Enhancing the Customer Connection—Part 5


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Enhancing the Customer Connection—Part 5
Strengthening the Value of the In-Plant

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

Inhabiting a niche in the world of printing in-plants have more in common with commercial print shops than many print pros are willing to admit. While in-plants’ business and operating models are different, customers still expect jobs to be processed quickly, accurately, on time and on budget, with reliable communications, and more—the same demands as in commercial shops.

Not surprisingly, in-plants turn to most of the same tools as their commercial and quick service counterparts, although not always as quickly. This was one of the findings in the most recent NAPCO Research study done on behalf of Canon USA. Drawing on input from communications buyers who have relied on in-plant print operations, this study helps compare their specific requirements and preferences with those of communication buyers who responded to surveys that supported the other white papers in this series. Even though I was not involved in the research, Canon again shared the data with me. I thought you might be interested in some key findings about how in-plants—some of which may very well be your competitors—are working to enhance the connections they have with customers. For more detail, you can download the full report here.

One of the more interesting data points is how many in-plants operate with respect to cost recovery. While some are fully funded and may seek some cost recovery, the data show this is not always the case. In fact, nearly half seek full-cost recovery, typically charging back work to the customer or department submitting a job. This makes total economic sense because it has customers paying for work done at the in-plant. Although the rates paid may or may not be less than a local commercial shop would charge, the result is that in-plants can be worthy competitors to commercial shops.

Key Takeaways
In-plant managers responding to the survey appreciate the value of automation with about two-thirds saying automation is the single most important element in keeping their operation profitable. Some report making investments in tools such as automatic file checking/preflighting that help enhance automation, as well as implementing data security features to meet clients’ needs.
  • As noted in previous studies, communication buyers are pressured to reduce costs while maximizing the return on communication investments. This presents an opportunity for in-plants to satisfy its organization’s requirements for tools and processes that provide better access, management and control of print production and spending. These ways of improving results can build stronger customer bonds that are not easily broken by outside competitors. Many of these bonds can be enhanced or provided through automation.
  • Ease of job submission has become a top selection factor. The data showed a 125% increase in web submission at in-plants over the past two years (since the pandemic) compared to a minor increase at commercial shops over the same period. The pandemic-driven confluence of remote workforces and home schooling drove an increase in the volume of jobs being submitted via web submission. This growth has fostered stronger relationships between in-plant operations and their customer
  • Data security is of key importance to many organizations seeking to thwart cyberattacks and database breaches. In-plant shops report their top security demands include requiring employees to complete a security training program, having systems and processes that protect personal information, performing criminal background checks on new-hires, and having security certifications such as HIPAA, ISO, GDPR, and PCI.
  • Security presents an opportunity to help in-plants enhance their value to their parent organization, yet only a little over half of in-plant respondents said job file and data security features are of growing importance or that their organizations are acting to meet these requirements. In-plants that are not taking data security seriously—and educating their parent organization—are placing their organization at risk while leaving money on the table, even though charges for security certifications are internal rather than external.
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Certainly, some of these points are driven by what a parent organization values, especially in terms of what an in-plant provides that an outside shop does not. For example, an in-plant may offer a higher or more customized level of security than an outside provider, offer more streamlined job submission or improved job ticketing. The responsibility here is on the in-plant, aided by equipment and software vendors, to raise the bar for their organization.

Although responses indicated that some in-plants have invested in tools like automatic file checking and preflighting, most in-plant respondents said their level of automation has not notably changed since this was asked two years ago. Moving forward, shops that have not already started the automation process can begin with job submission, prepress and preflighting. The study showed these steps to be a key weakness among in-plants, noting that prepress took the largest amount of time, followed by preflighting and job entry/onboarding. All of these can be automated in virtually any in-plant and are commonly automated in commercial print operations. Streamlining these basics can be a great place for in-plants to up their game.

Study data highlights a somewhat slower transition to automation among in-plants than among commercial shops. However, it also indicates opportunities for implementing greater automation and data security features that will help in-plants meet customer needs and keep more jobs in-house.

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