Taking a more efficient walk down the paper trail

Posted on Thursday, May 5, 2011

 By Neale McDevitt

In the Terminator movie franchise, Earth is overrun by machines. And while we’re light years away from developing the hyper-intelligent, unflinchingly ruthless cyborgs of that post-apocalyptic landscape, many McGillians have witnessed the small-scale invasion of their departments and units by an ever-growing army of printers, scanners, copiers and fax machines.

“A recent study showed McGill has roughly 1.5 staff members per device,” said Jim Nicell, Associate Vice-Principal, University Services, shaking his head. “The industry standard for government offices is about six people per device, so we’re really dealing with an overabundance of machines.”

Nicell says the study highlighted just how cluttered with machines McGill has become, listing no fewer than 600 different printer models spread across the University. “In one building, over 60 devices were squeezed onto a single floor,” he said. “And each one of these devices has to be serviced, maintained and fed a continuous flow of supplies. The inefficiency costs the University money and employee time.”

 Increased sustainability

Enter the fledgling uPrint program, a collaborative initiative led by University Services and Information Technology Services to streamline the University’s document-handling capabilities while reducing overall costs to users and increasing the institution’s level of sustainability.

The concept is to replace the majority of McGill’s mismatched, single-function machines with a fleet of uniform, multifunction devices that are linked through McGill’s network and are accessible to any student, staff or faculty member with a valid McGill ID. These machines roll photocopier, printer, scanner and fax functionality into a single device. “This means fewer machines will be bought, less time and money will be spent on purchasing supplies and on maintenance, less power will be consumed, and we will have default double-sided printing on paper that is 100 per cent post-consumer content,” Nicell said.

Nicell believes in the project enough to use his own group as test subjects. When his unit moved to its new Sherbrooke Street digs a little over a year ago, he told people to leave their devices behind. The team now boasts a mere six multifunction machines for 100 people over two floors. That’s more than 16 people per device. “We’re way ahead of the industry norm and it is working wonderfully,” said Nicell.

uPrint has been fully deployed among students since late February. Instead of buying, transporting, installing and servicing personal printers at home or in Residence, students can send their work into cyberspace from anywhere and print it on any of the 78 networked machines in public spaces with a simple swipe of their McGill ID. Their student account is then billed automatically per job, six cents a page for black and white and 20 cents for colour (the latter representing a significant savings compared to most print services).

In just over two months, students turned to uPrint for 108,000 print jobs worth some 801,000 pages.

 Paperless future?

The automatic billing is an essential component of project. “For the individual, they get immediate feedback as to how much each print job costs – did I really need to print that email with the blue url in colour?” Nicell said. And at the end of every month, the total costs appear on the student’s fee statement. Moreover, later on this year, this system will allow staff to charge their printing directly to selected accounts, which will reduce personnel time tracking charges and reconciling accounts.

And it gives staff members and researchers – who are charged for printing on their grants and other accounts – a clearer understanding of who is using their devices and why. “If I’m paying the bills, I want to know how much is being printed,” said Nicell. “Information in the hands of the users will also help them understand their own printing habits and regulate their printing behavior. And, to assist them in the shift to less printing, the scanning-to-email function for all devices is free.”

The plan is to roll out uPrint pilot projects in new departments over the course of the spring and summer, including consultations with experts who can discern exactly how existing systems can be optimized. “We want to iron out any kinks we encounter along the way,” said Nicell. “This is an important step toward sustainability and we want to make the transition as efficient and as user friendly as possible.

“And through scanning functionality, we also want to dramatically decrease the amount of printing.  My hope is that someday we will get to the point where we won’t even need to print at all.” 

Hasta la vista, machines.

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