GREAT LAKES INTEGRATED -- Web Puts Clients In Driver's Seat
BY MARK SMITH
Any claims of being "first" practically beg to be disputed. That inherent risk didn't scare off Great Lakes Integrated (GLI) from adopting the one-word declaration—FIRST—as a brand identity for its mix of marketing communication services.
The Cleveland-based organization is comprised of three divisions. GLPrint provides offset and digital printing services. GLDirect is a mailing and fulfillment operation. AKSESS provides a suite of Web-based marketing communication solutions based on an ASP (Application Service Provider) model.
Those latter database-driven tools are central to the company's marketing claim and provide a backbone for its integrated service. They are designed to be used by customers and also to drive internal operations.
AKSESS was formally started almost seven years ago, reports James Schultz, GLI president and CEO. "We had a major account that was having a real struggle in managing its digital assets," he says. "We ended up working very closely with that client to develop an online digital asset management (DAM) solution. At that time, there weren't a lot of existing solutions we could tap into, so we started hiring programmers and developers and the effort became AKSESS."
After the DAM solution was in place, the organization next turned to addressing client requests for the ability to manage their inventories of printed materials online, Schultz says. This effort led to the near simultaneous development of two solutions: Document Driver and Inventory Driver.
Betting on a System
Dean Hanisko, chief technology officer, explains that the DAM system is designed to deal with individual objects and document components, such as images, logos, illustrations, etc. "Whereas the Document Driver piece manages the complete document, including components from the DAM," he notes. "It, in part, enables clients to manage documents for restocking."
Inventory Driver is not a warehouse management system, but it does sit on top of GLDirect's internal management system, Hanisko continues. One of its key functions is to provide reports and alerts pertaining to the replenishment of printed materials in the warehouse, he explains.
Schultz says he decided to form GLDirect almost 15 years ago. "Since we did not print everything that went into our distribution and fulfillment center, our customers were sensitive about asking one printer to ship into another shop," he explains.
"AKSESS is a similar situation," the company president continues. "A lot of our clients are working with agencies and other printers that are putting information and content into our systems."
Custom Driver is the most recent expansion of AKSESS' capabilities, but is not expected to be the last. It is a template-driven, online system for creating customized documents.
"A number of our accounts have distributors, dealers or a network of document users and they want to protect their brands," Schultz says. "Custom Driver gives them the liberty to enable their 'customers'—internal or external—to log on and build pieces that are driven into print, mailing and distribution operations at GLI."
GLI's customers are given the option of implementing a single driver or any combination up to a complete system—from DAM to Inventory Driver. "That's one of the things that makes us a little unique. We can blend these capabilities into one program," Hanisko says.
The sales process starts with a client meeting to do a needs analysis, Schultz reports. "Given the level of competition in the marketplace, we find that trying to go in as just a print solution provider may not open many doors. AKSESS has probably opened more doors for us over the last three or four years than any of our other services."
"We are a great printer, but what really sells is putting everything together—GLPrint, GLDirect and AKSESS," Hanisko adds. "Having three different divisions gives us three distinct entry points into an organization. We typically don't close a client with everything at one time. We'll start with one service, and then grow into a holistic relationship."
Each of the three organizations has its own customer service team and there are specialist groups within GLDirect and AKSESS that get involved in sales, according to Schultz. "Our existing salesforce will also sell some of these opportunities, especially to larger national accounts.
"We are becoming more of an extension of clients' marketing departments than ever before," he continues. "This is a whole different business approach, which is what excites me."
New AKSESS customers are charged a set-up fee that varies depending on the configuration, and then pay a monthly management fee since the services are based on the ASP model. There's also a charge for adding new assets to the DAM system.
Turning to a New Channel
GLI's success with its online systems has raised the possibility of exploiting another channel in taking the technology to market, Schultz reports. After hearing presentations on the system at industry events, a number of printers have approached him about working together.
"We are considering partnering with some key companies that are geographically spread out," he says. The companies would, in effect, become resellers.
"We will look to walk, or even just crawl, with this before we try to run," Schultz continues.
From a technology perspective, the systems are linked by virtue of them all being developed in Microsoft's .Net programming environment, Hanisko reveals. They can be configured into a single user interface by using the "tabs" capability of a Web browser, he adds.
AKSESS' development team follows the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle so people will want to use the systems, the chief technology officer notes. "We need to keep them intuitive, simple and clean to make the systems easy to learn," he says.
All of the online systems can end up driving traditional litho or digital printing depending on the quantity. GLI makes the decision about which process to use for producing the work. "We haven't encountered any resistance to using digital over offset printing," Schultz notes.
Being able to tap into database-driven systems has enabled the organization to realize other efficiencies with its dual production capabilities. One example is being able to do gang runs by aggregating multiple new orders and/or pieces approaching reorder points as identified by the system, Hanisko reports. "We'll tell clients we can save them 50 percent on their printing costs and still sell at a reasonable profit."
As a final observation, Schultz says he really likes the fact that customers now are entering the actual order data themselves. "Our fulfillment center alone may process 2,000 orders in a day. We used to have a whole data center just entering orders," he points out.