By Cassandra Balentine
The shift to digital transforms the traditional print world across the board. When it comes to running an efficient and profitable operation, print management information systems (MIS) are increasingly important.
Gerald Walsh, director of market development, EFI, explains that to be successful with digital print, shops that once handled ten to 20 larger jobs a day find themselves looking at the need to handle 50 to 100 smaller jobs. The ability to automate and integrate this into production and office operations becomes important as every instance of human intervention means lost profit and the propensity for mistakes.
In addition to efficiency, transparency is another primary benefit of MIS. The proliferation of digital print enables shorter runs, which often mean a lower profit margin per job. The ability to pinpoint workflow inefficiencies is critical to success.
Chris Huber, present and founder, Virtual Systems, also points to control as a core benefit of print MIS. “Companies utilizing an MIS have the benefit of data at their fingertips to make decisions based on facts. Job costing and scheduling become an efficient, automated process when systems are correctly configured to meet business needs, reducing errors and increasing profitability and efficiency,” he states.
Morrie Brown, president, PrintPoint, Inc., suggests that print organizations should be, if they are not already, looking at the various ways they can save money and be more responsive to customers in order to provide a better overall experience.
Benefits of the Cloud
Web-based solutions, commonly referred to as the cloud, provide another element of accessibility. This also ties directly into the use of mobile functionality. It is important to understand that the term cloud is broad, and means different things to different people.
For example, Web to print (W2P) enables browser-based interaction with a print service provider (PSP). Without the need for human intervention, ideal W2P scenarios enable orders to be submitted and produced with minimal need for human interaction. W2P portals act as an important extension of print MIS. Brown refers to the capability as a necessity that no shop should be without. “It is not a new channel for sales, rather an extension of all your current channels,” he encourages.
EFI’s Walsh explains that in the past, PSPs’ Web sites were essentially online brochures. If you wanted a quote, you would need to call or email. However, expectations on the print buyer’s side have evolved, and so has the demand on print providers’ Web presence. He points out that still, less than 30 percent of jobs come from the Internet, a number that is higher in digital applications. However, if the printer does not provide the option, they are vulnerable to lost sales.
In addition to an online presence through W2P, integration should also be present. Recognizing the connectivity of Web-based and Web-facing products to backend production is critical. Walsh says that it is important that cloud-based functions, such as W2P, don’t lead to the need to reinvent a job on the other end.
Separate from W2P storefronts, which can be standalone solutions, print MIS products also move to the cloud in place of on-premise, client-hosted solutions. “The move to cloud-based systems dramatically reduces the burden on IT to deploy and upgrade a system,” notes Stephen McWilliam, EVP, Avanti. He explains that with these solutions, the vendor takes on all the responsibility and the on-boarding of a new user can take merely seconds as it eliminates the need for client software installation.
Current Adoption, Inhibitors
While MIS is beneficial in that it touches nearly every aspect of operation, this can also lead to challenges in terms of adoption and growth. Avanti’s McWilliam likens a print MIS solution to the heart of the print shop. “Replacing it is like a heart transplant. And, just like a heart transplant, there are downsides if the project does not go well. There is also a lot of upside to doing it well. The challenge is getting the system up and running with minimal disruption to the day-to-day operation,” he notes.
One main inhibitor to print MIS adoption is the investment in time needed to get it set up and to match pricing with a shop’s existing systems or methodology. “Matching prices can be a challenge because all of the applications have slightly different calculations,” says Brown. To help facilitate installation and overcome this obstacle, take the time and ensure the initial set up is a joint venture, he suggests.
Adoption of workflow solutions comes down to resources for many shops. “A typical investment in one of the more traditional MIS systems involves a large, upfront investment, which can be a challenge to a shop’s cash flow. Then comes the issue of IT resources, says Tony Tarpey, VP marketing, SmartSoft, Inc. He adds that then, the shop must consider the cost of hardware, servers, and ongoing maintenance, including a dedicated IT staff.
After implementation, there are still challenges with getting staff on board with change. “Besides the usual issues of limited time and resources that can be allocated out of the everyday production schedule for staff to learn a new system and change the way they do business, there is often a cultural resistance to change, which can be a big hindrance on adoption,” adds Tarpey.
In addition to the cost of implementation, understanding return on investment is another. Nick Grieco, president, Printers Software, says his company works closely with customers to satisfy their unique needs during implementation. He says the process should be measured in weeks. “Once configured, the time and cost savings will be significant,” he adds.
Dorothy Runge Asboth, sales manager, Label Traxx, points out that many companies see a profit at the end of the month or year. They do not think they need to change. “Do they know where that profit is coming from? And, even more importantly, do they know what profit they may be losing and why?” she asks. “We can give our customers the data to make important decisions about how to drive their business forward.”
When changing or upgrading print MIS programs, it is important to compare the long-term cost of the investment, points out Asboth. Also be aware that the capital investment is not the only investment required, changing MIS is a big project for any company that requires a commitment in time. Make sure you have the right team in place to see it through.
Printers Software’s Grieco says that many companies already use some type of system, even if it’s not commercially sold as an MIS product. This includes spreadsheets, databases, and account systems. “While these systems are not as powerful or effective as a professional MIS, they fill a need and serve as a great stepping stone toward a commercial solution,” he says.
Virtual Systems’ Huber adds that in his experience, 90 percent of print providers have some type of MIS solution in place, either canned or home grown. At any given time, he says one out of three of those companies seek a better solution, and 50 percent will likely make a system purchase in the next year.
EFI Walsh agrees, explaining that printers are typically well adept at the business of print, but may be lacking when it comes to business management. The need for a print MIS usually comes at the time when the print provider just can’t keep up without automation. “It is true of many smaller printers, but larger ones as well. They are shuffling spreadsheets back and forth and utilizing pieced together solutions for an off-the-shelf software solution that may be designed for a small business, but not a print business. They may have job entry capabilities, but it is limited to the name and description of a job,” he says. “The inhibitor is managing and trying to make it work, knowing that there is a better solution that helps make the job easier, but there is no time to get it done.”
Guide to Applications
Since print MIS becomes such a centralized part of any print operation, it is important to carefully research the solution and provider best suited to meet your needs. Following this article, you’ll find a Target Chart of solutions on the market and key highlights they offer. However, here, we outline the details of select offerings.
Avanti Slingshot was built from the ground up to address many of the challenges found with legacy print MIS systems. It is browser-based and handles multiple lines of business beyond print, including mailing, fulfillment, and large format; is JDF certified for the ability to integrate islands of automation; and available in flexible deployment models, meaning it can run on premise or in the cloud.
The solution targets mid-sized commercial shops, franchise operations, and in-plant companies.
As far as scalability, Avanti recommends a phased approach to implementation. McWiliam suggests starting with the basic workflow of estimating, order entry, job ticketing, job tracking, and billing. “Go live with that workflow and then layer on more advanced modules such as W2P, scheduling, inventory management, and shop floor data collection. Finally, estimate the islands of automation and integrate all of your key application and equipment.”
EFI offers several MIS/enterprise resource planning (ERP) products for the commercial print space. EFI PrintSmith Vision is a flexible business management software that offers estimating, point-of-sale, account management, production management, receivables, and sales analysis tools within a single, easy-to-use application. Developed for small commercial, retail print-for-pay, and in-plant printing operations, it offers optional, modular features that extend the power of the system for users as they grow their print services and offerings.
EFI Pace helps graphic arts professionals work faster and operate with more flexibility in the face of reduced print budgets, shorter runs, and reduced turnaround times. It is a browser-based, scalable, and customizable print management system that streamlines operations and reduces costs using a fully integrated solution for estimating, production, accounting, sales management, and e-commerce.
EFI Monarch is a flexible, automated print production and management MIS/ERP solution for large, single and multi-plant operations handling everything from basic jobs to the most complex projects. Scalable to 5,000 users and configurable for multi-company, multi-division, multi-language and multi-currency environments, Monarch offers a high degree of functionality and flexibility for the efficient management of all product and work types.
Label Traxx is specially built for the label converting industry. In the digital arena, the company works closely with major digital press manufacturers to address the specific needs of the digital print provider. It integrates with Esko Artwork prepress software to streamline order processing in fast-paced, digital environments.
Asboth explains that the solution is both modular and scalable. Its customers range in size from startups to multi-plant operations. Because it is a modular solution, Asboth says that to a certain degree, customers are able to choose the modules that make the most sense for their operation. “It also means they can scale the reach of the program as their business evolves and users become more experienced,” she adds.
SmartSoft’s PressWise is a complete, end-to-end workflow system. Tarpey notes that it is different from the modular approach that dominates the traditional MIS market. With it, users get a variety of tools including unlimited Web storefronts, estimating, order management, and inventory management. The solution is designed around the concept of workflow automation, or lean printing. Orders flow through a shop with as few manual touches as possible. Another important factor is connectivity. The PressWise solution makes it easy for users to connect to third-party systems.
PressWise is built on a Software as a Service model with no contracts so customers can avoid large, upfront costs and are free to walk away at any time. “This means less risk for the printers and keeps the onus on us to ensure we are providing the very best service and support at all times,” says Tarpey.
The majority of PressWise customers fall under the commercial printer sector, with a range of six to 50 employees. Tarpey adds that they have customers outside of this range, including in-plant customers.
Printer’s Plan offers a print MIS solution that Tulin Edev, VP, Printer’s Plan, describes as easy to use, intuitive, and better for order processing, pricing, production, and customer service and marketing. The solution targets commercial and in-plant printers with up to 50 employees.
Printer’s Plan offers two Web solutions. Web2Plan provides two-way communication between a printer’s W2P system and Printer’s Plan. PlanWeb is seamlessly integrated with Printer’s Plan and allows the printer’s customers to order online from custom catalogs, re-order from historical jobs, send files, and view reports and copies of invoices.
Printers Software’s Presidio is a modular and scalable print MIS solution that can be implemented to a company’s needs and grow with the business. It targets commercial, trade, and finishing companies with anywhere from five to 100 employees. Investment costs vary based on specific requirements.
Customers can upgrade the solution by adding new features, modules, and integration options. “We feel that a modular approach provides maximum flexibility,” says Grieco.
Printers Software integrates with external systems, including W2P, shipping, and accounting. “We focus on print MIS with an open approach to integration. This provides our customers with flexibility in selecting best-of-breed solutions to meet their needs,” says Grieco.
As early as its first release in 1992, PrintPoint was one of the first print shop management systems to use advanced graphical environments to show the cutout and layout of a job, according to Brown. “Several years ago, our competitors followed and now it is standard for most applications,” he says.
The company’s latest version, PrintPoint 6.5 includes Time Based Estimating, a new release of its Visual Scheduling Job Board version 2.0, a W2P storefront, and enhanced customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities including a new Request for Quote module. Its CRM modules are fully integrated, allowing users to manage and easily communicate with clients, vendors, and prospects. The solution is based on SQL database technology and runs smoothly on both Windows and Macintosh platforms.
PrintPoint reaches customers with annual revenues under $1,000,000 a year running single user versions of PrintPoint and customers with 35 users and annual revenues of more than $10,000,000 a year.
PrintPoint provides installation and basic training on its core system, a self-contained client/server architecture that does not require a server class operating system. Customers can buy the core system and expand at any time without penalty. To upgrade, the solution enables users to click on their Web site to add users and modules without having to change software.
Vitual Systems Midnight is a scalable solution serving both in-plants and commercial printers. The company services shops with as few as five employees to over 100. The platform is cloud based and modular. Midnight’s pricing structure varies by the number of users and modules purchased.
It is designed with growth in mind. “Midnight allows clients to start out small with one of our subscription services and upgrade to pro or enterprise solutions as their business needs dictate. Midnight also offers the flexibility to integrate with other technologies to create totally automated processes throughout the production facility,” says Huber.
He adds that the rise of W2P and mobile technologies acted as a catalyst for the company to develop a Web-based solution for its client base. “With our hosted solution, Midnight, and our mobile applications, our clients are connected to their business 24/7,” explains Huber. “In the future, we see business users migrating away from a singular desktop/personal computer and moving to more of a hybrid use of mobile computing devices. We are prepared for this type of future and today the Midnight print MIS platform can be run entirely from a tablet or smartphone in addition to the typical Mac or PC.”
Poised for Growth
As print environments continue to take on more frequent and complex jobs, the need for automation is more essential than ever.
EFI’s Walsh points out that the cost per management per job is higher with fewer orders, but the overhead is much lower. When more jobs are coming through, the cost per job needs to drop. “Print MIS is a way to do that, and is the best way to invest in the future for additional growth,” he concludes. dps
May2014, DPS Magazine