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Why time is ticking for onsite print

The time has come for councils to address the elephant in the room. The legacy model of onsite, manual handling of print and post has never looked more unwieldy and out-of-date.

For years, councils have operated onsite print-rooms, relying on in-house colleagues to keep day-to-day communications flowing. But in the last few years a matrix of challenges has combined to make such an operating model difficult to justify. Cost-pressures, the push to digital, the environmental/social drive and hybrid working patterns make this a critical time for strategic communications management planning.

Using the legacy onsite print model to address this challenge matrix is inefficient and expensive. In fact, the drawbacks of this legacy model can be summed up by using the three Ps – people, property and power. Taken in isolation, each P is enough to cast doubt on the onsite model. But in combination, these inefficiencies must surely hasten council thinking towards more agile and cost-efficient ways of working.

So, what do these three Ps look like in relation to the management of communications?

People

The legacy onsite print model makes inefficient use of people’s time at a time when councils are under even greater pressure to save money and focus on front-office tasks. Consider the typical council operation. Despite a growing focus on digital communications, local councils still rely heavily on paper and print to deliver vital information to residents. Offices will usually have desktop printers allocated to departments or teams. Everyday communications will be printed by council employees at their desktop and sent for print on these departmental printers. Often, employees will also spend time placing the printed documents into envelopes and walking them over to the point of despatch.

In our work looking at the burdened costs that make up typical document production we estimate that end-user time (e.g. time spent loading printers; retrieving print-outs; inserting documents into envelopes and more) accounts for around 46p per document. Given the volume of documents that a typical council produces each year, this inefficient use of time very quickly adds up.

Property

Cost-pressures are leading many councils to reassess their real estate footprints. In July 2021, West Berkshire Council predicted net savings of £185,000 a year from closing two offices. A report from Cornwall Council said that at 12 million sq ft its footprint “is much larger than [required]. The council only needs 40% of its current administrative space”.

Given this climate, allocating expensive floor-space to house departmental print devices is hard enough to justify. Then there are those councils with dedicated print-rooms – entire spaces devoted to the people, paper, and printing technology required to deliver the regular volume of council communications. That’s a lot of expensive real estate for a service that can be achieved more efficiently offsite. Additionally, it is often the case that individuals within these print room environments are highly experienced and approaching retirement age. Introduce younger council workers to such environments is hardly a sensible strategy when every council is pursuing a digital path which, at some stage, will likely make the task disappear.

Power

More than 40 UK councils from across the political divide have declared a climate emergency. However, the onsite print model is far from green whether councils operate a dedicated print room, banks of departmental print devices, or both.

Price comparison site Confused.com estimates that the UK wastes £470 million a year just from leaving devices on standby or plugged in at the wall and switched off. Eliminating the fleet of on-site devices would undoubtedly play a key role in reducing energy consumption.

It is not simply about the energy required to run the devices and power the room. There is also the added impact energy of deliveries to and from the site and the storage of paper and consumables.

The offsite advantage

Clearly, the legacy onsite model is showing its age. An offsite model eliminates this three P inefficiency and enables councils to flex more easily to evolving communication demands.

What does this look like? As working patterns evolve, reliance on physical locations is diminishing. Instead, solutions that enable work from anywhere will come to the fore. Hybrid mail is just such a solution.

Where previously colleagues have had to be within council premises to create, print and despatch communications, now they are equipped to conduct these everyday processes from any location. As long as the hybrid mail driver is installed on their laptop, authenticated employees can keep communications flowing from anywhere, safe in the knowledge that these documents are routed to highly-secure, quality-controlled sites for production.

Our burdened costs calculations reveal that Inefficient onsite processes are costing councils approximately £1.60 per letter sent. Over the course of a year, assuming volumes of 100,000 mailed items per annum, that equates to £160,000 of unnecessary spend.

These are compelling arguments for change. Councils are making huge strides in reversing this model, but, as technology moves on apace, keeping abreast of best practice is no easy task. The good news is that the solutions and expertise exist to make the transformation to a more agile, intelligent and future-proof operation without disruption and at a pace that suits. Certainly, each day spent running a legacy operation represents another day of inefficiency and wasted spend.

View The Offsite Advantage Guide - A new model for local government communications