Many hands make light work." That timeless piece of advice is especially pertinent to managers of internal print/mail finishing units who must keep pace with a growing workload, the emergence of new applications and constantly advancing technology all while keeping productivity high and costs under control.


To meet these daily challenges, an increasing number of managers of internal operations are partnering with external print and mail facilities to create complementary and supplementary production capabilities. These innovative arrangements are being used to handle occasional peaks in volume, to test and refine promising new technologies or to level load in-house applications all of which contribute to improved efficiency for the internal unit, helping it to operate smoothly and cost-effectively.


While these partnering arrangements may be new to the print/mail finishing world, they are hardly new to business. Essential corporate functions such as legal, advertising and PR and human resources to name just a few have relied for years on specialized outside resources to buttress internal capabilities. Now, the practice is becoming more accepted in customer messaging operations, particularly those interested in maximizing productivity while containing costs.


Here are just a few of the common print/mail finishing activities and applications that can be assigned to a trusted partner to help maintain or boost the overall productivity and proficiency of an internal customer messaging unit.


Smooth out the Peaks

Virtually all print/mail finishing operations encounter some sort of spike in processing volume, whether on an annual, quarterly, monthly or weekly basis. Staffing and equipping-up to meet the peak demand results in costly excess capacity. Conversely, aligning resources to satisfy average demand results in periodic processing crunches, which may impact quality and turnaround time, as well as trigger higher costs for overtime, creating the risk of unwanted staff attrition.


A better approach is to identify your optimum in-house volume levels that provide your organization the best operating metrics while assigning the remaining volume to a trusted partner. A trusted partner is one that has demonstrated world-class operational delivery and financial stability over a long time. Following this model in effect provides you with the ability to optimize your workflow, staffing, facility and equipment utilization with little or no investment. Deploying this operating model often uncovers many hidden benefits for your business.


As an example, most best-in-class print and mail providers are continually upgrading their finishing capabilities while adopting leading-edge technologies. This can provide your organization with a pathway for testing product concepts before the risks of large investments or commitments are made internally. Learning from a trusted partner can pay very large dividends in a short time.


Challenging Applications

Another way to boost the overall effectiveness of an internal operation is to review where your organization spends the majority of its resource time. Often, organizations will find several key areas where a disproportionate amount of technology or labor resource is being consumed supporting a unique or challenging set of applications. Often a trusted partner, if embraced as an extended resource, can support your needs more effectively, allowing your organization to improve its focus on core services.


Typically, an outside processing facility will already have the necessary and comprehensive range of capabilities required to perform the work as well as actual experience in handling similarly difficult applications. Managers of internal operating units can easily boost bottom line performance by releasing a difficult application while continuing to focus on processing those applications they are best suited to handle.


Innovations and Enhancements

When an internal unit is operating at sustained levels of peak efficiency, which is the ultimate goal, it can be difficult to find the staff expertise and resources needed to test, refine and implement new technologies and applications. But the effort to improve is essential and should be continuous for any manager.


Tapping into the expertise and advanced capabilities of a trusted partner can enable the manager of an internal facility to keep abreast of advances in both technology and technique. Armed with those added capabilities, the internal manager can either respond very quickly to requests for assistance or proactively offer enhancements or new solutions to internal clients.


This partnering capability can be an especially significant advantage for internal managers who are charged with testing and evaluating high potential new technologies, such as digital color, or new applications, such as consolidated mailings. These new technologies and approaches may be cost-prohibitive for standalone facilities due to their lower volume levels and relative high investment requirements.


Trusted partners often have the operational scale and customer diversity to deliver these technologies at a much more economical level than the in-house operation.


Additionally, you might have noticed that technology seems to evolve faster now than ever before. What was once considered leading-edge is soon deployed widely and improved upon by others. This rapid evolution can create a significant dilemma for most in-house operations in deciding when to invest, what to invest in and how much capability to deploy. As a result, a relationship with the right partner can yield significant insight into market trends and innovations that might not come to the attention of a manager of a smaller, internal facility.


Generally speaking, it is much easier for you if a trusted partner works closely with you while taking on the workload of prototyping and testing new applications before your internal operation decides to commit to a specific technology or set of major modifications to an application. Following this model will go a long way in preserving precious in-house resources for your core operational requirements.


Cost Avoidance and ROI

Every organization grapples with the need to allocate a scarce amount of capital among a broad range of competing interests. Organizations that fund their most profitable opportunities are likely assured the best chance of success. Managers of internal processing facilities can aid the organization by shifting a portion of their volume to an external facility, thereby deferring or even eliminating the need for capital.

For example, steady growth in volume over several years, or perhaps an unanticipated acquisition or merger, may trigger the need to expand an internal facility or make a significant investment in new processing equipment. However, managers can eliminate altogether the need for capital investment to accommodate these changes by sharing processing volume with a trusted partner.


As suggested earlier, operating your internal operation at optimum volume levels should lead to a higher return on invested capital (ROIC) than if you are required to make various one time capital investments to support volume growth associated with changes in business or business models. This capital funding can now be redirected toward higher yielding investments that have a higher probability of aiding in the continued growth of your customer base.


Business Recovery

A partnership arrangement with the right external facility can also serve as a de facto business recovery or disaster recovery service. Once a volume sharing agreement is implemented and working, the processes are already in place to enable the transfer of additional volume in the event of a disaster or other business interruption. Typically, disaster recovery services impose a fee and sometimes require advance notification, prior to activating the recovery service.


With proper advance planning, and by partnering with an external facility of sufficient scale, the manager of an internal facility can implement a business recovery option that is low-cost, assured and available on virtually a moment's notice.


Dan Oswald, Senior Vice President of Strategy for First Data's Output Services division, has more than 20 years of industry experience. Most recently, he served as Vice President of Product Development for First Data's Customer Correspondence product division, where he and his team designed the vision for First Data's Strategic Communications Solution, which includes plastic products, statements, letters, electronic distribution channels and decisioning and IntelliColor systems. Visit or phone 888-565-5990.