A successful operation is built around people, process, and technology. In print and mail operations, the equipment used to process inbound and outbound documents is becoming faster, more accurate, and more expensive. Upgrading your systems will mean a significant investment in dollars and other resources.

In past articles, we’ve encouraged the use of requests for proposals (RFP) for major purchases. Companies can use the RFP to fully explain their existing situation and challenges, as well as the goals to be met with the new technology. We recommend that our clients provide as much detail as possible about their current operation – volumes, file formats, processing times, paper types, information technology infrastructure, etc. If possible, give vendors physical samples of the “typical” documents in their final form.

An operation may be looking at equipment upgrades with existing vendors. Service and pricing have consistently met expectations, and the current equipment is performing well. While an RFP may not be required, managers still need to learn more about the proposed solution.

In today’s business environment, there may be unexpected changes with our vendor relationships. The last few years have seen mergers, acquisitions, and sales of many companies. Manufacturers, resellers, and maintenance organizations are changing ownership and leadership at an unprecedented pace. Contracts and agreements have to be reexamined along with changing phone numbers and email addresses.

In each situation, managers should prepare questions to best understand how the changes will impact their operation. Here are the top 10 questions (and the reason to ask) to ask an equipment vendor:

1. Can you provide a clear description of the proposed solution and how it will meet each of our mandatory requirements? Explain whether any optional item is included in the base price or will require an additional expense.

Rationale: It’s important to have a document that can be shared with procurement and management to secure funding for the new equipment.

2. What is the expected throughput (pieces/images per hour) of the equipment for the applications we run in our operation (as compared to published machine cycle speed)?

Rationale: Most brochures and web pages list the rated speed of the equipment. This is the fastest the machine will run under the best circumstances. Managers need to know how fast the machine will run with their most common applications.

3. Can you provide a detailed description of the hardware, computers, servers, etc.? Include all space, power, air, HVAC, and networking requirements for the equipment.

Rationale: Printers and inserters may require additional power, air, or water than what is in the shop today. In the world of the “Internet of Things” (IOT), most equipment needs to be connected to your internal and external networks for submitting work and maintenance support.

4. Can you provide a clear description of how the proposed solution will work within the current production environment? Clearly identify what modifications (if any) need to be made to support the proposed solution.

Rationale: Some new inkjet printers require higher ceilings and tighter humidity controls. Adjustments to the physical space may be required for new inserters. Those changes need to be understood in order to calculate the complete costs of the new equipment.

5. Could you provide a detailed project plan that covers the building, factory acceptance testing, installation, and acceptance testing of the system; including the identification of staffing, completion dates, deliverables, constraints, etc.? What guarantees will you make in meeting the deliverables of the proposed project plan? For example, will you agree to pay a penalty if the system is not installed and functioning by the proposed date in the project plan?

Rationale: The equipment is not sitting on a shelf in a warehouse waiting to be delivered. Buyers may need to provide material – special paper stocks, barcoded output, and envelopes – so the machine can be tested before delivery. For printers, sample print files need to be run before the equipment leaves the factory.

6. Can you please submit clear description of the maintenance, service, and support agreement? The document should include warranties, telephone numbers, hours for standard support, availability for urgent requests, and response times. Provide a description of the parts program, including spares stored onsite with the equipment, as well as nearby parts depots. Provide a description of the escalation process for issues that cannot be resolved through normal service and support.

Rationale: The best equipment runs best when supported by sound maintenance. Managers need clear expectations about what will happen when the printer or inserter stops running. In production environments with tight deadlines, response time is critical.

7. Will you provide a description of how your company measures the effectiveness of the maintenance program, including any guarantees of minimum equipment production levels and availability? Provide screen shots of key reports and measurement dashboards.

Rationale: Managers need to understand how the vendor manages themselves. What does the vendor consider acceptable, and how does that match internal expectations?

8. What innovations is your company planning to introduce in the next one to two years?

Rationale: A new equipment purchase is a substantial investment. Managers need to be prepared for the future and be assured that any pending changes can be applied to the equipment they’re buying today.

9. Can you describe in detail your company's environmental efforts (present and future) to help reduce and offset the impact of your company's business activities on the environment? How will the technology you propose help our company’s efforts to reduce energy consumption and reduce the impact of our business activities on the environment?

Rationale: Awareness about environmental impact is important for service providers and in-plant managers. This information is important not only for the approval process, but for selling services – internally or externally – in the future.

10. Can you provide three references, including information for at least one recently completed engagement where a similar solution was provided to the client? For one or two of the references, provide companies in the same geographic area, so a site visit can be scheduled.

Rationale: We learn from each other. Talk to other customers before making a final decision.

The print and mail industries are seeing innovative technologies being introduced on a daily basis. Before investing in new equipment, take some time to get these important questions answered.

Mark M. Fallon is President, The Berkshire Company, a consulting firm specializing in mail and document processing strategies. He can be reached at mmf@berkshire-company.com.

This article originally appeared in the November/December, 2019 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.