Although it is highly recommended that firms minimize the amount of paper they use, the need for printers is undeniable. The question is: “What kind of printers work best?” Generally speaking, there are a few rules worth remembering. The first is that multifunction machines often entail compromise. They try to be jacks of all things, and they often end up being masters of none. We usually recommend dedicated printers.
For even the smallest offices, laser printers are preferable to ink jets for addressing normal business tasks. They cost less to operate, and they are more durable. Sharing a networked printer among a small workgroup is fine, as long as all users are in close proximity to each other. If users are spread out over a larger area, you are better off buying multiple printers. Whenever employees leave their immediate work areas, productivity suffers.
Where possible, stick with monochrome laser printers. They are fast and inexpensive. Networkable workgroup color laser printers have become much more affordable recently. If you shop carefully, you can find a networkable color printer capable of speeds up to twenty pages per minute for under $300.00, but you may want to pay significantly more for duplex printing, more flexible paper handling, and other premium features.
We strongly suggest that you consider doing away with your office copier. Paper is inefficient, and the mere presence of a copier encourages the proliferation of paper as opposed to more efficient alternatives. In the rare case where a copy really is necessary, a scanner connected to a printer can serve as an alternative, producing excellent quality copies.
Creating, storing and retrieving paper documents can be costly. Back-ups of paper documents are often non-existent because the cost of copying and storing duplicates is prohibitively expensive. Storing, retrieving and backing up digital documents, on the other hand, is relatively easy and inexpensive. If a client comes into your office with supporting documentation for a personal tax return, for example, it would be more efficient and less costly to scan those documents than to make paper copies. The former requires a little space on a hard drive. The latter requires paper, toner, and physical storage, all of which are expensive relative to the scanned images. If you’ve created a backup, the former will be accessible even if some disaster befalls your office. The latter will be destroyed.
Scanners, combined with document management software (DMS) allow you to convert paper to digital media, and then to file, store and retrieve it at will. The first general rule of scanners is to avoid multifunction devices, as stated earlier. The second rule is to avoid consumer scanners. They are not up to the needs of even the smallest practice.
Prosumer scanners, which sell for under $400, are sufficient for very small firms. These have some limitations, but they are capable of scanning up to twenty pages per minute (ppm) duplex in color. All other firms will need true business scanners. A good quality entry level workgroup scanner capable of 25 ppm or more can cost $750 or more. A reasonably fast departmental scanner capable of scanning 11 X 17 paper can easily cost over $3,000. Network scanners, which can operate independently of a computer on a corporate network, and which have the ability to route scanned documents to email, fax, and folders start at about $2,500.
Traditional fax machines rely on old technology. To the extent that you can, we advise avoiding traditional fax machines. Instead, consider Internet faxing. With the typical internet fax service, to send a fax you scan the document to a PDF file or TIFF file (two common file formats) and then you either email the document or upload it to the service’s website. The service then sends the fax to its final destination. When receiving faxes, the service will either email you incoming faxes as email attachments, or it will send you a notification that a fax has been received, and you can log in to a website to retrieve the fax.
There are a number of advantages to using Internet faxing. One is that you do not need a separate phone line. A second is that you do not need to be near a fixed fax machine to receive faxes. You can receive them anywhere, provided you have Internet access. Third, there are no consumables. In addition, you no longer have to worry about printing junk faxes. You simply delete them. Perhaps the most important is that the quality of your outgoing faxes using a scanner (or computer file) and an Internet fax service will be far superior to that of traditional faxes. That’s because the former can be scanned and transmitted at higher resolutions.
The only caveat when transmitting confidential information by fax is that you need to make sure the fax travels across the Internet securely. If you send and receive faxes as email attachments, and those attachments are not encrypted, there is a chance that the information could be at risk. If you send and receive using encrypted attachments, or through a secure, encrypted website, your information will remain secure.