Fortifying the Front End
The funny thing about technology, according to Oregon State Printer Tim Hendrix, is that it requires more dollars to catch up with it than it does to remain as current as possible. It’s an important axiom for in-plant printers, regardless of their size.
That is certainly the case for the State of Oregon’s Publishing & Distribution division, of which Hendrix is program manager. The 86-employee operation produces negotiable documents — titles, checks, warrants, bonds — as well as client notices, booklets (stitched, coiled and three-hole drilled), data center printing, brochures, posters and other forms of commercial-type work. It also provides the state shuttle delivery service, which makes 550 stops per day in the cities of Eugene and Portland.
Publishing & Distribution also provides consultation and job planning, graphic design, electronic publishing, CD work, binding and other services. The in-plant boasts a full mailing operation with four smart inserters. The shop commingles all mail and saves the state 10 cents per piece on First Class postage.
The Salem, Ore., in-plant is 100% digital; offset work is farmed out to Oregon Correction Enterprises or to prequalified vendors. Roughly half of the work done by Publishing & Distribution falls under security printing, pertaining to financial data, HIPAA, FTI information and the like.
MIS and Web-to-Print on the Way
As a cost recovery agency with a $16 million annual budget, Hendrix is keen to ensure his shop doesn’t fall behind the technology curve. As such, Publishing & Distribution is in the process of fortifying its front-end and workflow capabilities with the installation of both the Avanti Slingshot management information systems (MIS) package, as well as the WebCRD Web-to-print (W2P) interface from Rochester Software Associates. Both systems are set to go live in March.
This isn’t Publishing & Distribution’s first MIS rodeo; the shop has used some form of it since 1999, most recently relying on EFI’s Logic System. MIS is vital for a shop like Hendrix’s, particularly for job tracking and the recording of all activities. As a state agency, Publishing & Distribution’s rates are set years in advance. Thus, it is vital to have the rate data information.
“It’s important to track the rates associated with jobs, because when it comes time to go into rate development, having that data is crucial to make sure the rates are within parameters,” he says.
Inventory control is another key tool, as the shop houses many stock items from paper to envelopes, as well as customer-owned materials. Maintaining inventory information enables Publishing & Distribution to maintain stock levels while not taxing warehouse space with superfluous materials. Metrics also provides good intel to gauge and measure efficiencies.
Fooling the System
The decision to move on from EFI Logic was twofold. For one, the vendor is no longer doing upgrades to Logic. Secondly, Logic is tailored more toward non-digital printing — offset lithography — and measured information on press time, plates, films, ink and the like as opposed to digital impressions. Publishing & Distribution used the “material” module in Logic to track impressions.
“We needed to fool the system,” Hendrix observes. “And it worked well. But we didn’t utilize it to full advantage like we would have as a traditional [offset]printing operation.”
Hendrix likes what he’s seen of Avanti Slingshot; he feels it is scalable and will support the operation’s satellite facilities well. He says the browser-based interface is highly intuitive, and it appears to handle wide-format printing information, including cost and pricing, quite well in what is a growing area for Publishing & Distribution.
Perhaps most importantly, Hendrix is enamored with Avanti’s service and responsiveness levels. “I’ve talked to in-plants that have either implemented Slingshot or are in the process of it, and they say the same thing,” he remarks. “You’re always going to run into bugs and issues, but [Avanti] is really responsive in making sure those things are fixed, or explained to us in a way where we will know what the issue could be.”
An added challenge for Publishing & Distribution is bringing the new W2P system online in conjunction with Slingshot. Hendrix credits his project manager and the implementation team with ensuring the smoothest possible process. The two systems interface well, and Hendrix feels WebCRD is particularly well suited for an in-plant environment.
Communication is Key
“Both Slingshot and WebCRD talk to each other. We can directly enter the information that comes off CRD once it’s embedded by our customer service crew, put it right into Slingshot, and off it goes into production,” Hendrix notes. “We were going to do this in iterative steps, but then decided to do it all at once.”
Hendrix notes the system will include a central screen for job status, with bidirectional communication between Slingshot and WebCRD. At press time, the capability was still being tested. Publishing & Distribution’s previous W2P was a home-grown system that provided customers with one of three status levels (not received/not processed, received, shipped/mailed). Hendrix feels WebCRD will provide more granular information to clients.
“There’s nothing to hide here,” Hendrix says. “[WebCRD] eliminates the need for customers calling their relations rep to have them track down the job, either electronically or somewhere on the shop floor ... they will be able to get a really good status online.”
A tool such as Slingshot is a valuable asset for in-plants to provide hard data currency to their parent organization in any shop justification context. Publishing & Distribution provides its metrics to the state’s customer utility board, which consists of various large and small state agencies, on a quarterly basis. The data covers areas including job volumes and reworks, and Slingshot will make it easier to capture the necessary information for accurate reporting.
Slingshot enables Publishing & Distribution to more effectively and easily report data, which goes a long way for the objectives of a true cost recovery operation, Hendrix adds. This helps underscore the value of the in-plant to the state. And while Slingshot is available as a Cloud-based solution, Publishing & Distribution is hosting the software on-site with a redundant backup, eliminating any concerns regarding data security.
In the final analysis, Hendrix sees MIS in general as a necessary tool for in-plants.
“There are a lot of out-of-the-box software solutions that cost a lot less than the more robust MIS platforms,” Hendrix says of the value proposition for in-plants. “When you have a robust system where you’re collecting this data for years and years, you can really begin to analyze your business, to analyze trends going on in the marketplace. That’s something we watch very carefully here, because a lot of that has to do with our rate setting.
“If I have a particular product or a type of service where I’m seeing an increase, with productivity and volumes going up, I can look down the line and say we can reduce our cost in producing this product, and I can reduce my rates. The same holds true for a product or service where demand is decreasing. Then, we’ll know that either we need to make sure we’re efficient enough to keep producing this product, or potentially not produce it any longer.”
As Publishing & Distribution has used MIS since 1999, the trailing data at Hendrix’s fingertips is essential to the shop’s value proposition. “With that data, I can look at trends and have a pretty good crystal ball as to what the future looks like,” he says.