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Jan 24, 2014 12:00 AM

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In-plant operations will continue to play a key role in the education, government, business, and non-profit sectors. But timed, customized and integrated print will shape the in-plant of the future.

Historical analysis and trending can mislead businesses in the face of disruptive technology and methods. Each organization will have to assess its processes. Lemming behavior will fail, as social media and mobile power variability continue to change the playing field. Customized and 1:1 conversations that include print channels require continuous service improvement. This is not your grandfather’s in-plant.

Five keywords summarize the “vitalized” in-plant of the future:

  1. 1.      Innovative: Print and related services are competitive advantages in the hands of astute integrated communicators. Product and service promotion through transactional and direct documents is as available and fluid as online promotion. Smart marketers and management teams are mining every piece of communication to the prospect, customer and internal organization based on demographic interest and patterns. Future in-plants understand and adapt rapidly.
  1. 2.      Comprehensive: No one can do it all, but you had better be close. Outsourced work sometimes brings unacceptable risk. (“Did you know XYZ Insurance Agency is launching an integrated marketing campaign for its disability product on the West Coast using print, online, and social channels? You can also do that with our equipment and software.”)

Non-disclosure agreements don’t always work. Even vendor service techs and sales people pose a risk of leakage—industry lore holds that if you really want to know what’s going on, just ask the paper delivery guy. Multi-sourced projects accelerate a business’ vulnerability, so you need to get as much in-house and under organization guideline and control as possible. Ad agencies will become smart partners with the in-plant to sustain their business integration.

People want a single point of accountability joined with rapid turnaround. This is a dilemma. It means planned redundancy in equipment, hardware, software, and people to assure continuous service to hit market timelines. It also means a variety of resources and capabilities that are not always used. You may need wide-format project capability that only runs four times a year at optimum turn. People and resources have to be on the ready. Cost has been lowered, but organizations can handle this. In-plants will be “Swiss Army knife-able.”

Get broad organization skillsets in your management and support team. In-plant management needs competency in compliance, legal, content management, marketing, sales, and operations. A broad-minded manager, who understands all aspects of the business, is a diamond asset.

  1. 3.      Informational: Useable demographic and pattern data on customers and prospects integrate with print flow. Content has to be matched with online, static, push, pull, and social and adapted to mobile, pad, desktop, laptop, and on-demand entertainment and billboards. What media and method is yet to be invented? Transactional (existing customer) and directed (prospecting and customer development) print needs to match to the market. In-plants must be ready to adapt and hit target times exactly in the orchestration of communication. In-plant print volumes might increase with specialization!

In-plants need to understand privacy regulations, have audit trails, be able to prove immediate deletion of data, and mesh with Sarbanes-Oxley and its many derivatives. A workflow that is documented and audited and tightly measured and monitored is not an option.

The trend for CIOs to get out of the “printing business” leads to a knowledge and attention gap in many major enterprises, which can cause audit issues and leakage of data. CMOs and COOs may take up the audit gauntlet and move into increased influence on data integration and handling. The in-plant will need to navigate the enterprise and demonstrate business acumen.

  1. 4.      Engaged: Who needs the in-plant? Everyone. This change is on the horizon. Smaller companies will hire their own lean, mean in-plants. They will source to adaptable close partner commercial providers or do it themselves, but they will get it done. The price point for entry into the business has dropped dramatically with wide-format equipment, labeling, five-color low-cost printers, and all-in-one in-stream equipment for print and mail. This will continue, as the value is high and the cost is low. Small companies can make quicker time-to-market decisions compared to larger companies using self-maintained in-plants. Look for companies with small footprints starting new in-plants.
  1. 5.      Communicative: Marketing and sales and customer service will join operations for in-plants. In-plants require budgets for these activities and items as much as for production resources. Customer service will be a priority for vitalized in-plants. It has not been there, but it will move to the front.

Online systems will engage customers when they envision a project. Quick calculators and file preflight online checkers and quick design tools give in-plant customers a head start without having to talk to team members. These systems intelligently alert in-plant teams to future work orders for proactive preparation and follow up. The same systems will keep progress communicated in real time with instant operational transparency.


Are you ready? Is your organization? What are you doing to make the move?

Phil Larson is president of Shepherd Consulting OK and author of “In Plant Biz Development 101: Engaging New Thrust in Multi-Channel.” Talk to Phil at