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Focus On

Management Information Systems

While most print companies have a management information system, not everyone is taking advantage of this technology. Rob Fletcher looks at the solutions and sees how this can support growth

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Taking control?

When writing about management information systems (MIS), I cannot help but think back to my childhood and how my dad used to manage work in his own business.
Working as a French polisher, he would be faxed through work, note them down in various books, plan out his journey to jobs using a (printed) road map, carry out the job—be it polishing or repairing furniture—write up a report and then send this back to the company. Looking back, there was so much paperwork to juggle; faxes, receipts, reports, follow-up reports etc.

Nowadays, he does this all via a computer and the process is much simpler. This procedure of having to deal with copious amounts of paperwork will no doubt bring back memories for print companies, many of which have switched to some form of electronic MIS to help manage workflow.

However, there are still some companies that prefer the more traditional route. Here, we look at the advantages of switching to electronic means and speak with some of the leading MIS providers to find out more about their latest solutions in this field.

Connection perfection

Tharstern is one of several companies that can offer both advice and solutions in terms of MIS. Andrew Strand, business development manager, looks back at the journey MIS has taken over the years and the role it now plays within a print-service-provider (PSP).

Tharstern MIS features ‘Business Intelligence’, which the company says helps users to identify key trends

“MIS is no longer just a tool used by the customer facing teams to manage a handful of tasks such as raising estimates, job tickets, purchase orders, and delivery notes,” Strand says.

MIS is no longer just a tool used by the customer facing teams to manage a handful of tasks such as raising estimates, job tickets, purchase orders, and delivery notes

He continues: “It should now connect all the departments across the business from sales, client services, production, shop floor, warehousing and fulfilment, deliveries, accounts, and of course the exec team. A quality MIS product should allow you to take this journey of connectivity and increased efficiency across the business, an MIS with more limited functionality may well restrict how far you can go on this journey.

“Providing such a central backbone means that the reliance a PSP has on MIS is greater than ever before and its performance, stability, and reliability is critical to the success of the business.”

Leading on from this, Strand draws attention to the latest upgrades Tharstern has made to its own MIS in response to the changing demands of its customers. These include the addition of ‘Advanced Imposition’, which brings more power to multiple areas of Tharstern MIS including estimating and job management.

Strand says: “Advanced Imposition can be used as early as estimating to provide a competitive price for a client’s multi-product campaign or when considering individual jobs already booked in, where ganging them together will create efficiencies and cost savings in production.”

Tharstern has also made changes in terms of integration, with its MIS product able to integrate with the Job Watch mobile workforce management tool to manage a fleet of delivery vehicles. Enfocus Switch also adds a new dimension to automation with direct communication with the MIS and a workflow tool, while Tharstern now offers real-time integration with Xero accounts.

In addition, Business Intelligence enables agile reporting with visualisation of data across the whole business, which Strand says makes it easier to identify trends.

Control your business
Another company active in this market is Imprint MIS, which works with leading print brands such as Fujifilm, Kodak, Agfa, Heidelberg, HP, KBA, Horizon, Vpress, and Infigo to offer a full end-to-end solution to customers.

Wayne Beckett, sales director at Imprint, says that investment in a quality MIS will allow PSPs to truly understand their business.

Imprint MIS works with the likes of Fujifilm, Kodak, Agfa, Heidelberg, HP, KBA, Horizon, Vpress, and Infigo to offer a full end-to-end solution

Beckett expands: “Shorter run lengths and tighter margins means you need tighter control of jobs on the shop floor. Understanding ‘estimated’ verses ‘actual costs’ is the only way to know if you are making money. You should never be estimating your jobs and ‘guesstimating your profit’, and as we know, ‘turnover is vanity and profit is sanity’.”

In terms of the benefits of computer-based MIS, Beckett picks up on the subject of automation, saying that electric methods are the only way to feel the full advantage of this.

Beckett says: “Reducing touch points on a job is another way to improve your margins. Faster and more accurate estimating, automated job bags, tighter production scheduling, and auto invoicing can only help to increase a PSP’s profitability.

“In order to improve workflow Imprint-MIS is rapidly growing our integration base. We see full workflow automation as the future and the way for customers to maximise their profit.”

Elsewhere, Geoff Needham, chief executive of MIS provider Printlogic, also says that investment in a quality, computer-based system will allow PSPs to become more “efficient and effective”.

Needham explains: “A good system can improve your quoting process, help with the job scheduling and workflow, replace manual data entry, streamline production, and help to make better decisions. Small print shops will have completely different issues when compared to larger print companies or print brokers and MIS systems like Printlogic will cover that.

Printlogic says an MIS can improve quoting process, help with both job scheduling and workflow, replace manual data entry, streamline production, and help PSPs make better decisions

“An electronic MIS means you have historical data of jobs and orders on a single system; can produce quotes, job dockets, delivery dockets, and invoices with the click of a mouse; everyone in the company has the option to work on the same jobs, add information to them, or look at the data that is relevant to their position.”

The Printlogic MIS solution is a fully cloud-based system that Needham says is updated with new features on a regular basis, that users can download free-of-charge, and picks out a number of new features as having particular importance for PSPs.

Needham says: “One of the big upgrades that we are working on is The EU General Data Protection Regulation to make sure that all our customers are compliant with the new regulations and have all of their customer data encrypted. Our other new features are visual scheduling tool, option to capture shopfloor data with barcodes, and API integrations with new accounting software like Xero and Sage One.”

Pivotal investment

Meanwhile, Optimus has a number of MIS products in its portfolio, but Steve Richardson, sales director for the UK, Ireland, and Nordic, picks out one in particular in the form of Optimus dash. The solution includes various unique features, such as process driven MIS system, rather than a 100 percent, pre-determined fixed logic setup.

Optimus has a number of MIS solutions on offer and plans to unveil new developments at The Print Show this year

Other features of Optimus dash include ‘Sales Enquiry System’, which provides users with flexibility when estimating work, with the ability to do so at any time with any product. In addition, Richardson says that Optimus dash solutions are developed with lean manufacturing in mind, which he means “less keystrokes, and delivers a focused and relevant user experience”.

Richardson adds: “At Optimus, we would suggest that investing in a quality MIS is a pivotal investment. By removing unwanted steps, and error handling by delivering solid and reliable automation, a true MIS can liberate a PSP from the daily grind of repetitive manual day to day processes and tasks both in the office, the shop floor, and out on the road when seeing customers.

“The savings made by automation, can be substantial and ongoing if an MIS is set up and configured properly with that PSP in mind.”

Richardson also looks ahead to The Print Show this year, where Optimus will be unveiling new developments in MIS: “We have some new exciting developments that are forthcoming over the next few months; and we look forward to announcing more information specifically at The Print Show in September.”

Elsewhere, Accura MIS will also be using this year’s edition of The Print Show to roll out its newly enhanced CRM module and demonstrate other new features, such as Google G-Suite calendar integration, Google Drive support, multiple-staff calendars in one view, pop-up appointment reminders and alerts, SMS appointment reminders and broadcasting features, as well as new UI changes.

Accura has added carrier integration to its MIS so that users can receive live pricing, booking, labelling, and tracking of courier shipments

With new developments in mind Trevor Cocks, managing director of Accura, picks out some of the key benefits of electronic MIS: “In general, computer-based MIS offers one centralised database, with full visibility throughout the business. It also allows for the integration of modules to automate tasks and reduce to ‘touches’, as well as reduced admin time and staff hours.

“Other benefits include accurate hourly rates or costs and production times, true profit analysis, streamlined web ordering, real-time production planning and feedback, reduction of errors and waste, faster invoicing, and improved cashflow, as well as improved customer service and loyalty retention.”

O Factoid: Automotive tycoon, Henry Ford, is one of the founding fathers of the management information system, developing analogue methods to control his production lines. O

Focusing back on its own products, Cocks says that Accura recently added carrier integration to its MIS to further support users: “Printers can get live pricing, booking, labelling, and tracking of courier shipments via many of the national carriers such as Parcelforce, DPD, Interlink, DHL, and UPS/Fed Ex, without leaving the Accura UI or paying monthly subscriptions.”

Although perhaps not the most glamorous of print technologies, the benefits of investing in an MIS are undeniable and easy to see. The bottom line here seems to be that if you stick with traditional methods, you are placing unnecessary risk and strain on your business that could cost you in the long run. However, by investment in a quality MIS, you can transform the way you run your company and allow you to focus on bringing in new, profitable work.

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