>Podcast and Slideshare by Andy Blumenthal on Mobility Solutions

>Assorted smartphones

Click here for the audio of my speech at the Adobe Government Assembly on Wednesday, November 3, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Subscribe to all my podcasts on iTunes here.)

>The Printer’s Dilemma

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There is a lot of interest these days in managed print solutions (MPS)—sharing printers and managing these centrally—for many reasons.

Some of the benefits are: higher printer use rates; reduction in printing; cost saving; and various environmental benefits.

Government Computer News (5 April 2010) has an article called “Printing Money” that states: managed printing is an obvious but overlooked way to cut costs, improve efficiency, and bolster security.”

But there are also a number of questions to consider:

What’s the business model? Why are “printing companies” telling us to buy less printers and to print less? Do car companies tell us to buy less cars and drive less (maybe drive more fuel efficient vehicles, but drive less or buy less?) or do food companies advise us to buy less food or eat less (maybe eat healthier food, but less food)? To some vendors, the business model is simple, if we use their printers and cartridges—rather than a competitor’s—then even if we use less overall, the managed print vendor is getting more business, so for them, the business model makes sense.

What’s the cost model? Analysts claim agencies by moving to managed print solutions “could save at least 25 percent of their printing expenses” and vendors claim hundreds of thousands, if not millions in savings, and that is attractive. However, the cost of commodity printers, even the multifunction ones with fax/copy/scan functions, has come way down, and so has the print cartridges—although they are still too high priced—and we change them not all that often (I just changed one and I can barely remember the last time that I did). As an offset to cost savings, do we need to consider the potential impact to productivity and effectiveness as well as morale—even if the latter is just the “annoyance factor”?

What’s the consumer market doing? When we look at the consumer market, which has in many analyst and consumer opinions jumped ahead of where we are technologically in the office environment, most people have a printer sitting right next to them in their home office—don’t you? I’d venture to say that many people even have separate printers for other family members with their own computers set ups, because cost and convenience (functional)-wise, it just makes sense.

What’s the cultural/technological trend? Culturally and technologically, we are in the “information age,” most people in this country are “information workers,” and we are a fast-paced (and what’s becoming a faster and faster-paced) society where things like turn around time and convenience (e.g. “Just In Time inventory, overnight delivery, microwave dinners, etc.) are really important. Moreover, I ask myself is Generation Y, that is texting and Tweeting and Facebooking—here, there, and everywhere—going to be moving toward giving up there printers or in fact, wanting to print from wherever they are (using the cloud or other services) and get to their documents and information immediately?

What’s the security impact? Understanding that printing to central printers is secure especially with access cards or pin numbers to get your print jobs, I ask whether in an age, where security and privacy of information (including corporate theft and identity theft) are huge issues, does having a printer close by make sense, especially when dealing with sensitive information like corporate strategy or “trade secrets,” mission security, personnel issues, or acquisition sensitive matters, and so on. Additionally, we can we still achieve the other security benefits of MPS—managing (securing, patching etc.) and monitoring printers and print jobs in a more decentralized model through the same or similar network management functions that we use for our other end user-devices (computers, servers, storage, etc.)

What’s the environmental impact? There are lots of statistics about the carbon footprint from printing—and most I believe is from the paper, not the printers. So perhaps we can print smarter, not only with reducing printers, but also with ongoing education and sensitivity to our environment and the needs of future generations. It goes without saying, that we can and should cut down (significantly) on what and how much we print (and drive, and generally consume, etc.) in a resource constrained environment—planet Earth.

In the end, there are a lot of considerations in moving to managed print solutions and certainly, there is a valid and compelling case to moving to MPS, especially in terms of the potential cost-saving to the organization (and this is particularly important in tough economic environments, like now), but we should also weight others considerations, such as productivity offsets, cultural and technological trends, and overall security and environmental impacts, and come up with what’s best for our organizations.

>This Idea Has Real Legs

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Check out this video of Rex, The Robotic Exoskeleton.

An incredible advance for the disabled in providing better mobility.

Light years ahead of a wheelchair, Rex enables people to stand, walk, climb stairs, and generally lead more normal and healthy lives.

Rex is not meant to supplant the wheelchair (where you can sit), but to augment meant it (with the ability to stand).

“If you are a wheelchair user, can self transfer and use a joystick with your hand, Rex amy offer you a way to stand, move sideways, turn around, go up steps as well as walk on flat hard surfaces including ramps and slopes.” (www.rexbionics.com)

The idea for REX came from the movie Aliens, where Ripley (Sigourney Weaver, the main character) fights the big mother Alien in a “Power Loader” suit. The exoskeleton designed for transporting and stacking large supply crates is used to do some serious damage to the Alien.

Exoskeletons have been explored as battle suits in movies, video games (Halo), and even in the real military as future combat wear.

Nice to see an application of the technology that can kill/maim to also heal/help people. Of course this isn’t the first time military technology has been applied to the consumer market; for example, the Internet itself on which I am writing this blog, was developed by DARPA.

The point is that technology itself is not good or bad, but rather how we use it, is what determines it’s ultimate effect.

According to CNN, Rex invested $10 million and seven years in developing this bionic dream machine made from 4700 parts. FDA approval is being sought, so Rex can be marketed it in the U.S.

It’s not hard to imagine exoskeleton technology being used not only for helping the disabled and fighting future wars, but also for augmenting the everyday workforce as body bionics to work the fields, build our infrastructure, transport goods, and even for us intellectual types, to run between (or out of those) meetings that much faster.