From the Editor: Outsourcing Talk
AS WE plod through this recession, I keep hearing rumors of a growing interest in document outsourcing. Consultants say that facilities management firms are tripping over each other in a frenzied effort to convince companies to outsource their printing. With equipment purchases slowing, they say, vendors are encouraging their outsourcing divisions to get busy.
The story seems different when I talk to in-plant managers. Few report increased FM activity. This is certainly no reason to relax (managers are often the last to know what upper management is cooking up), but it does make me wonder which observation is correct.
Are organizations reacting to the recession by saying "let's outsource and save money" (even though studies show costs are generally not reduced after outsourcing)? Or are they reminding staff to save money by sending work to the in-plant?
Some of the shops I contacted report they are busier than their local commercial printers. Others say customers' print budgets have been cut so their shops are getting fewer jobs. Certainly in-plants have seen staff cuts, salary freezes and budget reductions, but as far as a major increase in the outsourcing of entire in-plants, it doesn't seem to be happening (despite the wishes of some FMs).
That said, I do know about a couple of in-plants that have been told they're being examined for possible outsourcing. (Though this could be because, as one manager put it, "the economy gives decision makers a reason to do what they have been wanting to do.") This is never pleasant news to receive, but you can make it hurt a little less by being prepared for it. Instead of feeling ambushed by a Monday morning phone call, collect your justification data now. Compare your costs with external providers and have them ready. Research consultants to confirm your data and be ready to bring them in. Demonstrate how your in-plant is integral to the organization's mission. Collect customer comments highlighting your importance. Keep it all close at hand.
I visited the City of Cincinnati's in-plant recently and Manager Steven Howe told me of an interesting tactic he tried. He proactively invited facilities management companies to take a look at his nine-employee printing and mailing operation, then asked them what they would do differently if they were in charge. All said they would add staff and equipment, effectively admitting that they could not do a better job than the in-plant was already doing without adding costs. This was valuable data to have when the city's outsourcing czar came calling, and Howe used it to prove to her that the in-plant was providing the city with the best possible deal.
How about you? Are you ready to prove, right now, that your in-plant is crucial to the organization's mission, providing essential services that simply can't be parted with? Whether or not outsourcing is on the rise during this recession, make sure you're not caught off guard.
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited nearly 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, co-sponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.