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How smart is your printer?

Printers are getting smarter by the day, but they're not ready for world domination just yet.

Johannesburg, 22 Feb 2017

Everyone's talking about the Internet of things (IOT). Hot topics include smart cars and fridges, automated manufacturing and remote mining equipment maintenance. But what about the humble office printer?

What if your printer could tell someone to come and service it? Or warn someone that it was about to run out of ink or paper? Or even remind you to pick up your print job before you leave the office? How about creating, editing and printing documents via the cloud from anywhere? All of which are entirely possible.

Any device that can be connected to the Internet can be a smart device, as it is then able to communicate with other devices in what is known as machine-to-machine connections. According to Gartner, IOT reached 6.4 billion devices last year and it's forecast to reach 21 billion by 2020. That's a lot of devices talking to one another and exchanging information.

But, how does this impact on the workplace? Today's office is mobile, collaborative and connected. The focus is on improving productivity and cutting costs, which means any piece of equipment that saves man-hours as well as money spent is readily adopted. This is where the smart office printer comes into its own, streamlining business processes and improving productivity, while effecting cost-savings.

For instance, predictive servicing means fewer customer visits by technicians and reduced repair time for managed print providers. Got an error message? How about being able to remotely identify - and even resolve - the problem, without having to traipse upstairs (or across town) to physically inspect the device. If that fails, the technician can guide the user remotely to resolve the issue via mobile messaging. The possibilities are limitless, but the upshot is fewer man-hours wasted and therefore less money spent.

A smart multifunctional printer can collect a wealth of data on usage, which can be analysed to deliver proactive support and servicing, automated supplies replenishment (think ink, toner or even paper delivered to your office before you know that you might need it), as well as measuring usage (meter readings) to ensure the device is placed in the right position in your office. IOT can also enable energy efficiency by switching the printer to rest mode when it's idle.

In addition, apps and widgets enable previously unthought of user functionality. All you need is a mobile phone or tablet, and you can print anytime, from anywhere. So, work on a presentation from home, hit print in-between meetings out of the office, and arrive to pick up copies prior to that vital presentation. If the information is confidential, you can use your personal identification code to release the print job only once you're standing beside the printer.

Sure, companies face numerous challenges when connecting different devices such as printers, mobile phones and tablets, together with cloud services, into unified experiences. These include the need to collect data from a diverse set of devices using a variety of protocols, or bringing together legacy, new, and third-party devices with cloud services, not to mention analysing that data - and keeping it secure. However, the business benefits far outweigh the challenges, and choosing the right provider to help you on your journey is key to navigating it smoothly.