Archive for the ‘In-Plant’ Category

Are in-plants up to speed on offering cross-media marketing services?

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Although cross-media marketing services are becoming more prevalent amongst print and communications partner providers, we in the print industry have yet to discuss how this evolution affects in-house, or in-plant, offerings. Last week, Canon Solutions America sponsored an InPlantGraphics webinar surrounding the question at hand: How are in-plants making the cross-media connection? Barbara Pellow, Group Director at InfoTrends, offers key background information on how in-plants are moving up the value chain and provides a breakdown of planned market investments for 2014. This overview could not have been more appropriately complemented by the examples of leading edge solutions from one of the industry’s most progressive in-plants at The World Bank. Both David Leonard, Manager of Printing & Multimedia Services, and Jimmy Vainstein, Printing Facility Manager, pose important questions and review a business model in transforming a print-focused in-plant to a full service, cross-media solutions provider.

We know having a broad range of services and capabilities, price point, and speedy turnaround time are at the top of everyone’s vendor criteria wish list. But the kicker surrounds what types of services are provided to connect with the 2014 target audience. In an InfoTrends survey, mobile marketing, multi-channel integrated marketing, web hosting, and web design services trump that wish list. This by no means comes as a surprise given the direction of communications trends and increased digital access. Barbara drives home the point: “This market is in transition. It’s an evolution, not a revolution.” The winners in this evolving market are going to figure out how to make paper interactive, how to extend value of media, and how to create solutions that are easily measurable.

That might sound like a complicated process, but really it boils down to first understanding what options are out there. For example, four ways to make print interactive include:

  1. Mobile codes – example: QR code, which links to web address
  2. Mobile messaging – example: text message containing discount receipt instructions
  3. NFC Tags – example: printed poster containing tag, which links to mobile web offer
  4. Augmented Reality – example: printed brochure, which links to digital expanded version

Knowing these channels, understanding a client’s needs, and investing in the proper software and print solutions will make for a seamless transition.

There is tremendous room for growth in most in-plants. InfoTrends highlights that the majority of in-plants foresee a stable or increase in overall revenue thanks to strategic software purchases and a re-vamped business model. As Dave and Jim explain, these investments strengthen the goal of knowledge sharing while delivering cutting edge, multi-channel communications solutions. Their business model explanation and examples successful communications pieces drive home the fact that in-plants can provide equally—if not more-so—competitive solutions.

For more insight and key questions to consider from Dave and Jim, be sure to check out the full webinar:

 

Stay Ahead of the Curve with Automated Web-to-Print Solutions

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Want to learn how to keep your print services on top within the fast-paced marketing community? If so, InfoTrends’ Kate Dunn offers insight and recommendations on how to adapt and automate print services for your clients. Sponsored by the PressGo program of Canon Solutions America, this webinar gives you the information needed to bolster your online business.

You might be asking, “What are some of the web-based market models out there?” For starters, there is the standard Ad-hoc Send-and-Print, which most printers already have in place. This allows the customer to upload a single file, receive a cost estimate, and send the file to print. The Catalog and Template based models mainly surround business communications, sales and marketing collateral, and direct mail, which are customizable to certain degrees. The holy grail of models is Process Automation, which integrates an enhanced supply chain with fully customizable print ordering.

OK, let’s apply a model to a real-life scenario. With an automated template process system, a realtor can sign-in online, choose a business card template, select copy that pertains to his property sales pitch, send the card to print, as well as have the business cards packaged, postmarked, and mailed to recipients. Accomplished all in a series of clicks without having to juggle communications with a number of service providers.

Let’s review: why are automated print services so important? Well, InfoTrends predicts that 40% of all printed materials will be procured over the Internet in the coming year. Customers are asking for automation services in order to streamline their supply-chain and maximize profits. In short, web-based automation adds value for both you and your clients. Today’s marketing supply chain consists of multiple, interconnected suppliers that an organization relies on to produce materials (print, promotional, and point-of-sale) to market their products and services. It’s astonishing, however, that 70% of businesses surveyed have no way to track or predict obsolescence within their supply chain. The last thing any client wants is a loss of control over their brand! That’s where a web-based approach is applied to fix the gap. Some of the benefits include: customer access 24/7, increased print accuracy, reduced customer service workloads, and enhanced volume production. Sounds like a nicely packaged offer to me.

If you want the complete list of benefits, the stats, and further insight into web-to-print solutions, view the webinar here:

Looking forward to 2014!

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Every year, I like to think of my trip to PRINT/Graph Expo as a preview of what the coming year will bring. This year, we asked Madison Advisors to jot down their notes about what PRINT indicates will be big in 2014. Here is what they offered:

According to Madison Advisors, expect to see growth in digital color continuing through 2014. The firm’s recent engagements have shown an increase in production color printers in both in-plants and service bureaus. Outsourced print providers without high volume color capabilities are reviewing the market for the best solution to meet the needs of existing and new client opportunities. Most understand the need to have the color devices in place when bidding on color jobs as the learning curve is too great to take an “if they come, we’ll build it” approach. Creative sales approaches are needed to get these placements so the service bureaus can control their capital expenses while building volume.

Madison Advisors is also forecasting growth for outsourced customer communications platforms. As the IT department at more than one large company has observed, it is increasingly difficult to hire, train, motivate, and retain skilled IT professionals in the area of document composition. When the guy next to you is working on a cool mobile application, it’s tough to get excited about putting dots on paper. As a result, we see an increasing number of companies outsourcing their document implementations and ongoing operation to external vendors.

Custom packaging and product labeling is a growth area for commercial printers and there were a number of products at PRINT 13 geared toward this, again, many inkjet-based. The opportunity here is two-fold. For the printer, digital packaging printing allows them to respond quickly to changes in labeling from their clients. Short runs can now be profitable as you can print fully customized single units. For the marketing manager, digital printing of packaging and product labeling allows them to customize the messaging on each product to a specific micro market or respond to an outside event with special packaging.

The message from PRINT 13 was that color digital print is the future and the industry is prepared to deliver solutions to streamline the production process. Printer vendors are investing in new print technology, software providers are taking what they have learned over the years and investing in new solutions that are more user-friendly and easier to support. 2014 will be an interesting year as these new print solutions get into the hands of users and we can see if they deliver on the hype.

10 Trends to Define Marketing for 2014 – 10 Experts Weigh in

Monday, November 4th, 2013

As we approach 2014, and all of the marketing challenges that come with it, SourceLink is rolling out our “Ten Trends to Define Marketing” series again, with a twist. This year, we sat down with ten industry experts and asked them what trends they anticipate in 2014 and the years to come. We will be rolling out these articles over the next six weeks – Here are the experts that we sat down with, and a brief synopsis of what they had to say:

1. Ginger Conlon, Editor-in-Chief, Direct Marketing News – “The Virtuous Cycle of Customer Centricity” – Oct 29

Into 2014, consumers will wield the power to dictate how they are marketing to, and marketers are tasked with creating content that is driven by consumer preference. Understanding customer behaviors and preferences will lead to sophisticated micro-marketing campaigns, and marketers will then be tasked with modeling content creation and communications strategies based on how content is being utilized.

2. Judith Hemmel, Vice President of Customer Intelligence, SourceLink -  “Moving From Creepy to Credible” – Oct 31

An overarching theme through several of the interviews is was the extreme importance of mobile marketing. Consumers now have the ultimate choice of whether to engage with a brand, cultivating an environment of permission. This phenomenon will further strengthen the move from push to pull marketing, and messaging must move from “Creepy to Credible.”

3. Skip Henk, President and CEO, Xplor International – “Sitting on the Sidelines or Taking the Leap of Faith” – Nov 5

Human behavior is the true game changer in 2014, and there is tremendous value in how customers allocate their time to take in new information.  Augmented Reality, a still-emerging technology, very well could lead to a print revival. Marketers will fall into two categories in embracing these new technologies, those taking the leap and those sitting on the sidelines waiting for more proof; which Skip sees as the “winners and the losers” in the fight for customer attention.

4. Bryan Yeager, Financial Services and Mobile Payments Analyst for eMarketer–“Social Media and Mobile Craft a Path to Purchase” – Nov 7

Mobile penetration reached a tipping point in 2013, and looking into 2014, past trends converge because of the smartphone and its ability to enhance the customer experience. Marketers using social media up until now have merely been laying the groundwork for the real opportunities for engagement and conversion. Wearable technologies bring flashy new avenues to truly connect with customers.

5. Roehl Sanchez, VP and Chief Creative Officer, BIMM Direct & Digital - “Data Drives The Creative Process, and the Modular Builder Emerges” - Nov 12

Data begins to drive creative decisions, and creative decisions facilitate the use of data. We are entering age of real time marketing, and the definition of marketing and advertising “Creative” is shifting, especially when it comes to mobile design. Marketers must familiarize themselves withmicrocampaigns and start thinking mobile first. The creative professional must start to be a “modular builder,” and embrace a shift toward strong creative rooted as much in functionality as in design.

6. Rich Brown, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, SourceLink –SOLOMO and the Evolution of Location Based Engagement” – Nov 14

Social plus location plus mobile (SOLOMO) will a gamechanger in 2014, as marketers truly perfect geofencing technologies and make actionable use out of location data using offer-based engines. Data use concerns and privacy legislation gain lots of attention in 2014, and marketing organizations rally to support the responsible use of data. Marketers start to effectively link return on investment between offline transactions and social engagement.

7. John Foley, CEO Grow Socially and CMO InterlinkOne– “The Amazing Powers of Personalization” – Nov 19

2014 will see BIG advancements in mobile technology, which will allow for in-store personalization and other amazing interactions. A surprising amount of companies are still behind the content and social engagement curve in 2013, and will evolve into more social businesses in 2014, with more content being distributed than ever. Personalization sees a surge in the depth and relevancy, paralleling advancements in marketing automation.

8. Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs – “Organizing your Company Around Content and the Emergence of Short-form Media” - Nov 21

Marketers have been making content creation a priority, but next year will see a need to allocate resources to dedicated personnel. Next year’s trend will be a wider adoption and need to understand short-form content. Social media engagement leads to emotional connection and a better brand experience. Print remains a crucial part of marketing spend, and continues to claim significant portion of marketing budget.

9. Cindy Randazzo, Vice President Strategy and Insight, SourceLink – “A World Where IT and Marketing make each other Stronger” and  “Multisource Attribution in an Omnichannel world” – Nov 26 and Dec 3

Cindy had so much to say that we will be covering her thoughts over two articles.  First, 2014 brings the realization that IT and Marketing cannot be siloed, as their strengths will make each other stronger and will account for the weaknesses in the other, as the “right and left brain” come together. Big Data becomes relevant for all industries, as it is mined for interests, and used for multiple forms of variable advertising. Consumers start to ask the question “How is it possible that you don’t know who I am?”

10. David Burstein, Fast Company contributor and author, “Fast Future: How Millennials are Shaping our World.” – “The Marketer’s Role to the Millennial” – Dec 5

Companies must make consistent strides towards social responsibility and innovation as core tenets to developing as an organization. “Millennials” (those born in the second baby boom years of 1980 to the early 2000s) have become the most messaged-to generation ever, and marketers embrace emerging technologies and develop new means to stand out. Deep customization stands as central to the communications experience between marketers and Millennials.

To read the entire series, keep checking back to the SourceLink blog here.

Crystal Ball, Anyone??

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

“It is not the strongest or most intelligent species that survive, but the ones who are most willing to adapt.”  ~Charles Darwin

I like this quote because it removes the idea that survival and success are based on natural selection, but are based on intelligence and strategy and looking at how to adapt for future circumstances – an idea that seems especially relevant for the print industry today. At one time in history, we could have said that “print changed the world” and most would agree. But recent technological innovations, shifts towards digital communications and away from paper communications, have many printers working to keep up with the rapidly transforming industry. I suspect this is where Darwin’s idea of adaptation comes into play. Printers need to anticipate the future and prepare themselves accordingly. The same way of doing business will not stand, but you don’t need me to tell you this.

Lucky for printers, they don’t have to anticipate the future on their own. A group of young, bright, and well-educated students from RIT have already done the heavy lifting. Together they researched, wrote, and published a book entitled “Print changed the world – now the world is changing print.” They imagine the print industry landscape all the way to 2022 and address a number of sectors including books, packaging, signage, technical documents, direct mail, and more.

Here are the cliff notes…

Good News for:

  • Mobile devices which enable digital distribution
  • Packaging
  • Industrial printing
  • Signage

Bad News for:

  • The Postal Service
  • Circulars and inserts
  • Periodicals

Aside from the above, there are a number of categories in which the future is mixed – certain aspects will decline while some will rise. For example, authors suspect that self-publishing and yearbook printing will be the primary mode of book printing while traditional novels and textbooks will decline. The Security sector is another mixed bag.

If you read my last blog post, you’ll see that some predictions and research contradict what is in this report. I suppose no one owns a crystal ball so predicting the future is never easy. But nonetheless, it’s best to be informed and anticipate how expected trends will impact your business. So check out the full booklet here! (Made available by Printing Impressions)

In-Plants Need Business Process Improvement Too!, Part II

Monday, May 14th, 2012

In my blog on April 26th I reflected on the WTT article In-Plants: “The Times They Are A-Changin’” by Barb Pellow.  In that blog I reflected primarily on the first part of the article on how the market is changing for In-Plants and how BPI can help adjust.  Now I want to discuss the second part of the article “What’s an In-Plant to Do?”   Barb lists six core values that have remained constant for In-Plants, and I look to how Business Process Improvement supports or enhances these values.

The first point is “Responsiveness to Customer Needs.” BPI supports this by focusing on reducing cycle times for business operations, thereby improving the turnaround for customer requests.

The second Value is “Automating Document Process.” Using process mapping tools, In-Plants can show their knowledge in a clear and easily understood graphic approach.  Process mapping will help in identifying key functional responsibilities as well as areas needing automation the most.

The next two Values In-Plants possess are the “Ability to Evolve Effectively Over Time” and “Developing New Areas of Expertise.” BPI is a tool which helps to clearly identify the current state of In-Plant operations and to build a picture of the future state in terms of new process and new capabilities.  BPI can then drive preparation of a roadmap of effort required to evolve to the future state.  By using BPI metrics, In-Plants can track and measure their progress in the evolution, and ROI on new capabilities.

The fifth Value In-Plants also do a superb job at is “Assessing New Technologies”, both in the impact a new technology will have on the business process and the costs and challenges to implement by using BPI.  Combining the knowledge of the technologies and the cross functional stakeholders’ roles, BPI helps the organization to smoothly introduce new technologies in the shortest time and with minimal cost.

In-Plants Value in “Educating Constituents on What You Can Do and What Can Be Done” is improved through the focus on process and cross functional co-operation.  This focus improves the relationships and openness of the constituents by showing the interdependencies of the various constituents.  BPI helps to establish a business culture more open to discussing capabilities and limitations in the operations.

In-Plants position within the organization gives them a full understanding of the corporate cultures and BPI provides a methodology to use that knowledge and unique position to optimize the value In-Plants have for document delivery.

In-Plants Need Business Process Improvement Too!

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

How does a company’s internal business communication organization, often referred to as “In-Plants”, go about adjusting to “today’s new reality?”  Reading In-Plants: “The Times They Are A-Changin’” by Barb Pellow in the April 12th “What They Think?” caused me to reflect.  The article did a great job defining the market dynamics that internal business communication organizations must adjust to.  The breadth and detail of the changes seem overwhelming. Furthermore, the details and statistics shown seem to indicate that the in-plants are either resisting, or unable to embrace the changes required.

Business Process Improvement, (BPI), utilized by many outsource and commercial business communication resources to improve their performance and competitiveness, can also help In-Plants by using a structured approach to embracing the changes needed to meet market demands. Taking inventory of the current business process, work flows, and organization’s skills, BPI defines the internal company current state.  Part of this methodology involves engaging the participation of a cross-functional team of internal business customers, from marketing, to IT, and through other critical functions, providing a vehicle to collect valuable inputs to define the requirements and priorities which the in-plant uses to build a future state definition.  Once the future state is drafted, the same cross- functional team provides feedback and suggests changes.  By focusing on the end-to-end process, and not an isolated area or individuals, the methodology is non-threatening and encourages open and candid collaboration.

With the future state clearly defined, the organization can identify gaps and overlaps between current and future state in the process, workflow, and staff skills.  This data can be formatted into a step-by-step plan of action, with priorities and interconnectivities defined for the transition.  BPI can also assist in defining the key metrics to measure ongoing performance progress in making the In-Plants more competitive in capabilities, cycle time, and quality.

Thanks to Barb for the thought provoking article and sobering statistics to help us see the big picture. I hope you all see BPI as I do, as a tool to help respond to the “changin’ times”.

Managed Print Services and Print Management Services

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

When do two seemingly similar-sounding service offerings present completely different business models? When comparing Managed Print Services to Print Management Services. These sound the same, and in a certain situations can be used interchangeably, however the industry definitions are quite distinct and different.

Managed Print Services (aka; MPS), Managed Document Services, Enterprise Printing Services, or any other variation on this theme refers to the active management of fleets or groups of hardcopy output devices and by extension the digital output, capture and/or dissemination of data and/or images which are a by-product of such technology, all of which should be a strategic component of an organization’s (enterprise) document management strategy.

Of the many goals this service represents, that of cost-effectively controlling how, when and where organizationally necessary enterprise printing is accomplished rises to the top of the heap. This is closely followed by operational efficiency, productivity, storage, retrieval and security.

Depending on the model employed, this can either be a boon or a disaster waiting to happen for an organization with a widely distributed fleet of desktop laser or inkjet printers, faxes, scanners and small-to medium MFPs (or MFDs) where the task at hand is deemed unmanageable.

The premise of MPS is that through an initial discovery phase, an entity, either internal or external to the organization can root out every localized ineffective, underutilized or overutilized print culprit, assess their individual efficiencies or inefficiencies, and implement wholesale positive change in the way the organization manages how they print on an enterprise level. This is accomplished through mandates, decommission and installation of appropriate devices, actively monitoring usage, and in some cases, outsourcing or shifting higher-quantity work to devices or outsourced facilities utilizing appropriate cost and time-effective technology.

That’s the simple explanation and it sounds great in theory, however in practice the promise may not ring so true. Just about every OEM and/or their regional resellers offer one flavor or another of this kind of service. They all tout amazing savings with the ability for the organization to concentrate on their core business activities without having to worry about managing documents. Their profit motive should be seriously considered with a cost-benefit analysis. Quite frankly in some cases it makes sense.

For the organization that does not consider enterprise document management to be strategic to their core mission, the out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach MPS provides may seem perfect. After all, the provider of this service will always do what’s in the best interest of the organization, right?

This wholesale technology alignment/replacement strategy can even extend to in-house services where “copy” centers are present organizationally or departmentally. An adept MPS provider can be very convincing, again where enterprise document management is not considered mission-critical, with reasons why they should outsource this service.

Quite frankly, this may be true where an organization doesn’t have (or anecdotally doesn’t believe they have) the economy of scale to dedicate staff to research, identify, negotiate and implement the best solution for the best interests of the enterprise, or where little or no fiscal oversight or responsibility is required or deemed to be necessary for this segment of the organization’s business for whatever reason. What a perfect customer to have! On the other hand, a well managed operation will always know where their true, fully budgeted costs are for all facets of their hard-copy output needs, and this extends to knowing what is best printed when, and where.

Depending on the complexity of the enterprise this could be all encompassing enough to include micro-run desktop-applicable printing (both monochrome and color) where local office printers or MFPs are appropriate technologies, to medium-to-large production runs (also either monochrome and/or color) where CRDs (central reproduction departments aka copy centers) are more appropriate for given run lengths, to print runs which have no business being run locally and are outsourced by the individual department or the enterprise to either an in-plant possessing the appropriate technology or to an appropriate outsourced facility.

This is where Print Management Services (which for some reason I’ve never seen the complete acronym used for, so we’ll just call it PM Services) comes in to the picture. Now not only does the enterprise have the opportunity to “control” costs through either internal or external service providers for their enterprise document needs, but they can extend this process, again either internally or externally to encompass all printed material including digital printing, offset printing, wide format, apparel, specialty, novelty, etc.

PM Services, like MPS, can be implemented by an external service provider who purports to have the resources necessary to answer any need within a certain scope of work, or by an internal (in-plant) resource, without the organization necessarily having the ability to produce everything in-house while keeping the faith to serve the organization’s core mission.

In either case the PM Services provided for should be in the best interests of the organization. Not based on the service the provider has available. The question then comes down to how the enterprise decides what is best for their needs. It is only in rare cases that an outsource vendor can provide all of the services most medium-to-large enterprises require, so multiple service providers are the usual order of the day.

The best approach however is to integrate all the document needs of the organization under one roof, even if it means outsourcing some services while retaining others. True MPS on the one hand, which can include printer and MFP fleets, CRDs and print centers, and PM Services which can encompass high-speed digital, conventional sheet-fed and web offset, and all of the other print-mediums out there, in a perfect world should be centrally controlled from a cost-and-operational efficiency procurement standpoint with capable internal enterprise-level oversight and expertise in place.

It is only then that the organization, whether we’re talking about you specifically, or your customer, can effectively manage (or have you help manage with integrity and trust) what arguably should be considered a strategic, core, mission-critical business activity.

Paper Legality Laws; Coming to a Continent near You

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Over the past few years, discussions surrounding how legal paper sourcing decisions are made by print buyers have received less and less attention from the press. This doesn’t mean that the issue has melted away; it merely means normalization of the process has relegated it to the board room and to the senate committee. However that could change based on worldwide activities of a similar fashion. In other words, the race is on.

In a mere 22 months if you print on paper anywhere in the European Union (EU), there will no longer be a choice. Verified legal timber product sourcing, including pulp and paper, will become law.

Regulation (EU) No 995/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 October 2010 lays down the obligations of operators who place timber and timber products on the market – also known as the (Illegal) Timber Regulation counters the trade in illegally harvested timber and timber products through three key obligations:

1. It prohibits the placing on the EU market for the first time of illegally harvested timber and products derived from such timber;
2. It requires EU traders who place timber products on the EU market for the first time to exercise ‘due diligence’;
3. Keep records of their suppliers and customers.

The Regulation covers a broad range of timber products including solid wood products, flooring, plywood, pulp and paper. Interestingly though, not included among a few other products such as rattan and bamboo are recycled products and printed papers such as books, magazines and newspapers.

The EU has chosen their battles just as the US has with the now familiar US Lacey Act. By excluding printed matter (for now) but including pulp and paper, the EU’s Timber Regulation leapfrogs Lacey in that European printers will no longer be at will to purchase paper without regard for legal harvests, specifically aimed at imports as of March 2013.

The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2011 is still in the consultation phase, but is written so vaguely that if passed in its present form, is sure to create a (common) wealth of issues. For now, we have to take a wait and see approach. Taking their Bill with a grain of Aussie salt, I wouldn’t expect to see it passed anytime soon.

As a side note in its “Comments from the Government of Canada on Australia’s Draft Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2011”, the Canadian government is not amused. On May 6, 2011 the Secretary of the Senate Standing Committees on Rural Affairs and Transport wrote; “In particular, Canada is concerned that the Bill may lead to a requirement (whether explicitly stated or implied) for Australian importers to conduct risk assessments (or the ‘timber industry certifiers’ to do so on their behalf) on any unprocessed or processed timber products imported into Australia. Such a requirement would be particularly onerous for complex processed products made of timber sourced from multiple suppliers…” (like paper merchants and printers).

Which brings us back to the Lacey Act and its implications in the paper and printing industry here in the US. For the time being it seems like no movement on implementation pertaining to US-based paper mills and printers is imminent. That said, with all of the activity on other continents, one has to wonder.

Making Print Consistent with Online Experience? Priceless!

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Andrew Gerry, SVP Operations, Intersections Inc.By Andy Gerry

I work at a company that is heavily focused on the online user experience for consumer and corporate identity risk management services – and I’m also a print guy. You might think that print wouldn’t be that important of a competency for us, but you would be wrong. Intersections Inc.  is recognized as the preferred partner of major financial institutions providing custom identity management solutions. Clients leverage Intersections’ identity management solutions, offered under their own privately branded labels.

Private labeling. Branding. Corporate Identity– –just a few reasons print is important.

Supporting our customers’ unique brands online is relatively straight forward; doing the same in print is more complex and expensive.  While many of our customers are serviced online for monitoring, alerts and extensive drill-down reports, the majority of our customers still prefer printed fulfillment kits.   

Each customer who successfully enrolls in one of our credit and identity risk management services, either through one of our corporate partners or directly with Intersections, is sent a printed guide for using the services. It is a welcome kit, a user guide, and almost always contains their personal credit data and scores.  This welcome kit sets the tone for the quality of the service that they have enrolled in.

In the past, Intersections created these guides by matching offset printed covers with dynamically produced booklet content. The covers were on heavy, die-cut stock in full color and the booklets were dynamically generated using Group1’s DOC1 and printed in black and white on an IBM 4100 with near-line booklet maker.  While the content was informative and the covers were produced using our clients’ brand colors, the inside didn’t offer a customer experience that was comparable to what Intersections delivers online. For those customers who preferred print to online, there was a tangible lack of color and brand palate inside the guide.

We are always trying to deliver greater flexibility and value to our direct clients – the financial institutions who private label our products – as well as the end consumers of those products. By early 2009 we were convinced that going to a dynamic, full-color environment was the way to remain the leader in our industry. After an exhaustive evaluation of technologies on the market, considering both toner and inkjet solutions from a variety of manufacturers, in 2009 we selected the Océ JetStream 1000 system for printing and GMC PrintNet to compose the documents.

The redesign, reengineering and redeployment of our guides and other documents on the new platform has been tremendously successful. Not only can we support dynamic branding with ease, but we can use color dynamically to highlight key information for consumers and draw their attention to personalized information, much the same way that we do online.  This is not to gloss over the complexity and the hard work it took to architect a high integrity solution that supports multiple partners in a true white paper environment.  It took longer than originally scoped and we learned many lessons on the way.

The good news is that originally we knew we needed two engines for redundancy and failover, but were unsure if enough of our clients would be willing to adopt color to warrant the two engines.  The best case has happened and by the end of the year the majority of our materials will now be printed in full on demand color in our new environment.  Along the way we’ve eliminated the risk of managing preprinted inventories, eliminated the matching process and are able to deliver a superior product to clients and our end customers in a very cost-effective way. Making the printed experience consistent with the online experience – priceless!

Since the conversion to full color, Intersections’ financial services product was rated “Best in Class” by Javelin Strategy & Research (September 2010) and we were ranked among the 500 Top Technology Innovators Across America (2010 InformationWeek 500, September 2010). I’d like to think that us print guys (and gals) had something to do with that!


Andy Gerry is the Senior Vice President of Operations at Intersections Inc. in Chantilly VA.

An Economic View from a Different Perspective

Monday, December 6th, 2010

For this post, I’m offering my own unscientific perspectives based on a unique window I get to peek into through – my experience actively consulting with or for organizations of all sizes and in all sectors of the industry. This includes everyone from pulp and paper mills to paper merchants to printers to print brokers and finally, print buyers.

My travels take me from coast to coast and north to south here in North America working with over 100 clients in 200 locations per year. From ten-employee in-plants to billion dollar corporations, there are common themes that seem from my perspective to permeate every facet of the paper and print-space.

Necessity may be the Mother of invention, but it’s also the Mother of reduction, the Mother of consolidation and ultimately, the Mother of efficiency. The past few years of recessionary behavior has proven to be a Petri dish of sorts that prove this hypothesis.

Common to every nearly enterprise is the realization that certain functions have had to be reduced or eliminated in order to survive. On the M&A level this means economy of scale and centralization of management, marketing, accounting and human resource functions. Within the same organization, lower level elimination of redundant or non-value added positions has become the norm. I’ve walked in the door of many a facility where “ring the bell/buzzer/phone” for front desk service is now in force where before, the duty of the receptionist was just that; to receive.

If there is a front desk person it is frequently a CSR or AR/AP employee whose new workspace happens to be visibly at the front door of the establishment. The same goes with many other positions where value is perceived as being intangible and can therefore be eliminated and delegated internally to the wearers of many hats who are any enterprise’s new survivor class.

The other trend I’ve seen is that along with staff reduction coinciding with the amount of work coming through the door, where say a full 3 shift operation has been forced down to 2, a new and interesting problem has arisen. When the workload is steady, which is a lowered expectation these days, the available labor pool is being tailored to be able to handle the volume, however now there seems to be more of an optimistic trend among print buyers and advertisers.

It’s what I call the “loosening of the purse-strings syndrome.” As the economy and consumer confidence levels elevate slightly, print buyers are a bit more confident and optimistic. Over the past six to twelve months, my clients, generically now have the problem of not having labor available for those spikes in volume when they occur. In a way this is a good problem to have, since they now feel like they have weathered the economic storm and are now emerging as a more efficient enterprise through all their tribulations.

In some markets an interesting phenomenon is taking place. Where similar facilities with similar capabilities and equipment have either survived or failed, there is a glut of skilled labor. In some cases these spikes are handled by employees working for more than one company-  not that this hasn’t always happened to some degree. It just seems that now there are a lot more skilled operators willing and/or able to be engaged on-call. The problem here is that this is usually more of a mature labor pool, so with regard to longevity, an arrangement such as this is not self-sustaining. No one seems to want to be so optimistic as to ramp back up to former levels, so this conundrum will continue for the foreseeable future.

I don’t pretend to be an economist. I’ll leave that job to Dr. Joe. That said, I do ask the same basic questions wherever I go. How’s business? Have you had layoffs or reductions in the past year and if so, by how much? Have things stabilized? Are you bringing staff back on? Are your customers a bit more optimistic? Are you?

Of course the answers vary, but on average they are: tolerable; yes; yes; yes; yes; yes. It is encouraging if anything, that there is a pervasive optimism out there. In my book optimism equals confidence. Confidence equals risk-taking, albeit cautiously, risk-taking equals spending. Spending of course raises the economic tide overall, and a rising tide lifts all boats.

So ultimately in the printing industry, especially in the areas of growth such as digital printing and integrated media, I’d like to believe that because of all this spending on infrastructure, equipment and new labor, i.e. emerging skill sets, are about to take a quantum leap based on the demand for printing in our brave new world. A renaissance if you will.

To move forward and be the cause of change, mills, merchants, printers and brokers must again refocus their marketing efforts on a now more optimistic print-buying public, who will have a bit more money to spend as long as they are convinced of the ROI once they have been educated, again, by their vendors of the benefits of print.

So, in the end, you can talk about GDP, unemployment, print shipments and the calculated risks of either doing or not doing something to change the game all day long. All I’m saying to sum this all up is that anecdotally, we seem to collectively be climbing out of a casualty-ridden hole, a bit wiser, a bit stronger, but non-the-less gun-shy. In many cases the casualties have been necessary. It got rid of some of the low-ballers to hopefully create a more level playing field where the survivors can compete fairly on a level playing field, charge a fair price and continue to continue on now that the ball is rolling again.

What do you think?

Vic Barkin

Is workflow the key to surviving and thriving for today’s in-plants?

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

In my last post I talked about the impact of workflow on production environments – especially transactional environments – not just as the connective tissue that links people, processes and technology – but a means to reducing costs, boosting productivity and improving quality.

Production print service providers face many challenges today, but in-plant operations arguably face even more. These guys are dealing with squeezed budgets and simultaneous pressure to grow print volumes, improve service levels, increase productivity and offer an ever-expanding suite of services like producing tabs, binding, transaction printing, fulfillment, direct mail, booklets, and security printing. If they can’t meet the corporate need, they don’t just have a bad year – they get lifted right out of the enterprise.

Survival depends on being able to respond to changing customer needs, turn jobs around faster, reduce costs, improve quality and make it easier for internal customers to place orders and track and deliver jobs — all while fending off threats from outside competitors. Which leads to the biggest challenge in-plants face: staying relevant at a time when economic turmoil makes them especially vulnerable to cost-cutting initiatives. For better or worse, the pressure is on to become an indispensable resource. As a result, success is often directly correlated to the efficiency of the workflow. For in-plants looking to boost process efficiency, drive down costs, speed turnaround and satisfy customers, workflow automation is a must.

Here are 10 ways that workflow can help transform a print operation from a cost center to a profit center:

  1. Connecting the print center to the corporate network
  2. Simplifying job submission, tracking and management
  3. Automating pre-print services like scanning, editing and composing documents
  4. Selecting and directing jobs to the best-fit device
  5. Converting proprietary files to open PDF format
  6. Automating finishing
  7. Archiving jobs and publishing them to CDs, DVDs
  8. Providing customers with easy web-based viewing and reprint ordering
  9. Offering customers a portable, fully searchable, and indexed archive
  10. Giving corporate customers visibility into what you do and how you do it

Workflow solutions can improve the way that work gets done and make the benefits  of the services that in-plants offer visible across the organization. Workflow archive and audit features provide a baseline to measure against when the “outsourcing option” is discussed.

Let’s face it, in-plant shops are often in the basement or located far, far away from headquarters. They may be a “black box” as far as many of their best clients are concerned. Helping customers understand what has to happen to get their job out the door, and allowing them to participate in success can make your group less of a “plant” and more of a partner.