Q&A: The Evolution of Printing in a Mobile World

Think printing is just for creating hard-copy reports? Think again.

In the “good old days” of technology, printing was one way to create backups of hard-copy reports or raw data. As technology demands have changed, so have printing issues and uses, as we learned from our conversation with Randy Sparks, director of solutions at Lexmark International Inc..

Enterprise Strategies: Printing has evolved beyond being solely focused on output. Can you provide a little background on the evolution of printing?

Randy Sparks: Gone are the days of printing merely being focused on, well, printing. It is no longer impressive that a printer can output 30 pages per minute because many printers have similar capabilities. Printers have evolved into multifunctional devices that can support a variety of business-critical functions. Printing solution providers have extended into image capture, process-centric workflows, managing entire print fleets, and more. For example, it is now possible to leverage the scanner to replace the fax machine and enable scanned e-mail.

Many people don’t think about using printers as a disaster recovery tool. Can you explain how that can work?

Printers can help with intermediate and long-term disasters when it comes to data recovery. For example, many hospitals and clinics perform downtime procedures to make sure that essential copies of medical records and forms are accessible in case of a system outage. This requires staff to manually print hundreds of reports and the process generates enormous paper waste. Printing technology enables the hard drive of a printing device to store patient information. If connectivity is lost or there is a backend problem, staff can access this information without interruptions to the workday.

Anytime you talk about hard copy output there also needs to be a method in place for disaster recovery. However, even if all of the information is digital, there is still a risk of information going missing. The latest printing technology allows for a failsafe if initial backup solutions do not recover the necessary data.

What are the costs and benefits relative to other DR methods?

Cost reduction is the biggest benefit of digital disaster recovery because companies can minimize, or in some cases eliminate, the need for offsite storage space or a filing room. What’s even better is that when you digitize a process, you don’t have to file paperwork and then search through endless files for a particular document. You can quickly access the files you need and eliminate hours of administrative work. Digital recovery provides assurance that businesses can continue to operate efficiently even if an operating issue arises. It also protects files from water and fire damage.

Are there any particular industries that are on the forefront of encrypting information on printer hard drives?

Highly regulated or secure industries are the most interested in encrypting information. In particular, health-care providers, government agencies, and financial institutions need secure printing because they need to protect patient, customer, and other types of information.

What other trends are impacting document management?

The rise in corporate distributed devices is making a huge impact on the way that people think about documents. Because people can access their workload on any device, they want to print from these devices as well. Therefore, mobile printing is becoming a growing part of services provided by output providers.

Cloud computing provides access to documents in real time and, as a result, is driving user comfort in accessing information from any source -- whether it be a laptop, mobile phone, or tablet. This makes documents more accessible, searchable, and easier to leverage. Across the board, enterprises are developing methods for rolling out mobile devices to their employees.

Are there any security concerns related to these emerging uses of printers?

During some point in almost every conversation I have with a customer, we end up talking about security as it relates to mobile devices and tablets. However, security is in the eye of the beholder because most industries have different perceptions of a truly secure environment. For example, health-care organizations are concerned with HIPPA and want to ensure all of their output is secure and encrypted. This is also a concern for financial institutions, but they also want secure network access and secure printed materials. Secure printing solutions make it possible to manage all of these security concerns.

How can businesses capitalize on the benefits of mobile productivity without compromising security or incurring extra costs?

It’s not surprising that mobile devices are inherently insecure -- there are many ways to break in and access information if a user isn’t careful when managing his or her device. The primary way to achieve security when introducing a mobile device into an existing environment is to make sure the environment is already secure. If a secure IT and print environment already exists, the new device will also have that same level of security.

For example, when a user wants to print a document from a mobile device, he or she will have to enter the same security credentials as if printing from a desktop computer. The cost of introducing a mobile device to a secure environment is relatively low as long as the infrastructure has already been set up.

What are the challenges associated with mobile printing?

The biggest challenges that IT departments face when trying to enable mobile printing can be broken down into three areas: user experience, device access, and output fidelity. When a user wants to print a document from their personal computer, it’s as simple as clicking on the printer icon. With mobile printing, however, the interface is a bit more challenging to navigate and can often lead to confusion.

Providing mobile devices network access can also be challenging because a single IT department can be responsible for maintaining hundreds of devices. Once the network is accessed, the bigger challenge of how to find, connect, and send information to the nearest printer presents itself. Lexmark has addressed this challenge via a mobile application that can send output directly to a nearby printer or connect to an enterprise print server that will allow the user to retrieve their output at any supported printer on the network.

Another obstacle of mobile printing is output fidelity, or whether what the user sees on their screen matches up what they pick up at the printer. For the printed copy to match the soft copy, IT must convert the data stream. This can be done through a cloud print application that is either created internally or by a printing solution provider.

What solutions does Lexmark provide to ensure smooth and secure mobile printing?

Lexmark provides a number of solutions that can help businesses capitalize on the benefits of mobile productivity without incurring excessive costs or compromising security. The Lexmark printing app provides convenient printing from your mobile device directly to a Lexmark printer or to your corporate server. To print, the user must download our free app from an app store, find the device they want to print to, and send the print job.

To ensure the security of the document, we offer Lexmark Print Release. This pull-printing solution allows users to print to a single network print queue that is hosted in the cloud. After sending the document, users must go to the printer and “release” their document. This can be done with a security code, card or even thumbprint authentication. Print release ensures security and reduces paper and toner waste.

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