Oops! There Goes Another In-plant
Sad news out of Ohio. Administrators at Miami University, a public research university located in Oxford, have closed the university’s in-plant printing facility.
An announcement posted on the university’s website says that the copy center storefront at the bookstore was scheduled to close May 16, 2016, and the production center was scheduled to close at the end of June. The former director confirmed that the print shop did close June 30 on her Facebook page. No word as to the fate of the staff, but the former director is trying to help them transition into new positions, either with the university or with private sector printers.
According to the announcement, the shop was closed to make room for expanded lab space:
The expansion of the Hughes labs will necessitate the closing of the print center that currently occupies part of the third floor. A university team that researched potential new space for the print center found none available in the core of campus. After exploring alternative options for providing the service, the recommendation was to move services to a small number of vendors in Oxford and nearby communities. (Miami Wire, May 11, 2016)
The action comes on the heels of the closing of the in-plant at nearby Wright State University (WSU) a couple of years ago. You may recall that the WSU in-plant was shut down after a new vice president, who reportedly had a history of outsourcing support services at his previous college, assumed responsibility for the administrative unit that includes printing. Word is that even though printing services staff showed that closing the shop would increase printing costs, the shop was closed anyway. So we have two closings in the space of a couple of years based on factors other than performance.
It turns out the WSU and Miami University shops were doing the right things. Both were successful financially. Both offered competitive pricing. Both had a loyal following of satisfied customers. Both had a history of producing high-quality work. And yet administration didn’t see their value. What could they have done differently? Could they have been saved?
Most university administrators that I’ve worked with want what’s best for their university. They tend to be open-minded and practice critical thinking skills. But they are also under a lot of pressure to do more with less, and the outsourcing spiel may sound pretty good. The problem is, they only hear one side of the story!
I’ve spent most of the last 15 years trying to help in-plants survive. I’ve worked on over 100 in-plant projects, most of which included a “should we outsource printing” item in the statement of work. So far I’ve been able to show administrators and executives that their in-plants are cost effective and provide valuable services, and while the services they provide may not be “core services,” they are key services and are important contributors to organizational success.
But I’m a lone voice, and in-plants come under fire on a regular basis. It is my firm opinion that the in-plant community needs a voice — a centralized, coordinated way to tell our story. We need to come together and develop strategies for survival. We need to take an active part in educating our administrators about our value. (Otherwise, this is what they see when they Google "Oursourcing.") We need to be recognized as valued members of our organizations. We should not be content with wringing our hands and whining “ . . . there’s nothing we can do.” I’m more like the ant in the old Sinatra song:
Just what makes that little old antThink he'll move that rubber tree plantAnyone knows an ant, can'tMove a rubber tree plantBut he's got high hopes. He's got high hopesHe's got high apple pie in the sky hopes *
I’ve got high hopes too. I hope that if we were to put our heads together we might come up with some useful tools to attack the outsourcing myth.
I have noticed over the years that waiting for the outsource shoe to drop and hoping that it won’t is rarely a successful strategy. If you wait for someone to ask the question “Should we outsource printing” you probably waited too long. We need to be proactive. We — all of us, large and small, public and private — need to start sowing the seeds of survival now!
So let’s do something!
I’m thinking about hosting an In-plant Summit. What if we could bring a large group of in-plant managers and maybe some administrators from both private and public sector organizations together and work on solutions to some of these problems? Maybe we could come up with strategies to help all of us survive. Maybe we could develop tools to justify our continued operation. Maybe we could find a way to develop a collective voice. Maybe we could learn from each other. Maybe we can change Sinatra’s lyric to “Oops, we saved another in-plant.”
I’m not suggesting a new organization, but I am suggesting a collective approach to a problem that’s nagged us for years and years.
I’m just one guy and an old one at that. I’m getting close to the time where I hang up my pica pole, wash my press for the last time, and do whatever it is that old printers do. And I don’t want to see my work go down the tubes.
So, what do you say?
If you think this is an idea worth pursuing, drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
* High Hopes: Words by Sammy Cahn. Music by James Van Heusen. Copywrite – Maraville Music Corp, 1959
Related story: Want to Know More About Outsourcing? Google It!
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.