By Melissa Donovan
Print providers benefit from print management information software (MIS) tools, especially those managing low-margin jobs with short turnarounds. By definition, MIS’ primary role is to control a company’s data. An organization’s size and scope determines just how much of that data is controlled. To a greater extent, the type of company—label converter, commercial printer, or in-plant—dictates further feature requirements like reporting, estimating, and workflow management.
Trends like the cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), and the internet of things (IoT) affect the latest iterations of print MIS solutions on the market. For those who have yet to implement a system, now is the time as further advancements in integration help to connect all facets of a print shop.
Above: Sistrade MIS is a vertical solution designed from scratch for printing and packaging companies.
MIS is designed to efficiently and effectively control an organization’s incoming and outgoing data. For many, that is the sole reason to implement a system.
Simply put, print MIS is the backbone of a company, says Mark Andersen, president/CTO, EPMS. He explains that at the most basic level, MIS is how an organization operates.
It is a system of a record for a company, according to Dorothy Asboth, North American sales manager, Label Traxx. “The data contained guarantees you get the business through effective contact management and estimating, ensures orders are produced correctly and cost effectively, and provides accounting and management metrics to grow the business,” she continues.
“The software gathers information that print business owners need to ensure the profitability and on-time delivery of every order. It consolidates all job data required to create estimates, order supplies, plan schedules, and process product shipments and invoices,” shares Usman Ali, principal, Ordant.
The primary role of MIS differs depending on the organization implementing it. “The same software can be used differently from one customer to the next. The tool can have different purposes depending on the needs of the user,” admits Joseph Lehn, director of product management, PressWise by Smartsoft Inc. He illustrates his point using a spreadsheet program. For one company it is the means to creating an estimate, and for another company, the spreadsheet program is the means for creating the shop schedule.
MIS products are scalable in data management. The extent of how much of this information is used typically depends on the size of the organization, says Trent Foreman, PrintJobManager product manager, Aleyant.
“To the large print company, software cannot extend enough, they will always want something else. To the small print shop that needs more than one person to produce a consistent quote in a reasonable time, something as basic in the software as inventory control is overkill, as all production needs to do is look in the closet or over in the corner to determine if they have sufficient stock for a job,” adds Rich Giles, president, AACRO Computer Systems, Inc.
In-plants require unique MIS features. They tend to look for report, order entry, instant estimates, and workflow functionalities. “The primary role of print MIS for in-plants is not about running a profit and loss business for the customer. In-plants exist inside of a parent operation and many don’t need portions of the functionality that commercial printers use in traditional print MIS,” explains Vincent Tutino, senior product manager, Rochester Software Associates, Inc. (RSA).
“A box printing company considers the imposition calculation and optimization of great importance, while a flexible package printing company places an increased emphasis on the technical sector, including technical definition of the product combined with the specific estimating according to the product type versus the production control in real time,” adds Veslava Valentinovic, marketing, Sistrade Software Consulting, S.A.
Ross Edwards and Andrew Strand, business development managers, Tharstern Inc., argue that the main role of an MIS is the same across the board. “What print providers set up their MIS to do varies dependent on which part of the processes they want to improve, but the overall purpose is the same—save time and money,” they explain.
MIS serves a primary purpose of culling and recording a print business’ information. Beyond that, it offers other functions and benefits. “Print MIS offers the ability to streamline workflow throughout the shop while maintaining full records of all processes for later review. This includes everything from estimating through invoicing, job costing, job tracking, and scheduling,” comments Morrie Brown, owner, PrintPoint, Inc.
Organizing and streamlining order taking capabilities is a major feature. “A good print MIS program helps ensure that all orders are submitted in a complete and uniform manner, whether the order is entered by a salesperson from a customer’s office, by a customer service representative on the phone with a client, or by the customer through an online storefront. When all orders flow through a single channel that captures all of the relevant job data, you reduce the risk that smaller orders will fall through the cracks,” shares Ali.
Customer relationship management (CRM) features are another part of MIS. “In recent years there has been huge growth in the importance placed on customer experience and how much of an affect it can have on your business, so having a good CRM in place is crucial. The CRM allows marketing and sales teams to plan campaigns aimed at specific prospects and customers, based on previous inquires or the market they are in,” say Edwards and Strand.
“Every customer interaction is an opportunity to grow your business—even when it’s a complaint. Tracking each interaction keeps your finger on the pulse of each account and gives insight into all aspects of your relationship. That insight provides you with the knowledge required to grow, foster, and improve the relationship you and your staff have with your customers,” recommends Kevin Shaw, head of marketing, product management, and customer experience, Avanti Computer Systems Limited.
A good MIS also takes care of a print provider’s sales team. “It gives them information prior to quoting a client to see where they are most profitable. Easily being able to convert an estimate into a job without the need for duplicating information, raising purchase orders for ordering raw materials, delivery notes, invoices, and even online orders to win new clients,” suggests Shawn Brown, business development, Print Management Information Systems.
The integration of multiple features is a good indicator of the maturity level of a print MIS, says Lehn. “The customer should not have to enter information more than once. Re-keying information is a waste of valuable time and money. Systems that are inherently integrated were built with automation and integration in mind, removing the barriers often associated with modular systems that need to build separate connectors to get information from point A to point B,” he explains.
According to EFI, its MIS/ERP solutions target new revenue generation, efficiency and profitability, pre-production, and production. The company notes that solid, end-to-end control over operations is an overwhelming factor in the success of packaging and print businesses delivering double-digit profits.
Trends like the cloud, AI, and the IoT impact MIS. It is a good time for print providers to take advantage of these features.
The cloud is influential. “Customers want to do more from more places, which means creating MIS solutions accessible wherever there is an internet connection. This ranges from the ability of a customer to place an order from their tablet, to the CSR verifying the status of a hot order while out of the office, to the delivery driver collecting the signature for the order when the consumer receives their product,” comments Lehn.
According to Foreman, the influence of web to print (W2P) software adds to demand for cloud-based MIS features. “Customers can place an order from their phone at their leisure. They want to continue that experience, so print providers have to adjust to accommodate the customers.”
“W2P is an avenue that printers choose to connect to their customers. Closer integrations with MIS reduce the cost/time of order entry but provide the customer 24/7 information about their orders. Pushing artwork acquisition and proofing to the web also brings accountability to the customer and shortens actual order cycles,” shares Asboth.
A key change in business-to-business transactions involves the rise of ecommerce, admits Gerald Clement, partner, Computer Productivity Services, Inc. “Solution providers now offer ecommerce, unattended credit card, tax, and shipping rate solutions that are integrated with an MIS. It saves the customer and converter a lot of time and eliminates rekeying errors and omissions.”
Cloud-based, subscription products are also attractive for cost reasons. “These products are increasingly popular because you don’t have to invest in expensive servers and install constant upgrades. Your software is regularly updated with new features as information technology, security requirements, and customer preferences evolve,” shares Ali.
Edwards and Strand see the cloud as complementary and not a replacement product. True cloud-based systems integrate with applications and equipment within an organization on varying levels, provided “the technology has been developed in a way that it can embrace the most up-to-date cloud development techniques. The cloud is not suitable for all deployments however, especially those with a reliance on interfacing local systems,” they note.
AI and IoT are not as prevalent compared to the cloud. But the current capabilities—take for example AI—are still beneficial. “As a shop expands, new employees often no longer have the benefit of traditional print estimating training and shops just don’t have the time to start from scratch. Many of the new hires can be excellent CSRs, but require the MIS to do a lot of the thinking for them. Layouts, cutouts, paper choices, efficient waste, and runs driven by advanced AI make it much easier for an established printer to get a new employee up and running quickly,” adds Morrie Brown.
An example of how AI could help improve the financial performance of a shop is estimating. “Imagine if your estimating engine could—in real time—review historical production data and recognize trends, analyze the opportunity data in the CRM, have visibility to the current schedule, and use that data to predict future capacity—and then use that intelligence to adapt and adjust pricing to maximize capacity utilization. Or in other words, when the system predicts the shop will be very busy, prices would increase automatically and when the system predicts some excess capacity in the near future, prices automatically decrease,” suggests Patrick Bolan, president/CEO, Avanti.
“The IoT has created a plugged-in society. We are connected to everything 24/7 and printing is no different. Management and sales demand that they have access to everything from estimates to production to invoicing instantaneously from anywhere there is an internet connection. Print customers demand the same thing. Companies no longer have the luxury of closing their doors at 5:00 p.m. and require an MIS that offers the peace of mind of accessibility,” explains Andersen.
Tutino believes AI and IoT adoption is a little too early for most print MIS to implement. “Functionality like IoT adds cost to a system and not everyone has the budget for this sort of functionality. Additionally, until more hardware devices are internet-enabled and a standard is developed, I feel that the impact of IoT may be somewhat limited,” he states.
Owners and Prospects
Most print providers own or operate some version of an MIS, whether it be something off the shelf or homegrown, according to Foreman.
“Companies in the commercial printing and publishing sector were early adopters of print MIS. They wanted to ensure they always had sufficient supplies and capacity for each high-volume job they quoted,” explains Ali.
For those who don’t own a print MIS, adoption may be daunting and thus avoidance occurs. There are three common reasons print providers avoid implementing a print MIS, based on the opinions of Edwards and Strand. First is the fear of internal resource commitment—both lack of time and staff. Most companies don’t believe they have the time or skill set to dedicate to a successful implementation. Secondly, some print providers believe they are too small for an MIS. The third point, is the expense, as many don’t understand the return on investment.
“For well-established companies, dealing with change is the common reason why they avoid purchasing MIS or upgrading their current software,” adds Asboth.
In-plants are unique when it comes to refusing to work with an MIS. According to RSA’s research, fewer than 40 percent of in-plants own a print MIS. This is because they don’t have a need for portions of the functionality like receivables, shop floor data collection, and consumables inventory management, according to Tutino.
If an initial consideration of MIS doesn’t lead to implementation, Foreman suggests revisiting in four to six years—then it is a good time to reexamine what you are doing from a process standpoint and see what’s out there.
“As far as when to reevaluate a decision to implement—it should most certainly happen, at a minimum, when there is any change to the business plan. Adding a new product line, acquiring new equipment, or merging companies. If orders are getting lost in the shop or personnel is having trouble entering orders for the products you are trying to produce, it may be time to review the options for a better solution for your current product mix,” advises Lehn.
Other times to reconsider implementing an MIS, according to Morrie Brown, include when the time spent estimating outweighs the time it takes a competitor to estimate and send in the quote. Or when more than four employees touch any one job, which increases chances for a mistake.
Once implementation is a go, print providers should be aware of common challenges that may arise. “The biggest challenge is to allocate the time to get it set up and running. The longer the implantation process continues, the less likely you will be successful with it, get frustrated, and quit. Be sure to ask questions upfront. How long does implementation usually take? What type of dedicated resources do I need to assign to it?,” asks Foreman.
Adam Witek, sales and servicing manager, PagePath Technologies, Inc., recommends the person assigned to the project take a week away from the office to focus on entering all of the company’s pricing correctly.
Despite the commitment, user adoption is another common challenge businesses can face. “Employees or staff are reluctant to change the way they work—this is only because they are comfortable doing it the way they’ve been doing it for years,” explains Shawn Brown.
Another issue involves the true cost of implementation. Andersen suggests companies double the cost of the software to account for the implementation. For example, if an MIS cost $50,000 and it took three months to decide on it, then allow for $50,000 and three months in implementation cost and resources. This includes time, wages, and lost production hours due to training on the staff’s part.
For the Future
MIS’ main function is to organize information. Once implemented it provides the current operation of the company with a variety of benefits. However, future benefits are also important to think about. “Print shop owners are typically loyal and work very hard, it’s a shame to see them reach the age of retirement, but not have the systems in place needed to make the business attractive to buyers and investors. Implementing a print MIS helps sell your business when the time is right,” recommends Witek. dps
Mar2019, DPS Magazine