Managing Printers in Retail: What Does It Matter? An Interview with Shash Anand


Recently, printer management in retail has become essential and is increasingly prevalent. Why has it become such a significant issue among retailers? What new problems are they looking to solve? Where did the sudden spike in printer management in retail come from, and what’s going to happen next?

We sat down with Shash Anand, VP of Product Strategy at SOTI, to find out what’s behind the increased focus on printer management in the retail industry. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Is There a Greater Interest in Managing Printers From Retailers, or Does It Just Seem That Way?

There are a few things retailers (and businesses in other industries) are discovering. First, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to printers. The printer in the warehouse is different than the printer on the delivery truck, and both are different than the printer at a point of sale (POS) terminal. It would be much easier if one printer did it all, but there are dedicated printers for different functions and they all have different management needs.

Second, it’s easy for retailers, especially large ones as they scale up and open new stores and distribution centers, to lose track of how many assets they have, and printers are definitely an asset. One of my favorite stats to cite is 90% of companies don't know how many printers they have. The days of the dusty old printer sitting unused are over. Retailers want to know where their printers are and what they are doing at all times.

Q: Has the Pandemic Played a Role?

Before looking at COVID-19's impact on printer management in the retail sector, let’s bring it close to home. I have kids and like many children, they had to shift to online school during the pandemic. Suddenly, our printer became more than a piece of technology; it was a vital tool. If it didn’t work properly critical documents like homework assignments and vaccine certificates couldn’t be printed. A minor nuisance becomes a major disadvantage.

The pandemic forced retailers to understand that printers are an essential part of their business-critical operations. Online shopping doubled during the pandemic. Think about how many documents are printed for a single home delivery: shipping label, packing slip, UPC code, driver delivery list. If it doesn’t print, it doesn’t ship. Conversely, for those who shopped in-store, getting in and out as quickly as possible was a priority. That meant prioritizing checking out and getting a receipt anywhere on the store floor.

For retail operations, COVID-19 reinforced how vital printers are today. Imagine waiting three extra days for a delivery or waiting three extra minutes in a store because of a malfunctioning printer during the height of the pandemic. It was and still is unacceptable, and retailers want to be proactive in mitigating these types of scenarios.

Q: What are the Top Printer Problems Facing Retail Organizations?

Security is the big one. Printers are often overlooked when it comes to network security, which means they’re ripe for hackers to exploit. Around 60% of businesses lose data through printer security breaches. Think of the information that is potentially accessible: credit card numbers, employee salary information, customer addresses, inventory lists, etc. The easiest way to combat this is with firmware updates.

However, many retailers don’t do this because it’s a physical, manual process which can take up to 30 minutes per printer. Either printers must be shut down during working hours, which slows down productivity or the process must be completed during off-hours like on weekends or overnight. Additionally, it must be done in person, which costs time and resources. None of these options are ideal, so retailers neglect printer security, but they worry about it constantly.

After security, the biggest problem is downtime. They say death and taxes are universal frustrations, but you can probably add printer downtime to that list. When a printer goes down the result is approximately 23 minutes of lost productivity and if it stays down for two hours it costs a business $25,000.

If a mission-critical retail printer experiences downtime you must send someone to fix the problem or ship the printer back to IT. When the issue is resolved they’ll ship it back. It’s just not efficient. It’s a classic case of the solution being worse than the problem. Having a printer malfunction is bad, but the cumbersome process to fix it can be equally problematic.

Q: Retailers are Talking About Managing Printers. What Do They Want Exactly?

If you look at Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) solutions like SOTI MobiControl, it’s about having total visibility into the data, status and performance of mobile device deployments and control to take action and solve issues remotely.

That’s what retail IT departments want for their printers. If they’re using too much ink, they want to know about it. If they’re running too hot or too cold, they want to know about it. If a security or firmware update is needed, they want to know about it.

Retailers also understand printers are finite tools that don’t last forever. There’s only so much they can print so they want access to historical trends. For example, how many labels are being printed, how often is the printer being used, etc. The mindset has shifted: retailers now view printers as service providers that must be treated and managed as such.

And if printers or printing is a service, it must deliver quality and accuracy. If the wrong label is printed and attached to retail goods it can cost an organization up to $65,000. Now, that’s more of a human input issue than a printer management issue, but the point is printers can really hurt a business if managed or used improperly.

Q: Remote Management is Essential. Why?

Retail, by nature is a distributed model. You can have a head office located in Toronto and stores or outlets scattered throughout the country. As I mentioned earlier organizations must know what’s going on with their printers. Flying out to each location to check up on printers isn’t feasible and neither is shipping printers back to the head office. Remote management is critical to ensure printer uptime.

Something else to consider is printers for retailers aren’t just in the store. Mobile printers are just as important and they’re everywhere in the supply chain: delivery trucks, warehouses, distribution centers, etc. A mobile printer goes down and suddenly a box full of goods can’t ship. If a label isn’t legible it can’t be tracked properly and you have no idea where that box of goods is located.

Nothing is stationary anymore. Printers are always on the move. People are travelling and working at home or in remote locations. Remote printer management lets retailers know what’s going on with their business, anytime, anywhere.

Q: What Is the Solution?

There is a better way for retailers to manage printers. It’s called SOTI Connect. You don’t need to physically visit a printer or manually connect it to a laptop via USB to find out what’s going on. You don’t need to wait months to perform critical updates. You don’t need to wait until after a problem, such as running out of paper or ink, is reported before acting. Think about your printer at home. It’s always frustrating when you run out of ink.

What if while you were out getting groceries you got a text message on your phone saying your ink levels are at 20%? You could proactively pick up ink and never run out. That’s what SOTI Connect does for retailers. It lets them predict and prevent issues before they occur, regardless of the printer make, model or protocol. SOTI Connect speaks its language so IT admins don’t have to manually perform the same processes on different printers. Do it once and it works with all your printers.

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