VA targets printers for cost reductions

The Veterans Affairs Department is trying to reduce its printer costs by phasing out personal printers in favor of centralized printing stations. It’s part of an agenda the agency is calling "Ruthless Reductions," CIO Roger Baker said.

He said he believes the department can replace most of its desktop printers with centralized ones within five years.

The printer changes are only one part of the strategy, but it has become emblematic of VA’s approach to cost-cutting. It has its roots in the Performance Management and Accountability System that VA launched in 2009 to monitor IT projects. PMAS helped improve the success rate of IT projects from 30 percent in 2009 to 90 percent in 2011, partly by making resource availability more flexible and partly by killing off projects that were showing little hope of success, wrote Jared Serbu at Federal News Radio.

Now VA, which operates 54 hospitals and 171 medical centers nationwide, is expanding the strategy to other areas, including printers.

“We found that, over multiple years, eliminating the majority of desktop printers saves about $1 million per large facility,” Baker said in a conference call with reporters just before Thanksgiving. “That is a significant piece of money saved by moving to large-scale multifunction printers.”

At the same time, however, Baker cautioned that reducing the number of desktop printers is a balancing act, and “we do not want to be penny wise and pound foolish.” If a manager can make a strong business case for a desktop printer, the printer will stay, he added.

Baker is the only federal CIO who has the authority to cancel programs and make other decisions related to budgets, and he’s an advocate of giving more CIOs that power.

Consultant Alan Balutis agreed that CIOs are often responsible for enacting change but don't always have the authority to do so. In a recent opinion column for Federal Computer Week, Balutis wrote: “CIOs have the task of transforming how the government conducts business internally…and how it delivers service to the customer.… Change comes slowly and with associated difficulties in government. Being an agent of change, which is a key aspect of being a successful CIO in government, is buffeting, it's stressful, and it's often confrontational.”

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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