Written by Howard Fenton, Senior Technology Consultant at NAPL

I have been to three in-plant events in the last few months: ACUP, IPMA and I just returned from a Thought Leadership Presentation at the Gill Hatch Center. I wish I could paint a more optimistic picture of the state of in-plants, but the fact is that in-plants are under greater scrutiny than ever before. With business down and state budgets cut, there is a greater focus on cutting services that are considered non-essential.

In all these meetings the same questions and conversations occurred. They included:

  • Why is volume down and how do I reverse that?
  • Is someone trying to sell my facilities management or outsourcing? How do I prepare for that battle?
  • Are customers satisfied?
  • Are my costs or prices high? How do we compare?
  • How do I justify existence?
  • How do I prove my value?


My responses are always the same. “Prepare for battle but hope you never have to fight.” The key to fighting these threats is knowing your facts, gathering more data, showing ongoing improvements, closely evaluating the proposal, and fighting data with data.

You should have a realistic assessment of the work you do, the number of projects that required rush delivery, and the percentage of jobs that had to be re-run because internal customers changed data or approved incorrect information the first time.

I walk into many in-plants that tell me they track break-even analysis and cost competitiveness, but they do not do it often or well.

Increasing operational productivity has become one of the never-ending battles in print production today. The benefits include driving down the cost of manufacturing, speeding turnaround times, and making prices more competitive.

If the process gets into the proposal phase, you should dig deep into the proposal to find any potential problems. For example, a price per page contract may include minimum costs but what if your volume is below the minimum.

In The Art of War, written in China 2,500 years ago, Sun Tzu says, “The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.” You need to be prepared to fight data with data.

Prepare for battle but hope you never have to fight!

Howard Fenton is a Senior Technology Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research. He is a paid contributor to this blog.