by Cassandra Balentine
Print management information systems (MIS) effectively manage orders, optimize resources, control costs, empower employees, and deliver jobs on time with a centralized tool. for print environments. As the volume of shorter run work increases along with complexity, these tools become increasingly important.
“Consumers now have the flexibility and responsiveness to order exactly what they want and when they need it. In the printing world this has resulted in more, smaller volume orders with multiple SKUs, which aligns perfectly with digital printing capabilities. This accelerated due to the pandemic with people adapting to working remotely. With a high volume of lower value orders, efficiency needs to be at the forefront for any printing company,” notes Rob Mayerson, president, Label Traxx President.
Print MIS helps print providers understand the cost of each job and add in automation to increase efficiency and maximize profitability.
“In a world where quality, cost, and delivery is now expected, printing companies need to add value in different ways through the services they offer. That is often driven by software applications. As more orders come into a company, software can be used to alleviate the potential bottlenecks and ensure that headcount doesn’t have to go up,” adds Mayerson.
“Growth in a transaction volume with a lower average revenue per order is a prime driver of MIS, as is the desire to automate to drive down the administrative time and costs per order,” agrees Gerald Clement, software architect, Computer Productivity Services Inc. (CPS). “A truly integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that manages financial functions, inventory, print management, shop floor control, and job costing, and does away with multiple systems with duplicate data sets is essential to achieve this.”
Solving Production Challenges
Print MIS help improve efficiency and productivity. With the right solution, print providers can improve turnaround times, ensure speed and accuracy on recurring orders, better manage raw materials, and implement scheduling and planning. These reasons and more drive print providers to seek print MIS.
Tony Tarpey, COO, PressWise by Smartsoft, points out that traditional production workflow has been quite manual in nature, and as a result, time consuming and expensive. “A customer would call their sales representative to get a price. The sales representative would either work up a price or have an estimator do that, and the price would be communicated to the customer. The customer opting to proceed with the order would send in the artwork, and a customer service representative (CSR) would write up a job ticket and send the order through prepress, production, bindery, shipping, and then accounting could send out the invoice to the customer. Orders would need to be a large enough to make them worthwhile for the company to even consider working on it.”
The growth in digital printing has completely changed the environment. “Order sizes are getting smaller, as are the margins in an increasingly competitive marketplace. This means that the print service provider (PSP) must find ways to eliminate as many manual touches as possible to remain competitive, and a modern print MIS such as PressWise designed to automate as many touches as possible from the PSP’s workflow,” adds Tarpey.
PSPs without an MIS in place already want to save time and money and increase profits. “These reasons haven’t changed in all the years we’ve been in operation. To get into specifics here, they all want to produce estimates and jobs quicker, spend less time on administration, stop data duplication, and get more transparency about their costs and profits on a day-to-day basis. They also want to provide added value for their customers and improve customer experience. These are common needs for businesses in any sector, but for companies in the printing industry, the solution lies in MIS software,” shares Lee Ward, chief revenue officer, Tharstern.
Additionally, more commercial printers are interested in expanding to add profitable specializations like labels and packaging. However, this requires a different approach to production, and most often, existing MIS are not ready for it. “Packaging production is more like manufacturing than printing. It is a challenge to introduce new manufacturing processes for print companies. This is one reason that they are reaching out and exploring new MIS,” says Mariusz Sosnowski, CEO, HiFlow Solutions.
Print providers with an existing MIS tend to reevaluate when their requirements change, either they’ve ventured into new products and markets that aren’t supported by their current system, or because they aren’t able to achieve the level of integration and automation they’d like to with what they have, adds Ward.
Beyond improving processes and saving time and money, production challenges also drive the need for change.
“The biggest production challenge among most print providers today is the impact outdated fixed pricing and under-estimated jobs affect their bottom line,” comments Adam Witek, director of customer experience, Print Reach. “Without systems that incorporate inventory management, real-time job costing, and other variables such as overhead and labor costs, it is difficult to stay current and competitive—especially with the current volatility of paper and supply markets.”
Therese McGady, marketing manager, Aleyant, agrees. “They want to know what their actual costs are, how long it takes them to produce something, and if they are actually making a profit,” she offers. “Implementing a print MIS helps them answer all these questions and manage their print business better. It forces print providers to evaluate their current print workflow.”
Nick Benkovich, VP of product strategy and portfolio, eProductivity Software, sees two primary production challenges driving the need for MIS. The first is print providers are looking to move from islands of automation and moving to end-to-end workflow. The second is getting to a point where they can make informed decisions based on data rather than gut. The right MIS helps calculate how the costs of a job are attributed, determine the true cost, and get to automated production.
Lack of flexibility also presents a challenge that can be solved with the right MIS. “Many solutions out there can be rigid and the reality is most providers require more flexibility to have an advantage is the market,” shares Adam Homsi, founder, InkCloud.
“We’ve seen customers with homegrown systems they pasted together themselves now understanding that they aren’t and don’t want to be software development companies,” adds Benkovich.
The resources, time, and money it takes to implement or update an MIS are important considerations for those evaluating current processes.
“Potential client concerns on determining whether or not to take the next step range from disruption of the current work environment, who is qualified internally to take on the responsibility of implementation, to an overall ‘we’ve always done it this way’ change resistance,” shares Witek.
“They may believe they do not have the time, energy, or resources to implement this so they avoid it and continue with manual processes. The reality is though; their competition that is implementing print MIS software will outlive them because they will be able to handle more jobs, quicker and cheaper,” offers McGady.
While moving to a new MIS does take some time and resources away from daily business activities, this can be helped with strategic planning and creating an MIS implementation team who can focus on getting the MIS set up. “Regular meetings and updates are needed to keep the process on track, but any good MIS supplier will help their customers with this and provide project management tools to help them stay on top of everything,” suggests Ward.
“A typical investment in one of the more traditional MIS involves a large upfront cost, which can be a challenge to a shop’s cash flow. Then comes the issue of IT resources—a shop needs to consider hardware costs of a server, ongoing maintenance costs, and dedicated IT staff,” offers Tarpey.
The availability of software as a service models with lower upfront costs and integrated hosting and maintenance eliminate some of these concerns.
“This is the way the software industry is going as a whole, and it’s a model that’s gone very well with our customers,” adds Ward.
Another concern is spending the time and money to implement a system that will not fit the business. “Custom development for printing becomes a concern since many MIS companies don’t handle customization well,” says Sosnowski. “Printing companies that choose to make the investment in an MIS, which can be very substantial, should get assurances that the MIS is flexible and configurable to the company’s needs.”
Technologies continue to advance at a rapid pace. Print MIS is evolving to incorporate the cloud, integration, and automation.
MIS with the ability to integrate RESTful API tools including web-to-print storefronts, real-time job tracking, customer relationship management, accounting, and payment functions are popular. “A software suite that combines multiple integrated tools is essential to eliminate the need to purchase and maintain several administrative tools which ultimately eliminates duplicate processes and results in better performance and increased profit margins,” notes Witek.
“Print providers need the ability to easily integrate with business software systems to automate their print workflow,” agrees McGady.
Ward points out that digitization is a buzzword that’s used more often. “In its simplest form, it’s used to describe any initiative that takes manual processes and automates them using technology. To be honest this is something that MIS software has been delivering for many years, so it’s not a new technology as such, it’s more a new way of describing something we’re already familiar with. What has changed is the demand for these initiatives, which has grown significantly over recent years—almost every print provider is now seeking ways to improve efficiency by digitalizing their business processes using MIS software.”
The ability to support remote work is increasingly important, particularly as we enter year three of a global pandemic. “A lot of companies have adapted to the new way of remote working, and while the production teams will always need to be on site, we’re seeing some sales and CSR teams staying remote. We’ve been developing our software as a hybrid system for a few years now and before the pandemic it was already being used remotely on the production floor and in the warehouse, but when the pandemic hit and more teams needed to work from home, we added more remote functionality to our MIS so that sales, estimating, and CSR teams can continue to do their job and access their MIS software from any device and any location,” comments Ward.
Benkovich also sees demand for, anywhere, anytime, from any device print MIS. How they get there varies, while many small companies may want a full-cloud experience, the enterprise users often opt for a hybrid approach.
Industry 4.0 is driven by automation, and MIS helps get there.
The Industry 4.0 movement is really about machine connectivity, largely driven by automation.
“Complexity drives the need for a connected world,” says Benkovich.
“This trend has been around for a while, but it is now widely sought after for the benefits it brings—through automation, production costs can be significantly reduced, the cost of human error lowered, and real-time data obtained through connectivity with internet of things and manufacturing execution systems brings huge amounts of business intelligence,” adds Sosnowski.
Understanding costs, adding automation, and integrating with third-party solutions are ways in which a print MIS can transform a shop’s profitability and efficiency. While it will take time and resources up front, it should pay off in spades.
For more on print MIS, check out our archived webinar on the topic at dpsmagazine.com/webinars. dps
Mar2022, DPS Magazine