RealTime IT News

Making Sure You've got a PrinterOn

How do you build a technology market? One piece at a time.

Case in point: PrinterOn Corporation. Based in Kitchener, Ontario, the company delivers a range of wireless-printing products and services. Most recently its efforts have included a push to bring Wi-Fi printing into the hospitality arena.

The company says the move is a natural next step. It took several years to sell hotels on the idea of Wi-Fi as a guest service. Now that Wi-Fi finally has its foot in the door, there is a new opportunity to bring in wireless peripherals.

"The sell is a lot easier today than it was two years ago," said Janice Ferguson, product manager for public printing at PrinterOn. "We are seeing a huge interest, in part because the hotels have had these brand mandates to put in Wi-Fi. So now that they have it, they are looking for the next amenity."

Founded in 2000 as an outgrowth of the existing document-handling firm Spicer Corp., the company's products include a hotspot-printing package and a universal print driver. The hotel-guest printing product includes access to network printers via PDA and a customized Web portal for in-room driverless printing.

The PrinterOn Guest Printing Service is in use in over 70,000 rooms across North America. PrinterOn is an endorsed vendor for Hilton Supply Management and Choice Hotels International, and has been mandated as a business amenity across all AmeriTel Inns, Hilton Garden Inn and Doubletree brand hotels, among others.

PrinterOn is not the only company to have noticed the opportunity. The PrintMe product from EFI in Foster City, Calif., for example, also has functionality designed specifically for the hotel market.

If the PrinterOn business plan appears to be on target, it is largely due to the changing habits of business travelers. So says Carola Donsig, marketing communications manager at PrinterOn.

In spite of email and other communications mechanisms, "business travelers still need to print," she said. "At the same time, more and more hotels are setting up wireless locations, maybe in their lobbies or in restaurants. So there is still a growth possibility there for them if they can set up additional printers so that their guest can sit in the lobby or watch the game in the bar and can print without having to get up and move to the business center."

Still, hospitality is not an easy vertical. Even if resistance to Wi-Fi has largely fallen away, it still can be difficult to reach the many thousands of hotel properties operating nationwide. To that end, PrinterOn markets at the highest levels, working with the hotel brands, the business-center providers and the high-speed providers bringing connectivity to the properties.

The company takes a similar approach in other verticals. Recently for instance PrinterOn signed VendPrint as a North American reseller and technology partner for its higher-education and public-library products.

PrinterOn also targets airports, cafes and bookstores through partners such as Wayport and Superclick. "It's hard to get to the mom-and-pop ones, so you have to pick and choose," Donsig said.

In the hotel realm, PrinterOn has sold wireless printing primarily as an amenity: Hotels are giving it away free as a way to enhance the guest experience. But that may be changing, as hotels begin charging anywhere from 10 cents to $1.50 a page for such services.

Analysts say the ability to make money from these services may remain a secondary concern for hotels, which by and large continue to see business-support services as a value-added proposition for their guests. So says Julie Ask, a senior analyst at Jupiter Research.

"What would be interesting is if they -- the hotels -- would use the printers for new marketing purposes, for business development, as a way to offer hotel guest services that are otherwise not possible with wired printers, things like printers in lobby, not hidden in the business center, and so on," she said.

In the short team, PrinterOn executives say they will continue on their present course, where the rapid expansion of business services within the hotel setting is generating ample opportunity for growth.

"There are quite a few business centers going in right now, and so we have a lot of activity in working with our business center partners," Donsig said.