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… IN-PLANTS: Tomorrow’s Knowledge Managers?

Because in-plants reproduce documents containing their organizations’ knowledge, they are uniquely positioned to play vital roles in the organizations and support their strategic objectives and goals.

September 2006 By Wayne Riggall
DESPITE HAVING made the change to digital printing technologies, in-plants may continue to be at risk of being outsourced.

As organizations seeking to remain competitive in the new economy of the 21st century become increasingly knowledge based, in-plants must develop competencies that support Knowledge Management. Given the in-plant’s exposure to organizational knowledge via the documents it reproduces, it is uniquely placed to play a vital role and better support the strategic objectives and goals of the organization.

Look Beyond Traditional Views

By seeking to integrate the in-plant’s capabilities into the organization’s core business processes, in-plant managers are challenged to think in terms of interconnecting activities that occur throughout the organization in support of its strategic objectives. Such thinking requires managers to look beyond the common model of the in-plant as just a business unit. It also encourages them to become more visible throughout the organization and to seek opportunities to observe, understand and influence the trends that are shaping their organizations.

No organization—in-plants included—can expect to survive in today’s hyper competitive business environment without continually improving its effectiveness. Most external competitors, though, have made similar productivity and quality gains, often utilizing the same equipment as the in-plant to achieve a comparable level of operational effectiveness. If the in-plant cannot differentiate itself from external providers through strategic positioning and alignment, it risks being outsourced, especially if the organization measures value only through traditional cost accounting methods.

Knowledge is Capital
Organizations are rapidly changing as they position themselves to compete in the new economy of the 21st century. Knowledge has become capital, as it is knowledge—and the manner in which organizations reuse their knowledge assets—that increasingly influences product or service differentiation.

Organizations are seeking to redefine their visions of the future and identify the competencies critical to success in a global market. It is in this environment that organizations are increasingly outsourcing business units that do not form a strategic fit to the new competencies required. The irony of outsourcing an in-plant is that the opportunity to retain the critical knowledge resources vital to the organization’s future success is often being outsourced too.

The challenge for today’s in-plants lies beyond just changing one method of production for a new process that delivers the same outcome. The challenge and opportunity is in the capture and intelligent management of the document content—the knowledge.

Move up the Value Chain

By moving the competencies of the in-plant further up the value chain to encompass the capabilities of content capture, classification, storage, retrieval, re-purposing and multi-media delivery, the in-plant begins to redefine itself in the role of Knowledge Management. Simple examples of Knowledge Management in the context of the print shop might include Web access to organizational policies and procedural guides or online access to high-usage forms.

The in-plant of the future will likely develop competencies in a range of information management activities including capture and convergence, storage and retrieval and integration to critical document processes.

Information Storage and Retrieval
Central to the concept of Knowledge Management is the issue of information storage and retrieval. The design and functionality of these activities can impact how quickly the organization may leverage its knowledge assets.

Historically, trained professionals within specialized units manage an organization’s critical information systems. We know these units as information systems groups, data centers or similar terms. Meaningful alliances need to be established between these teams and the in-plant, since often these units are charged with the development and deployment of organization-wide Knowledge Management systems. Their knowledge of document workflow and critical document processes is essential to the tight integration of the in-plant’s on-demand printing capabilities.

Participation in, or indeed the initiation of, a corporate document strategy is another important opportunity. It can help the in-plant identify possibilities for integration of the organization’s interlinked document processes to its digital capabilities.

Watch Your Step

In-plant managers need to carefully consider their approach to Knowledge Management, as there are many factors which can influence and impede progress. Barriers to success may include the organizational culture, entrenched beliefs within both the organization and the in-plant, access to influential power brokers or champions, the in-plant’s recent history, and the current level of the in-plant’s capabilities.

Powerful champions at the senior management level can help open doors. Champions can also help change entrenched beliefs throughout the organization, which can take some time. In-plant management needs to define realistic expectations as to what can actually be achieved within the context of their own organizational culture, and the likely time frames for progress.

Test subhead

Within the in-plant itself, there are many opportunities to begin shaping operational activities to enable Knowledge Management outcomes. Define a clear view of how the parent organization will look in three or five year’s time. Try to define what new markets it will operate in and what new products and services it may be providing. Will it offer today’s products and services through new delivery or distribution channels? What will the dynamics of the competitive environment be like in the future? What competencies will the in-plant need to develop to continue to support the strategic direction of the organization?

Test subhead 2
In-plant managers need to consider that focusing solely on operational effectiveness may not be enough to contribute to the organization’s strategic objectives. It may not insure against the possibility of outsourcing.

Integration to key business processes throughout the organization enables closer strategic alignment of the in-plant, allowing for full participation in the organization’s Knowledge Management initiatives, thus reinforcing its competitive
advantage. IPG5


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