Outsourcing Failure: ‘It Was a Nightmare’
Print outsourcing companies make a lot of promises. The picture they paint of cost savings and state-of-the-art printing technology can be attractive to organizations with sagging budgets.
But as we’ve heard repeatedly from those that have outsourced their in-plants to print management firms, not only do they fail to live up to their promises, their service levels are inferior, their adherence to brand standards is spotty, staff turnover is high and equipment upgrades don’t materialize.
As a result, many organizations that shutter their in-plants and put their faith in outsourcing firms quickly find themselves pining for the higher service levels, better quality and on-time turnaround their former in-plants provided. Increasingly, organizations are firing their outsourcing firms once their contracts end and bringing back their in-plants, staffed by employees who have a stake in the organization’s success. And once reopened, these in-plants are thriving.
A case in point is Wichita State University. A decade ago, with print volumes declining, the Wichita, Kan., university consolidated its four print centers into two and eliminated offset printing. But when a statewide salary adjustment brought mandatory raises to the in-plant’s employees, maintaining the in-plant suddenly became unsustainable.
Director of Auxiliary Services Ellen Abbey was desperate for a solution, so a bid went out seeking a company to come in and manage the in-plant. The national equipment company that won the bid told her it would hire her staff, upgrade the shop’s equipment, add a much-needed Web-to-print system and cut costs dramatically. And because the proposal was coming from the company that manufactured the shop’s equipment, the implication was that maintenance and service would be nearly instantaneous. Abbey took the bait.
Things went downhill almost immediately. Despite its promises, the outsourcing company hired just one of the former in-plant’s employees and brought in its own employee to round out the staff of what they called the Duplication Station. Customer service began fading right off the bat. Abbey’s former employee confided that the company’s procedures required paperwork to be filled out by staff before taking care of the customer, thwarting that employee’s efforts to put customers first. She was eventually let go.
Even worse was the lack of basic print knowledge held by the employees of the outsourcing provider.
“They didn’t even understand what a full bleed was,” exclaims Abbey. “[They] basically knew how to push the button to copy and that was it.”
When it came to following the university’s brand standards, which Abbey provided to them right from the start, they were extremely lax.
“We’re very specific on our yellow,” she remarks, referring to Wichita State’s official black and yellow colors. The staff of the print center, however, was not so specific about colors.
“Whatever the end user would send us, they would just print it,” she says. “They would not look at it with a critical eye.”
They treated the university logo in the same casual way. If a customer pulled a low-res logo from the internet and slapped it into a brochure, it would get printed that way.
“So we had these pieces going out with low-res logos,” Abbey says in frustration. “In their eyes, everything is print ready.”
The staff didn’t understand their critical roles as the university print experts. “We are hand holders; we help customers along the way,” Abbey explains. Customers don’t understand colors and image resolutions. They don’t know about different paper stocks. It’s the in-plant’s job to catch their mistakes and guide them toward a finished piece they can be proud of. But with the employees of the outsourcing vendor, this integrity was completely missing.
“They took no pride in their work,” she says. “It was just a job.”
Trying to educate them proved futile because of the high turnover rate.
“We had nine people come and go from the shop,” Abbey reports. “So we had no continuity. No memory. And our customers were very frustrated.”
No New Equipment from Vendor
As for the technology upgrades the vendor promised to bring, that was another empty promise, Abbey says. Other than the initial equipment it brought in, over the five years the vendor ran Wichita State’s in-plant, the printing equipment never changed. Web-to-print was never implemented either. And as for service on the equipment, it was disappointingly slow.
“We couldn’t get service out here,” exclaims Abbey, incredulously. “And it was their own shop!”
The vendor had also touted its ability to send university work to its other print operations during busy periods.
“That doesn’t happen,” affirms Abbey. Deadlines were missed as a result.
Without question, the consequences of the decision to outsource printing were bad. But did it save the school money?
“I suppose so,” acknowledges Abbey, citing the inflated salary levels of her employees prior to outsourcing. “But we lost so much. We lost control of our brands. We lost control of the color. We lost confidence [from] our end users.”
So three and a half years ago when the five-year contract ended, Wichita State kicked out the outsourcing vendor and set about rebuilding its in-plant. Today the Duplication Station has two full-time employees and three student workers and it is thriving. University departments have noticed the improved service levels and quality and are sending more of their work to the in-plant.
“We’re growing so much that we’re looking for other space,” Abbey says. “The more our volumes come up, the lower our costs. Every fiscal year for the last four years I’ve been able to reduce the cost of color.”
The in-plant has not only added the Web-to-print capabilities that the outsourcing vendor failed to implement (EFI’s Digital StoreFront), but it upgraded its digital printing equipment to a Konica Minolta bizhub PRESS C1100 for color, a bizhub PRESS 1250 for monochrome and a bizhub 554 multifunction printer. The in-plant also runs a Xanté Impressia for envelope printing and an Epson SureColor P20000 for wide-format. In July, it will change its name from the Duplication Station to Shocker Printing Solutions after the university’s athletic teams, the Wichita State Shockers.
“I’m just really grateful that we were able to come back,” says Abbey.
To those organizations contemplating closing their in-plants and bringing in an outsourcing provider, she has strong words of caution.
“Don’t do it!” she warns. “It was a nightmare.”
Related story: Outsourcing Out! In-plants Back In
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 nearly 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, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.