In-plant Graphics

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Keys to Our Success

Making your in-plant an integral part of your parent organization is essential to your survival. One manager who has done this shares the secrets to his success.

December 2013 By Gordon Rivera
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It's been a rough road the last several years for in-plant printers. Disruptive technologies, economic uncertainty and the threat of being outsourced have taken their toll.

For some, it's been an auspicious time to retire. For those of us left trying to keep our in-plants afloat, we have had to rethink, redesign, reinvent, retool, reorganize and challenge ourselves in order to sustain operations.

Being financially solvent used to be a benchmark for an in-plant's success. However, operating in the black is not a valid enough reason to justify our existence today. Even self-sustaining in-plants can find their operations being outsourced due to a capricious administrative decision made under the guise of "print is dead." To remain viable, today's in-plant must become indispensable to its parent organization, while at the same time not relying on its parent's resources for funding.

I was having this conversation with my department head when he asked if I'd be interested in presenting this topic at PRINT 13. Thrown out of my comfort zone, yet intrigued, I stewed over it awhile and thought, why not? IPG Editor Bob Neubauer, who happened to be at PRINT 13, got a glimpse of my presentation and asked if I would write a summary, the result of which is this article.

While not intended to be used for benchmarking purposes, I would like to share several keys to success, which, as we've implemented and integrated them over the years, have made Campus Graphics a flagship department for our parent organization, Allan Hancock College (AHC).

Key 1: Generate External Revenue

Pursuing revenue-generating strategies has been, by far, the greatest game changer for Campus Graphics. Every year we increase our external revenue more than 30 percent. We have reduced our financial footprint to the college by more than 45 percent over the last few years and have not had one budget augmentation in the 15 years since the inception of the operation. By developing solid customer relationships with our targeted market base, we have been able to draw from consistent and appreciable revenue sources when we want to buy equipment or increase our staffing. In doing so, we remain in good standing with the executive leadership of the college, who know what we do and appreciate our entrepreneurial spirit.

This hasn't been an easy process, but rather a slow and arduous one. After about seven years, we're finally beginning to realize our goal of becoming less of a drain on college resources and approaching financial sustainability.

One validation of the college's approval of our operation was when a consultant was brought in to examine the efficiency of college departments and programs. While many essential college programs (e.g. multi media) were heavily scrutinized and deemed inefficient, resulting in recommendations for reorganization and staffing reductions, Campus Graphics wasn't among them.

Key 2: Provide Vital Services to Your Parent Organization

By strategically positioning ourselves to be financially solvent, we have the opportunity to provide vital services to the college that no other entity on campus can (or will) provide. As tempting as it is, Campus Graphics has not positioned itself to be a commercial printer. We have chosen to provide those products and services that best serve our parent organization, whether they are revenue-generating or not. Our goal is to become such a viable, valuable and integral part of the college that outsourcing or dismantling the in-plant would be unthinkable.

An example of this is the implementation of a retail operation within our facility where students come to print out their online material. While other departments on campus are phasing out or have eliminated student printing from their operations, we find there is a high demand from students for these services. While currently just a small portion of our revenue (.01 percent of the 10,000 student population), this retail service is very consistent and has tremendous growth potential. This shift from administrative-only services to the inclusion of student services lends viability to Campus Graphics since serving students is the highest priority of the college.

Key 3: Symbiotic Relationships for Capital Acquisitions

Several of the services that we have incorporated into our workflow have come about through purchasing equipment in symbiotic arrangements. Through these arrangements we have been able to offer laser engraving, shrink-wrapping and wide-format printing at little to no capital investment. We share the use and the maintenance costs with various departments on campus, which has allowed us to venture into specialized niche markets that were not available to us before. This has allowed us to diversify our services and increase our revenue while, again, better serving the college.

Key 4: Embracing Disruptive Technology

We want to proactively consider innovative ways we can add sustainability to Campus Graphics by examining mobile and Web technologies that the college might normally outsource. For example, Campus Graphics' design staff is developing geo location apps that will map all college buildings and services so they can then be accessed through a mobile device. Since our campus will open five new centers in the next year, the demand for these apps is going to be high, and once implemented, will need to be serviced and updated, a service that Campus Graphics will be in a position to provide.

Key 5: Becoming More Like IT (Information Technology)

Data management and mining have historically been claimed by IT. However, if your IT department is like ours, they're too busy putting out fires to even think about inserting new services into their workflow. Consequently, this has created an opportunity for Campus Graphics to claim ownership of vital data management functions for the college. For example, instead of scanning to a static PDF, we use the OCR scanning functions on our high-speed copiers to archive an assortment of important paper records. This enables college employees to have search capability for a kinetic data mining experience. Once the data is stored, we either transfer the data for the user to manage, or better yet, we manage and mine the data upon request.

Like most in-plants we under-utilize fully versioned VDP. Traditionally, Campus Graphics has relied on data provided by the customer that has had very little depth; consequently, this has limited us to producing simple to moderate VDP campaigns. The problem is not a lack of data, but the lack of anyone mining the data. By having access to the raw data sources (e.g. Ellucian's Banner) Campus Graphics could mine the data required for the VDP campaign, providing an IT service to the college while expanding VDP utilization. Once implemented, data mining for VDP would be another vital service that the college would rely on Campus Graphics to provide.

Key 6: Hiring for the Future

Without great staff, we could not have achieved any of the keys mentioned above; conversely, without revenue generating strategies, we could not have hired the people with the skills and abilities to get us where we want to be. The more we take in outside and chargeable work, the more we are able to add new staff, which amounts to better services for the college. For example, with the increasing demand for "after-hours" services for night students and faculty, we are currently hiring a part-time evening photocopy technician.

In order to "future proof" the in-plant and expand our IT competencies, we have had to update job descriptions and compensation for existing positions and for new hires. The types of people and skills we look for are (adapted from the 2010 book Disrupting the Future by Joseph Webb and Richard Romano):

• Database management

• Web/new media design and app development

• Marketing communications

• 2D and 3D design competency


Rather than a formula for success, these are keys we discovered along our journey that have opened doors of opportunity and unlocked potential for expanding products and services at Campus Graphics. Much of what we've learned and implemented over the years has shifted our thinking from surviving to thriving. In like manner, I hope you'll discover keys that unlock new opportunities and contribute to your success. IPG

Gordon Rivera is a graphic communication industry lecturer at Cal Poly, in San Luis Obispo, and the coordinator for Campus Graphics at Allan Hancock College, a California public community college. He can be reached at






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