How To Outsource-Proof Your In-plant
Like hot air balloons, some companies sag and drop when the economy loses steam. All on board start looking for ways to stay aloft. When all the loose ballast has been discarded, it isn't unusual for those involved to start eyeing each other to lighten the load.
When times are tough, too many good in-plants fall victim to outsourcing. Often, executive management is misled into considering them expendable. It's a shame the true value of these internal publishing operations isn't discovered until after they are dismantled. If only management would recognize that retaining the in-plants might actually help lift their companies back to profitability. After all, management originally created them to solve a problem.
A Political Decision
How often do we hear that an in-plant was closed because of office politics? Many in-plants are targeted by myopic and ill-advised goal-seekers. In a departmentalized corporate world, new executives can quickly cut costs by eliminating large chunks of their departments. This usually means axing support services, like in-plant printing. Sure, the in-plant operating expense is gone, but the company's overall printing needs still must be met and the expense escalates. No one seems to notice right away, because the expense is scattered throughout the company.
Politics. What can you do?
Answer: Be a better politician. Alert the new executive to the value of your in-plant and the costly consequences of outsourcing it.
'They Went Straight To The Top'
In-plant managers lament that outside print service providers whisper in the ears of their top executives. These salespeople give slick presentations and promise slicker solutions to problems management didn't even know it had. Decisions to outsource are made at the top, before managers get a chance to defend themselves.
What can you do?
Answer: Get to the top first. If management doesn't know you are doing a good job already, when these outsourcing carpetbaggers approach them, it may already be too late. Increase the visibility of your in-plant's contribution.
Outsource-proofing your in-plant isn't impossible. It's like anything worthwhile. It takes the appropriate methods, tools, time and a serious level of commitment. Here are a few methods. The rest is up to you.
Outsourcing providers rely on in-plants not to know their true costs. This is how they wedge their feet firmly in the door. How can management evaluate your in-plant against their claims if they have nothing to measure them against?
If you don't know your true costs, find out. Some in-plant managers are only provided with a limited view of their operating expenses. Don't be afraid to ask for more. It shows management you are not just taking up office space. Play detective. Ferret out all expenses and then see if you are consistently recovering your cost. This information will be invaluable in refining your chargeback system, benchmarking, reporting and justifying new technology—not to mention your operation's existence.
Outsourcing providers need problems to solve in order to gain consideration. If you know your true costs, they have to find another chink in the in-plant armor. They'll move down the list.
The sales rep will try to convince your management an in-plant cannot supply good customer service. This rep of course will have nothing to support this claim, but that doesn't matter. All that's needed is one unresolved complaint to get the door pried open again.
Here's how you can lean against it. Don't just settle for customer satisfaction; strive for customer success. Don't just process requests; consult with clients one on one. Look for ways to reduce their burdens and expenses. Survey your clients to get honest feedback. Invite criticism and use it in a positive way to improve your services. If you don't know what you're doing wrong, how can you improve services or ever retain clients?
Many outsourcing providers try to convince upper management that no one still retains in-plants, or the processes they use are inappropriate. You know this isn't true, but how do you convince your hierarchy?
Benchmark your services with similar companies. This not only proves your case, but it also helps you hone the efficiency of your operation. You can select best practices and avoid the pitfalls. The International Publishing Management Association (IPMA) is a great source for benchmarking in-plants.
Don't just limit your benchmark to in-plants, though. Compare your publishing facility to your competition. Are you applying the right processes to your job mix? How does your pricing compare?
If you've consulted with current, prospective and future customers, benchmarked and know your costs, you'll know exactly how to design your operation to meet your organization's needs. The data you've collected will help you justify personnel and technology to meet unmet wants and deliver the highest return.
But how can you compete with those sales reps' slick presentations?
Create you own. Showcase your services, using your services. Print and distribute marketing pieces that prospective clients will hold onto. Make your advertising useful to extend its duration. Notepads and calendars are constant reminders of the in-plant's services. Announce new services with postcards. If management complains about the cost, you know your advertising was effective. Counter these objections by arguing for "right of first refusal."
Use other available media to market your in-plant. E-mail broadcasts and one-on-one PowerPoint presentations can also be highly effective.
Use customer service tools to market your in-plant. Customer focus groups, open houses and even surveys are great ways to promote your operation.
Don't just market your services, though. Market your in-plant. What's the difference? You can sell printing or you can sell your expertise. Don't be afraid to brag. If you receive accolades, let everyone know and build your operation's credibility. You can't gain appreciation if only a select few know who you are.
Report To Management
It doesn't matter how good your in-plant is if you don't let upper management know about it. It's like Tiger Woods playing without a scorecard.
Create and submit compelling reports. Compelling? Yes. In-plant publishing is more than impressions and click charges. You need to know what management values and then report on it.
A representative of a facilities management company was asked how he evaluates an in-plant when proposing outsourcing. Studying the cost of operation, the level of customer service and the production processes were the criteria for the FM evaluation. It's pretty obvious that these three areas of concern would be good ones to report on. If the in-plant is doing its job right, then these reports quickly dismiss the FM's argument.
But don't stop there. Remember that you want to submit compelling reports. Customer service and cost recovery are great, but not very exciting. What if your in-plant accurately recorded its cost savings? High return of investments, like technology, will pave the way to the next generation of upgrades, but you need to report on it. Do this and your publishing operation will acquire value and respect from upper management.
Get there first. This will keep the outsourcing wolf from getting its hairy leg in the door.