Maintaining a Healthy Output | Article

Swiss Hospital Makes Printing an Outpatient

healthcare outsourcingKantonsspital Basel (KBS), a university-run hospital located in Basel, Switzerland, had outgrown its britches. Its printing britches, that is. The Swiss hospital, like many modern organizations, utilizes the latest in information technology to provide its patients with the safest, most up-to-date medical care available. As it grew in size and scope, the management staff at KBS realized it was grappling with a natural but often overlooked result of growing information technology: printing and output management was starting to smother its already overworked IT staff.

The largest government-run facility in Basel, KBS has 40 different medical departments – endocrinology, radiology, cardiology, anesthesiology, to name but a few – all using different applications to provide the proper care for its patients. The IT staff is responsible for about 70 different applications and 14 different operating systems, in addition to 22 separate networks and 18 separate database systems. Chicago Hope, meet High Tech.

Print Management Comes of Age

The management of IT – and all of its ancillary components – is a common and constant challenge among today’s progressive companies. The matter of utilizing and managing powerful ERP applications to solve complex business solutions occupies a substantial amount of any company’s time and resources. At the end of the computing line is the printer, the stepchild of IT. For organizations like KBS, managing information output in the medical field poses its own unique challenges. And for good reason. In the 1980s, KBS initiated computerized output technology. However, at that time, there was no benchmark established or followed on implementing software or hardware. Consequently, each department developed its own individual strategy for technology management. Over the course of time, KBS amassed over 1,400 printers, 200 fax machines and 130 copiers, all in an ad hoc manner. Some of these devices had been around for 15 years. Maintaining this plethora of machines, with a myriad of brands and models, had become so daunting that the majority of calls to KBS’s IT help desk were about printing. (Or, more accurately, not printing.)

Needless to say, this forced an already overworked and undermanned IT staff to spend less time on more mission-critical issues. It was time for KBS to look outside its IT department to manage its printing needs.

Managing Costs and Growth

“Printing was costing too much and we were spending too much time on it,” says Franz Buffon, chief information officer for KBS. “The only way the hospital could justify the total cost of ownership of the output devices was to outsource management of the devices to an expert.” Clearly, getting a handle on printing wasn’t just a matter of time; it was also a matter of money.

Enter HP (Hewlett-Packard) Managed Print Services, a division of HP Digital Workplace Solutions. HP’s task was to reduce the age of the fleet, standardize on a smaller number of models and supply KBS with a consistent service and support program. According to Alan Arnette, general manager for HP Digital Workplace Solutions, the key driver for KBS choosing HP to supply print management was the opportunity for real costs savings: “It was chaotic the way they were managing this part of their business from an expense perspective, so they saw an opportunity to reduce the expenses and increase control over the whole environment.” Arnette maintains that due to the widespread implementation of CRM packages, printing as a cost factor is finally showing up on the radar screen of CIOs. According to a study by a leading outsourcing consultant, one to three percent of a company’s revenue is spent on printing.

The obvious advantage of KBS entering into a three-year contract with HP to manage its computer output functions was that it allowed its IT staff to put more effort and focus into managing the hospital’s databases, networks and applications. And naturally, with HP supplying an on-site service manager whose sole responsibility is printer fleet maintenance – paper jams, toner replenishment and installation – response time to help desk calls for printer-related problems has been reduced to a maximum of less than four hours. Equally important, though, is how HP’s management of KBS’s output fleet will cut costs by standardizing equipment and monitoring use, all of which allows the supplier to optimize the placement and use of each printer.

Arnette says HP has a monitoring system that tracks the page count of each printer. The supplier gathers data and gives KBS reports via a Web site specifically set up for the hospital. (The Web site is called the managed print portal.) “By having data on a real-time basis, we can optimize and make real-time changes in order to meet KBS’s needs better,” says Arnette.

Addressing the Key Issue

While the decision to outsource print management was a necessary one for KBS, it is never easy to transfer responsibility of a business process to another entity. However, in 2000, spurred by its need to get control over its print environment and scale down costs, KBS decided to solicit proposals from companies that supplied print management services. It whittled down an initial field of 48 companies to 16. The final three consisted of HP, Lexmark and Xerox. HP won and immediately initiated physical device mapping, usage monitoring and end-user interviews. The supplier developed cost-per-page targets and printer-to-user ratios. Standardization, usually a casualty of strong growth, would be key.

By the end of this year KBS, under HP’s managed print services, will standardize the complete printer fleet on HP models. It will downsize the entire hospital fleet from 1,400 printers and 200 fax machines to about 1,020 printers and fax machines combined.

KBS’ Buffon sees the outsourcing agreement with HP as a complete success so far. “Turning over printing output to printing experts gives us the ability to free up our own IT staff and no longer worry about printing issues. So far, the roll out has deployed 300 new printers, and if the remainder of the implementation is as successful as the first phase, KBS will consider outsourcing other management aspects of IT.”

Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:

  • Outsourcing is often a logical solution to managing growth and controlling costs.
  • Choosing the right supplier not only minimizes costs but also adds value to the client.
  • Effective monitoring methods can ensure that the supplier is staying on task.


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