Cloud Printing – a Guide for the Bewildered

Printing and printers are business essentials that, once an organization numbers more than a handful of people, can become a problem that demands a great deal of time, attention, and money. There are several reasons why anyone looking to bring workplace printing under control (both in terms of support for end-users and extracting management information) should at least consider a Cloud-based solution. This is especially true if they are only part-time print managers who perhaps have acquired that role over time. By default, such folks have responsibilities over and above printing and need to spend most of their time on other things. These are my people…

Why should you consider a Cloud-based output management solution? Glad you asked. The following are a few reasons that come to mind:

SECURITY AND AUTHENTICATION:

Cloud-based print services are required to be extremely secure in order to stay in business; encryption of data in motion and at rest should be a given, and many go above and beyond this level. Some solutions emphasize their ability to avoid sending jobs via the Cloud, whereas others make a virtue of it. This almost certainly isn’t a security issue, but performance may suffer in an exclusively Cloud-routed offering, and you should verify that printing can continue at times when Internet connections become unavailable. All Cloud service providers will require user authentication. If there's no need for additional user and group definitions (because you already have it all in Azure AD or other Cloud directory service), you're already one step ahead.

FEATURES:

If your goal is workplace printing from the desktop and mobile devices, most of the available Cloud services support the common platforms (Windows 10 / macOS / iOS / Android) and some extend to others as well. Most solutions are designed to make it easy for end-users to find and add printers. Web portals are frequently provided, eliminating the need for users to go to their OS settings and click "add printer," then wonder why they can't find the one they're looking for. They all offer reporting, driver management where necessary, and support for secure (pull) printing. If you are looking to continue using printer vendors’ drivers, some of the available Cloud solutions make this available, whereas some offer a ‘single-driver’ model that may not support all device features. If you are a larger enterprise looking for more sophisticated "application" printing (as well as advanced features such as assured delivery), the Cloud may not be for you… yet.

CHOICE:

If you thought there were lots of on-premise print management solutions available, wait until you start counting the Cloud-based ones. There is, however, almost certainly going to be one that has nearly the right combination of features for you, because they are all different and have distinct origins. This is especially true of solutions from companies with an on-premise print management history, and those from the print device vendors. But be aware that in order to provide certain features, some vendors need to put some of their own hardware on-premise in addition to their software.

COST:

Look for a Cloud solution that is based on a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, as this means you will only be paying for what you need in terms of user or printer counts (different vendors price their services one way or the other). Most vendors sell direct from their web site with no salespeople involved and have a free trial available from their website. Beware of the ones that don't.

Print remains a business necessity, but we are long past the era when managing printing had to be time consuming and difficult. With Cloud hosted solutions, we have yet another option for managing print. Cloud printing is not for everyone, but as explained here, it meets the needs of many organizations. With the appealing benefits for administration, security, and costs, it is no surprise that these Cloud-based print services are gaining ground and increasing in popularity. As a result, more and more Cloud print solutions enter the market space each day. The right solution is out there, and hopefully this article has given you some idea of what you should look for (and what to avoid). But whichever way you end up going, be sure to always test the service first. You would not buy a car without a test drive, and neither should you impulsively choose a solution to manage something as essential to your business as printing.

 

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