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Focus On

Management Information Systems (Pt 2)

In today’s fast-paced world, most print businesses could not survive without their management information systems lighting the way. Harriet Gordon takes a look at this important sector

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Most print businesses today are reliant on management information systems lighting the way

A guiding light

Digital printing and the internet as a distribution channel has dramatically changed the print industry over the past two decades. The trend toward ever-shorter print runs means that the number of jobs to be processed is on the rise, while administrative costs per print job remain the same or even increase.

Money is no longer earned through high margins in the production of high print runs; the added value lies in related processes and their efficiency before and after printing. Without central management and control of all stages of print job processing, the daily routine of a modern print shop can scarcely be mastered. This is where management information systems come into play.

The range of MIS’ available for the printing industry has grown significantly. Printers have an abundance of choice as they determine which system will best meet their specific requirements, which ones can be implemented quickly and easily, and which will be the most easily accepted by users. Businesses must also consider which system will be the most future-proof and capable of adapting to the ever-changing requirements of a printing house.

In view of the large number of solutions available, what should print shops do to find an application that suits their needs?

Process management

Matthias Prinz of German firm Crispy Mountain, developer of the management information system Keyline, explains what printers should consider when selecting and implementing such a solution: “Up to now, MI systems were primarily geared to calculate quotes. In a modern printing company, however, the MIS should keep its users fully informed about all processes within the company at all times – the MIS becomes the single point of truth.

“Gone are the days when ‘monolithic’ applications could be expected to solve everything on their own. Such programmes might be powerful, but because they are also rigid, flexibly adapting to new tasks and requirements is practically impossible. Moreover, they usually represent a considerable investment and entail high follow-up costs for security updates, service packs, maintenance and support.”

Gone are the days when ‘monolithic’ applications could be expected to solve everything on their own


Prinz says Keyline is a unique software designed specifically for today’s printers. The firm put ease-of-use at the fore, claiming the system’s extensive APIs and simple user interface future proofs your business.

Prinz continues: “Due to increased requirements, legacy systems have typically become very complex. Preparing quotations even for simple print orders is often very tedious. A modern MIS, on the other hand, allows orders of any complexity to be calculated efficiently and quickly, thanks to a user-friendly interface and streamlined processes.

“Even more crippling is the lack of connectivity of such legacy systems. They cannot be adequately integrated with other software solutions and machinery in the prepress, production and finishing processes. This is essential for the urgently needed digital transformation of printing operations that must include all process levels and machines.

“The alternative is to rely on a networked infrastructure consisting of severalsatellites that are seamlessly integrated with one another. These could be other software applications, such as shop systems, accounting programs, Enfocus Switch, workflow solutions, special applications for calculating of printing forms or even the machinery for prepress, printing and finishing. All of these units are constantly passing information back and forth.

As the central data hub, the MIS receives and forwards data. It also functions as the mediator between the processes and thus forms the foundation for a smart print shop.

Sage advice

Another company well-versed on the benefits and requirements of MIS is Heidelberg. The MIS Prinect Business Manager was developed following Heidelberg’s acquisition of CERM in Belgium, an established software company, seven years ago.

Prinect Business Manager from Heidelberg is a MIS that will grow alongside the business


Paul Chamberlain, Prinect product specialist at Heidelberg UK, gives us the low-down on the system: “Heidelberg’s own product is Prinect Business Manager and it is a great MIS for companies wanting to use a system that will grow with their business. Business Manager offers all commercial printers a highly intuitive and scalable MIS route which can be tailored to the specific needs of the business. In the UK, where there is an established base of very good MIS suppliers, we also work with third parties like Tharstern and Shuttleworth.”

Paul Chamberlain of Heidelberg claims a good MIS system will equip a printer to run at full capacity and make sound business decisions based on real time information


He continues: “A good MIS system will equip a printer to run at full capacity and make sound business decisions based on real time information. The advantage of the Prinect Business Manager is that it can link in to all the Prinect workflow modules offered by Heidelberg, meaning accurate data could be taken to equipment throughout the plant (both litho and digital presses and extending even to postpress functions) and real time data fed back so that business decisions are formulated on real time, real life activity.

Chamberlain suggests talking to existing users of the MIS about the system’s pros and cons before making the decision to invest


“The scalability of Business Manager means that it could be used for a single-seat job estimating role right up to offering multi-user sites and full integration with estimating, production and materials management, accounting and logistics. It can even facilitate central warehouse and shipping management. By simplifying job processing printers can respond. Heidelberg benchmarks the performance of equipment and as such is in a unique position to help its customers ensure its productivity and profitability is optimised.”

Heidelberg is known within print as an industry powerhouse: is this MIS designed mostly for similarly gargantuan print businesses, or is it suitable for smaller companies as well? According to Chamberlain, the system is scalable so can grow with the business: “It is designed for ease-of-use and would be an ideal first step for a printer wanting to automate their service and have more accurate costing and estimating.”

One company which caters particularly to the small to medium-sized business is Flex4. Its solution is OPS (Online Print Solution) and can be used to sell print to the general public (B2C) or through private storefronts (B2B).

Managing director David Whitely explains this back-office system allows customers and orders to be managed and can produce reports showing orders by status. In itself this provides basic MIS functionality, but there is also the option of integration with their MIS using either hot folders or an API.

Whiteley continues: “All printers have the same needs when it comes to quoting and receiving managing print orders. As mentioned already a small printer could opt to use our OPS back-office system, possibly integrated with their accounting software (e.g. Sage One or Xero). Online MIS systems are becoming available and these are more affordable for the smaller printer, although generally it tends to be medium and large printers that have deployed MIS systems in the past.

“Many existing MIS’ are based on old technology which can be costly to deploy and support. These systems tend to be inflexible, making it difficult for them to adapt to changing needs. By contrast, newer online solutions are lower in cost, easier to deploy and can adapt more quickly when needs change.”

Take heed

Matthias Prinz of Keyline MIS also points to flexibility and openness as key in the modern age of MIS. He explains: “Openness is indispensable for automation. The most important requirement of a modern software solution is therefore its openness. Support for open standard technologies and interfaces ensures that the application can be seamlessly integrated into any environment.

Matthias Prinz of Keyline MIS says flexibility and openness are key for MIS, as this ensures the application can be seamlessly integrated into any environment


“With the MIS keeping an eye on everything, the acceptance and checking of print data and, if the data is correct, releasing the job and forwarding it to production can be fully automated.”

This openness is also key to offer customers additional services including self-service portals, Web2Print and more. This requires interfaces enabling such integrations in an easy way.

Software is a service nowadays. In light of today’s fast-moving printing industry, it’s necessary to further develop the software in a highly flexible manner. This usually works best when the respective solution is operated on a software-as-a-service (SaaS) basis. This also provides business benefits compared with investing in an application installed locally, since monthly instalments are transparent and are considered operating expenses.

Prinz continues: “And, because a SaaS service runs in the cloud, it requires no local servers, which again would require maintenance, and the responsibility for the smooth operation of the application lies with its provider.”

As with any change to a business, implementing a new MIS can involve risks, and research needs to be carried out before taking the plunge. Heidelberg’s Chamberlain identifies key issues printers should take into account when choosing an MIS: “First, check the connectivity with other workflows. Make sure the system is truly CIP 4 compatible and has proven credentials in the market. You must also be sure that well trained individuals will implement the installation, development and training: ask for a timescale because MIS systems are not plug and play.

O Factoid: MIS’ represents the electronic automation of different kinds of counting, tallying, record-keeping and accounting techniques, the oldest of which was the ledger on which the business owner kept track of his or her business. O


“I would also talk to existing users and find out what they find good and bad about the system and the support they get from the supplier. You need to be certain the system will grow with your business as you diversify or expand sales. Look at what it can offer your business but also how it will enhance the service you give your customers. Finally, check the safety credentials of the system to ensure there is security of information—different levels of access to information depending on the role or seniority of the person.”

Prinz concurs, adding that a successful implementation should involve the team right from the beginning: “Employees can feel attached to familiar processes, even if they are not the most efficient. New software often cannot map this and can thus be perceived as an obstacle. In this case, persuasion is necessary.”

He continues: “Although a quick implementation should naturally be sought, businesses must be aware that such far-reaching and sustainable change cannot be achieved in a couple of days. Along with the lack of employee involvement, unrealistic goals and scheduling are the most common reasons for the failure of such implementation projects. The advantages of modern approaches within the SaaS model are also evident in project implementation. Instead of taking weeks just to gather the requirements, the users are typically involved at an early stage and the configuration is improved step by step.”

A carefully implemented and integrated management information system helps print businesses optimise the flexibility and efficiency of their processes in previously unimagined ways


While there are undoubtedly many points to the consider before investing, the consensus is clear: MIS is the future for any company serious about growing or developing its business. Prinz concludes: “A carefully implemented and integrated management information system helps print businesses optimise the flexibility and efficiency of their processes in previously unimagined ways. As a result, the MIS becomes an important prerequisite for securing the competitiveness and future viability of printing companies.”


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