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MIND THE GAP: Bridging Printer & Copier Management to Improve Administrative Efficiency in Law Firms

August 05, 2022

One of the oddest remaining relics in law firm administration is the enduring split between management of Multifunction Devices (copiers) and printers. That is, a firm’s IT department manages the printers with the administrative team covering the copiers. While there is a historical reason behind the original split, there are hidden costs in maintaining this environment in a firm – both financially and functionally.

Why does firm IT still manage the printers, but not the copiers?

There was a time when all copiers within a firm were analog creatures – printing and scanning were done on separate equipment. Copiers made copies – plain and simple. Printing was achieved through a printer and scanning was in its infancy, but the bulk of production output required duplicating already existing hard copy.

This is that state that existed way back in the 20th century when the equipment management split was developed - for a good reason. Printers either resided on the firm’s network or were connected directly to PCs and the copiers were not, thus IT was responsible for maintaining them. It is the long-standing reason printers have been treated separately from copiers within firms for decades.

Clearly this is an anachronistic approach now that analog equipment is a thing of the distant past.

So now that all firm imaging equipment is digital and can be networked, why does this split persist?

As anyone who has worked in the legal industry knows, change comes in baby steps, if at all. The DNA of lawyers dictates the mitigation of risk at all times and change equals risk, thus change is administered with caution even if it has a track record of improving processes and outcomes. But as many firms are finding these days, a lack of change can be even riskier.

Between increasing security concerns, maintaining cost competitiveness and the need for talent retention, firms are finding reason to adapt more quickly than they have in the past to stay relevant and retain clients. In this new landscape, being efficient is critical and that means firm management needs to look at all details of a firm’s operations – even the small details such as more efficiently managing the systems used for imaging documents. Which, frankly, is the proverbial low hanging fruit in the world of effective office management.

In general this split tends to persist due to a concern from both departments that they don't have the resources to manage the other's unique elements: IT rarely has the time to keep up with supporting and improving workflow process details and Admin often lacks the networking knowledge to troubleshoot hardware basics.

On the flip side, “turf protection” between IT and Admin can result in resistance to change based upon the perception that giving up budget dollars or transferring responsibilities can diminish their stature (and therefore complicate their mission to support the firm.)

What are the financial and functional advantages to consolidating equipment management?

When all print/scan hardware is viewed as a single system it allows for more efficient workflow development and cost control. Inefficient systems can add time to daily tasks and processes – 3 minutes here and 5 minutes there add up quietly in the ledger of soft costs rarely tracked by offices.

For larger firms there is a distinct risk of losing track of the firm’s actual costs of supporting their equipment because no one entity owns the whole process. Multiple departments and offices unknowingly often apply varying GL codes to the same types of purchases and services which may make it difficult to get a clear picture of just how much is being spent on them firm-wide. Consolidating these costs into a narrower frame allows for better decision making data.

When two separate internal organizations are managing the firm’s equipment fleet there is also a high chance that service is also being provided separately and the firm isn’t leveraging their total fleet volume to lower service rates.

Functionally speaking, when there is a split of this sort neither IT nor Admin get a full picture of the total equipment work environment. This leaves the door open for fractured workflow that might meet basic needs, but doesn’t inspire process improvement or evolution and the corresponding efficiencies that can be gained by working smarter.

Should IT or Admin lead the equipment management?

I’ve seen effective consolidation of print/scan hardware management by both IT and administrative departments within all sizes of firms where this split has been corrected. Both offer advantages within their base of knowledge.

IT understands the network resources needed for scan and print functions, provides print driver management and has intimate knowledge of printer management and fixes. Admin usually provides the same knowledge base for working with the copiers and best understands the day-to-day workflow needs of the users of the equipment. 

The reality is that firm organizations vary widely in their ability to best support particular functions, so there is no blanket answer as to which group should be the primary manager. IT tends to need to better understand the details of how users actually use the equipment and why. Also, IT departments in mid-size and larger firms are increasingly focused on higher level functions such as security, data management and network functionality. This has stretched their resources in being able to holistically support print/scan hardware.

Admin usually needs to better understand the technical underpinnings of their system and how to trouble shoot basic networking issues associated with the print/scan hardware. This sort of on-going training, though, should be facilitated via the equipment/service vendor rather than putting the burden on IT. An engaged vendor should actively help bridge the gap in knowledge between the departments to help in any transference of equipment management.

Whichever side is tasked with leading equipment management, what matters is that there is a complete buy-in to understanding the entire process and bridging the inherent knowledge gaps through departmental cooperation and hand-off.

Maybe the most important benefit to having one group lead management in this way is that it can make both IT and Admin better. Holistically understanding the scan/print environment requires a level of engagement between the departments that may not currently exist – another relic of a bygone era. They can each learn to understand the details often left to the other due to the splitting of management responsibilities. (“Ask IT” or “Ask Admin” is the classic refrain frustrated users often hear.)

Whether it is IT or Admin that takes the lead is less important than the fact that they are aware of the need to embrace both technical/systemic understanding and user process/development. Otherwise the firm will simply not get the ROI it should from the equipment they are spending money and resources on.  And the gap (with all its associated inefficiencies) will persist.

(Article originally published on LinkedIn)

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