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How to Manage Printers (Even If Your Workforce is Remote)

How to Manage Printers (Even If Your Workforce is Remote)

Printers are often overlooked, but for many organizations they are a critical piece of the daily workflow. For many Rapid City businesses, this became a reality as much of the office workforce switched to working remotely. 

Whether your team is in the office or dialing in remotely, managing documents and securing your printers is important, and controlling the use of your printers is often a great way to reduce unnecessary spending. 

Office printers are seen as peripherals. They sit on the sideline with a singular function, often ignored until they run out of paper, ink/toner, or stop working. Most offices stockpile paper and ink or toner cartridges, and don’t think much about how it gets used.

The problem is, these resources aren’t cheap in the long run. Research shows that even smaller businesses can spend around $77 to $92 a month on printing supplies per employee. It’s often looked at as the cost of doing business, but many organizations don’t keep tabs on how much of that printing is necessary.

On top of that, you have the costs associated with replacing printers as they age. Wear and tear will gradually do a mechanical device like a printer in, and while ongoing maintenance and service will keep most printers operating longer, a printer won’t last forever. 

Finally, and quite possibly the most overlooked problem; printers are just another endpoint on your network. Like all endpoints (your computers, your laptops, etc.), they need to be secured. Over the years, network-connected printers have been seen as easy targets for cybercriminals. Even in an office that keeps all of the network equipment and workstations updated and secure, the printers could be ignored and leave you open to be compromised.

Reduce Unnecessary Printing with Quotas and Printer Policies

We’re big on tracking and monitoring IT. By carefully watching and tracking usage across your computing devices, we can often detect issues before they affect your staff. For example, we can detect when a hard drive is starting to go, before it results in a desktop crashing. This way, we can get it replaced before the end user has to deal with it.

The same concept can be applied to your printers. By tracking the usage of your printers, we can determine more than just which printers are chewing up the most resources. We can identify which users are printing, and what they are printing.

Most centralized network printers have the capability to set up quotas for your users. This allows you to limit printer usage if unnecessary printing is a problem. Some businesses set this up as a hard limit and require employees to request additional usage if they meet the quota. Other businesses are more flexible, and just watch the usage and deal with infractions as they happen.

You can also proactively set printer policies to prevent waste. Requiring documents to print double-sided, forcing print-friendly fonts, and limiting the use of color can greatly reduce the amount you spend on printing.

Your Printers Require Maintenance and Upkeep, Just Like Any Device

Modern office printers connect to the network in order to allow multiple workstations to connect to them. This means your printer is just another endpoint for hackers to try to exploit. We’ve seen this happen. Back in 2018, 50,000 printers worldwide started printing randomly. A hacker targeted Internet-connected printers and had them print out a leaflet about the popular YouTube celebrity, PewDiePie. If some of this sounds like a foreign language to you, that’s okay. The point is, the hacker was able to do this with relative ease, and had even mentioned in a statement that there were over 800,000 printers that he could have used. One of the printers he hijacked was a receipt printer at a police station - this just goes to show you the scope of such an attack. It wasn’t all one brand of printer, nor were they printers on otherwise insecure networks.

Okay, so a hacker was able to use other people’s printers. That’s not the worst thing that could happen to your business. In fact, this event inspired at least one marketing agency to offer to print your advertisements on other people’s printers without the consent of the user. Ironically, the agency hijacked many of the same printers and pushed a brochure about their new service. Bonus points for capitalizing on a situation.

Making your printers print is only one trick a hacker could do, and it’s definitely the least damaging. Other exploits could allow your printer to simply let hackers gain access to the rest of your network through the printer. Some of the largest printer manufacturers—HP, Lexmark, Brother, Xerox, Ricoh, and Kyocera—were all found to have vulnerabilities that could allow hackers to get through security via the printer. If your printers aren’t being kept updated and secured, it could be like leaving the side door wide open while putting a padlock on your front door.

The point is, your printers need to be cared for, just as much as your computers and servers do.

Printer Management and the Remote Workforce

With many businesses still working remotely, it has led to a couple scenarios:

  1. Not being able to print is a burden to employees.
  2. Not being able to print hasn’t changed much of anything, as it turns out.
  3. Not being able to print has forced workers to adjust.

This is going to depend on the daily workflow of your office, and can change from department to department. Printing has been seen as essential for many types of businesses, especially when it comes to correspondence. Healthcare, legal, and financial services tend to utilize printed documents far more than other industries.

If your business requires printing, but some or all of your staff is working remotely, you can still allow workers to print. If your users are remoting into the office, they can simply print from the office printer. It keeps the hard copy in-house. That said, encouraging users to keep the hard copies in-house will prevent hard copies from being stored at their house, in the coffee shop where they occasionally work, or anywhere else the document doesn’t need to be.

Some businesses have opted to outsource their printing altogether, and rely on local print shops to handle the printing of sales and marketing materials.

Of course, there is also the option of going paperless. For many businesses, this option can free up the expense of printers, paper, toner, and add a lot of benefits, especially for remote workers.

A paperless office can allow users to look up digitized documents quickly and easily, make edits as needed, collaborate and share documents, and reduce the need to waste paper. Good paperless systems are cheaper and easier to manage in the long run than traditional file cabinets, and your office could quickly free up physical storage and replace it with digital storage kept onsite or even in the cloud. On top of that, you can back up your digital documents much more effectively, and ensure the continuity of your business in the event of a disaster, such as a fire or flood. 

Need help securing your printers, or are you interested in going paperless? Reach out to KT Connections at 605-341-3873 today.

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