Can-Do Attitude Helps In-plant Beat Outsourcing
When your finance department insists that a benchmarking study be conducted to determine whether your in-plant compares favorably with others, it could certainly make you a little uneasy. When it follows up by writing an RFP to outsource your in-plant, that can be downright heartbreaking.
For some, this would be enough reason to give up — to stop trying. But that’s not what Jessica Van Dyn Hoven did when it happened to her in-plant at Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC). She decided to try harder. To keep a positive attitude. To show the college the value of the in-plant.
And it worked.
After a rigorous analysis that pitted seven outsourcing companies against Printing Services, the finance department picked the in-plant as the best value for FVTC.
“Having a can-do attitude really made a difference,” testifies Van Dyn Hoven, manager of Printing Services at the Appleton, Wis., college.
Getting to that point, however, took years of effort and incremental change.
Part of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS), the largest higher-education system in the state, FVTC serves about 50,000 people annually, more than any other technical college in Wisconsin. It offers more than 200 associate degree, technical diploma and certificate programs.
Ten years ago, Printing Services was not the well-oiled operation it is today. Staff morale was low, turnaround was slow and the in-plant had a poor reputation on campus. The shop hadn’t updated its products or services in years.
Former Printing Services and Distance Learning Manager Shana Farrell took steps to address these problems. She built morale by recognizing staff for their hard work, addressed turnaround issues by adding WebCRD Web-to-print software from Rochester Software Associates, and added new services like wide-format and envelope printing.
In 2010, the in-plant underwent a major equipment upgrade, adding a Kodak NexPress SE2500, two Kodak Digimasters, a Ricoh Pro C900 color printer and two Ricoh 907s. But in modernizing its capabilities, the in-plant may have taken a step too far.
“The hope was, at that time, that we would create more of a partnership with our printing program at the college and start doing teaching on the higher-end digital equipment,” explains Van Dyn Hoven, who was then Printing Services’ support specialist. “But that never really came to fruition.” The printing program was eventually closed down.
The in-plant soon realized it didn’t have the volume to keep that equipment busy. As time went by, impressions did not increase. As the end of the lease approached, the finance department stepped in. To better understand how similar colleges handled their printing, the department asked that a benchmarking study be conducted. Van Dyn Hoven worked with the purchasing manager and an associate dean to carry this out. Six other in-plants within the Wisconsin Technical College System were surveyed about the type of equipment they used, impressions, services offered, turnaround time and number of staff.
“It showed that we offer more services than what many of the other college were offering,” says Van Dyn Hoven. “Our rates were similar, but on the black-and-white side we were a little bit higher than most and on the color we were tremendously lower than the rest.” Printing Services aligned well in staff size, she says.
Areas of Opportunity
Based on the study, the college identified some areas of opportunity, including right-sizing the equipment and staffing the faculty copy center on the main campus, which had previously been a self-service area. Printing Services was located in the Bordini Center across the street from campus. When staff started working in the faculty copy center, faculty appreciated the opportunity to ask questions and get help with jobs.
To test whether the in-plant could produce all of its work on fewer machines, the shop started using just one color and one black-and-white digital press on a trial basis.
“It was really telling to see that, yes, this work does fit on one device,” Van Dyn Hoven says. “The trial run was very beneficial.”
The in-plant also got rid of some of its infrequently used bindery equipment, such as a shrink wrapper and an automated spiral binder.
When it came time to write the RFP for the next five-year lease on digital production equipment, though, there was an unexpected twist — the college wrote three different proposals: for production equipment, fleet devices and outsourcing.
There it was, the word all in-plant managers fear. Though she was crestfallen to see outsourcing being considered, Van Dyn Hoven says she wasn’t surprised, given the push for a benchmarking study. But to demonstrate the in-plant’s value she resolved to continue providing the best service possible while the decision was being made.
Van Dyn Hoven was on the committees assessing the fleet and outsourcing proposals. Seven vendors bid on the latter. The committee scored each on ease of use, types of equipment, quality, turnaround and delivery times, rush charges and other factors — but not on price. The finance department kept the cost data to itself so the committee could focus on the other factors.
Eventually the committee picked the company it felt was the best fit for the college. At that point finance compared its costs with those from the proposals for production equipment. They were very close, Van Dyn Hoven says. But in the end, the college decided to keep printing in-house, with an overflow vendor selected to help during peak times.
“You could have knocked me over,” recalls Van Dyn Hoven. “The VP of finance was on these committees and one day she called me into her office, and that’s when she offered me the new position [manager] and said that we would like to keep printing in-house.”
She credit’s the employees’ work ethic and strong customer focus for influencing this decision.
“It just shows that they realize it’s important to have your own employees working on these projects,” she notes. The college knows that an outside vendor would not care as much about the college’s work as a FVTC employee would, and would not take the time to ask detailed questions to ensure customers are getting exactly what they want.
“I think they realized that we always go the extra mile to keep our customers happy because, ultimately, our customers are our coworkers,” she points out.
Her relief over the decision was tempered by the news that the in-plant would lose a staff member. And with Farrell leaving to pursue a new opportunity within the Center for Instructional Excellence, this left the in-plant with just four employees.
Other changes would be made as well. With the success of the experiment to staff the faculty copy center, the college decided that the entire in-plant should move onto campus. Van Dyn Hoven was put in charge of that relocation, which would move the shop from 3,800 sq. ft. of space into a 2,100-sq.-ft. area.
The shop’s equipment would be downsized as well. In July its arsenal of production equipment was replaced by a black-and-white Konica Minolta bizhub PRESS 1250 and a Konica Minolta bizhub PRESS C1100 color printer. Two Konica Minolta bizhub 754E printers were added as walk-up devices. Six months later, when renovation was complete, Printing Services made the move onto campus.
Compact and Efficient
Though the new shop is smaller, the equipment layout is much more efficient. Previously, the digital printers were on one end of the building and the bindery and wide-format printers were 100 yards away on the other end.
“Now all of our production equipment is in one room,” she says.
Customers appreciate the new location as well.
“Now that we have moved we’re much more in tune with our customers’ needs,” Van Dyn Hoven notes. “We’re only a few steps away.”
Customers are more comfortable coming in to ask questions, view samples and look at proofs. And she has seen an uptick in work as well — as much as 1,000 additional copies a month.
“We see a lot more of the rush jobs that people probably would have just printed on their own had we not been over here,” she remarks. “Even though we had to lose a few things in the process, I think, ultimately, it’s great for our department just having visibility here on main campus.”
The new location makes it easier for customers to get their finished jobs, she says. Previously, work was delivered twice a day to four locations on campus. Today, finished jobs are placed on shelves in the in-plant’s walk-up area.
“They get the automatic emails out of our system telling them exactly when the job is finished,” Van Dyn Hoven says. “It’s very efficient now.”
Some customers are even forgoing having their own MFPs because of the convenience.
“Because of our location, some of the areas around us have not needed their own printers,” she affirms.
Influx of Student Work
The new location has brought in a whole new base of customers: students.
“The students never really wanted to come and explore us at all,” she says, since they would have to leave campus to do so. Now they are printing posters, business cards and more.
The changes made at the in-plant have also reduced its price structure. Before the benchmarking study, she says, black-and-white copies were 7 cents and color copies were 20 cents.
“But when we went to the Konica Minolta equipment, we were able to go down to 3 cents a copy for black-and-white,” she says. Color copy prices were reduced to 13 cents each.
Another cost-saving initiative was the addition of PaperCut’s Find Me feature to the fleet to provide more secure printing and less waste. Van Dyn Hoven says that when her staff started working at the faculty copy center, she saw first-hand how many pages were printed and never picked up.
“It was just alarming to me how much waste was there,” she says. Even confidential materials were left at the printers for anyone to peruse.
With Find Me, faculty sends their work to a secure print queue where it waits until they go to one of the fleet MFPs and swipe their card, at which point it is printed.
Honored for Operational Effectiveness
Printing Services’ successful transition to a leaner, more cost-effective operation was noticed by FVTC leadership. During a college staff in-service meeting, the president unveiled FVTC’s new strategic directions and showed videos detailing how different areas of the college supported each of those strategic directions. Printing Services was highlighted in a video demonstrating operational effectiveness.
“It was a great honor to be highlighted by our leadership, recognizing the sacrifices and efforts we have made over the last few years,” Van Dyn Hoven notes. “It was also a great plug for the things we are doing in our department in front of the entire organization.”
Being singled out for praise has created a positive buzz on campus about the in-plant, she says, increasing awareness and improving staff morale.
“When the president of the college starts talking about your department, it’s exciting,” she says. “It means that they care, and there’s no better feeling than that.”
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Graphics since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 130 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Graphics.