IPMA Reflections: Quality Printing and the Outsourcing Menace
As I walked through the lobby of the Hilton Orange County during the recent In-plant Printing and Mailing Association (IPMA) conference, I came upon John Cruser of Bloomberg and Richard Beto from the University of Texas at Austin, chatting amiably. Their in-plants had won last year’s Best of Show awards for offset and non-offset (and, unbeknownst to them, would win the same awards again later that night).
When I stopped to talk, they sheepishly informed me that they had both been unhappy with how they looked in the photo we put on our cover last July celebrating their Best of Show victories, and they were glad that someone else would get to go on the cover this year. I hid my amusement and thought, “Hope you’ve been practicing your smiles, guys.”
Back-to-back Best of Show awards are rare, let alone by two different in-plants, so Bloomberg and UT Austin have a lot to be proud of. Anyone can win once, but winning consistently shows expertise and reliability.
At the same time, though, every winner of an In-Print 2018 award deserves praise for making it past a lot of tough competition. As Richard remarked to me on the phone, “I’m not only proud of the work that our staff does for our university, I’m proud of the work that all the other craftsmen and tradespeople are doing for their in-plants. There’s great work being done out there.”
That’s a message all of us in the in-plant industry can relate to — yet not all of our bosses are getting the same message. They continue to get wooed by the promises of outsourcing companies and disregard the quality work their own in-plants are producing.
This was the topic of a major debate at the IPMA 2018 conference that most attendees would list as the highlight of the event. I moderated a discussion about outsourcing between two print industry giants: Howie Fenton and Barb Pellow. While Pellow told the packed room what their bosses were hearing about outsourcing from business publications and peers, Fenton countered with examples of outsourcing failures, and told attendees what they needed to do to prepare. It was a riveting session that left attendees feeling alternately nervous and justified.
Barb began by citing Wall Street Journal and Forbes articles touting the benefits of outsourcing and stating that the most successful firms outsource non-strategic services. A study by the Gartner Group concluded that outsourcing would save between 9-13%. This is what in-plant managers’ bosses are hearing, she said.
Howie responded by saying, “if it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true. All those claims that you just heard are really too good to be true.”
Those who make them are twisting the facts, he said. In reality, the expected best practices, quality and flexibility often never materialize.
“Everybody thinks and assumes that outsourcing all by itself will always save money, and it doesn’t,” he said, “and you need to be able to articulate this to your bosses.”
One trick that outsourcing companies pull is to estimate just a portion of the work you do. Anything that doesn’t fit into that category is an exception, and they’ll charge more for it. Howie cited a recent consulting job where he counted 279 such exceptions, worth an estimated $488,000/year in additional cost.
“That happens all the time,” he said.
The debate continued for more than an hour, and concluded with a list of 10 ways in-plants can prepare so they avoid the outsourcing discussion. We’ll cover the full debate in next month’s issue.
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.