Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fulfillment center meets, exceeds expectations

Since opening last fall, MCC’s fulfillment center has streamlined the distribution of more than 100,000 pieces of mail to prospective and current MCC students. That equates to increased efficiency, which means cost savings across the district.

The fulfillment center, a division of MCC printing services, was established in 2010 to centralize and expedite mailings to prospective students and, eventually, to current students.

“The prospect communication team was looking for a way to increase efficiency of communicating with prospective students,” said Jim Siercks, printing services manager. “We determined that in order to eliminate duplication of effort and to help with inventory control across the campuses, we should centralize operations.”

After three years of planning, the fulfillment center opened its doors in October in a section of the printing services area on the first floor of MCC-Business & Technology. Charlie Tidwell, a recent graduate
 of MCC’s digital prepress program, coordinates the center’s daily operations. The physical space resembles a warehouse, with rows of industrial shelving packed with boxes of colorful marketing materials and a couple of folding and finishing machines off to the side.

But, Tidwell explains, the fulfillment center is much more than a warehouse.

“It actually serves as an extension of the back-end of the printing process, which does include storing materials but the key is in distributing the materials to campuses or mailing them to prospective or existing students,” said Tidwell.

The fulfillment center streamlines print operations by handling storage and distribution in an effort to save time and money. Additionally, the fulfillment center is being used to improve responsiveness to requests for information. In the past, when people would request information about MCC programs, either through the MCC website or using some other format, those requests would be held in a queue to be responded to a few times a week from various locations throughout the district. Now that operations have been consolidated at a single location, Tidwell responds to those requests every morning by running a Metrosoft report and preparing and mailing tailored packets to the requestors.

Siercks and Tidwell say the fulfillment center has the capacity to handle additional inventory and distribution. In an ongoing effort to simultaneously improve the center’s processes and grow the operations, Tidwell regularly takes on new projects. For example, the print shop, marketing, and the fulfillment center recently worked together to roll out an inventory tracking system that involves printing tiny codes in the corner of each prospect communication piece so all users know they are looking at the most recent version. This is a specific effort to remove outdated brochures and fliers from circulation, addressing a common gripe from pre-fulfillment center days.

Several other enhancements are underway at the center, including an overhaul of the process for ordering and requesting materials from the print shop, improved tracking of mailings and response rates and partnerships with external organizations.

“MCC Printing Services is working hard to contribute to MCC’s bottom line. The print shop has long been able to run print jobs for a cost that’s 30% less than outside printing providers, and now that we’re able to realize economies of scale through the fulfillment center, I’m pleased with where we’re headed,” said Siercks.

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