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Reinventing Printing at the U.S. State Department: Interview with David Zwang

The U.

By Cary Sherburne
Published: October 25, 2006

The U.S. Department of State recently announced that it had awarded a 10-year contract worth $164 million to its revamped in-house printing and publishing organization, Global Publishing Solutions (GPS). The award decision culminated an 18-month public-private competition, comparing the government's ability to provide a commercial service with the private sector bidders' ability to accomplish the same service. As part of the effort, GPS devoted many months and resources to evaluating best practice options and depended on state-of-the-art strategies and counsel from one of the industry's preeminent experts, David Zwang.

Zwang is the principal consultant of Zwang & Company, a firm specializing in process analysis and strategic development of firms in electronic publishing, design, prepress, and printing. Since the early 1990s he has consulted with many users and vendors in projects including global data management solutions; book, magazine and packaging publishing technologies and processes; remote production systems development; color management; and process collaboration systems. WhatTheyThink spoke with Zwang to get more insight on the State Department deal.

We had a clean slate to work with. That allowed us to really use automation - not just JDF - to really keep the price down, give better service, and deliver better connectivity and communication.

WTT:  David, congratulations on this achievement to you and the GPS team. As I understand it, this implementation uses distributed production, JDF, Web-to-print, and other automating technologies to deliver a truly state-of-the-art printing solution. 

DZ:  We had a clean slate to work with, which was an advantage. There is an existing enterprise but we didn’t have to keep any of it.  We retained what was good, we eliminated what was old and no longer made any sense, fixed what needed work, and we built a lot of new stuff. That allowed us to really use automation—not just JDF—to really keep the price down, give better service, and deliver better connectivity and communication.

WTT:  The release mentions a plant in Manila.  Is that the only one involved?

DZ:  No.  Actually there are three.  In Washington, DC, there is a quick-turn copy shop-like environment, and there are heavier production environments in Manila and Cairo.

WTT:  Washington, I understand, but why the other two locations?

DZ:  Keep in mind that the State Department’s primary task is sharing America’s message, and there are many parts of the world where print is still the preferred communications medium. The Manila plant was established originally in support of efforts associated with the Korean War.  There is currently a plant in Vienna that had been established to support Cold War efforts.  For various reasons, the State Department is no longer able to remain in the Vienna facility, so we looked for another venue.  With the current world situation and future regional development, the Middle East seemed like the best choice.

WTT:  Was there something specific about Cairo?

DZ:  Cairo is great city. We did a lot of research, and found that in addition to being a critical Middle East trade hub, Cairo posseses a wonderful infrastructure for handling print.  In fact, Heidelberg has four Print Media Institutes around the world, and one is in Cairo. There is also a great technical college there that supports print. We found that it would be a great place to establish the new facility. 

The State Department’s primary task is sharing America’s message, and there are many parts of the world where print is still the preferred communications medium.

WTTSo how long will it take to get the new system up and running?

DZ:  We have to be fully operational in six months.  This program, called A-76, has strict requirements. It is a fascinating program.  It allows you to take waste out of government and fix the broken things or remove them completely and let an outsider come in and do it over. But they do put the pressure on, as they should. 

However, we had actually already started to do some rework before this all began. We had done an audit of the facilities and processes a few years ago, which gave us a starting point for the reengineering—that was a lengthy process.  In addition, at about the same time the Manila plant was going through ISO certification, MMS—as the print operation was known at the time—did an implementation of an MIS that had been purchased but never implemented. It was a system we weren’t thrilled with, but the process that was required to implement the MIS was good. It allowed us to review things and helped us in terms of looking at the processes within the plant. That will make it easier as we move to a new MIS. 

WTT:  What products/technologies have you incorporated in the new design? 

DZ:  We are still in the process of getting agreements signed, so I can’t really speak about specific vendors yet.  But we will have a blend of offset and digital.  Manila and Cairo will have five-color offset presses with a coater as well as digital color and black & white, all with JDF-enabled front ends. In addition, we have already started implementing Web-to-print for business cards and certificates, with other products to follow. We will be acquiring a new MIS as well, which, in conjunction with an internally built Web portal, will be referred to as “GPS Link.”

WTT:  What are you doing in terms of unified offset/digital workflow?

DZ:  At the end of the day, we are prepping everything using PDF. Once it is a PDF, we will then determine not just how, but where, we will print. 

WTT:  What about distribute and print?

DZ:  Since these facilities ship printed materials to every corner of the globe, the shipping process was also something we had to look at. In some cases you can’t get there from here.  If you are in Africa and want to ship from one country to another, you have to ship to France and back down again. Part of the proposal was a mock shipping test where we created a matrix for the best way to ship, because the cost of shipping could be higher than the cost of printing in some cases.  Phase two will focus on an extended distribute and print workflow beyond the three hubs. Meanwhile, we are setting up a pilot project where we can prepare everything locally, and distribute to the print shops or copy centers in embassies and other posts. We are doing a test in Cairo where we will manage the Embassy print shop and be able to more effectively prepare files centrally and then produce them locally.

WTT:  How important will digital print be in the overall picture?

DZ:  We see a tremendous need for digital printing. As I said before, the job of the State Department is public diplomacy, and some of their target audiences are small.  We still want to give them the same information—English learning, history, and other things we do in terms of marketing the U.S., but in small volumes.  In the past, if we had a language that didn’t meet economic order quantities for offset, they just didn’t produce them.  There are also cases that require the immediacy of digital printing.

We see a tremendous need for digital printing. The job of the State Department is public diplomacy, and some of their target audiences are small. In the past, if we had a language that didn’t meet economic order quantities for offset, they just didn’t produce them.

WTT:  Were you involved in their ISO certification and what role did that play in the decision? 

DZ:  I wasn’t involved, but in speaking with people who did the evaluation for the bid, ISO certification played a part in the decision.  The fact is that the old organization, which was initially built about 50 years ago, like a lot of government organizations, had become significantly less efficient. ISO certification allows us to better manage and monitor the way the operation runs.  In fact, with better management and the automation associated with this project, we have probably reduced staffing needs by 40-50% globally.

WTT:  What role did you play in establishing the new pricing model and how will GPS ensure it stays market-relevant in that regard? 

DZ:  The way this A-76 process works, you have to build your organization and then you have to create a pricing model based on actual cost.  The cost of the organization and production has to equal the pro forma workload supplied. It has to be at least market price or better to win because we have outsiders coming in to bid.  We did a lot of research on market prices and looked at the best of the best.  We specifically looked at pricing for specialty printers. If I am going to do business cards, for example, I want to go to someone who just does that to see if we can even do it at those kind of numbers.  Then, the way the contract reads, we can do cost of living increases, and paper cost is based on market dynamics.

WTT:  David, thanks for sharing a behind-the-scenes look with us.  We will look forward to hearing what the ultimate vendor selections are and seeing the results you are able to deliver.

Cary Sherburne is a well-known author, journalist and marketing consultant whose practice is focused on marketing communications strategies for the printing and publishing industries.

Cary Sherburne is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us.

Please offer your feedback to Cary. She can be reached at cary@whattheythink.com.



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