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From the Editor: Triumph in Tennessee

January 2013 By Bob Neubauer
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It was exactly a year ago that the drama began for Jack Williams. That's when the board of trustees at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, issued a directive to begin soliciting proposals from outside vendors for the possible outsourcing of his Graphic Arts Services operation.

This was kind of a low blow for such a well-run, well-equipped in-plant, which has long served as a model for other in-plants. Directed for more than three decades by the much admired Gary Williford, who turned over the reigns to Williams' competent hands about five years ago, the in-plant is proficient in both offset and digital printing. The centerpiece is its four-color Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 105, backed up by a pair of two-color Heidelberg Printmasters. The in-plant's Kodak NexPress 2500, along with a NexGlosser glossing unit, produce the high-quality, personalized recruitment materials that entice students to "Go Big Orange."

As most of us know, though, proficiency, service, savings and all the other benefits an in-plant provides are not always enough to ensure its survival when a new president arrives, itching to make changes, or when the in-plant occupies prime real estate that the organization wants to repurpose. In UT's case, Williams says, it was an "efficiency and effectiveness committee" set up by the board of trustees to analyze all of the university's service operations, to see if there was a better way of doing things.

"It was quite a surprise to me at the time because we'd just gone through a departmental review," remarks Williams. "The report came back positive on that. But I guess that didn't have enough impact."

What followed was a year of uncertainty for the print and mail operation and its 44 employees. Williams was on the committee evaluating proposals, so he kept staff informed. He says he was very pleased with them for continuing to work hard and provide excellent service despite the stress.

In the end, only two vendors offered bids. The in-plant's costs were lower. Last month, a decision was made. The in-plant would stay.

Elated over this victory, Williams credits the shop's experienced staff, high-quality output, excellent service and the fact that it has been showing a profit. It also helped that the in-plant received tons of customer support.


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