There are 875 million good reasons why the paperless office won't happen soon

UK Cabinet Office organises latest print hardware and supplies mega framework

The UK government has awarded a contract worth up to £875m for a range of printer hardware and multi-function devices in a move which again raises questions about whether the paperless office was a dream that has faded in the recesses of our collective memory.

In a contract award notice, the Crown Commercial Service (CCS), which spearheads cross-government procurement under the umbrella of the Cabinet Office, said a gang of hardware vendors had won work that might be sufficient to buy Newcastle United Football Club twice over and have change to spare.

CCS worked with education buying agencies YPO and ESPO to put the deal together, which began with a prior information notice covered in these pages. The "pan-government collaborative agreement", which can be accessed by central government departments and other public-sector bodies, is split into four lots:

  • Multifunctional Devices (MFDs) and Basic Print Management Software and Associated Services
  • MFDs, Print Management and/or Digital Workflow Software and Associated Services
  • MFDs, Print Management and/or Digital Workflow under Managed Service Provision
  • Print Consultancy Services

So lots of printing. You get the picture. The contracts are due to run from September 2021 until 2025.

The winner of the first lot, valued at £150m, is Ricoh. The second lot (£350m) has nine winners: Konica Minolta Business Solutions; Specialist Computer Centres; XMA; Canon; Vision (office automation); Xerox; Ricoh; Kyocera Document Solutions; and HP Inc.

The third lot, worth £325m, was won by Air Copier Systems; EBM Office Centre; Vision (Office Automation); HP Inc; Computacenter; Konica Minolta Business Solutions; and Ricoh. The final lot worth £50m was won by UK Prints Audits and PuroSolutions.

All of which raises questions about whether the government harbours any ambition to use less paper. The CCS has been asked for a comment.

According to the CCS - which makes a 1 per cent fee on all sales transacted on the framework - the mix of services available through the agreement is designed to help customers make the most efficient use of consumables like paper and ink.

It would be a bold move. In the age of digital signature and encryption, which has witnessed talk of a paperless office going back at least 20 years, our appetite for the wood-based medium is still not nearly sated.

Research from August found 450 billion fewer pages were printed from home and office devices in 2020 as COVID-19 disrupted the world of work. Volumes plunged 14 per cent on 2019 levels to a total of 2.8 trillion pages, according to IDC. Despite these declines, the world will still print 2.3 trillion pages in 2025 or around 4.4 million pages per minute, enough to cover 39 football fields.

Still, with former Health Secretary Matt Hancock kicking off the £8bn digitisation strategy in 2020 that includes reaching a "core level" of digitisation by 2024, we're sure it's all in hand. ®

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