What Goes Around Comes Around
This just in. Really!
I just hung up from a conversation with an administrator at a major university in the Southwest. Background: This school closed its in-plant printing department—offset and digital—four or five years ago. That’s right, they outsourced everything. The only concession to the complexities of what we do is that they kept a couple of print buyers who had been in the printing department, moved them to the procurement area and let them continue to buy print. At least the administration recognized that someone on campus needed to understand printing.
At the time the shop was closed, the stated reason was that the university could not afford to upgrade all of the equipment needed to successfully compete in today’s market, blah, blah, blah. You know the drill.
The former manager tells a different story. He says that he left a substantial equipment reserve fund and the shop’s financial performance was good. In other words, they were not losing money and the stated reasons for closing were, at best, questionable.
We may never know what really happened. All indications are that one or more local commercial printer, who happened to be alumni of the university, pressured administration into closing the in-plant. It’s the old Printing Industries of America (PIA) argument that, “Print outsourcing is desirable for federal and state government, as it increases services while lowering costs” (PIA, 2007). Problem is, there is no research that I can find, and this is my research area, to support the position that outsourcing printing reduces costs. But that’s another rant.
In this story, print procurement was moved to purchasing, and a couple of skilled buyers did their best to serve the needs of the print users. But the procurement process adds time and complexity. Print orders that the former in-plant had been able to produce in a couple of days began to require 10 to 15 days, and this was affecting peoples’ ability to do their jobs. Not only that, the buyers report that print costs have increased since the in-plant was closed. I hope no one is surprised at that.
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.