Mounting a defense against outsourcing
Hi and welcome to my blog “Management Counts.”
I’d like to begin by telling you a little about myself. I graduated from University of Texas-Austin with a degree in Business and experience as a commercial photographer in a recession almost as bad as the one we’re in now. All the jobs for new grads were gone, so I ended up back in Austin as the official photographer for the City of Austin.
Not long after I took the job, the print shop manager did a "take-this-job" thing, and the city was left without a print shop manager. I had a degree, so I got the job. The fact that I knew nothing about printing was irrelevant. Funny, but it turns out that my story is not unusual. The number of print shop managers with formal training in printing, at least in my experience, is small. But I digress.
Not long after I took over the print shop, a city councilman’s relative bought a press—a 25˝ Chief, or something like that—and opened a commercial shop. The council member started pressuring the city manager to send his relative all of the city’s print work because he could do it cheaper.
I had to develop a response to the proposal and explain, with my limited experience, why it was a bad idea. That was my first outsourcing battle, and I’ve been fighting them ever since.
I fought outsourcing in Texas in the mid 1980s, when Printing Industries of America, through its Texas affiliates, started lobbying the legislature to shut down all of the state in-plants and outsource work to commercial printers because we were "too expensive and inefficient." [A lot of people don’t know it, but PIA, to this day, actively supports the closing of government in-plant shops, and that includes state colleges and universities.]
I fought in Iowa when a small but vocal group of commercial printers who happened to be alumni of the university where I worked argued that the university owed them its printing business. Never mind that they cost more and did crappy work.
I fought in Kentucky when a substantial number of university administrators thought that the university did not belong in the “printing business.”
Now it’s 30 years later and I’m still fighting the outsourcing battle. A few years ago, after serving as a Vice President and CIO at a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, I decided to go back to school and work on my doctorate, so now I’m a doctoral student in Higher Ed Administration at Penn State. My research area is outsourcing, and my dissertation topic deals with the decision-making process used when college administrators outsource an internal service. I also do printing management assessments as an independent consultant. What I’m seeing is that organizations often outsource support services because they don’t understand what the services do and why they may be important. This appears to be true for businesses as well as government agencies and universities.
Which brings us to the purpose of this blog. "Management Counts" is about management strategies and tools to hopefully give you an edge when you defend your shop. I’ll tell you about things I’ve seen and learned in my experience as an in-plant manager, and things I’ve learned from the dozens of organizations that I’ve worked with. I hope you’ll do the same.
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.