By Melissa Donovan
Print management information systems (MIS) help print providers keep their businesses productive. Integration capabilities from submission to output further an organization’s ability to manage workflow. For the purposes of this article, print providers with digital or hybrid environments are broken down into six segments—print for pay and small commercial, in plants and CRDs, mailing, large commercial, publication printers, and labels and packaging.
Determining when to invest in MIS is based on many factors, some are specific to each segment, however there are overarching similarities. This can also be said for the features in an MIS necessitated by individual organizations in the same segment—one commercial printer may not require all of the robust features another commercial shop expects, such as advanced accounting or integration throughout multiple software products. But, related needs do arise.
There isn’t a lot of overlap in how an MIS provider reaches its intended market. Many solutions target specific segments. These products and their promotion are tailored to attract a particular organization based on size and day-to-day workflow. Because every segment and the companies found in them are so different and their needs so specific, it’s hard to imagine a one-size-fits-all MIS.
Driving the Purchase
The impetus to purchase or upgrade an MIS is met with caution. Generally, print providers look into implementing an MIS for several reasons, including expanded revenue opportunity, improved production, increased productivity and/or profitability, or to streamline prepress.
“There are two driving factors—the need to exceed customer expectations, which revolves around the ability to deliver quality and speed; and the need to better manage costs,” adheres Stephen McWilliam, EVP, Avanti Computer Systems.
According to Mike Rottenborn, president/CEO, Hybrid Software Inc., the purchase is usually customer driven. “For example, a new line of business may require a Web to print site, which in turn needs to be integrated with a printer’s MIS. If this integration isn’t possible, it can trigger an upgrade search for a system that can be integrated.”
“The common factor among almost all prospective customers is they are looking for economical ways to be more effective. With the constant pressure to deliver high quality at a faster pace and a reduced cost, print companies look for tools to improve all aspects of their business while cutting costs wherever possible,” says Jim Drisler, national sales manager, CRC Information Systems, Inc.
Driving factors to implement a new MIS or upgrade an old system also depend on the segment. For example, in labels and packaging, part of the focus is on transitioning to digital. Dorothy Asboth, sales manager, Label Traxx, cites that up to 20 percent of label and packaging equipment is predicted to be digital within three years. “There is an evolution to take the information from the MIS to automate the whole production function through shipping,” she explains.
Tony Tarpey, VP marketing, SmartSoft, points out that customers across all segments are looking for ways to increase productivity by eliminating unnecessary touches from their workflow.
A List of Requirements
Print for pay and small commercial, in plants and CRDs, large commercial, mailing, publication printers, and labels and packaging segments—each request different features of their MIS to help their business run effectively. Here, vendors share some of the requirements and the products that meet them.
Print for Pay and Small Commercial
According to Rich Giles, president, Print Shop Manager and Mail Center Manager, AACRO Computer Systems, Inc., the needs for smaller organizations are, “simple day-to-day operation, intuitive job entry for each job, easy access to pricing tables, simple implementation of a receivables package, and simple but effective reports.”
AACRO positions its Print Shop Manager (PSM) and Mail Center Manager to established small and medium businesses looking to formalize and automate from estimating to job ticket to invoice and onto receivables. PSM in particular reaches commercial printers and printers that assist in marketing their customers’ businesses with everything from printing to building marketing strategies.
“Smaller companies are focused on getting enough business in the door while providing a professional impression. Quite often, it takes days to prepare quotes and consistency in pricing may be lacking,” explains Charlie Carter, principal, Cyrious Software.
Cyrious Control serves commercial printers in a number of industries thanks to large portions of the system being customizable. Particularly for smaller commercial printers, it helps provide a detailed quote while the CSR is on the phone with a customer and immediately emails a professional-looking estimate. While completing the quote, the user generates the expected profit margin and can tell immediately whether the job is worth taking or not, eliminating costly guesswork.
The blend of SmartSoft’s PressWise customers includes both small and large commercial printers, as well as in plants and companies that mail. “While we do some degree of segmentation in some of our marketing, the real differentiation comes during the sales process, when we learn about the prospect’s business,” says Tarpey. “Since PressWise is an all-in-one MIS solution—not modular based—we don’t focus as much on showing all the tools and features within the product, but rather we try to understand the prospect’s business and tailer the presentation of the service around how they can use PressWise to become more efficient.”
In Plant and CRD
There are parallels found between these first two segments. “Both commercial and in-plant shops have very similar challenges, notably figuring out how to manage the increase of small jobs that make their way through the shop,” advises McWilliam. “Managing jobs means limiting the number of times someone has to touch each job; tracking those jobs from submission through to delivery; being able to collect accurate costs on each job; and invoicing the job in a timely and accurate manner.”
Avant’s Slingshot is scalable, modular, and accessible from anywhere and suitable for print shops of any kind, according to the company. For in-plant shops, Avanti’s Chargeback provides detailed job costing information for reporting and exporting to internal accounting systems. The reporting and file layout is customized to the in plant’s specific needs. Chargeback integrates with several third-party enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to post the chargebacks.
In plants serve a larger entity—a parent corporation—whose needs they must contend and in many cases match up with. “The business process of an in-plant operation is different than a standard printing company,” admits Drisler. “It often requires integration between the MIS system and various software components—shipping, inventory, accounting—that are utilized by the rest of the corporation.”
CRC offers a number of software products that address the needs of the six market segments, such as in plant and CRD. It specializes in modifying and enhancing the software to meet the unique needs of each customer. CRC’s MIS is relevant to various sized companies through the development of an assortment of estimating systems and features that can be turned off and on as each business requires.
Rochester Software Associates (RSA) focuses its MIS solution, WebCRD with the Print MIS module, on in plants and CRDs. According to Vincent Tutino, senior product manager, RSA, this sector’s primary needs include real-time estimates, order submission, production management, bar code tracking, reporting, accounting integration, managing finished goods inventory, and invoicing. “In plants’ primary concerns are making it easy for their customers to submit and order jobs and automated workflows to improve turnaround time and productivity,” he adds.
Output of direct mail-centric firms vary in dimension, color, paper stock, size, and postal requirements. An MIS regulates these processes.
“Direct mail prices are usually always based on a per thousand basis and can have different complexities around data handling. Direct mail can cross over into other sectors such as commercial, as some businesses classified as commercial will have direct mail capability,” says Lee Ward, sales director, Tharstern Ltd.
Tharstern’s Primo MIS supports all six segments, including mailing. Its Express BigIceBox (BIB) module, for example, is ideal for automatically imposing greeting cards. With a sophisticated packing algorithm, a cost-effective layout is instantly shown. Jobs can be imported from Primo; ordering systems via JDF, XML, or CSV; or the Web-based job submission application that comes with Express BIB.
Shops that output hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of collateral need a complex system to handle a good portion of the various data points in their workflow.
“Large commercial shops need the full print MIS system with all the bells and whistles, inclusive of robust customer relationship management capability. Integration to third-party products is always a necessity as is a high level of flexibility and scalability. They also require robust integrated accounting systems, supported and developed by the vendor. These companies will more often than not request customizations from the vendor to meet unique and business critical needs,” says Mark Andersen, president/CTO, EPMS Corporation.
60 percent of EPMS’ customer base is comprised of mid-sized to larger printing companies, like large commercial shops. It customizes its MIS solution, offering scalability, open API, and flexibility to the end user. The Enterprise accounting suite is designed for medium to large single or multi-plant printing companies and offers complete integration with the management system and a design specific to the print industry. The suite includes Account Receivable, Accounts Payable, General Ledger, and Cash Book.
PrintPoint, Inc. targets medium to large commercial shops by focusing on the presses and post-press equipment located on premise. Larger shops use the company’s Visual Scheduling module, which Morrie Brown, president, PrintPoint, explains automatically reorganizes workflow based on workload, rules, and available days and times. Another module used frequently in large commercial shops, according to Brown, is Paper Inventory.
This segment experiences a bit less complexity throughout a print run. An MIS can help ensure page order accuracy and matching the cover and inside of a book.
“Publication printers will undoubtedly be working on high pagination work, which lends itself to be standardized and encourages JDF integration to prepress workflows,” shares Ward.
EFI targets all six of the segments through a robust portfolio of solutions. For publication printers—as well as large commercial and mailing operations—Gerald Walsh, product marketing director, EFI Productivity Software, suggests EFI Pace of EFI Monarch. In January 2015, the company completed an integrated strategy to address specific markets and specific customer needs—the EFI Productivity Suite.
Labels and Packaging
Printers that fall into this category need an MIS that can help regulate different label and packaging requests. “Labels and packaging is probably the biggest area for highlighting different production techniques as estimating a packaging project will require complex calculations on how a nested imposition can work to maximize sheet efficiencies,” admits Ward.
Within labels and packaging there is a diverse set of customers, with print companies often working with a variety of them. “Food, beverage, wine and spirits, pharmaceutical, health and beauty, and industrial end users may have unique requirements for documentation past just the production of the label,” adds Asboth.
Label Traxx targets the label and packaging industry. Its MIS solution focuses on specific workflows to reduce errors and assure repeatability. It consists of 12 modules—estimating, order processing, job costing, accounts receivable, accounts payable, general ledger, quality control, stock products, eTraxx, eTraxx Digital, Traxx Link, and JDF. Each is a complete end-to-end solution that contains everything needed to manage label and package production.
“In the tag and label segment, estimating solutions for flexographic labels are well established, while estimating solutions for digital printing are still in their infancy. This is a lot to ask from a single MIS,” suggests Rottenborn.
Hybrid’s solution, Facelift, is sold to augment existing MIS/ERP systems already in use and link them directly to existing MIS data. Primarily found in labels and packaging, it is configured to publish custom job ticketing forms in a browser-based user interface customized for the needs of each printer.
Walsh, with EFI’s core offering Radius used in this space, says label and packaging MIS require emphasis on tracking and managing finishing processes like die cutting, foil stamping, as well as 3D computer-aided design and gluing for boxes.
Looking to Sell
For the vendor that offers a multitude of MIS solutions that reach some or all of the six segments, presenting the product to the intended buyer is a strategic practice.
“Each segment uses different terminology related to their equipment and processes. Companies involved in labels and packaging are uncomfortable seeing screens and hearing terms that are more relevant to a large commercial printer. And rightfully so; prospective customers want to know that you understand their business,” explains CRC’s Drisler.
EPMS’ Andersen says each segment does require a different sales approach. “Large companies of any type will typically have a longer sales cycle than a small to mid-sized company, purely a byproduct of the management layers required to approve the adoption of a new MIS. Larger companies will also require numerous online demonstrations and usually some on-site presentations as well. Smaller companies make decisions more quickly and require far fewer demonstrations than their larger peers,” he continues.
“The key is spending the time necessary to get a detailed understanding of their unique needs, some that they are aware of, and some that we help them discover,” suggests Cyrious’ Carter.
Likewise, just because a print provider is segmented in a specific industry, doesn’t mean that every shop in that market has identical requirements. “We often find that businesses within the same sector can have very different needs so not only can each sector have a different sell, but each business within the same sector may have a different sell,” shares Tharstern’s Ward.
“In 25 years we have learned that each customer truly sees the business differently. And each personality and company culture is genuinely unique,” agrees PrintPoint’s Brown.
“The needs of every type of segment and even every organization or company can be very different. What works for one company will not always work for the next,” cautions Julie Holm, customer engagement manager, revshop.
One for All or All for None
A one-size-fits-all MIS is a conundrum. Some vendors believe it exists, citing modularity and customization as the building blocks. Others say it is impossible, fitting the needs of a larger corporation into the same box as a two-person shop is not plausible.
“If the print MIS is modular, one size can fit all. Smaller shops may not need scheduling, stock control, or integration into equipment and other applications. However, these are must haves for larger shops. With a modular approach, the MIS is scalable to the needs of the shop,” says Avanti’s McWilliam.
Holm adds that one size fits all is a possibility, with custom software like revshop, which can be tailored to fit different business models and types. The company configures each application in its MIS in regards to the specific equipment used by the printer in question.
“It is very difficult to find a single solution that is right for everybody,” admits Tarpey. “Which is why there is a place for multiple vendors in the marketplace, each with their own interpretation of what an MIS system should be.”
“A one-size-fits-all solution does not exist,” says Label Traxx’s Asboth. “There are systems that can meet financial needs but there are no programs that handle the needs of the six segments described. They become too unwieldy to implement and ultimately upgrade with the changing marketplace.”
“It would be very difficult to meet the information management needs of a five-person shop with the same product used by a 500 employee printing company,” agrees Drisler.
“No MIS out there will satisfy 100 percent of any printing company’s requirements, regardless of its type or size,” admits Andersen.
While Ward says a one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t really exist, he does believe there are core modules across all segments that should be standard including estimating, job control, procurement, dispatch, and invoicing.
“A one size fits most is the best you’ll see today,” counters Hybrid’s Rottenborn. “And that only applies to top-tier solutions that are focused on a very specific segment.”
The MIS Landscape
Many print companies are candidates for MIS. The question becomes which MIS is a fit for them? Today’s solutions are targeted to the wants and needs of each segment—print for pay and small commercial, in plants and CRDs, mailing, large commercial, publication printers, and labels and packaging. However, vendors are aware that within these segments, companies are sure to have their own individual requirements. Despite this, all print providers share a desire for a system that helps control workflow, enabling effective and efficient information management. dps