Production: What’s a Local I.T. Presence Costing You?

At the start of my newspaper career I was introduced to a new world of electronic operations. Many of us remember typesetters literally the size of a compact car and costing about the same as a house in the Hollywood Hills. Each newspaper had its own team of dedicated techs on-site and output galleys of type that subsequently ran through a processor and then trimmed into single columns of type, waxed, and manually configured to fit on a grid sheet. From that point, we shot pages on a camera, ran film through another processor, dryer and on to the plateroom. The negative was then packed and placed in an exposure unit and a plate burned.

If this process sounds like something out of the dark ages to you, I can certainly agree, but up until the 1990s, most publishers were putting newspapers out with a fairly archaic front-end system that in one area or another required similar processes.

Now that I have the walk down memory lane out of my system, let’s look at how far we have come in the last 20 years—electronic publishing, networking, software applications, hardware advancements—but if any single area of our industry has benefited more than I.T. I certainly can’t think of one.

We’ve come so far, so fast, but the new world of technology comes with its own inherent challenges.

 Is Outsourcing the Answer?

Recently, I was in our local big box store and witnessed two employees huddled around a computer screen in what I’d call “frantic confusion.” Everything was working fine when they left the night before and now the system was down and they didn’t have a clue how to fix it. My in-store travels took me by the duo frequently over the next half-hour and they were no further along. I saw little hope for a solution. Talk about a loss of productivity. I’m sure there was another job they should have been doing instead of wasting their time and the company’s money digging a deeper electronic hole by the minute.

How often does this happen in our newspapers? The answer is “too much.”

We’ve all spent hours working through computer issues.  When systems function properly, it’s a thing of beauty, saves us time and effort and adds to our productivity. We’d be lost without the benefits of new technology. However, when our systems fail everything comes to a screeching halt.

Many of us have the luxury of strong I.T. departments that provide immeasurable support, but in many of our properties, due to reductions in staffing, a limited labor market, or techs who simply can’t or won’t keep up with new technology, it seems like every new day presents an another issue in our newspaper’s technology area. I believe our I.T. departments do try, but our technology changes at such a rapid pace that it can be difficult—if not impossible—to keep us with the changes.

A solution to these day-to-day challenges may just be as close as your phone—outsourcing tech support. Whether you’re having trouble finding the right internal tech or cutbacks have put you in a bad position, outsourcing can often provide excellent 24/7 support for less than you’re paying now.

The choice to provide in-house tech services or outsource is something we all need to take a hard look at. There are inherent advantages and disadvantages to each one, and the final decision should be based on what is best for your organization not only driven by function but also by financial limitations. We need to look at every option and look outside the 1990s technology box.

I recently spoke with a company who had serious stresses with their infrastructure. They had challenges maintaining their network, had out of date hardware, poor configurations and a non-working backup. They were down every few days as a result of the non-functional configuration. They’ve since outsourced their technology to a company based in Moorestown, N.J. called PCS, LLC.

PCS refreshed the hardware, cleaned up software issues and currently provides daily help desk services to this company. They provide CIO level monitoring and support on a 24/7 basis, taking the worry off any local staff providers. The PCS team offers more than 150 tech savvy individuals working with clients in small teams they refer to as CSUs (Client Service Units). These teams are between six and nine professionals who provide reliable and prompt tech services to their customers.

While I’m sure there are several qualified organizations offering tech support, I personally gravitate to companies whose reputation precedes them and earn my trust through their actions. PCS takes a personal approach keeping closely connected with their clients and the goal to be (in their words) “the most helpful I.T. company in the world.”

Recently, PCS reached out to the newspaper industry in a big way—offering a 20 percent discount for managed services, including desktop and server support 24/7 to all PAGE Cooperative members.

Anthony Mongeluzo

For this article, I spoke with Anthony Mongeluzo, president of PCS. Here are some excerpts from that discussion.

E&P: As many newspapers downsize, reducing staffing in many critical areas, such as I.T., they seem to be losing institutional experience in the critical area of I.T. support. How does outsourcing fit into things?

Mongeluzo: Many newspapers are operating with fewer staff and complicated computer networks. This presents unique challenges for newspapers. Challenges include the lack of need for a full-time I.T. person on staff as well as the challenge in funding a full-time position based on less workload. Also, if an I.T. person is good at what they do, they will move on if they see career advancement being available to them. This will lead to constant turnover and loss of that institutional knowledge. At PCS, our mission is to help organizations leverage their budget to get the services they need at a much lower cost than having a full time individual on staff.

Our clients have access to hundreds of various skill-sets all for a fixed monthly fee which is a better alternative than being reliant on an in-house tech. Additionally, we have invested millions of dollars in monitoring and support tools allowing us to be proactive with our service and support instead of being reactive. One thing that organizations across the board need is live service; we provide this core managed service with our LIVELINE offering. When you call PCS, you are directed to your own service team live each time. If you contract with PCS, you truly have your own help desk and CIO level team.

There are times in the middle of the night systems go down and newspapers simply can’t afford to be out of service. What’s your plan for this disaster, and what charges are associated with that plan?

We offer 24/7 support in every plan included in the cost. Our phones are answered live around the clock, seven days a week and we can help our clients immediately when situations occur. Many times, our clients don’t even realize overnight that there was an issue until we alert them, and we are able to fix a small problem before it becomes a major issue. I’d like to note that we do not outsource any services. All work is provided by our PCS team members.

Please touch on how cybersecurity, viruses, etc. can affect a newspaper operation and what your company does to avoid an interruption to service.

Viruses, ransom ware and cyberattacks in general are increasing. Our 24/7 monitoring software has embedded anti-virus and anti-malware software included. We have created our own propriety threat prevention software called PTP (PCS Threat Protection) that comes included with all managed service agreements. This software has stopped a countless number of attacks. Nothing is 100 percent. New attacks are released on a daily basis and as we discover new threats, we are able to update our protected list providing additional security to our clients.

When it comes to cybersecurity, one of the most important things you can do is educate your team. People see hackers as individuals sitting in a dimly lit room pounding away at the keyboard looking to “crack the code” when in fact they are using email tricks, telephones and other “human level tactics” aka social engineering to infiltrate networks. It is much easier to “hack” a person to give login information than it is to hack a Windows operating system.

If a newspaper has three techs on staff and reduces to one for financial reasons, how can outsourcing (PCS) interact with the remaining tech to provide additional services to help cover the workforce reduction?

This is a great question and happens all the time. PCS provides various and unique skill sets often allowing you to reduce on-site staffing. You need help when you need help. Instead of carrying an extra team member, we become the overflow phone for your company, much like a utility that can be turned off or on as needed. Many customers find it cost effective to reduce staff by a member or more and still get better service along with a savings of 30 to 40 percent. In some cases, more based on the cost of salary and benefits. We also partner with internal I.T. using ERP, remote monitoring and I.T. documentation software, so you have full use of our tools. You get the benefit of years of experience and a mature platform allowing techs to do their job more effectively. We help companies reduce costs and techs up their personal game by having a team of professionals to bounce ideas off and strong team members to rely on. It can be lonely when you are a small I.T. department and have a major outage with no one to turn to, but we can provide that helping hand.

For many newspapers today, it’s all about saving money. Many perceive outsourcing as equally or even more expensive than having a full-time staff. What’s your opinion on this?

I can’t imagine a scenario in which it would be less expensive to have internal staffing verses outsourcing. With the state of the economy, rising wages and a tighter talent pool, having full-time staffing in technology does not make sense. I will go into any organization and be able to guarantee a 15 percent annual savings. There is also no comparison to the level of service they will receive. A two-person I.T. department can’t handle four requests simultaneously, but we can. Internally, there would not be a big enough budget to invest in the tools we have let alone the time to implement and configure them.

There are other benefits that save more money, such as taking advantage of our purchasing discounts on hardware, our ability to audit voice/data bills to ensure proper billing, and eliminate wasteful spending based on our experience and expertise. Although we manage technology, we also understand the bottom line.

Some newspapers feel they lose control outsourcing and prefer more control with techs on staff. What’s your opinion on this?

I believe you have less control with people on staff. We see situations often where companies feel they are held hostage by their I.T. team—holding information, setting policies, and internally, most non-techs do not have the understanding or tech savvy to question I.T. There are no internal politics when you work with your outsource provider to make sure passwords and tech information is always accessible. We utilize a software called ITGlue which customers can access anytime and have full access to all their passwords, paperwork, key codes and other needs. Clients can see a list of service tickets and resolutions. I feel that if you have the right outsourced partner, you have additional control.

What if a hardware problem comes up and there are no experienced techs left on staff at the newspaper? Do you offer hardware support in addition to software services?

With advancement in technology, many hardware problems seem non-existent, but we can handle hardware support throughout the entire U.S. We have physical employees in seven locations (New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Florida, Maryland and Kentucky) and a network of qualified individuals across the country if we need something physically plugged in. Response time for our LIVE services averages 7 seconds. Our team members will still do the configuration and the work, then ship new hardware to be plugged in or utilize a local resource to get us connected. We support clients internally as well. We are proud to have some of the largest manufacturers in the world trust us to be their help desk. We have been in service for 19 nineteen years, so we understand technology. Above all, we are truly driven to provide the best customer service available anywhere.

To learn more about PCS, visit helpmepcs.com. 

Jerry Simpkins has more than 30 years of experience in printing and operations in the newspaper industry. Contact him on LinkedIn.com or at simpkins@tds.net.

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