In Part l of this column, I address why we merged the two divisions of print and mail and the benefits to our customers. Part II will cover the practical aspects: combining staff, working with vendors and the U.S. Postal Service.
There have been two recent trends in the In-Plant Print and Mail Industry:
1. Combining print and mail departments into one operation.
2. Merging the combined department with the data center.
This two-part article addresses the first trend, combining print and mail departments. But before starting on that story, I would like to "push" my fellow managers on an important point: never stop and think you have a secure operation. Yes, the industry has changed the last few years, but guess what, we haven't seen anything yet. Three years ago, I used to tell other managers if they were not digital, they would be in serious trouble within two years. Now I tell them, if you do not have a Web ordering system and plans for color implementation, start looking elsewhere!
The City of San Francisco Central Publishing and Mail Center consolidated its separate divisions over 10 years ago. Through a series of unplanned accidents (like the 1989 Earthquake) and conscious good decisions, the department emerged as a high technology service offering document creation and mailing from the customer desktop, through graphics, to print and into the mail stream offering maximum USPS discounts.
Our staff spends a considerable amount of time in meetings, open houses and producing published Guides to Services, which educate clients on the most time and cost-efficient ways to complete projects. It pays off. Our client base is very savvy about trying to produce documents that are eventually produced digitally and comply with USPS rules.
As manager of the department for over 15 years, I've preached for a long time about the value of combining print and mail. We found by consolidating the two that what emerges is a total service for the customer. More importantly, by managing the entire document cycle, you bring in more work and of course profits to your operations. It's really very simple; combining print and mail offers better coordination, shorter turnaround and higher volumes.
By streamlining and automating the production process, our customers print more information to go inside the mailing piece. They mail more because the discounts we get allow them to produce new and different mailing projects. Guess who prints the information that goes into those new mailings?
Here is how we did it:
The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was the best thing that could have happened for Reproduction & Mail Services. Prior to the earthquake, the department was located in the stereotypical spot for an in-plant: the basement, only this location was even worse than normal. Not only was the physical plant old, worn-out, moldy and underpowered, but also because the Mail section was created many years after the print center, they were physically split on opposite sides of the building.
At the time of the earthquake, two major changes were coming to the department: network digital printing and USPS automation requirements. My staff and I saw this as an opportunity. It was our experience that at the time a typical customer print and mail job would look something like this:
1. Write the document on a PC
2. Print it out
3. Print labels
4. Bring the original to reproduction for copy or print (if it was an offset, print all the make-ready hassles)
5. After the copying was done, pick up and bring over to mail services for labeling and metering
The turnaround time was two to three days. We envisioned a system that would allow our users to create documents with no traditional pre-press and eliminate as many manual steps as possible.
The department currently looks like this:
Many orders are created on a user PC and sent along with an address file across the network. Our Docutechs imprint the address as they are printing the document. It goes straight to mail for metering and sorting. This print order is now promised in four hours. With the move from City Hall pending, we made a list of what constitutes the ideal print and mail service: customer service oriented, quick turnaround and the lowest cost.
Take note of the first two. We found most customers are not concerned with lowest cost; they want service. They want to be sure their projects are being completed in the shortest possible time. That's not to say we do not save the city money, we do. Our total cost for printing and postage is generally lower than the private sector. Part of our marketing to clients is cost savings they realize by not having to manage a print and mail project. Remember, the overall aim of our organization is to save the city money.
Look for part II of this article, which will focus on the actual integration of the two sections, including merging the staff, equipment and of course, working with the USPS.
For the past 15 years, David German has directed the central design, publishing and mail operations of the city and county of San Francisco. He is also an advisor for the creating term contracts for print and commodity purchases. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.