CIO’s responsibilities have evolved. Beyond networks, software acquisition & development and information strategies; the CIO’s role now includes business services. This makes sense because a deeper understanding of how information technology enables sustained improvement is crucial to a successful partnering for key business services. Managed print services is a perfect example.

The original model for managed print services was to outsource the project to a group who understood print. They created a bid table, drove down vendor prices and passed along savings. Some have not moved much passed this bid table approach, after initial success they have discovered that the savings didn’t continue as vendors reacted with the effort and loyalty due a lowest bid price model.

While there will always be a role for the reverse auction or bid table, many companies have moved beyond this with better models based on information technology, superior systems thinking, intimate knowledge of key vertical industries and an ability to integrate their systems with your systems to provide more value in a managed print services model.

Start with the strategic role print will play in your business going forward. There are print management projects that really are end of life with things like business forms and phone books (in which case maybe you should suggest the folks in accounting handle the project) and then there are print communications that will play a long term strategic role for everything from point of sale materials, to high end brochures for high price point items (e.g. automobiles) to direct mail. (direct mail having defied predictions of it’s demise as companies and consumers both continue to find it a cost effective desirable medium)

On your checklist of attributes to include in a good partner put control of their own platforms for print management near the top. This is true because all great software starts with one key ingredient, knowledge of need. How much of the technology stack do they own? Do they manage development themselves or do they outsource this to a contractor? How do they make changes in feature set or capabilities as your needs evolve? A good agile development process with quality built in before releases occur matters more than . Java debate. And while cloud deployment is the future everyone can see as the low cost model, it is likely your needs won’t drive the rapid scaling that public clouds are uniquely suited to supply.

Another top of the list item: Security. When print services are done right, you are going to have more and varied network connections. Do you want them to support your single sign on credentialing? Have they had third part security audits? Do they still use essentially unsecure methods such as ftp sites to share files? The security subject is too extensive to cover here but it is nothing less than crucial. And, as a CIO you know it’s a bit thankless too. We all know of career ending examples where the source of the security problem came from a vendor. And, this isn’t limited to network access issues; your key designs and consumer communications are going to be in someone else’s hands. Are they secure?

Look hard for a partner with experience in your industry. There is a world of difference between dimensional displays that work great at retail and print communication programs for healthcare where different states have different rules about what class of mail can be used to send out a printed membership card.

Do consider using a printer as your Managed Print Services partner. The old truism “nobody can buy printing like a printer is, well, true. The fact is, they have developed the systems and technology to manage an endless list of little details, each of which is expensive or worse if wrong. Actually, they started decades ago load balancing inside an industry with expensive fixed assets and demand that came in peaks and valleys. The old fox in the hen house argument against using a key print supplier as your managed print services vendor has given way to modern business practices first pioneered by IBM as they moved into services while still selling hardware. The same systems and technology stack that can deliver your needs can also provide for the transparency and market confirmation that costs in fact continue to go down.

Another reason for CIO involvement in Managed Print Services is their experience in thinking about system costs or total costs rather than just quoted price costs. A good example can be found in the trade offs to be found in Print on Demand vs. Traditional Print Technologies. It is beyond the scope of this article but this trade off discussion will bring you into a related issue, distribute (electronically) and print vs. print and distribute (physically). Simply put, the issues and tradeoffs are complex and evolving.

The reality is that print technology is a complex and evolving space

The reality is that print technology is a complex and evolving space. Print on demand technology is reducing costs and speeding delivery times but there are significant tradeoffs with toner, ink jet and liquid ink systems all providing different levels of quality, cost and toughness. And, of course, web based front end ordering systems are necessary to gain the most advantage but a CIO needs a Managed Print Services partner who understands single sign on, the differences between available variable print engines and network security.

Managing this on-going innovation is the key to reduced costs and improved service levels, and therefore, the CIO chair is a good place from which this effort is directed.