O’Neil Data Systems: Living Up to Its Name
LESS THAN four miles from the colorful riches of the yachts docked at Marina Del Rey's basin, Los Angeles-based O'Neil Data Systems houses its own treasure—data. The company's name is perfectly descriptive. It is a technology-driven firm possessing a wealth of equipment, software and expertise to provide the infrastructure necessary to produce marketing communications and publications. O'Neil's products are powered by the data it stores or manages for clients.
Security is also an important part of the operation's infrastructure. From an entry guardhouse, to secure doors and cameras throughout the facility, customer data is protected. O'Neil Data Systems execs confirm that this is indeed a significant selling point for their clientele.
"Our customers guide us in what direction to take our business," explains President James Lucanish. "We're a privately held company so, when our sales team presents new ideas for services, we can turn on a dime. We don't make investments using the 'build it and they will come' model. There has to be a legitimate contract before we invest."
The tradition of embracing new technology was exemplified just this past year by O'Neil's serving as the first beta site for, and subsequent purchasing of, the new 30˝ HP T300 color ink-jet web press. The company is already using the digital press to produce the large volumes of personalized printing its health insurance industry clients require during their open enrollment seasons. From October 2009 through early January 2010, the plant ran approximately 3.2 million personalized insurance welcome kit booklets on its HP T300.
To do that, the 2,600 ppm (400 fpm) ink-jet press was kept in operation six days a week, 24 hours a day. During that time period, single-day print volumes reached as high as 1.8 million four-color, two-sided pages, with the total volume exceeding 80 million pages.
A fast paced, high-energy environment is not new for O'Neil, according to Lucanish, who has been with the company since 1980. Company founder William J. O'Neil launched the in-plant printing operation for his William O'Neil + Co. business. That firm, founded in 1973, is a Registered Investment Advisor providing independent research and consulting services to institutional clients, including banks, investment advisers and mutual funds. In addition to his writing and public speaking, William O'Neil is still active on a day-to-day basis.
O'Neil Data Systems' mission was to produce highly time-sensitive, investment research publications from William O'Neil + Co.'s extensive database on publicly traded companies—so extensive that the firm can even retrieve records of enduring brands like Coca-Cola back to its inception in the late 19th century. Some of the stock market research publications, such as "The O'Neil Database," are produced weekly. The sister companies also share their building with Investor's Business Daily (IBD), which O'Neil founded in 1984.
Helping Investors Excel
IBD is a leading financial news and research organization recognized for proprietary stock screens, comparative performance ratings and identifying stock leaders as they emerge. It is also known for its unique commentary on the key economic, social and political issues of our time. The company offers individual and professional investors a comprehensive lineup of print and online products, including the daily newspaper Investor's Business Daily, printed web offset in-house at O'Neil Data. O'Neil Data Systems, IBD and William O'Neil + Co. have branch offices in other key U.S. locations.
In the mid-'70s, O'Neil Data Systems pioneered the field of automated composition and database publishing using state-of-the-art computer technology for that era. "We created 2,000 custom-built reference books featuring individually selected stocks for portfolio managers every weekend," Lucanish recalls. "We wrote code for our mainframe to bring the data to our output equipment. Every Friday, a team of college students from UCLA and other local campuses were hired to hand marry the correct pages."
"We moved to PostScript and CTP workflows when those technologies became available, and we'd output 2,000 printing plates in a night," he continues. "Mr. O'Neil wanted those weekly books in the managers' hands by Sunday night, and we had to figure out a way to accomplish that."
Realizing Ink-Jet's Worth
"Now, these 600-plus page volumes are output in full-color on the HP T300," Lucanish adds, "With small type (less than 8 pt.) and compressed charts, they are hard to print. But we get a very clean result on the ink-jet web press." Another kudo for this machine is that it only requires a single operator to run it.
Lucanish recalls how his company also branched out in the mid-'70s when it began to print parts catalogs for a neighboring Honda facility. The rest, as they say, is history. Parts catalogs for the automotive industry remain a staple in O'Neil's inventory of printed products.
Today, during the health insurance open enrollment season, the plant typically operates with 12-hour shifts. Shifts are reduced during less demanding periods. However, weekend workloads remain because the company continues to produce the weekly reference titles used by portfolio managers.
O'Neil's services consist of automated composition, electronic document delivery, Web applications, high-speed digital printing (color and black-and-white), offset printing, warehousing and fulfillment services. Products include catalogs, directories, benefit booklets, price books, ID cards and newspapers, as well as marketing materials such as brochures, flyers and newsletters. All of these can be produced with Web-to-print and variable data printing solutions.
Blue chip companies are among its nationwide clients. Business segments served include: associations, automotive, education, financial, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, software and hardware, trade publishing, transportation, travel and hospitality. "It took a long time to build the infrastructure to manage the kind of work we do for these companies," Lucanish says.
"Everything we do today is contract work," adds Mark Rosson, vice president of sales and marketing. "A single run is rare for us. That has helped us tremendously in the current economic environment. We continue to grow and are actually hiring." The privately held company currently has 180 employees.
"We've branded our solutions within a single suite of Web-based tools and products that focus strictly on a single service," he points out. Capitalizing on the first three initials of O'Neil, it's aptly named ONEsuite. "The focus of each module is clear. ONEkit is a dynamic kit-building solution; ONEcard is used for online ID card creation, ordering and production; and ONEdirectory provides online directory composition software. O'Neil also recently purchased HP's Exstream document output software and is transitioning to it for composition capabilities.
There are currently seven offerings within ONEsuite, and Rosson reveals that the most popular is their newest one, called ONEclick. "It's an archiving portal where clients can store documents electronically for up to 10 years. The time frame is dictated by compliance to government regulations.
"The portal actually has a twofold benefit in that call center agents or CSRs can render a document instantly to respond to inquiries," he notes. "And, the ROI for the customer is immediate. The average cost of responding to a typical call is around $22. Our goal is to reduce that to $6 to $8 per call."
O'Neil runs ONEsuite applications on its own servers. It also houses a Unisys mainframe computer to produce its data-driven products. The company's page-building services let customers send their data from any source, including XML, mainframe databases, word processing files, etc. It then optimizes, cleans and performs automated sort and extract programs to repurpose the information into professional-looking pages, ready for printing and/or electronic delivery.
When it comes to printing, in addition to the T300, the company also has a cutsheet HP Indigo 5000 digital color press and a webfed HP Indigo model. An Océ VarioPrint 6250 cutsheet printer completes the current digital press lineup. There is also a traditional offset pressroom running both sheetfed and web equipment.
The HP Indigos are used primarily for short-run color projects and covers. O'Neil also runs Teslin through these presses to produce extremely durable ID cards. Teslin is a synthetic material used as the core of the card, which is then laminated with polyester on both sides.
The bindery at O'Neil houses equipment for a variety of finishing options. Capabilities include perfect binding, saddlestitching and mechanical binding such as GBC, wire binding and more. All of the postpress machines and inserters are equipped with barcode scanners for tight quality control.
Mailing the wrong statement, ID card or benefit plan to someone would be disastrous. The quality control also has to be granular. For example, personalized membership ID cards for a husband and wife have to be married and inserted into the correct envelope or kit.
The company's warehousing and distribution services are also comprehensive. Thousands of orders are processed per day from customized kitting, pick-and-pack and complex variable packaging, using high-end, intelligent inserting equipment. Since O'Neil's volume of mail is enormous, post office trailers remain parked at the loading dock and are then picked up as needed.
Rosson explains that all of these capabilities, which start with ONEsuite and end at the loading dock, are designed to support every touch point that O'Neil clients have with their own customers. "In healthcare, for example, we support both pre- and post-sales materials. Before the sale, we send out marketing materials and plan comparisons. And, after the sale, we handle the ID cards, plan booklets or any other compliance-driven communication."
Lucanish comments on how compliance-driven communication is now benefiting from digital color printing. Again, using healthcare as an example, he notes that clients—even in the traditional areas that stuck with monochrome output to lower the cost per page—are moving to color because the cost differential is now negligible and the benefits are tangible. They are now getting higher quality with 1,200x600 dpi resolution in color versus 600 dpi monochrome for virtually the same price.
And the conversion process is easy, he says. "Highlighting certain areas in color helps people understand the communication and better find information. It cuts down on calls coming in to CSRs, especially from seniors."
While customers make good use of the ONEsuite electronic capabilities, Lucanish says paper is still king when it comes to financial publishing, healthcare and transactional printing. Some clients will also mail out a letter and refer people to a personalized URL (PURL) for more information, he adds.
"We also provide WAP technology for delivery to wireless devices and offer clients style sheets to convert some of their content for smart phones." However, demand thus far for these newest wireless and smart phone technologies has yet to take off.
The amount of information presented electronically also depends on the individual industry, according to Lucanish. "Specifically, the U.S. government will not allow electronic delivery for Medicare communications, and all those communications must be in 12-pt. type. Much of our composition is driven by government formatting requirements."
Both Lucanish and Rosson agree that the overall trend among clients is to move away from warehousing printed materials. Products can now be printed digitally and updated as needed. "Customers have realized it doesn't make sense to print 100,000 copies of something and end up throwing away 50,000 of them," Lucanish notes. "In the transactional and direct mail worlds, they are moving away from preprinted shells—where waste can easily average 15 percent—and are embracing digital on-demand printing."
Digital printing allows companies to make their direct mail highly relevant, he adds. "For example, companies are now targeting certain ethnicities with pieces that incorporate familiar images and their languages."
As a growing company, O'Neil Data Systems stays ahead of the technology curve. Lucanish and Rosson look forward to continually providing clients a quality product, faster turnaround times, less warehousing, and full-color digital and lithographic output. And, as customer needs evolve, they will continue to listen. PI