Archive for the ‘Energy and Utility’ Category

Desperately Seeking… A Utility Bill

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

As a utility consumer, I have needs. I need to be asked how I’m doing. I need to feel needed. I need to be understood. I desire warmth from more than just my HVAC unit.

I want to know where my money is going and why I owe as much as I do. Once I come to terms with the hard fact that I indeed do need to part with my hard-earned money, I want it to be as convenient and easy to decipher as possible. I want to be able to check my bill from my phone or computer and have the option to pay from my mobile phone.

I don’t want to call a customer service line, and I don’t want to navigate through a series of voice prompts. Parting with my hard earned money isn’t an intrinsically fun thing to do, so when I have an experience with my utility company, I’m already on the defensive. I need my utility company to open a communication with me, not just a one-way message. I don’t at all mind the utility company sharing a third-party deal with me, as long as it applies to me, and isn’t a hassle to read through.

What I can’t deal with is poor design that lacks graphics to clarify my statement. I’m a visual learner, so I need to see where my money is going. I want to see the crucial information front and center. If I have to call customer service, I want to easily find my account number and all other pertinent information in one place. I want an e-statement that looks like my bill. I find it helpful to see why I’m using so much energy, and I like to see if I was demonstrated better or worse habits in the prior year (or better than my neighbors!). I want to see actual meter readings and I want to know how to lower my consumption. I also don’t like getting a water bill, a sewer bill and a waste collection bill separately, when all three are paid with the same invoice!

Also, I need reminders. A printed bill in the mail is a great reminder, but for some bills, I prefer e-presentment and mobile solutions. When I use e-statements, it really helps to get a reminder in my email or a text to my phone. If there’s one thing I hate more than having to pay bills, is paying late fees. A simple reminder and an easy to use payment portal help me make late fees a thing of the past. I have some bills on autopay from my bank, some I pay monthly with my credit card and some I send a check for- so I count on my utility provider to make it easy on me with a reminder. The worst is getting hassled by customer service or risking a service interruption from a late payment when literally, “The check is in the mail!” Please track your remittance efforts as well, and save us all some time!

I understand that some providers have an outdated legacy system in place, but that is no excuse to not get with the times. Work with a provider to transform your legacy system into a more modern system, and begin a statement archival system for easy access in the future. Offer me online and offline options for my statement. Offer an electronic bill pay system.

Is that too much to ask?

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.

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 Green Talk All Gobbledygook?

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

EcoAlign, a strategic marketing firm specializing in green issues, has released a report that shows that, while consumers care about green issues, they don’t understand much of the basic terminology or make clear distinctions between terms. So when we talk “green” to our customers, do they understand what we’re talking about?

Although the report, “Green Gap Redux: Green Words Gone Wrong,” is focused largely at the energy industry, it has important implications for all companies marketing “green.” With printing — digital printing, in particular — really focused on its green benefits, it ought to be listening closely.
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