From the Editor: An Outsourcing Tale
I hear a lot of stories in this job — some with happy endings, and some without; some I write about and many I keep to myself. Here’s one that grabbed my attention just the other day.
Once upon a time a university administrator found a new job. He had made quite a name for himself by closing the in-plant at his previous university, so he wasted no time preparing to outsource the printing operation at his new school as well.
This was, of course, unsettling news for the manager, who was not included in the discussion. But then something odd happened. A vendor that had not been included in the RFP process complained loudly. The new administrator, in his giddy haste to outsource, had forgotten to follow procedure. So a brand new RFP was written, this time including all the major players.
In anticipation of closure, in-plant staff retired or requested relocation. The manager was asked to stick around to help ensure a successful transition (and presumably to turn off the lights once the in-plant was shuttered).
As the vendors assessed the situation, the part that drew the most interest was the copier program. It included 250 digital devices all over campus, 90% of which came from a single vendor. That vendor was not enthused about selling parts, toner or fuser oil to the others.
The bidding process was won by a relatively obscure vendor with one distinct advantage over the others: it already had parts and service contracts with all the major players. That vendor, however, made one request in its final proposal. It stated that managing the in-plant was beyond its capabilities, and it wanted to exclude it as part of the bid.
So after all that, the in-plant was retained. It was moved to a new division and restructured but it’s still in operation, serving the university with just as much dedication as it always has.
That was an outcome no one saw coming (including the employees who retired early). And while it’s not the “in-plant proves its value and defeats outsourcing” story I was hoping for, it’s still a good news story for the shop. I should add that the in-plant had scored higher than any other campus service in a survey, so it actually had proven its value — but that was simply not taken into consideration by management in its hasty quest to follow the trends and outsource. If not for the sloppy way the RFP was handled, the shop would be gone, and the university would have lost that top-level service.
But this is nothing new to all of you, who have watched fellow managers pour all their efforts into serving their institutions, only to have someone higher up decide that outsourcing made more sense — no research, no consulting with customers, no collection of cost data; it just felt right to outsource.
Where do they get this idea? From their peers, of course. They go to conferences, just like you, and hear outsourcing “success” stories. They read magazines directed at auxiliary services providers and clip articles that glorify outsourcing.
I paged through the Summer 2017 issue of NACAS College Services magazine, written for members of the National Association of College Auxiliary Services. The theme throughout the entire issue was the importance of “partnering” with outside vendors. “They are the experts in their fields,” wrote the editor. This is the message college administrators see.
Now more than ever it’s crucial that you send regular reports to management proving that you are saving money, supporting the mission and enabling the success of key departments in the organization. Don’t let these other messages they’re receiving drown out the story of your in-plant’s value.
Related story: The Anatomy of an In-plant Closing
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.