Copier Fleet Negotiation: Look Beyond Cost Savings
Managing the parent organization’s copier/MFD fleet is an excellent service for an in-plant to offer. It saves the organization money to have an in-house printing expert negotiating the most appropriate equipment and features, and it also provides the in-plant with a new revenue stream.
IPI research shows 31% of in-plants have this responsibility. With it, however, come some complex decisions, such as determining how many bells and whistles employees really need on their devices and deciding how long to hold on to the equipment. Some of those decisions got more complicated during the pandemic, when departmental copiers and MFDs got virtually no use. Should they be replaced when they seem to be running just fine?
That dilemma recently fell on the shoulders of one manager. With the university’s copier contract ending in 2023, his school’s vendor made what seemed like a generous offer: keep this little-used equipment for another five years and save big money. It was a very tempting offer.
Before deciding, though, the in-plant manager sought the advice of his In-plant Printing and Mailing Association (IPMA) peers. He posted the following question on the IPMA Open Forum, an online discussion board, and received some very insightful advice, which all parties agreed to let us share here.
“Almost a decade ago, we completely overhauled our convenience copier program. We took away everyone’s desktop printers, organized employees into working groups, and placed brand-new copiers around campus. We saved tons of money, and we upgraded our entire fleet — but we kind of overbuilt. Many copiers are being underutilized, and a few copiers have more bells and whistles than they need. Because our copiers are underutilized, they are holding up very well.
“Our vendor recently made us a great offer: if I sign on today to keep everything as is until 2026, I can save about $20,000 a year. But in 2026, these machines will be 15 years old.
“Choice B is to right-size our fleet with new equipment, but save less money: approximately $8,000 per year. No one is complaining right now, and $20,000 sounds better to me than $8,000. Talk me out of it.”
— Dwayne Magee, Messiah University Press
Parts Availability a Problem
“As a former copier service technician, I would say that 10 years on walk-up copiers is a good life. Parts availability becomes a problem past a certain point as the companies have retooled for their newer equipment.
“That being said, are they open to a shorter renewal term? Not sure how closely you monitor equipment performance to be able to determine decline in performance. You said no one is complaining, but that is usually a lagging indicator. You save the same amount in two years as in five with the new copiers, so can you get an annual renewal or opt out of the contract if performance declines with a 60-day notice, for instance? The company would not hesitate to end service during that period if necessary.”
— Bret Johnson, Mayo Clinic
Technology Advances Quickly
“This is a great problem to have. Save money, or save money? I’m going to try to talk you out of the $20,000 in savings. For me, because of the age issue, I would right-size. I say this because:
Technology advances too quickly to be held down to an additional five years of (at this point) antiquated equipment.
Even though the older equipment is holding up well, by 2026, prices will have increased, and that [apparent] savings will have diminished to some degree.
The ‘bells and whistles’ of old will probably now be equipped on cheaper equipment. This gives those that do use them a favorable review.
After COVID-19, many more people are using technology to a higher level.”
— Julio A. Rosado, New York Police Department Printing Section
“Another factor to consider, in regards to keeping older equipment, is security. We recently decided to remove printers that were older than 10 years because firmware updates were becoming obsolete, leaving our network vulnerable to possible attacks. Our IT department was quick to help us justify the purchase of new printers in an effort to ensure network security.
“Many of our printers were underutilized as well. We decided to right-size our fleet with new multifunctional printers in more accessible locations, giving our users more functionality. Throughout this process, we found cost savings that we didn’t expect initially: roughly $45,000 annually.”
— Jessica Van Dyn Hoven, Fox Valley Technical College
Consider Cost Avoidance
“I’m always in favor of right-sizing a fleet. I also think that getting the most current technology when available is a good bet, particularly when you can save in either direction. I do that because I’m an unrepentant leaser.
“Julio also makes a good point when he says that your initial ‘bells and whistles’ may be standard on today’s technology. However, when buying, I look at useful life, age of the technology, and if my failure rate is going to increase as we get deeper in the lifecycle. From what you’ve presented and the age of your current fleet, though, I think Jessica hit the nail on the head. From a security POV, I don’t think another five years with your current equipment would be feasible.
“I think with a new fleet, you would save the $8,000/year, but your cost avoidance would be much greater than possibly being in the middle of your term and having to upgrade anyway due to security end-of-life issues. Also, you get the benefit of any warranty periods offered, so there’s potential additional savings there. My vote is for choice B. Good luck.”
— Jim Denova, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control
“I’d go with option B for all the same reasons mentioned by others here. The only thing I add is in regards to your comment that no one is complaining. Have you taken a formal survey to find out if staff really is satisfied with the current units? They may be grumbling under their breath and just accepting the issues they face on a regular basis as the norm, and they may not know who to complain to. If you have Outlook/Microsoft or Gmail as your company email provider, both offer a simple survey email-blast function where you could get some formal feedback. On both platforms it’s called Forms. Alternatively, taking a day to walk around to each employee working group for an in-person survey could be worthwhile.”
— Jacob Wheeler, Riverside County Sheriff & Office of Education
Capture Savings Short Term
“Jacob makes some good points. I will say that in today’s environment, saving money is a huge plus. No way I would sign on for five more years. Frankly, they [the vendor] want to keep the business, and I would extend one year, with the possibility of another year, depending on how much downtime increases.
“We all know the dough for them is in the clicks. Put the screw to them and capture the savings short term. Start work on the new RFP and be prepared to switch.”
— John Sarantakos, University of Oklahoma Printing Services