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Sometimes I have trouble keeping up with the world of IT. The constantly changing technology makes me Frequently Happy, Very Surprised and Always Grumpy… sometimes all at once, which is more than a little confusing!

Take this article from ZDNet UK, which is one of my favourite sources for fairly straight-up news and reasonably unbiased analysis of all things IT. Deprinting? What on earth is that? And why?

It turns out that deprinting is laser-based technology by means of which one can remove baked-on laser toner from printed pages. And it’s being touted as “environmental” or “green” technology because it could allow people to re-use sheets of paper up to two or three times. Really?!? Come on now.

It makes me Frequently Happy that our society continues to find ways to invest in innovation and exploration even when the results are not immediately useful. But it makes me Always Grumpy that everyone thinks every idea has to be monetized right away. Deprinting? I think this is a technology looking for an application. It’s a solution looking for a problem. An answer looking for a question. In the words of the immortal John Cleese, “VOOM?!? Mate, this bird wouldn’t ‘voom’ if you put four million volts through it!”

“No no!,” say the investors and marketeers who are trying to spin this bit of academic research into a product launch, “’E’s pining!”… or perhaps deprinting, as the case may be. I rather suspect that scammers will find other ways to use deprinting, but that’s a whole other topic.

Deprinting paper requires energy to drive those green lasers. (Zzzzap!) And someone has to manufacture the machinery, and the owners have to maintain it and eventually dispose of it. I’d be Very Surprised indeed if it doesn’t take more resources (time, energy and materials) overall to deprint a piece of paper than it does to manufacture a new sheet… it reminds me of deduplication, or “dedupe” as it’s known.

Dedupe is a technology that is supposed to reduce storage cost by reducing the numbers of copies of information in our storage devices. It’s easy to imagine the benefit. Take the minutes of a meeting, for example. Now imagine if we could just store one copy of the document centrally instead of dozens or hundreds of copies in everyone’s hard drives and on their shared backup storage silos. Sounds great! But the technology to do it is not trivial. It takes time and energy to keep track of all of those documents, and time and energy and network bandwidth to find them and download them whenever someone wants to edit or update or just view them. And it takes time for the deduped storage system to find and download a document, and if there’s anything wrong in the systems or networks, one or more documents may be temporarily or permanently unavailable. In at least one enterprise I know of, and perhaps in others too, dedupe ends up not only costing more than it saves but also reducing productivity. I know of at least one enterprise in which dedupe has turned out to cost more than it saved without even looking at the (admittedly difficult to calculate) productivity cost.

This raises another of those bees in my bonnet: TCO!

TCO stands for Total Cost of Ownership. This is a form of analysis that’s supposed to look at the real and complete cost of a given enterprise or activity, usually in order to decide if it should be started or continued or to choose among options. And it’s almost never done right. Too often, when our corporate and political leaders see a sexy new idea, they just run with it. They want the shiny new toy. And their sycophants, the Willing Endoscopes, happily deliver incomplete TCO analyses and flawed business cases that pander to the preconceived conclusion that the boss wants supported. Then we end up deprinting when we should really just (a) use less paper by printing less often, (b) print on both sides or use the back for scrap and (c) recycle the result for making more paper. Reduce, re-use, recycle… didn’t we all learn that in grade school? If we do it right, TCO can tell us what the real cost of a decision is, in time and/or dollars and/or energy. That won’t tell us which decision is right, because there will be trade-offs involved (look for a post soon about Faster, Better and Cheaper). That’s where morals and ethics and judgement come into play. The correct application of TCO lets us make decisions to, for example, choose methods that reduce the energy and resources it takes to achieve a desired goal, or even alter our goals, in order to reduce our environmental footprint. If you’re a believer in global warming, this is one way to reduce it… or dewarm. And if not, TCO still makes sense for all business and many other types of decisions: don’t you want to choose the most cost-effective way to realize your goals?

But no! Instead of taking an honest approach to TCO, we’ll spend millions of dollars to develop and tens of thousands to install and maintain zappy green-laser deprinters so we can all waste more time ordering and replacing detoner cartridges and whatever other paraphernalia is required. And we’ll spend tens or hundreds of thousands or maybe millions to install and maintain deduplicated storage environments. And we’ll complain about the high cost of everything and wonder why we’re using so much energy and wasting so many resources . Instead, we could just apply TCO… and dewarm.

Jonathan Gladstone is alwaysgrumpy at jbglad59@sympatico.ca or follow me on Twitter @jbglad59.

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One Comment

  1. You make some excellent points — all very rational. I must admit, though, that I never heard of any of the technologies you described!! Deprinting? Dedupe? TCO? all new to me! Hope nobody goes ahead and tries to do any of the above!! It sounds like they will none of them be even remotely cost-effective!

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