Air Force to prune printer purchases

Air Force personnel should not get too attached to any personal printers on their desktop computers.

As part of an effort to streamline the buying of printers, copiers, fax machines and related products, service officials are likely to set guidelines for Air Force offices to follow in deciding which printers to buy and for whom.

At present, there is little order in how these digital printing and imaging products are bought, said Lt. Col. Thomas Gaylord, deputy director of the Air Force Information Technology Commodity Council. Air Force officials often decide what printers or copiers they need without properly analyzing their real-life requirements. They end up with a multitude of systems and more print capacity than they could ever expect to use.

It's not just the cost of the devices that is a concern, Gaylord said. In some cases, the money spent on paper, ink and other products dwarfs the cost of the basic system. Those supplies probably cost the Air Force more than $180 million annually, which could probably be reduced by 20 to 30 percent, he said.

One way to cut costs is to set up a network of devices with different functions and capacities spread throughout a given office. People would print to one device or another on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether the job was high-volume or required color, for example. And perhaps only certain individuals should be allowed to have personal printers, Gaylord said.

Another way to save is to invest in new technology. Many offices are using printers or copiers that cost as much as 15 cents per page in toner. Newer systems, in contrast, can cost as little as a penny or two, he said.

Ultimately, the Air Force likely will set up contracts for digital printing and imaging products, just as it has done for desktop and laptop computers.

One possibility, though, is that some Air Force organizations could take a managed services approach, said Ken Heitkamp, council director. In such a deal, the organization might lease equipment from a local supplier and pay based on actual usage. The contractor would be responsible for deciding where to install devices within the organization and managing their performance.

The commodity council, which includes members from all of the service's major commands, is likely to send its proposed strategy for digital printing and imaging to the Air Force's Office of the chief Information Officer within the next month or two. If approved, new policies could be out before the end of the year.


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