Interpak Books: At the cusp of printing technology

Technology has played an important role in transforming many business sectors, but perhaps the printing industry has been impacted more than most. For Interpak Books (Pty) Limited, one of the best known printers in South Africa, the changes have been fully embraced by a business with a new focus.

InterpakInterpak Books was launched some 48 years ago and made its name as a sheet printer, engaging in printing, publishing and the marketing of low cost training manuals, glossy coffee table publications, educational material, books and diaries.

The Pietermaritzburg-based company underwent a buy-out by private owners 2 years ago and today operates as a subsidiary of Nampak Ltd. The takeover has changed the company’s approach to business in an ever-evolving industry, as Clinton de la Hunt, Sales Director explains:

Today we operate 3 divisions: our conventional sheet division (which was the foundation for the company) is still based here in Pietermaritzburg; digital and web. We produce a variety of printed products and services for publishers, retailers and corporate clients, based around South Africa.

We have grown the commercial work as the web division has bedded down and started to show good prospects,” he continues.

In point of fact, the company only launched the web division during 2012 – and the takeover of the company that took place in the preceding year, resulted in R40 million of investment and a change in strategy:

The takeover gave us more customer opportunities and made us more responsive and flexible,” says de la Hunt. “We have brought the sales team back in-house and we now operate a team of about 10 people (including our renowned diary division – we have changed the model and we now sell diaries directly. We are already starting to see the benefits of the investments that have been made,” he adds.

De la Hunt says that the web division created a number of new jobs, bolstering the workforce to 200-strong.

Today the company operates not only in Pietermaritzburg but has a further production centre in Cape Town, where the commercial and web activities take place, while Interpak Books also has a sales office in Johannesburg.

Investment has come largely in the shape of new technology and machinery, with de la Hunt citing the need to keep pace with the latest industry innovation as one of the main challenges of the business:

Our processes are very automated and we have invested heavily in new machinery and we now boast multi-colour Heidelberg presses, numerous 2 colour multi unit Heidelberg presses and a Harris 16 page heatset web for the production of long run books.

It is important to note that we operate to certified ISO 9001 and 14001 standards and the company is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) compliant, which means that only paper derived from sustainable sources is used in printing,” he explains.

Of course the printing industry has undergone enormous change thanks to the advent of web technology. Whilst Interpak is making steady progress with its web-based products and services, competition remains very strong and the need to remain competitive drives cost-cutting measures:

The variable exchange rate is a challenge but operational efficiency is hugely important; it is about careful management, accountability and ensuring our equipment operates to its optimum,” affirms de la Hunt.

To help improve efficiency and better serve its customers and streamline and automate production, the company deployed very robust processes driven by rules using OpenText MBPM (formerly Metastorm BPM) software.

The software provided a technology solution that helped shorten Interpak Books’ logistics supply chain and provided process access and visibility to geographically dispersed parties. It was very important to the company to have visibility into processes, as well as the capability to transparently move processes through stages so that all involved parties had known when actions needed to be taken. In addition, it was critical that all order information was accurate and visible to comply with customer Service Level Agreements (SLAs).

The company’s first need was for a solution to automate its corporate diary business processes. According to de la Hunt, the diary and educational books tend to be seasonal and the software utilised, produces scheduling diaries for the corporate market sold mainly through two large clients.

With a number of parties involved in processes – and located at different sites, providing an accurate tracking system was a challenge, exacerbated by the company’s 10 day service agreements.

Interpak Books processes roughly 200 orders each day during this busy 3 month period of the year and reportedly had been losing up to 5 days of production time by not having documented and accurate

information upon receiving customer orders.

Having introduced OpenText MBPM, concerns about the process breaking down and subsequent down time have been alleviated; with customers gaining access to a web interface where a form can be completed and, based on rules built into the system, sent to the appropriate area for action.

Open Text MBPM has also been applied to a stock management control process, which monitors the number of orders a customer has placed, versus how many have been fulfilled. Essentially, a customer pre-orders against existing stock for which it has paid. OpenText MBPM notifies the customer if stock becomes low or is insufficient.

The system has also automated the company’s quotation management process, reducing the amount of time it takes to get quotations approved and across to customers, from up to 7 days, to just one day turnaround.

As a result of this investment in technology, the company has reported an accelerated logistics supply chain, ensuring that the right information gets to the right people in a timely manner. Interpak Books has also seen improved control and standardization and far greater visibility of process information.

But according to the company, the far biggest return has been the ability to bring all parties together to agree on processes before the decision was taken to automate processes.

Whilst de la Hunt says that the company is gradually seeing a return on its investments, he remains unmoved by the prospect of further investment requirements:

We will continue to look at the industry-leading innovations and there will be further upgrades to our web division further down the line as it is essential for us to remain cutting edge. Our aim is to deliver to our South African client base and we will also look at the export markets,” he concludes.