Print MIS: You’re ‘Disadvantaged’ Without It
What’s the difference between an in-plant with a reliable print management information system (MIS) and an in-plant without one? Sean Conlon has tackled the question from both sides, and he can express the answer in a single word.
“Disadvantaged” is how he characterizes a shop that can’t use its own production data to adjust workflows and human resources to meet changing patterns of demand. His in-plant, the Document Production Services unit of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) was once in that leaky boat — until Conlon began taking steps to give the shop the MIS capability it needed.
Conlon, the in-plant’s senior analyst, has been at the task for the last dozen years or so: first with a home-brewed solution, then with a collection of software modules from Avanti Computer Systems, and now with an MIS-capable Web-to-print ordering system he is in the process of implementing. He remembers what life was like before Document Production Services and the BCBSM divisions it principally interacts with — Marketing Communications and Mail Systems — had a unified way to manage document creation and production.
“All three departments had their own database tracking systems, each with their own numbering schema,” Conlon recalls. “This means at one point we actually had three ways of identifying the same document. Needless to say, there were issues with trying to figure out what was what.”
Homemade Tool Doesn’t Cut It
Conlon had tried to impose some order with a DIY remedy he called “Seanvanti”: a bare-bones job management tool he built with Microsoft Access database software. But, after about three years of trying to rely on this stopgap, he realized that a better approach would be to tie the three departments together within the same MIS. BCBSM management agreed, and Avanti was chosen as the provider.
Now the in-plant had a reliable way to track orders moving through the shop, organized by their due dates and the machines on which they would be produced. The “workflow to-do list” generated by Avanti’s CRM module enabled the team to check job status at a glance, stay abreast of changes, “and structure our workday around that,” Conlon says.
An especially helpful feature was Trigger/Alerts: automatic email messages that informed the shop and its customers of job events.
“The system was used to ‘ping’ different departments within the new, streamlined workflow about changing production statuses of particular orders and documents,” Conlon explains. Finishing a job, for example, became a cue to notify the shipping department to get ready for it and a go-ahead to create the labels and packing slips.
Also highly useful were the various end-of-month reports generated by the system, including a chargeback summary that Conlon says helped the in-plant stay within budget. The software also tallied and reported the number of impressions, customer utilization, and rush orders.
Conlon says the latter task is a specialty of Document Production Services, which supports an organization that must comply with fast-changing health care regulations. In operation for more than 30 years, the shop was born when BCBSM absorbed an outside print service provider and turned it into an in-plant
Today, with 11 employees working in a 12,000-sq.-ft. facility in Wixom, Mich., Document Production Services prints about 2 million impressions per month, most of this consisting of brochures and other collateral for the Marketing Communications department. The in-plant can also print posters, banners, and signage for BCBSM events.
Easier Without Offset
The shop is now all-digital, having retired a pair of 14x20˝ offset presses this summer.
“It’s hard to find offset press operators, and the cost to keep the presses up and running is becoming more expensive,” Conlon observes.
He also notes that, with the offset equipment out of the picture, the production workflow and consequently the MIS overhead have become simpler. There are, for example, no more separations and plates to keep track of. Now the focus is mostly on “how good is the file,” Conlon says.
The shop is well-equipped for digital production with a pair of Xerox iGen 5 color presses and a quartet of devices from Konica Minolta: two black-and-white bizhub PRESS 1250s, a black-and-white bizhub PRESS 2250P, and a color bizhub PRO C1060L. The wide-format printer is a 36˝ Kyocera KIP 870. For envelopes and other small-format jobs, there’s a Memjet-powered Neopost Mach 6 inkjet printer.
Document Production Services faces the same organizational challenges as many other enterprise in-plants. Although the shop prints exclusively for BCBSM, it doesn’t have right of first refusal on the work, and high-volume jobs usually are sent to an outside vendor.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also taken its toll, shutting down the in-plant’s principal customer, the Marketing Communications department, for three months, with a corresponding effect on volume. Recovery is under way, but as Conlon says, “everybody’s on pins and needles right now.”
We Don’t Speak ‘No’
Nevertheless, he’s confident of the shop’s standing within BCBSM. He says its chief selling point is that, when work comes in on short notice, “we turn it around without any pushback” or rush charges. The shop saves the company money by proposing lower-cost alternatives to projects customers want to produce.
The in-plant hopes customers will find the shop even easier to do business with once it completes installation of a Web-to-print ordering system that everyone in BCBSM will be able to access and use. Conlon says it will provide an Amazon-like interface to libraries of stored documents that customers can order and re-order on demand. With the help of a plug-in, customers also will be able to build their own documents by choosing the paper stocks and binding styles they want.
This will put a certain amount of responsibility for document management into end-users’ hands, and Conlon acknowledges that it may take time for BCBSM as a whole to embrace the new way of doing things. But, that’s the intention from on high, and the in-plant will do its part to ensure that management’s wishes are fulfilled.