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Managing by the Numbers

In-plants need to measure their performance and demonstrate their importance. Sadly, that is largely not what's happening.

December 2012 By Ray Chambers
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I work primarily with colleges and universities to help them optimize their investments in in-plant document solutions. That means I spend a fair amount of time wandering through print shops of all sizes and configurations, talking to the folks doing the work, and watching what they do.

At the end of the site visit I like to meet with the in-plant manager and his/her boss to go over my observations and discuss next steps. On one memorable occasion, the manager asked for my general observations and I responded by saying, "You don't know what you're doing!" The manager was visibly shaken, and rightfully so, because he thought I was talking about his, and his shop's, abilities.

This was a bad choice of words on my part.

What I meant to say was that the manager did not have a clear idea what the shop printed in terms of types of work, what the work consisted of, or whom the work was printed for. How can one manage workflow, prioritize jobs or manage resource allocation without a basic understanding of the volume and types of orders flowing through the shop? Sadly, I rarely see shops that collect even the most basic production data.

Management guru Peter Drucker famously advised managers to use performance metrics in their work. "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it," he said, and he was right. His advice has been discussed and kicked around for years, but it's just as relevant today as it was 40 or 50 years ago when Drucker first made the observation.

The problem is, we still don't do it. Not knowing what we print, and for whom, is a big problem that will only increase in importance as we move forward.

Perfect Storm Brewing

The in-plant industry may be headed toward a perfect storm. Funding for our parent organizations, be they private or public, has suffered for the past few years. A sluggish economy has caused businesses to re-think sourcing strategies. State and local government, as well as public higher education, have run out of stimulus money and are frantically looking for areas to cut.

And to top it off, the commercial print industry, which was never able to compete on price, has seen print sales drop dramatically over the past few years. Hundreds of printing companies have closed, and those remaining are scrambling for new sources of revenue. And where do commercial printers go when they need to expand market share or increase sales? That's right, they look at all of those pesky in-plants.

About the Author
Ray Chambers has invested more than 30 years managing and directing print plants, copy centers, mail centers and document management facilities in higher education and government. Most recently, Chambers served as vice president and chief information officer at Juniata College. He is currently a doctoral candidate studying Higher Education Administration at Penn State. His research interests include outsourcing in higher education and its impact on support services in higher education and managing support services. He also consults ( with leaders in both the public and private sectors to help them understand and improve in-plant printing and document services operations. Contact him at:





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