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Business Opportunities

Management Information Systems

With print companies always on the lookout for ways to boost production, Rob Fletcher looks at some of the latest management information systems and how they can help your profits lift off

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Take control, take flight

Casting my mind back to my early days at Print Monthly, the first feature I ever wrote for the magazine was about management information systems (MIS). Fresh to the world of print, I delved into the mountain of information available on these products and was amazed by what I found.

It may have been that I was quite naive about the industry being so new to print, but I had always assumed that all companies already had a computer system implemented—how wrong I was! During my time at the magazine, I’ve spoken to companies that use a whole range of MIS, ranging from old-fashioned paper and folders, through to some of the more innovative computerised systems that many firms these days swear by.

With this in mind, I’ve taken a look at some of the newest options available on the market, and spoken to suppliers to find out just what these products can offer to print companies and how they can be used to improve the overall production workflow.

Importance of accuracy

Imprint Business Systems is one company firmly established in this sector, having supplied Windows-based MIS solutions to companies across the printing and packaging industry for a number of years. Director Wayne Beckett believes it is crucial for suppliers of such systems to listen to what their customer actually wants in order to provide the right solution.

Wayne Beckett, director of Imprint Business Systems, says printers without an effective MIS will struggle to accurately assess profit

Beckett explains: “We take the trouble to listen to our customers and the development of our systems has been based on meeting their wide and varied requirements. Our policy of constantly improving our product range whilst taking advantage of advancements in technology and communications keeps us ahead of the game—but never too complacent to perfect it.

“There are many reasons a print company should integrate an effective MIS system, but in today’s market climate the main reason must be automated accurate estimating and total cost control due to reduced run lengths and the diversity of the work.

With a good MIS you will have the peace of mind that, if your cost data is accurate, you will have complete control on each jobs margin

“I think it is fair to say that currently margins are tight and for a lot of printers, unless you have accurate manual cost control, it’s very difficult to accurately assess profit. With a good MIS you will have the peace of mind that, if your cost data is accurate, you will have complete control on each job’s margin.”

Leading on from this, Beckett goes on to list a host of available Imprint systems and their functionality. These options range from the Imprint Desktop that is customisable to each user, through to the Imprint Sentinel Net high-performance monitoring system for reel and sheetfed machines, and any production unit where items may be counted.

Elsewhere, eXpert estimating works out the most cost effective method of production and produces a quotation letter in seconds by selecting the best printing process and finishing route for the job in question. Beckett also points out that many factories can also be monitored live using a mobile device—a feature that is proving very popular in today’s fast-moving industry.

eXpert estimating, one of the solutions of offer from Imprint, helps work out the most cost effective method of production

With this future development in mind, Beckett gives an insight into the direction Imprint may be heading in terms of new solutions: “The Imprint system is developing all the time in order to match the needs of our customers.

“Our in-house development team works very closely with our customers to identify ways in which to improve the system. Not all printers operate the same way, so something bespoke we may produce for one client could well be of benefit to another. This way the system evolves to market trends and stays totally focused on improving the way our customers operate.

“Areas such as web-to-print and JDF integration as well as our new Imprint online systems are also being developed by working with our customers.”

Impressive integration

Deciding what MIS is best for your company is one thing, but you also have to consider how it will fit in with some of your other service offerings. It is at this point where companies such as web-to-print provider Vpress can help, with the firm having created its own solution to run alongside any MIS or similar system.

Developed by the Cheltenham-based firm, Coreprint is the company’s flag-ship product and has attracted plenty of interest from print firms across the UK. Speaking about the solution, Vpress marketing manager Emma Mortiboy, says the Coreprint has served as a ‘pioneering’ product since the advent of online print procurement.

Mortiboy explains: “Vpress has become one of the market leading web-to-print providers in the UK, and, according to our 1,300 plus clients, the reason for Coreprint’s dominance of the web-to-print market isn’t only due to its value for money, or for our outstanding service, but is down to its unrivalled approach to helping clients make their web-to-print investments work and realise a swift and clear return.

With a focus on improving efficiency and reducing costs, the ability to automate and streamline workflows and processes is integral to this

“With a focus on improving efficiency and reducing costs, the ability to automate and streamline workflows and processes is integral to this. Coreprint’s unrivalled ability to integrate into any production workflow, MIS, enterprise resource planning, accounts, website, ware-housing, courier system, or campaign management solution, capable of integrating a complete end-to-end solution.

“With Coreprint’s development team based solely at our headquarters in Cheltenham, Vpress eliminates the fragmented and political approach to integration normally experienced with-in the sector. Vpress is also open to new development and opportunities—central to the future of print.”

Vpress explains that its Coreprint product offers users a host of benefits through integration with an MIS

And it seems that the proof is in the pudding when it comes to Coreprint and its reported success with customers. Last year, Precision Printing was able to complete the integration of its Coreprint solution into OneFlow and Tharsten Primo MIS in order to create a fully automated workflow.

Speaking about the achievement, Precision Printing’s technical director Steeve Roucaute, comments: “We can definitely say that we have closed the loop and achieved a significant over-head cost reduction.”

Meanwhile, Vpress also joined forces with MIS provider Optimus to provide a fully integrated workflow solution to end users. Unveiled at the recent Duplo London Calling event, the duo claims that the integration is an industry-first as it allows a ‘comprehensive and dynamic connection between the two systems’—something that they say is yet to be achieved by another web-to-print provider.

The integration comprises a number of touch points such as sending order messages from Coreprint to Optimus, including live stock balances and real-time pricing information.

Mortiboy concludes: “Vpress are always open to new innovations, development and opportunities. If there is an MIS solution, be it a bespoke internal system, or one of the market leaders, we can plug into the solution improving your efficiencies and there-fore saving you time and money.”

Evolving systems

While suppliers of MIS are always likely to champion its impact on a business, what about print companies themselves? Seymour Sign and Print is one firm that has benefitted from installing MIS, having recently opted to drop its tired paper-based method to instead take up a solution developed by Clarity and delivered by Touch Systems.

David Hammond, director of the company, explains this decision has proved to be the right one, with the firm having benefitted as a result: “The paper system was the system that my Dad had been using for many years, with draws and draws of archived job sheets, all manually written out, and quite often missing the vital information.

Seymour Sign and Print has praised the impact a new MIS has had on business

“Going computerised enables us to ensure consistency from quotation, to invoicing. We only retain printed jobs sheets where there are samples to be kept for future reference. All the other jobs are stored electronically.

“We are using Clarity by Touch Systems; the system hasn’t been implemented into an existing system, it’s completely changed our systems and practices. Now, we generate a quotation and job number, and upon acceptance of the quote the job sheet is generated before any time or resources are committed to the job. This has reduced the number of non-billed hours considerably.

“Shortly after installing Clarity we invested in a new file server, which now whenever a new quotation is raised a corresponding file on our server is created, this makes sure all our artwork relating to every job is stored centrally rather than sprawled over four computers with differing filing systems.”

Hammond goes on to pick out a number of ways in which the MIS has boosted business at Seymour Sign and Print: “The main benefit we’ve seen is much more accurate quotations, using the calc wizards we can see exactly what our costs are, what wastage, and how much time it’s going to take to complete.

“The change has been positive. We’ve increased our margins on some jobs and gained new customers, not necessarily because of pricing, but often because we can generate professional quotations in minutes from receiving their enquiry. Any member of our team can pick up any job sheet and know what materials are required to complete the order.

“Clarity is now an integral part of our daily business, as well as improving our production, it helps our sales significantly with up-to-the minute information about what work we have in progress, what quotes are outstanding, and what jobs need to be invoiced.

I would recommend any company small or large that is having issues with its job management or continuity to look into MIS

“I would recommend any company small or large that is having issues with its job management or continuity to look into MIS. I think to really get the most from any system you need to commit to implementing it fully, and finding a system that accommodates your business needs.”

No matter what sort of print operation you run, it seems that it is crucial to implement an effective MIS if you are to progress and compete in the modern market. With plenty of products available, companies keen to strengthen this area of the workflow are certainly not short of options.

Staying ahead of the game

Shuttleworth MIS is one of the biggest specialist businesses in the UK offering print management systems and has been hard at work developing a new raft of technology and features to help its users.

Dawn Safford, marketing executive at the company, takes up the story and gives an overview of Shuttleworth’s latest developments that have been especially created to aid printers, monitoring and streamlining production across the board. She says:?“Our two latest developments to the software are both designed to help access, control and monitor everyday information and improve communication.

“The fully-integrated iPhone and iPad Mobile CRM App helps anyone working remotely. The app is designed to give instant access to essential information including company, contact and enquiry details whilst working away from the office. Enquiries can be viewed and updated in real time and addresses can be linked to iPhone satellite navigation systems—Google Maps, TomTom, and Navfree.

Dawn Safford of Shuttleworth says that printers need to think differently about managing digital print, using a more flexible MIS

“A new ‘Mobile Stock app’, helps the warehouse operators to receipt, transfer and issue both raw and finished stock on the move. The Mobile Stock works on an iPod/iPhone or iPad. Using the camera you can process stock transactions by scanning barcodes which minimises errors and also provides real time updates to the Stock records in the Shuttleworth MIS.”

Safford continues, highlighting some key stumbling blocks the company has managed to deal with: “The biggest change that we see at Shuttleworth is how to successfully manage profitable ‘digital print’. The workflow for managing digital print needs to be different. Having an MIS that is flexible and that can accommodate high and lower order values without affecting profitability, is crucial—it simply can’t be a one size fits all approach. This complexity can create a great challenge for the printer.

“Printers must think differently and manage digital work in alternative way to their other process streams. The key to dealing with ‘digital print’ successfully is to implement ways to reduce administration and duplication of keying in data.

Shuttleworth has been working particularly on integrating MIS and third party software in bespoke software packages for print companies

“The industry is also seeing an increase in demand for bespoke software to create seamless integration between MIS and third party software. Fine Print has recently linked its Prinect prepress and press modules with Papermule’s Digital Asset Management programme and Shuttleworth’s MIS.

“This integration now automates processes and has assisted to speed up the supply of proofs and finished work to Fine Print customers.

“Ultimately, in the future, the industry needs to be looking at new ways to respond to the ever-evolving digital age. The biggest implication for any printer is that the lead times will continue to get less and less. The only way to meet customers changing needs is by investing and keeping up-to-date with all the latest MIS technologies and the benefits these can bring to your business.”

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