The converging office

In the Winnipeg offices of the Teachers Retirement Allowance Fund, there are no photocopiers. “They’re all multi-function printers spread out across the floor,” says Les Brown, the fund’s vice-president of information services. The networked machines print, scan and copy. Faxes go directly to the 35 employees’ computers. And because the multi-function machines are connected to the office network and the server room, Brown is responsible for purchasing and supporting them. “It just makes sense to integrate it all together,” he says.Once there were clear categories. Computers were the province of IT. Telephones belonged to the tele-communications people. And all the other equipment that kept the office humming – copiers, fax machines, projectors – were no concern of either department, but fell to the office manager, the purchasing staff or the individual department to be acquired like chairs and paper clips.
That situation is getting rarer, because traditional office machines are less and less likely to be stand-alone devices. Instead of separate copiers and fax machines, we now have networked multifunction units that make copies, send and receive faxes, print and scan documents, and are connected to the office network so they can communicate with desktop PCs, servers and the outside world. Meeting-room projectors and other gear may be tied in the same way.
Bradley Hughes, an analyst at research firm International Data Corp. (Canada) Inc. in Toronto, says there is a clear shift of responsibility from the office manager to the IT department, at least in companies with 100 or more employees. “The person making the final decision on printing and imaging technology,” he says, “is an IT decision maker.”
The reason is simple. These devices connect to networks, IT is responsible for the network, so IT has to have some say about anything that connects to it.
“The minute that they start providing functions for network connectivity, at that point we brought that back into the IT world,” says Doug Grant, vice-president and chief information officer at Oppenheimer Group, a Vancouver-based produce distributor.
Oppenheimer has several multi-function machines, mostly from Ricoh Corp., that print, fax, scan and copy. The company is building the devices into its document-management framework. For instance, users can scan documents and convert them to Adobe Inc.’s PDF format, then attach metatags for easier search and retrieval later. Fax gateway software means even faxes can be integrated into document management.
John Husband, vice-president and general manager of the business solutions division at Canon Canada Inc., says the trend is clear. “It’s been occurring for a while, since we came out with multi-functional devices,” he says. Canon entered that market segment in the mid-1990s. Today, Husband says, 60 to 70 per cent of the printing and imaging gear the company sells connects to networks, and if the equipment is networked, IT almost invariably is involved in the purchase. That figure is up from around 40 per cent just three years ago, he says, and will probably continue rising until it reaches about 90 per cent – there will always be a niche for stand-alone devices.
The same trend applies to meeting-room projectors, says John Garner, district manager for NEC Corp.’s Visual Systems Division in Canada. Once unconnected and usually the responsibility of facilities management, projectors are being tied into networks and becoming an IT concern. “These assets are becoming a fixed part of the infrastructure and they’re managed widely through wide-area networks,” Garner says. Video can be streamed across networks to locations all over the enterprise, and IT is concerned about bandwidth and quality of service issues.
Husband says most IT departments haven’t taken total authority over buying printing and imaging hardware. “User departments still get involved, he says, and more often than not are the first point of contact. We tend to go there first, and they’ll call us in if they have a requirement,” he says, “but at some point you’re going to cross the bridge into IT being involved.”
“What we’re finding today is that the process of approval and testing is all driven by IT,” agrees Mel Thompson, vice-president of global services at Xerox Canada Inc. in Toronto.
That fact is forcing vendors like Canon and Xerox to learn to deal with different concerns and questions. “You’re having to go to IT and be a lot more literate,” Husband admits, “because they are a more knowledgeable group.” Canon has invested in more training for its sales force and added specialists to its staff who help the regular sales people address IT departments’ concerns. The products’ features have been affected too, most notably in the area of security, where IT professionals are demanding capabilities like encryption.
Maybe they are, but whoever makes the equipment that is now becoming their responsibility, IT people are probably less happy about the fact that their role extends beyond purchasing decisions to keeping the machines running. “It becomes a bigger inventory to look after,” Brown says.
To avoid putting an extra load on their own staff, many IT departments are outsourcing the care of office machines. Thompson says this is a growing business for Xerox. In some cases, the compnay will take over all responsibility for a customer’s document systems.
Meanwhile, the IT department’s involvement in more areas of technology, and a growing corporate-wide concern about security and compliance issues, is raising the CIO’s profile, he says. “They’ve become very powerful within their organizations because they understand the security risks.”
So along with extra work for IT comes increasing clout in the organization. That may be part of the reason why CIOs seem generally willing to bring traditionally separate areas under their purview.

Would you recommend this article?


Thanks for taking the time to let us know what you think of this article!
We'd love to hear your opinion about this or any other story you read in our publication.

Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

Featured Download

Grant Buckler
Grant Buckler
Freelance journalist specializing in information technology, telecommunications, energy & clean tech. Theatre-lover & trainee hobby farmer.

Related Tech News

Get ITBusiness Delivered

Our experienced team of journalists brings you engaging content targeted to IT professionals and line-of-business executives delivered directly to your inbox.