University of Bristol: Evolving, Adapting, and Innovating
The University of Bristol, located in the heart of the city of Bristol in the South West of England, is a long-established institution that traces its roots back to the 16th century. It consistently ranks on lists of the world’s top 100 universities and is among the top 10 in the UK.
University of Bristol Print Services Manager Lawrence Flavell has been in his post for just over a year, making a mid-COVID move from Gemini Print, which counted the university as one of its clients. The department’s technical administrator, Kate Bartlett, reached out to Flavell to discuss the role, and because he knew a lot of the team and the department itself well, it was a natural fit. Flavell wasted no time implementing changes to benefit the print department.
“When I came on board, one of the first things I did was to start pulling work back in through Print Services,” he explains. “It gave us greater control, and it boosted [business] for this department.”
The in-plant boasts a range of services, including mailing and fulfilment, design, promotional printing, and scanning/archiving. However, outsourcing remained an issue; Flavell identified a significant amount of work that was being subcontracted out of the university that the print department had the skill and equipment to produce in-house.
“Graduation tickets, for example, are all done in-house now, and we are in talks about bringing more graduation-related print items in-house,” Flavell says. “We’ve got a number of mailings that we’re handling with personalized data that were being produced externally quite regularly, and the same goes for envelope printing. We just said, ‘why send them out when the university has the equipment and skills to produce them?’”
More to Come
While the department’s quest is gaining success, it’s just the first step on the journey, as Flavell and his team make plans to ensure every department is aware of the wide-ranging applications at their fingertips thanks to Print Services.
“We don’t sit back on our laurels,” says Bartlett. “If they need a four-hour turnover of an important document, then we do it. There are 53 or 54 departments within the university. They’re all running as mini businesses, so we have to tap into that which can be difficult. So we do have to be on our toes, and we have to be proactive and reactive to our customers’ needs.”
Of course, university departments may operate like they are their own small businesses, but in reality they are not. Ways of drumming up business that might work for a commercial organization, such as discounted rates for new customers, are unlikely to generate a significant amount of additional work from within the university.
On top of this, the more the departments build up long-term relationships with external service providers, such as design agencies, the more challenging it can be to bring them back into the fold. Flavell explains that procurement can act as a support, but while there is guidance in place that advises a department what should be coming through Print Services, there are opportunities to tighten up procedures to ensure the work is going through the in-plant.
Pushing the special capabilities of the department’s Xerox Iridesse, which has been in place since 2019, is high on the agenda as a marketing tool, leveraging the appeal of specialty and metallic colors to demonstrate some of the more creative and opulent products Print Services can deliver. More specialized applications such as optical mark reading and printing for the visually-impaired using a PIAF Tactile Image Maker are also generating interest throughout the institution.
The MFD Challenge
There is a further challenge in the form of multi-functional devices (MFDs), of which there are many throughout the university.
“Sometimes staff don’t realize how time-consuming standing by an MFD can be. It’s not the best use of these professionals’ time and energy,” Flavell explains. “Also, as hybrid working continues, MDF use is down significantly, so we are now faced with the fact that they aren’t meeting people’s requirements. Shifting the management of the university’s MFDs will have an important impact. Larger MDF print jobs of 200 to 300 pages should be coming through Print Services.”
There was, unsurprisingly, a seismic shift in working life at the university due to COVID. Print Services did as many quick-thinking print businesses did throughout the pandemic: it got creative. The in-plant produced and distributed COVID signage both within the university and externally. As the chemistry department produced hand sanitizer, Print Services distributed it among the wider Bristol area. The department staff also put their hands up to distribute food parcels to isolating students.
While hybrid and remote working is ongoing, people are returning to the university, and in-person events such as graduations are back as well. These events need literature, signage, and plenty of other printed collateral.
The Scanning Opportunity
Along with these print products come opportunities to boost department revenue with creativity and adaptability. For example, the amount of monocolor printing is in decline, whereas areas such as scanning are on the rise, particularly as a COVID consequence.
“People are working remotely, and they can’t access printed matter, not to mention the fact that there’s a lot of pressure for space within the university,” explains Flavell. “There’s another room ... which is probably about four times the size of this room and just full of files that need scanning. It’s a very big long-term project, but when you look at the space, the cost of that space, it has a cost benefit. It’s a growing market. It’s looking like that’s where we’re going to be investing. We’ve got scanning capability on our printing devices, but it’s more likely that we will be getting dedicated scanners in.”
Scans are delivered as PDFs, he says, and students can even have access to their exam papers in PDF form.
While it’s clear that a marketing push for University of Bristol departments is working, Print Services is also looking to grow its customer base outside of the institution.
“Around 5-10% of [revenue] is external, but we are looking to grow that to about 20%,” says Flavell, who points out that beyond 20% is unlikely to be justifiable due to the potential impact on their raison d’etre: supporting the university’s departments. To aid in this growth, Print Services is rolling out a dedicated online portal for external work, alongside the current student and staff portals, which have had a spruce-up since Flavell has been at the helm.
There is no doubt that University of Bristol Print Services is on an upward trajectory, characterized by a commitment to innovation, adaptability, and tenacity. The department’s June revenue was the highest since January 2020.
“It’s about evolution,” says Flavell. “Print is never going to disappear. It will change, and print runs will get shorter, and that will play into the hands of digital printers, which is what we are. There’s so much beyond ink on paper, and we’re always learning and researching as a department. Sooner or later, we’ll consider anything and everything.”
Karis Copp is a U.K.-based journalist and communications specialist. With a background as a writer and editor in the print industry, she writes about print and technology news and trends, reports on industry events, and works with businesses to help them tell their stories and connect with their customers. Follow her on Twitter @KarisCoppMedia.