savings has had a direct impact on staffing; every dollar saved on “things” is a dollar we don’t have to trim on the people who educate our students.

With such a positive ROI on top of an operationally stable printing platform that saves us over a million dollars every year, the AnywherePrints program is a great success story for NIU.

You can read more about this program here on the NIU.edu website. Looking to achieve similar results for your organization? Start the conversation today!


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