An In-plant Success Story
I had the opportunity to spend a few days recently visiting a shop that I worked with two or three years ago. Revisiting a shop that had issues, only to find that most—if not all—of the issues have been resolved, is one of the most rewarding things about my job.
All too often, our assignment is to do an assessment of an in-plant because administration (upper management) is concerned about the financial sustainability of the shop. Maybe it has been losing money. Or maybe customer complaints have been increasing. Or perhaps the managed print services (MPS) guys are knocking on the door.
Dealing with declining revenue is a common scenario these days, especially in public higher education; but it’s happening in state and local government, school districts and many businesses as well. As parent organizations react to reduced revenues, they start to look for ways to cut costs, and the Peters-Drucker-Blanchard mantra (i.e., focus on core competencies) comes into play.
“We’re not in the printing business,” the argument goes, "so why should we invest limited capital in printing equipment?” Or...“Declining revenue/sales is forcing us to make some difficult decisions. We’re going to have to eliminate some positions. Cut down to the core. Trim the fat.”
It doesn’t matter what business you may be in, when it comes down to making tough choices, and the conventional wisdom is that you’re going to have to cut something, it makes sense to cut a support service, because it’s not “core.” At least that’s the argument.
A lot of my projects are driven by the need to reduce expenditures. Administrators are given the mandate to cut some percentage from their operating costs, and as we all know, food, travel and printing usually lead the list.
That was the case at the school I visited this week. Three years ago, the shop was in trouble. It was losing money, the director position was vacant, and management needed to make some decisions. The primary question was: “How can we eliminate the red ink?” However, since the ability to return to a net positive balance was in question, the larger question was, “Should we fill the manager’s position?”
It was a classic Catch 22: if they didn’t fill the manager’s position, they had little hope of returning to financial stability; and if they didn’t return to financial stability, they couldn’t pay the new manager. That was the case a couple of years ago, but it is not the case today.
In this story, upper management recognized the potential value of the in-plant and took a risk. Since my last visit, this shop added an experienced director; redesigned its fleet copier program, a major step toward achieving financial solvency; added some new digital production equipment; installed a Web-to-print workflow solution; and added an up-to-date job tracking, reporting and billing system. More importantly, the new director, with roots in the commercial sector, understood the importance of taking care of customers, and that’s what he spends a significant amount of time doing.
He also recognized the potential of insourcing work, so he started making calls on area businesses and government agencies. In just two short years, he’s increased the amount of insourced work by six figures. And he did it while improving service levels for his in-house customers.
This shop isn’t out of the woods yet—none of us are ever totally protected from the outsourcing plague—but this in-plant manager has strong support from his boss and his boss’ boss, the vice president. As I talked to his boss, I couldn’t help but notice the pride in all that had been accomplished. His boss, and the VP, recognized the value of a well-run in-plant and provided the support and encouragement necessary for success.
So if everything was running so smoothly, why was I there? Good question. The reason they gave up front was to help evaluate a new machine purchase, but in reality I think they just wanted to show how far they had come.
I’m not trying to take any credit for this transformation. If anything, all I did was validate what they already believed. And if management hadn’t believed that the in-plant had value, anything I might have said would have fallen on deaf ears. No, these guys did all of the heavy lifting, and it’s paying off.
Ray Chambers, CGCM, MBA, has invested over 30 years managing and directing printing plants, copy centers, mail centers and award-winning document management facilities in higher education and government.
Most recently, Chambers served as vice president and chief information officer at Juniata College. Chambers is currently a doctoral candidate studying Higher Education Administration at the Pennsylvania State University (PSU). His research interests include outsourcing in higher education and its impact on support services in higher education and managing support services. He also consults (Chambers Management Group) with leaders in both the public and private sectors to help them understand and improve in-plant printing and document services operations.