An MFP (multifunction printer) can be the right choice for offices but in my work in the Burlington, Ontario market I have seen places where the choice becomes cloudy. So how do you decide? I think part of the decision relates to the size of the office.
MFP's for smaller offices
For a SOHO or small business office an MFP makes great economic sense. Products like the Samsung SCX-5935FN or the Kyocera FS-1128MFP can easily meet the demands of a few workers while handling all of the printing, scanning, copying and faxing needs. For a price that is under $1,500 or lease less than $50 a month the users get a powerful and reliable tool which can handle many document processing tasks. There are several suitable products in this category and you will find them readily available from authorized dealers.
Low volume solutions
If your needs are very low volume, under 500 pages per month, you could even get away with some of the very low cost laser based MFP products available from the box stores. Just be aware however that the operating costs of these lower priced products will still be higher and they really are not designed for long term use....they are like toasters, use for two or three years and throw them away.
Options, options, options
As the size of the user group grows and the demands for features grow then the capabilities of the MFP need to grow as well. For mid sized offices and work groups MFP's usually have multiple paper trays, network fax and scan capabilities, and offer options like finishers with stapling.
A case for mailboxes
Some brands even offer mailbox options on some models. Mailbox options are physical bins which can receive the printed output from designated users so that people don't have to hunt through the output pile to find their jobs. Experience has shown that one of the weaknesses of the networked MFP is the confusion that develops when a larger group of people start printing to the device and jobs get lost or end up being reprinted. Physical mailboxes avoid this confusion and can easily pay for themselves over a lease term.
I would suggest that you not be fooled by some vendors who promote electronic mailboxes on their devices (virtually every brand has these) as the solution to network print confusion. If everyone has to print to the electronic box and then go to the device to release their job you loose much of the time advantage offered in a network printer leading to lineups at the device while people what to release their stored job. I have found that clients that adopt physical mailboxes find them invaluable and will always choose the product that offers them over others that don't.
Deployment decisions take analysis
At one point vendors promoted the MFP as the solution to everything. I have learned that this is not the case and for many organizations a combination of MFP devices and network printers can better meet their needs. A proper analysis of the client needs, including volumes, types of work produced, size of documents, peak loads, and number of users helps to ascertain the optimal mix of device. Sometimes centrally located MFP devices to support a large group of users can be made more effective by locating networked printers closer to high needs users. This is where the print consultant can assist in designing a more effective solution.
Scanning and software integration open new opportunities
The one application on the MFP which has most rapidly driven the market in the past couple of years is the more prevalent use of scanning. At one point this was an optional extra and seldom used. I now find that it can drive the decision for the MFP and has become an integral part of office operations. Scanning is replacing fax as e-mail communications prevail.
In addition, the scan tool on the device can be used as an entry point for other productivity enhancing tools such as document management and automated workflows. MFP manufacturers have enhanced the units with API tools which permit third party companies to build integration of software to the MFP. Your print consultant should be able to help you decide which of these have application in your office.
While an MFP may not be the only printing device in many offices, they are a core tool in most and you can be well served by the many efficiency enhancing benefits they provide.
How integrated are your MFP's? What applications have you integrated with them?