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Business Opportunities

Management Information Systems

The world of management information systems (MIS) never stands still. Russ Hicks explores the state of play, and how the market is moving strongly towards platforms that can do it all under one roof

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Accura MIS prides itself on providing a seamless system that integrates MIS, CRM, and web-to-print functionality in one package

One ring to rule them ALL

Management information systems (MIS) play a key role in production for many print companies in the UK, and indeed across the wider industry. Such systems can help to not only manage the overall workflow, but also gives staff a clearer overview of how the process is running—including an insight into costs.

However, there are some that remain sceptical about the benefits of a traditional print-focused MIS, and are yet to take the plunge and invest. Some may have a system of their own in place, while others rely on other methods to manage their production process.

Here, we look at how print companies are using MIS to boost their business and pick out some of the latest products, and developments, in this sector to help those without an MIS see the wider benefits that this sort of system can offer.

We kick off with one highly-respected provider, Accura MIS, the founder and managing director of which, Trevor Cocks, is very clear about the challenges facing today’s printers looking to streamline their operations: “For a lot of people MIS came first and web-to-print came later. A lot of people had MIS even 20 years ago, without any web, and then it was static web, and at some point down the road they wanted to make their website functional and allow for web ordering—thus there was a need to connect their MIS to a web-to-print system.” 

Cocks continues: “They were likely forced to believe the hype and they were then in the hands of two software vendors that need to make it work between them. The reality is for a small printer, that is not technically savvy, they need to bring the resource in from outside. They then end up with two or three different parties, an open-ended project, a spec they don’t fully understand, and it often ends in a mess. A lot of their time and money is often wasted, and at best they will have a system that works just, instead of just works. Their biggest investment is time in this case, all of which they were trying to alleviate in the first place.”

With this challenge in mind, Accura MIS offers the three components of customer relationship management (CRM), MIS, and web-to-print, in one seamlessly packaged system. This really gives the firm an edge, as there are not many firms in this sector that can offer all three elements developed specifically to work together. It means they can class themselves as an ‘end-to-end’ provider, and Cocks explains its systems are designed for ease-of-use and speed of learning.

He concludes: “This is a big factor for small printers. They need to have their systems specified, staff trained, and everything to be bedded in and running without a hitch within a month.

“We have been doing this for 29 years now, and with 600 customers around the world, a specialism in SMEs—we don’t overreach, and customer facing staff that are all ex-print industry, we feel this is a very strong reason to work with Accura.”

Indeed, a case in point is Case 5 Digital from far off New Zealand. Its managing director, Shayne Marsh, could not be clearer about the impact of Accura’s technology: “Since implementing Accura 13 months ago, we now have a better system around how we generate a quote, specifically how the numbers come together using the cost-plus method.  We have a much more efficient use of account managers and estimators time, with clear instructions generated through the RFQ and then sent back to the rep as a quote.

“Using the quoting module as a sales tool has increased sales disciplines with the ability to easily monitor the status of each quote. Real time information becomes available like quotes vs jobs, which kind of work we are best at and how we structure our costs for specific clients. I would have no hesitation in recommending Accura.”

Measure and monitor

Long-standing MIS user Warwick Print has nothing but praise for its system. One of the first users to run an Imprint system with an all-digital press line-up when it signed up some four years ago, Warwick Print is part of the University of Warwick, and is its preferred supplier for business cards, posters, leaflets, booklets, and presentation documents created by digital presses and photocopiers.

Warwick Print’s four-year-old MIS package has recently been upgraded to the latest Imprint v.18. The operation uses EFI’s Digital Store Front to run an online web store for university users, interfacing into Imprint, and warwickprint.co.uk for external customers, who can log in, input job requirements, upload files, and make credit card payments before the details of the print task are passed on to Imprint.

Warwick Print recently updated its four-year-old MIS package to the latest Imprint v.18, featuring EFI’s Digital Store Front

The MIS then creates an electronic job bag and inserts uploaded files into hot folders for further pre-press actions—at least 40 percent of Warwick Print’s customers interface with the company through the online automated solutions. Imprint also generates reports for the finance team to integrate with SAP for the payment end of the deal.

Printing at Warwick Print takes place on two high-speed Canon colour devices, including the latest Canon 10000, two Canon and two Ricoh monochrome units. Imprint also assists in managing the litho-focused outwork for the operation, with job information easily forwarded to specific print partners via the ‘Request a Quotation’ menu on the system.

Craig Colledge, manager of Warwick Print, speaks highly of the Imprint system: “Prior to the arrival of Imprint we were sometimes being criticised internally for our delivery times. We can now measure and monitor turnaround times of upward of 1,000 jobs per month very accurately, and we know that 98 percent of orders are delivered on time, averaging just a one percent error rate.

“I can also generate very detailed reports for my monthly directors meeting, tracking work that is going through the factory, focusing on job life cycle, volume of work in hand, costs, and getting an instant check on profitability.”

The real strength of the system comes home to Colledge during the August/September period when students are submitting their dissertations for print—some 200 to 300 orders come in on a weekly basis and needing to be complete within a two-day period, as he explains: “It used to take us three days to book the work in. That now happens automatically, meaning that we can get straight into print action. The system works very effectively.”

With same day or next day delivery now the focus at Warwick Print, Colledge says that a live job board is an essential element of its Imprint system: “The screens on the shop floor show the real time job status for every job in the business.”

Wayne Beckett, sales and marketing director at Imprint, also says: “Literally hundreds of jobs a day come in from their own W2P site and are automatically dealt with by Imprint. We have developed a fully automated workflow at Warwick which means they can still return a profit on really low cost jobs, something that more and more digital printers are seeking.”

Elsewhere, Time Harvest has been one of the leading exponents of MIS for digital print for some time now, and has matured into a company providing a project management system focused on complex digital printing tasks.

Geoff Stephens, development director at the 14-year-old company, says that its products are suited to various types of print business: “Whilst some users employ Time Harvest to manage projects which are produced entirely in-house, others use the system for managing projects which are produced 100 percent externally, although the system is more frequently used for a mix of both. Time Harvest brings an extensive print knowledge to simplifying the stages of quoting and managing the production process within a print business. With different modules available to suit a printers budget, a flexible and personal approach has helped us to become a key business partner to our customers.”

A flexible and personal approach has helped us to become a key business partner to our customers

Fast-paced development

Indeed, nothing in print stands still for long, and MIS software products are no exception to this—continuous development is very much the order of the day. As a prime example of this, Tharstern, which has just released its Business Intelligence module, as sales director Lee Ward explains: “It is a smarter way for decision-makers to view their MIS data, uncover hidden trends and identify new opportunities.”

Tharstern recently unveiled its new ‘Business Intelligence’, ‘Advanced Imposition’, and ‘Courier Integration’ MIS modules

The other new modules on show were ‘Advanced Imposition’, which enables inexperienced users to quickly plan and create complex impositions at the click of a button; and ‘Courier Integration’, which allows users to initiate and track shipments through external courier companies, or manage company delivery vehicles.

Available from Tharstern, the Business Intelligence module helps decision-makers view their MIS data, identify hidden trends, and seek out new opportunities

“We started promoting these new modules in November last year and they’ve been available for release since the end of January 2017. The modules were requested by customers; we invite user feedback and hold regular focus groups to get thoughts and ideas,” explains Amanda Newman, marketing manager at Tharstern, who adds: “There have been two main items recently: a better way to gang and do more complex impositions, so they can save money or quote a cheaper price to the customer, and the ability to use the MIS more to get business performance numbers out of the system in a meaningful and easy to understand format.”

Back in the MIS game

Heidelberg has also recently returned to the MIS sector with ‘Prinect Business Manager’, which has been developed by CERN, a company absorbed into the Heidelberg Group back in 2011. Designed to offer greater administration, business and management efficiency, the MIS can be linked to Heidelberg’s Prinect production workflows, which the manufacturer says results in a system that can “maximise output, minimise waste and ensure a well-run and controlled printing operation.”

Paul Chamberlain, Prinect business driver at Heidelberg, expands: “Even the term MIS seems dated because rarely would printers use Business Manager as a standalone item. By linking it with other Prinect workflow products in a seamless and holistic workflow it has the potential to control all parts of the production process and to maximise production efficiency. It is a stepping stone to Industry 4.0 production.

Paul Chamberlain, Prinect business driver at Heidelberg, says the company’s new Prinect Business Manager can help printers optimise the efficiency of their machines

“Of course Business Manager will do all the quoting, estimating, billing, and CRM, invoicing, but it has much greater power because it can monitor and measure performance in production areas, providing real life and real time feedback. By identifying where and why productivity or quality issues arise, management can use the data to make better business decisions.

“It can enable printers to optimise the overall equipment efficiency of their machines and that may be due to factors which are not technology-related but perhaps down to logistical, resource, human or organisational issues. The current average press OEE is 25 percent and at Heidelberg we hope to help printers push that up to 50 percent.”

O Factoid: Trevor Cocks started Data Design Services from his bedroom. Programming his first piece of software as a favour to a friend in the print industry. That software has grown to be highly-respected Accura MIS and he no longer has to programme from his bedroom.  O

If your business is quaking under the pressure of an inefficient collection of software systems that have passed their sell-by date, then the evidence is certainly out there to prove that your pain is now quite unnecessary. Suffice to say, there really is now one ring to rule them all.

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