Electric Paper and Digital Ink

If you haven't visited your government's printing department lately, you're in for a big surprise.

by / July 31, 1999
For decades, the printing and publishing business has been a highly mechanized affair. Computer technology has nibbled away at the edges, turning such tasks as typesetting and design into digitized jobs, but the heart and soul of the business -- production printing -- has remained largely mechanical. Now that's beginning to change.

In the early 1990s, companies introduced digital printers that could take an electronic file, such as a report from word-processing software or a newsletter from desktop-publishing software, and create bound copies in low- or high-volume. Printers no longer had to mess with camera-ready copy, blue lines or plates, nor did they have to wrestle with the grease and ink of offset printers. Digital printing revolutionized the functionality, capacity and flexibility of printers.

Today, the fastest-growing field in printing is digital. While it only represents $13.3 billion of the overall $105.5 billion printing market, it's growing five times faster, according to CAP Ventures, a consulting and market-research firm based in Norwell, Mass. Fueling this growth is something called on-demand printing. Instead of ordering long print runs for documents, reports or books and warehousing the results, customers can now receive just-in-time printing when they need it.

Increasing the shift to digital, on-demand printing is the growth in multi-purpose machines, faster networks, increased bandwidth and the Internet. Copiers no longer just copy, they also print, scan, fax and are linked to corporate networks. A document scanned on a copier can be sent as an e-mail attachment or made accessible on the corporate intranet, explained Charles A. Pesko Jr., managing director of CAP Ventures.

With the Internet, a customer can use a Web browser to place a print order online, check the status of the job and view the job at any time, added Pesko during a keynote speech last May at the On Demand Digital Printing Conference in New York City. "The Internet is a phenomenal digital accelerator for print providers," he said.

Something else is going on in the printing world. Large corporations, organizations and governments are outsourcing their printing and publishing work. Instead of tying up precious capital in expensive printers and labor, they are turning to print providers who will do the work for them. "The federal government's GPO (General Printing Office) only does 27 percent of its own printing," said Cary Sherburne, director of CAP Venture's document-outsourcing consulting services.

Print outsourcing allows a government printer to add new capabilities it otherwise couldn't have offered. According to Pesko, outsourcing services run the gamut from digital-document and Web-page design to document management, printing and mail-fulfillment services.

Another trend is the customization of these and other services. Print providers and full-service document companies are offering organizations and governments a buffet of software, equipment and services that cover the entire spectrum of printing and
publishing. "In fact, there's a big convergence between the Internet, customization and outsourcing," said Sherburne. "These are the three megatrends of the printing industry."

Make or Break Situation

Printing is a big business in Oregon. The annual budget of the State Printer is $50 million, and that doesn't include postage, which is another $25 million annually. The State Printer handles more than 2.3 million pieces per month, including license renewals, unemployment compensation checks, warrants from the state treasurer, tax refunds and more.

With no general funding from the state or mandate that agencies use its services, the printer has to "make it or break it," explained Michael Freese, state printer. Unfortunately, for some time, the printing and mailing process has been less than ideal. Typical of other printing operations, Oregon's State Printer treated each aspect -- printing, addressing, finishing and mailing -- as a separate operation, which led to a fragmented, expensive and error-prone process. A lengthy state-budget cycle also meant that printing equipment was often obsolete by the time it was purchased. Numerous other pieces of equipment were leased under individual agreements, which was costly and created a paperwork nightmare.

Last year, the State Printer decided it was time to turn things around and hired Xerox Corp. to develop a custom solution, involving digital technology and an aspect of outsourcing known as facilities management. Instead of multiple leases or capital purchases, the state receives all of its printing and mailing hardware and software from Xerox under one lease. "The arrangement has improved our cost control, predictability and reliability," said Freese. "We know exactly what our cost per copy is and have the hardware, support and maintenance to cover our capacity, which is growing."

In addition to using Xerox's latest digital printers, such as its Docutech series, the State Printer has its own, onsite Xerox staff person at beck and call. Technical support is also available from Xerox for everything from training and coordinating supplies to maintaining equipment. According to Freese, the contract with Xerox, worth approximately $100,000 per month (depending on the volume), is not a true facilities-management arrangement, but a hybrid. "We didn't want to outsource our labor," Freese explained, "so we have Xerox just provide the functionality and capacity we needed."

The State Printer can now offer services including more color printing at lower cost, on-demand printing for small print runs, and the ability to print and mail volume runs more efficiently. For instance, Freese is launching a service called Fast Line, which will allow an agency to forward, via the Internet, government forms in digital format for printing and mailing. The forms, which can be filled out on a Web browser, are transmitted to the Printer, along with a database of addresses, for printing, merging and bulk mailing. The agency saves up to 8 cents per mailed piece.

That kind of innovative service, along with others, has enabled the State Printer to gain approximately 20 percent to 30 percent of the work from agencies that had previously used other vendors. "We've seen our productivity increase 200 to 400 percent," commented Freese. With those kinds of numbers, private-sector printers may have some new competition -- from the government.

Tod Newcombe is author of "Electronic Commerce: A Guide for Public Officials," published by Government Technology Press. Additional information is available online at or by contacting Lucinda McKevitt at 916/363- 5000 or via e-mail.
Tod Newcombe Features Editor