What is print automation?

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Print automation is all about improving productivity and efficiency. For any company, there is most likely a vast network of printers, copiers, scanners, and other devices that help with document retrieval, storage, and output. What is sometimes missing is a strategy and a way to analyze whether employees are really making the most of those devices.

Automation helps because it means you can become more intentional. Let’s say there’s a printer located in the accounting department. Most of us view that as a single printer used by a small team, and that is essentially true. Yet, it is also part of a printer network, attached to a wired or wireless network, and is available as part of a suite of other products. Employees produce and edit documents, save them, archive them - and print them out. 

When it comes to printer automation, companies can analyze, adjust, and improve their printer functionality, storage and retrieval, security, and other factors. In short, it is about optimizing how the entire printer infrastructure works and how employees utilize those resources.

Print automation can be broken down into four broad categories, each of which can help you understand how it works and how to make the most of the automation. The following categories provide a glimpse into how print automation works and how it helps.

1. Analyze workflows

Before looking into any technical aspects, including which devices you use and how often they print, it’s important to analyze the workflows. Print automation is mostly concerned with the business workflow and how it can improve. Otherwise, any automation would be only about improving the technology and the devices employees use without focusing on whether they are actually productive. The most important consideration for all printer automation is: Does the company benefit from the printers and copiers to the greatest extent?

This can involve analyzing how often employees print, what they are printing, and which devices they use the most often - among many other variables. Automation hinges on this analysis step because it means you are determining where there are bottlenecks and roadblocks.

An example here is when a printer is under-utilized. Printer automation is not just about speeding up print times or fine-tuning a network for security, it is also about improving efficiencies on any given device. With this analysis, you can automate things like re-routing print jobs, making it easier for employees to print (say, by using their identification badge), and even removing a printer from service to put more of a load on a printer that is used often.

2. Investigate security issues

Part of the print automation process includes investigating any security issues. You can automate and improve the workflow all day long at a company, but if the security is not airtight, then problems can occur - which means cost overruns and lost productivity. Any print automation strategy has to include security as a backbone of the effort because of how critical it is to make sure hackers and criminals can’t compromise your printer network.

For example, at some companies, the security infrastructure can cause slowdowns or even failures when it comes to accessing specific devices. Once again, automation is not just a step to speed up printer access and output. It might involve tweaking security settings for more efficient printing, or it might mean adding a fingerprint reader or some other biometric technology that speeds up how quickly an employee can retrieve printed documents.

3. Generate a detailed report

The truth is in the details. This is especially true when it comes to print automation because companies can discover where there are inefficiencies. Print automation almost always involves reports and dashboard views to help managers and thought leaders at a companies make decisions about how to automate. The report might provide details about changing where printers are located, tweaking security settings, and improving workflows.

The important reminder here is to use this data carefully and intentionally. Printer automation is helpful but it doesn’t have to be carried out quickly or impulsively. A careful reading of printer automation reports and dashboards, especially at a larger company with many devices used by various departments and third-party visitors, will help you in the implementation stage.

4. Make print workflow changes

A final step is to make the suggested changes after analyzing the workflows and the reports. This is where printer automation moves from a data analytics exercise into the implementation stage, and where there are real and tangible benefits to the business.

An example of how this can help? Let’s say you find out that you have a greater need for printer outputs in one specific department such as marketing or development. Print automation looks at the big picture and can determine where you need to add another printer or copier. Printer automation then involves making these changes to the workflow and can also mean making physical changes in how devices are used and where they are located.

This is where a careful analysis and implementation strategy helps - you want to make sure any changes improve productivity and actually do automate the process for employees. Change for the sake of change won’t work, and it’s important to avoid experimentation. It’s critical that you know how automation changes will impact employee productivity and workflows.

At this stage - once you have analyzed needs, examined security issues, and made the updates required - it is critical to continue automating. Too often, companies will make a grand gesture to automate their printers, copiers, and network to accommodate new features such as biometric authentication, and then trust that this automation will last for years and years. Automation has to be ongoing, so it is best to continue the analysis and updates to stay on top of any technological advances. Automation will definitely make an impact, but it can make an even greater impact when you continue to look into changes that will help employees make the most of the network and the devices you currently own.

John Brandon

John Brandon has covered gadgets and cars for the past 12 years having published over 12,000 articles and tested nearly 8,000 products. He's nothing if not prolific. Before starting his writing career, he led an Information Design practice at a large consumer electronics retailer in the US. His hobbies include deep sea exploration, complaining about the weather, and engineering a vast multiverse conspiracy.