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Need for Benchmarking the GPO Evident from Interquest Forum Keynote

December 6, 2011 By C. Clint Bolte
Interquest’s sixth annual Digital Printing in Government and Higher Education Forum, targeting government and higher education in-plant printers, was held last week at the Omni Shoreham in Washington DC. Digital printing, electronic workflows, and in-plant case studies of successful technology and management transitions—often involving newly hired, experienced private sector employees—were the reenforced themes of the forum.

Keynote speaker William Boarman, Public Printer and CEO of the U.S. Government Printing Office, emphasized the new role of the GPO as the “(federal) government digital application platform.” While printing is a vital part of GPO’s mission, the agency’s evolving expertise and skills involve facilitating digital applications and services to enhance access to public information for the benefit of government users and all citizens.

In recapping his brief 11 months in office (a term that will end on Jan. 1, 2012, if the Republicans don’t approve this Obama appointment), Boarman cited a number of GPO accomplishments. One of which involved an emphasis on receiving payments from overdue chargebacks.

In the private sector vernacular, that means chasing accounts receivable to get paid for services rendered. While cash flow is not really an issue for any in-plant, the internal transfer of debits and credits is still essential.

A side conversation with one attendee on this delayed chargeback issue was enlightening. He is a “new” federal government employee with only a couple of years of experience, but with decades of experience in the private sector printing industry in both production and procurement roles.

As a newbie, one of his first assignments was getting old GPO chargebacks approved for payment by his agency. Some bills were literally seven years old. Apparently, most of his fellow agency colleagues were aware that if the buying agency does not object to a printed piece within 90 days of delivery, there is no recourse against the printer.

Acceptability of the printed piece rarely seemed to be the issue. The often unspoken issue was that delay of payment is among the few recourses available to clients who are unhappy with GPO’s customer service. While Boarman mentioned numerous examples of satisfied federal clients in his address, it seems the underlying current included the opposite sentiment as well. This is no game. It must be corrected.

Where can the large and unique GPO go to get a candid, constructive critique on any of its systems, procedures or processes such as customer service? Printers of all sizes in the private sector turn to benchmarking their peers and, specifically, often the recognized leaders at performing nearly identical processes.

Who Could the GPO Benchmark Its Processes Against?

One of the difficulties for all print managers—inplant and private sector alike—has always been to find credible feedback sources, i.e., same or extremely similar process(es) to compare, measure and observe firsthand for the purpose of self evaluation and improvement.

Before proceeding with a potential “who,” it is vital for the GPO staff, management team and operators to acknowledge:
  • we’ve got a problem,
  • others seem to have resolved similar problems, and
  • what can I learn from other practitioner(s)that can be applied in our operation to help improve our situation?

If this basic human buy-in is not confirmed, much time and effort will be wasted when the participants submit their final report saying, “These guys aren’t like us at all and therefore their solutions won’t solve our problems for these many reasons.”

For years, the “I’m unique!” excuse seemed to hold water for the GPO print procurement entity as no one else was buying hundreds of millions of dollars a year in printing throughout the country. That is up until now.

Innerworkings, founded during this past decade, has grown to be purchasing over $600 million annually of printing and graphic services for hundreds, if not thousands, of corporate clients. Among its several distinctive competances is a proprietary software system, trademarked as PPM4, that allows clients to interface via an Internet browser with well-written specifications and ultimately access to thousands of printers.

These printers access the INWK portal to review RFQs for specifications that meet their capabilities. Plus, PPM4 actually earmarks a series of printers whose proven capabilities align with the specfications issued. Free enterprise results, as it does with the GPO’s procurement system, in extremely low prices being bid by these printers.

I do not know if Innerworkings would be willing to serve as a benchmark for the GPO’s print procurement model. Here is an example of how this benchmarking project might be organized to benefit both firms and, ultimately, the Federal Government Agency clients of the GPO.

Hypothetical Benchmarking Process Between INWK & GPO

Ideally, there would be three to four federal agency clients of GPO that would be willing to put at least a half million dollars each worth of their own jobs in the INWK system to be benchmarked against the GPO system over a six to nine-month time period. Once placed with INWK vendors, each subsequent job step should by mapped and measured for both organizations. This would include the client interfacing steps as well.

The $1.5-2 million pool in the benchmarking package would hopefully be economic incentive enough for INWK to welcome the benchmarking trial. The number of jobs across 20 or more print product specialty catagories would provide statistically valid sampling for the project.

Each individual GPO “jacket” could be submitted to both the GPO network of vendors and the INWK network, with the job being awarded to the lowest qualified vendor. The first benchmarking measure would be which system delivers the lowest price.

A few additional basic questions would help establish the benchmarking parameters and objectives:

1) What is the relative price differential by various product catagories between INWK & GPO?

2) How many employees are involved in each phase of the different processes for the two procurement giants? Why the differential?

3) How does INWK measure the effectiveness of its various customer service people, teams, and processes? Could any such methodologies be replicated either in the GPO regional offices or the Central Office?

4) If the INWK PPM4 is recognized as being superior to the GPO’s proprietary software system for any of the various product catagories, could the GPO license PPM4 from INWK? (Considering that the life blood of the GPO is the commission revenue generated by its procurement service the alternative of outsourcing print procurement to INWK is recognized as not being a practical option.)

Other considerations for maximum future buy-in by all stackholders of the results and potential improvements derived from this benchmarking exercise might be:

• Representatives of the Interagency Council on Printing and Publications Services (ICPPS) should be active members of the committee monitoring this ongoing benchmarking project. The ICPPS is comprised of nearly 50 federal agency clients of the GPO, whose goals include developing recommendations to help the GPO provide efficient, effective, and economical services.

• There are several other Internet-based print procurement services that claim to have proprietary software and an unbeatable database of hungry private sector printers. To compare them with INWK would be a waste of the GPO’s time, unless of course INWK did not want to participate. The reason is simply that none of them have the economy of scale as reflected by their annual revenues to be on par with the GPO’s procurement effort.

• Should a final conclusion be that it would be advantageous to the GPO and its clients to license the PPM4, then this INWK software should naturally be compared against the other print procurement software offerings available.

Production Benchmarking Opportunities


It was learned during the conference that a couple of years ago the GPO installed a second passport production plant in Stennis, MI, that has identical equipment and technology to the GPO’s North Capital St. passport entity in Washington, DC. While the original DC plant has total backup of equipment in every single production process, this southeastern plant provides the State Department with universal backup and geographic duplicity for this valuable and security conscious production entity.

An unexpected benefit of the Mississippi enterprise is the production benchmarking opportunity for the GPO passport teams. This is an apples-to-apples comparison of productivity, efficiency, spoilage control and actual per-unit costs for producing the exact same product with the same equipment, technology and, presumably, workflows in the two different plants.

It would be interesting for a future InterQuest Forum to have a presentation by GPO on what was learned from such benchmarking and how this ongoing measurement process is helping each sibling plant to improve for the benefit of the client, the taxpayers, and the employees.

Other GPO production processes could be benchmarked against the dynamic benchmarking database available to the National Association for Printing Leadership (NAPL) members. It is understood that NAPL is eager to include more of its in-plant members into this benchmarking database. The association has indicated that it is even open to including additional dashboard criteria should there be any that in-plant members find unique to their segment of the industry. PIworld

C. Clint Bolte of C. Clint Bolte & Associates, Chambersburg, PA, can be reached at (717) 263-5768 or via e-mail at cbolte3@comcast.net.


 

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