Mobile workforce comes into its own

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The proliferation of Smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, along with the increased availability of connectivity anytime, anywhere, has enabled the mobile workforce to truly come into its own.

However, one vital aspect of business has remained confined to the walls of the office - printing. While a paperless office has long been a goal of many businesses, in reality the need for printed documents remains. In order to truly cater to the mobile workforce, printing too has had to become more mobile. Mobile printing solutions now offer secure, affordable print-from-anywhere capabilities, along with the ability to print from a variety of mobile devices through innovative mobile applications, breaking down one of the final barriers to truly boundless mobile working.

Traditionally, printers have always been office based due to their size and weight. This limited mobile workers to only being able to print from their desktop or laptop when in the office, or make use of Wi-Fi options with limited range. The need for greater mobility with regard to print solutions is clear, and the benefits of improved productivity and agility are well understood. However, it is also vital that certain aspects be taken into account with regard to mobile print solutions specifically around document security, print system management, and overall costs. In addition, because of the nature of mobility and the business world, it is also necessary to support mobile printing across multiple mobile Operating Systems (OS') and multiple document formats.

Delivering truly business-class mobile printing requires organisations to provide print-on-the-go convenience, while tackling the challenges involved across various businesses, all with different requirements, infrastructures and workforces. Mobile printing functionality typically uses one of three basic methods, namely: mobile OS integrated print support, email attachments, or mobile applications. Each of these methods has its own pros and cons, depending on the business and the requirements of users, since the level of print integration and ability for different OS's and devices can vary greatly.

Integrating printing capabilities directly into the mobile OS is the most intuitive method, as it creates the closest experience to the familiar 'File>Print' scenario most workers are used to from notebooks and desktops. Apple AirPrint is one example of such native mobile printing capability. It is built into the OS, enabling users of any up-to-date Apple device to print directly and easily to any AirPrint enabled printer. Users simply select the 'print' function that appears as a menu option on the iPad, iPhone and even iPod devices that have been updated to support AirPrint. Many printers now support AirPrint capability, and this solution is ideal for Small Office and Home Office (SoHo) users. However, due to the fact that AirPrint is only available on Apple devices, as well as technical issues such as difficulty in integrating AirPrint over virtual networks, this option is of limited use in the large enterprise space.

Email attachments, one of the basic features of Smartphones and tablets, offer a simple way for business users to submit documents for printing. To print a document, the user need simply attach the file to be printed to an email and send it to the destination address that represents a specific printer or print queue. This method, while not as intuitive as a native print experience, is still familiar to business users. It also has the additional benefit of being able to support any and all mobile OS's, including Apple, BlackBerry and any Android device, without the need for additional software to be loaded onto the device.

The downside to this method is that users have no easy way of viewing the status of their print job, or of controlling printer settings, unless this solution forms part of a comprehensive print management solution. These print management systems offer a pull-printing solution that delivers full print-from-anywhere capabilities. Print management enables users to view a job status and modify printing parameters using a web portal available through the device's web browser. This makes the email attachment method a highly effective option for many businesses, and can be deployed both on-premise or as a hosted solution depending on business needs.

The third, and newest, method is the use of mobile printing applications, which enable users to print documents intuitively and with ease. These applications enable users to control the print job, view its status, and get feedback during the printing process. Applications are freely available for both Android and Apple devices, allowing for the printing of PDF documents and image files directly to the printer without the need to use the organisation's email servers. Applications designed specifically to support business networks have the added capability of being able to print even outside of Local Area Networks (LAN).

Choosing the right mobile print method depends on the needs and the infrastructure of the specific business - there is no one-size-fits-all approach. One additional challenge with regard to mobile printing is that, since mobile devices do not have print drivers, there is no consistent way to convert documents from their native format into a format or data stream supported by most printers. Business class printers are typically capable of directly printing PDF files and image formats, but printing Microsoft Office documents directly can prove difficult. Reliable document conversion requires routing the print job through a server to deliver a high-fidelity print-friendly document, so choosing the right print management solution is a critical step for the enterprise environment specifically.

Today, as a result of advances in technology, a variety of mobile printing solutions are available, empowering professionals to become more productive and agile on the job. Equipping the mobile workforce with print capabilities is easier than ever, with a range of solutions to meet any business need.

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