Graduate helps print company create £2m of new business

A SUNDERLAND software graduate has helped a North East print company generate £2m of new business through the introduction of new cutting edge software technology.

When Imprint Group wanted to develop their largely manual business process into IT driven systems, the company turned to the University of Sunderland for expert help.

The result was a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), with the university providing the expertise in the shape of computer software graduate Kris Carr, who has spent the last two years supporting the company’s ambitions in IT solutions.

Now Imprint is one of the biggest suppliers of digitally printed promotional material for retail marketing campaigns and Kris has a full-time role as a software engineer with the Newcastle-based company after delivering a successful KTP.

KTPs are designed to provide businesses with access to university expertise, including academic, consultancy and qualified graduate placements, allowing business to develop new products, services and processes.

Kris, 24, from Fulwell, Sunderland, got involved in the KTP in the final year of his BSc Computing degree after a lecturer asked him if he’d be interested in applying to become a project associate.

He said: “During the project I gained a great two years’ experience in the field I wished to focus towards, with great challenges and opportunities.

“I’m thoroughly enjoying my time at Imprint, the working environment and atmosphere of the business in IT is lively and challenging and with various projects underway or planned for the future means there’s always more to look forward to.

“I will be working on maintaining the systems created during the project as well as building/improving upon them to improve integration across the organisation.”

Imprint was suffering from bottlenecks and some inefficiencies in their processes, and the KTP was designed to give the company access to the latest knowledge and expertise from the University’s Department of Computing, Engineering and Technology around the development of management information systems and complex processing technologies, as well as methods to engage employees in the adoption of new technologies into their working practices.

Kris’s efforts, alongside another Sunderland software graduate Tommy Catherall  have helped the company grow year on year by 30 percent and produce revenue gains of up to £2m through increased efficiency and new client wins. This has in turn led to an increase in staff from 40 up to 70.

Graeme Wilkie, Imprint Group IT Director, said: “The print industry has gone through tough times and we made a decision to change our operations and how we interfaced with clients or face lagging behind on technology.

“At the time we didn’t possess the tools to do what we wanted to do and couldn’t find all the software we needed, so made a strategic decision to employ our own software developers and design software which was bespoke to our clients’ requirements.

“I got in touch with the University of Sunderland and after talking through our options decided that a two-year KTP made sense for us as a small company to take on a graduate who is technically supported by the University.

“Since Kris joined us in 2011 he’s been fantastic, bringing with him new technologies which have helped transform the way we work. The KTP has helped satisfy the needs of our company in the long term and simultaneously given a graduate a new career path.”

To support the investment in new print technology the business moved into a purpose built production facility in Newcastle, where they continue to be a centre of excellence for large format digital print. Imprint is investing and developing their IT solutions to support their new and existing clients by delivering added value services to their business.

Graeme added: “The company goal is now to provide a service rather than just a product and significant progress has already been made in this direction.

“The infrastructure to support IT development with the help of Kris and Tommy has now been in place for two years and we have developed a number of applications that have been successfully introduced to clients such as online ordering, job tracking, variable data printing and digital asset management libraries.”

Mark Donnelly, Business Development Manager for the University of Sunderland, said: “KTPs are the gold standard in terms of the University working with businesses to help them access the latest research and thinking, embed new capabilities and to grow. We’re successful at securing KTPs and we run them in the right way.

“We are delighted that our collaboration with Imprint through this KTP has been such a success and resulted in one of our talented graduates securing full-time employment. We are now working closely with the company on further projects.”

So what advise can Kris offer students considering their options?

“I would advise all current computing students to consider as many options as possible to increase their employability, particularly experience,” he says. “Participate in the Industrial Placement Year; the additional years’ experience alone will help you stand out. I found that the year in industry also gave me more time to reinforce my knowledge and understanding of the various subject areas and help prepare for my final year. I consider it a major factor in my obtaining a First Class degree.

“During the final year I cannot recommend looking into a KTP highly enough. If a KTP is available for your field or interests then definitely do not pass up the chance to be a part of such an incredible scheme.”