Inkjet Comes to Colorado
Sitting in his office on the northern edge of Denver, Mike Lincoln ponders for a moment before offering up some advice for his fellow in-plant managers:
“Don’t be complacent,” urges the Colorado State Printer. “Look for opportunity in places that most wouldn’t.”
It’s advice that Lincoln has certainly taken to heart.
In December, the State of Colorado’s Integrated Document Solutions (IDS) operation became the first government in-plant to install a four-color production inkjet press: a Ricoh InfoPrint 5000 MP. Running at 210 feet per minute, the new roll-fed press leaves the three toner devices it replaced in the dust.
“We are producing what used to be done on the cut-sheet boxes in probably one third of the time,” Lincoln proclaims. (Read the digital version of this story.)
The InfoPrint 5000 MP is also saving the in-plant 20 percent a month in expenses like maintenance and consumables—a big feather in the cap for this public sector operation.
Becoming one of inkjet’s early adopters was a logical direction for Colorado IDS, Lincoln feels, and is opening up opportunities for the in-plant.
“Inkjet, I think, is the key to Colorado’s in-plant’s future,” he contends.
Digital Printing Specialists
With 68 employees and $16.5 million in its annual operating budget, IDS is the third largest state government in-plant, behind California and Oregon. Having taken its last offset press offline two years ago, it is now an all-digital operation. The new inkjet press is backed up by a Xerox Color 1000, as well as two new Ricoh black-and-white printers with MICR capability.
Beyond printing, the in-plant provides services like graphic design, mail, an address quality program, secure document storage, delivery and dispatch operations. IDS also handles the procurement of commercial printing for most state agencies.
Transactional printing makes up about 90 percent of the in-plant’s internal printing, Lincoln says, much of it for its largest customer, the Colorado Benefits Management System (CBMS). The in-plant also prints property tax statements, vehicle registration cards, booklets, brochures, handouts and other “quick copy” work, he says, along with some wide-format printing and mounting. Job files come to the shop through its PageDNA online storefront, though IDS is in the process of switching to another Web-to-print solution.
Almost since the in-plant was created back in 1977, a state mandate has been in place requiring agencies to send their printing to IDS. Lincoln has a sage perspective on this right of first refusal. He doesn’t want customers to send work because they have to; he wants them to want to.
“We want to be the first choice for service,” he says. “That means putting your customers’ needs first and foremost, making sure the quality is above customer expectations and treating them as if you could lose them.”
One hurdle most printers have to get past when considering inkjet technology is color quality. The output is certainly not offset quality, admits Lincoln. Coming to terms with this was a big adjustment for a career printer like him. But he’s come to realize that “business quality” color is just right for the type of transactional documents his in-plant prints.
“Most of those documents don’t have any longevity, so the idea is to get the message across and be as efficient as possible in your messaging,” he says. The important thing is that customers are happy with the results and with the opportunity to spice up their documents with color, he says.
The Call for Color
Listening to customers is what clued him in on their desire to add color to their transactional documents.
“We couldn’t do it in the monochrome world, with cut sheet,” he says. “Inkjet was a logical progression for us, with the transactional printing that we’re doing.”
This conclusion didn’t come to him right away, though. Like many, he didn’t know much about inkjet and wasn’t sure the technology was far enough advanced to be practical. So when In-plant Graphics invited him to attend the first Inkjet Summit back in 2013, he decided to go along for the ride and see what he could learn.
“The Inkjet Summit is what helped me really understand that [inkjet] wasn’t as big a risk as I had heard it may be,” he says. “Talking to peers at the Inkjet Summit was the thing that really sold me on it.”
Armed with this new knowledge, he looked for a way to make it work within the in-plant’s existing budget. He wrote an RFP stipulating what IDS could spend, and looked for a partner that could provide a device within those parameters. Ricoh stepped up and made it happen.
The Ricoh InfoPrint 5000 MP has a roll-to-cut-sheet configuration, and binding is done offline. Lincoln is encouraging customers to switch from inserts to onserts so everything can be printed at once, saving insertion costs.
Crucial to the process, Lincoln says, is Solimar’s Automated Document Factory (ADF) workflow software, which IDS relies on to reengineer documents by merging data, combining multiple print streams and adding Intelligent Mail Barcodes. The software also dynamically tracks jobs and generates reports.
“In the transactional space, I think it’s absolutely required to have an ADF solution,” he insists.
No Charge for Color...to a Point
To promote the use of color by agency customers, the in-plant created an incentive. Jobs can include up to 5 percent color coverage for no additional charge.
Customers are trying it out. He cites the vehicle registration cards printed for the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“That was a monochrome job traditionally, and this last month we added two additional colors to highlight particular areas on the registration card,” he says.
Other agencies are looking at redirecting highlight color jobs from their own digital printers to the in-plant to take advantage of this as well, bringing new work to the shop.
He’s also exploring the idea of bringing transpromotional printing to the state by selling the unused white space on one agency’s statements to another agency that wants to send citizens a message, thus sharing the cost of printing. To this end, the in-plant recently ran a pilot program with the Department of Parks and Wildlife in which the white space on the lower portion of the address page of a mailing was filled with a promotion for Colorado Outdoors magazine. A URL on the promotion directed interested citizens to a landing page. Lincoln says the department is reporting encouraging results.
Decade of Evolution
The new inkjet press caps what Lincoln refers to as the “Decade of Evolution,” which began when he assumed the role of IDS northern regional manager in 2005, after serving for two years in a customer service role there. At the time, the in-plant printed mostly forms, letterhead and two-color brochures using small duplicators with T-heads, a Didde narrow web and a few copiers. The printing operation had been largely neglected by Lincoln’s predecessor, who was influenced by the governor’s push to go “paperless.”
“He was in the process of phasing it out,” Lincoln says. He, on the other hand, had a strong printing background and believed in the value of the printed page.
“I’ve been in the print industry since 1979, so it’s in my blood, I guess,” he says. “We started looking at the work that we were doing, and started looking at how we could add some efficiencies.”
He got rid of the Didde web, which was creating piles of waste, and started buying that work outside, at a big cost savings for customers. Other jobs were outsourced too, and the in-plant used its print expertise to help customers get the best value.
The Transactional ‘Sweet Spot’
Meanwhile, IDS beefed up its mailing capabilities to keep pace with the needs of CBMS, its largest customer.
“In doing so, we found a new opportunity and a new sweet spot, which was transactional printing,” Lincoln says. “We found that we did it really well and our staff seemed to adapt and really take on the challenges that transactional printing can bring.”
Armed with these skills, the in-plant looked to expand its transactional print workload. In 2009, it took over all of the state’s mainframe printing, including checks, reports and statements, from the Office of Information Technology, allowing the state to redeploy the IT staff that had been doing it. Then in 2011, IDS took on printing and mailing for the City and County of Denver after the city reached out to Lincoln for help developing an RFP to outsource the work.
To help customers save even more money, IDS implemented an address quality program to drive down up-front print, labor and postage costs by reducing the number of pieces printed for addresses that were undeliverable. Lincoln points to the state’s Low Energy Assistance Program, which had been printing and mailing forms to thousands of bad addresses, resulting in cartloads of returned mail. By offering to cleanse the program’s mail list and convincing them to use business reply envelopes instead of pre-metered envelopes, the in-plant brought big savings to the program.
“In the first year, we saved them over $130,000,” Lincoln says. “That’s money that goes right back into the program, which helped taxpayers pay their energy bills.”
Colorado is now the only state government to be recognized as an NCOA vendor by the United States Postal Service, Lincoln says.
In 2011, the in-plant introduced another useful service: secure archiving of customer hard copy files. When agencies need those files, IDS staff pulls them from storage and delivers them on demand.
The next year, the in-plant was honored to be named the 2012 Mail Center of the Year by the In-Plant Printing and Mailing Association (IPMA) for numerous improvements it had made to its mail operation. Among them: a new sorter saved $1.6 million in postage costs; other new inserting and sorting equipment increased productivity and brought savings; and more efficient mail routes were developed to reduce travel distance.
Lincoln rejoined IPMA in 2010 (after a brief membership in the early ’90s), and two years later spearheaded a merger of the association with the National Government Publishing Association, of which he was president at the time. He is currently president-elect of IPMA, and will start his two-year term in January.
In his role as a leader in the in-plant industry, Lincoln tries to pass along advice gleaned from his own experiences. From his efforts to transform his in-plant during its “Decade of Evolution,” he has come to see that all in-plants must continually examine the needs of their parent organizations and anticipate them by adding new services.
“You definitely need to constantly look at areas where you can add efficiency,” he says.
In his own state, he makes sure he knows the missions of each agency he works with, and then targets the in-plant’s message accordingly to focus on the most relevant services. At the same time, he’s always on guard against attempts to outsource the state’s printing, and keeps data on hand to show that the in-plant is the most cost-effective solution. He cautions other in-plants to do the same.
“Have the data and be able to demonstrate to the parent company that you are actually doing it at a cost point and a price point that cannot be matched,” he says.
For the time being, Colorado IDS continues to build upon its success in saving money for state agencies and leveraging its new inkjet press to help customers more effectively communicate with taxpayers. He sees a lot of potential for the in-plant thanks to its new Ricoh InfoPrint 5000 MP.
“We have a lot of capacity for growth,” he says.
As for the future, Lincoln has plans to expand the in-plant’s inkjet printing capabilities.
“We’re hoping for another inkjet line within the next two or three years,” he reveals. “To provide something beyond business color to our customers in an inkjet platform.”
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 more than 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.