Winning the Global War on Toner (GWOT)

February 25, 2011

In case you haven’t gotten the word, the government’s broke.  Or at least that’s what they’re telling us, and thanks to our new found sense of fiscal responsibility, the Navy is looking for all sorts of ways to lower our overall operating costs.  Thankfully, in true military/government fashion, the bosses have stumbled on a perfect solution that both fails to lower costs in any meaningful way while at the same time greatly inhibiting our ability to do work.  They’re getting rid of color copies.  That’s right – the world’s most powerful (and expensive) Navy is now being told, by direction from the very top of the Navy food chain, that offices shall no longer print anything in color or single sided.  Everything shall be in black and white and double sided.  Unless the copies are for an Admiral.  Or the slides are dependent on color to make sense.  Or you’re a Captain who needs to review the Admiral’s slides before giving them to him.  Or you’re a Commander who needs to build the slides for the Captain so he can then review them and give them to the Admiral.  Or you’re the contractor who actually does the work for the Commander and, well, you get the idea.  The point is, it is now official policy to no longer print in color or single sided.  So let it be written, so let it be done.

Of course, with any new policy such as this one, the ultra anal retentive people who love nothing more than shoving in your face a copy of a regulation you’ve broken (which they’ve printed off, by the way) are now starting to come out of the woodwork.  You can see them hanging by the printers, like buzzards circling a man lost in the desert, just waiting, waiting for that poor sucker who would have the audacity to defy the most sacred of edicts.  It’s gotten so bad that once I was actually told, and this is no joke, to shred a color copy and print it again in black and white because, “We’re trying to save toner!”  I swear by all that is holy, those were the man’s exact words.

The sad thing is the Navy REALLY does want to go paperless.  Back in the ’90s there was this whole ‘paperless Navy’ movement and the belief was that buying a bunch of computers all work would be done electronically and no one would ever have to print anything again.  Remarkably, this failed, and the result is that instead of streamlining workflow and reducing paper usage, computers have actually increased the amount of time it takes to get anything done and uses more paper to do it.  Case in point – it used to be that if a person wanted to take leave they would fill out a leave chit in triplicate using carbon paper, run the chit through the chain of command, and once it was signed they would go on leave.  Simple.  Then computers came along, and with them a program that would fill out your leave chit electronically.  Except the program didn’t include anyway to route the chit electronically, so you ended up having to print off three copies of the chit in order to get it approved.  It’s amazing that no one thought that an electronic version of something is no good unless you have a way of passing it on electronically to the next person in the chain of command.  Fifteen years later the Navy figured it out and decided to develop an entirely electronic leave system, whereby your leave chit would be generated electronically and would also be routed through the chain of command, thereby saving you from having to print.  Perfect!  Unfortunately, because the people at the top of the chain don’t trust those new fangled computers, they still require you to print off a copy and route it manually, effectively doubling the amount of work required!  Simply incredible.

The biggest problem with the Navy trying to go paperless is that until recently there really was no good way to carry around a bunch of electronic documents from one meeting to the next, so people would simply store the docs on their desktops and then print off what they needed for the next meeting.  This is the second part of the paperless revolution.  The Navy has already accomplished the first part, which is getting everyone to generate their work electronically, now they just need a way for people to share that work in a manner other than printing.  What is needed to complete the paperless revolution is some sort of portable device that is small, unobtrusive, easy to use (i.e. long battery life and fast operating system), can be carried back and forth, and can store thousands of documents and access thousands more.  Basically, the Navy needs to get everyone an iPad.  However, since the Navy can’t even afford color copies there’s no way they’re going to buy everyone an iPad, so how about just letting people using their own iPads (or similar devices)?  Unfortunately, Navy networks aren’t allowed to operate with third party applications (hey, Apple, how’s it feel to be called a third party!) so even if I wanted to drop my own cash on an iPad (which would actually be really useful since the majority of my day is spent running back and forth between different meetings in different buildings and I’m never sure exactly what documents I’m going to need) I still wouldn’t be able to use it with the Navy systems.

Navy, if you’re serious about winning the Global War on Toner (GWOT), here’s what you need to do:

1.      Win peoples’ hearts and minds.  Your ‘no color’ policy is alienating the local populace, and until you recognize the reality of the situation on the ground, you’ll never succeed at lowering your printing costs.  This leads into point two, which is:

2.       Learn more about the local culture.  The reason your printing costs aren’t decreasing is because you’ve turned the idea of a color copy into a status symbol.  By limiting who can get color copies, you’ve created a whole new standard of self-importance amongst the rank and file.  “Ooohh…color copies and single sided!  That must be one important brief he’s working on!”

3.      Develop an infrastructure so the people can support themselves.  If you allow people to upload documents to their personal tablet computers they won’t have to carry all that paper back and forth to meetings, meaning your overhead will immediately begin to drop.  People don’t print because they love the smell of freshly pressed toner, they print because they have no other way of carrying their docs with them.  Think about how many pages are printed for the purpose of a meeting, only to be immediately thrown into the burn bag as soon as the meeting is over.  You could cut all of that waste if you just allowed people to upload docs to their tablets.

Winning the Global War on Toner won’t be easy, it will take time, energy, and money, but you’re already half way there and if you provide people with an alternative to growing poppies (sorry, I mean printing) you’ll find that people are eager to make the switch, and before you know it, your printing costs will have dropped, your productivity will be up, and the defense budget will be balanced!  Now, go print off ten copies of this post and show it to your boss so he can run it up the chain for approval!


One comment

  1. Amen brother! I myself know the horrors of which you speak. Route both chits-why!? For the love of god! You have forgotten one vital obstacle however-finding your docs once they’ve been printed. My printer choice is as long as the actual document I want to print! And of course it won’t show the full printer name so I’m left with only one course of action. I print one copy to each of the ten-odd printers. Then I walk around the space checking printers till I find my copy. Of course after that throughout the day people come up to me to give me my copy that was sitting in some other printer. GWOT prognosis? Not looking good over here…

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