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Focus On

Management Information Systems

As print-service-providers seek to gain an advantage over competition, Rob Fletcher explores how the latest developments with management information systems can help with their mission

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Management Information Systems

Print-service-providers (PSPs) can invest thousands or even millions of pounds in new print hardware, but if they do not have the right software to back up this machinery, then it is unlikely that the kit will ever reach its full potential.

Management information systems (MIS) play a major role in modern print rooms, helping staff keep track of all the critical data with printed work and allowing them to retain control over the production process as a whole. Simply put, a quality MIS is an absolute must if you are to compete in the modern market.

Here, we look at some of the latest developments in the MIS sector and analyse how these advancements can help PSPs move ahead of the competition in what is now an extremely competitive market.

Heart of a business

Accura MIS specialises in the supply of MIS and other software solutions for the printing industry. Trevor Cocks, owner and founder of Accura MIS, says an MIS should be the heart of any print business, and keeping this heart healthy will ensure health and longevity.

Accura MIS says MIS should be integrated as part of a wider system that also includes CRM, web-to-print and accounting software

Cocks says: “When a printer finally makes the decision to invest in a print MIS - perhaps after long deliberation - that is a moment in time, a point in the development of their business, where their needs are fulfilled by the chosen MIS. But technology doesn’t stand still, and neither do print businesses.

“Buyers do not expect their systems to become redundant, they expect them to develop, grow and be supported by the vendor.  Moving forwards their business needs can change and they start to demand more from the MIS, more options, modules, features and flexibility to adapt to new markets.”

He adds: “A good quality MIS, and indeed MIS supplier, will be constantly developing its product in response to the changing industry and changing customer needs – drawing on experience with hundreds of clients for everyone’s benefit - keeping pace with what the market needs.”

With this, Cocks draws attention to the latest MIS offering from Accura MIS in the form of AccuraSync, which provides bi-directional integration from Accura to various accounting platforms including QuickBooks Online, Xero and MYOB.

Cocks says this module updates each system in real-time so that data does not have to be exported, imported or re-keyed. This includes data such as invoices, credits, account creation or updates, changes to credit limit or ‘on-stop’ status, while also updating invoice balances (owed) in real-time.

“This enables MIS users – who do not have access to the full accounting suite to check on client status, and invoice balances. AccuraSync is a one-time chargeable module for the Accura suite,” Cocks explains.

He continues: “The MIS has long been the heart of the business, not just an estimating tool and the Covid-19 lockdowns and disparate workforces working remotely has highlighted this more than ever. Many businesses have been operating on reduced staffing due to furlough and thus efficiencies and streamlining is more essential than ever.

The MIS is the umbilical cord between sales, production, and accounting

“The MIS is the umbilical cord between sales, production, and accounting. Furthermore, web-to-print as part of an integrated suite has become essential, not optional. The PSPs that have survived Covid best are those with strong online e-commerce platforms, giving clients 24/7 access, opening custom portals and storefronts for safety signage and workwear.”

Three decades of development

Another MIS available to print-service-providers is SolPrint. A browser-based MIS, SolPrint has been developed over the last 30 years by iteba SP.

The system is described as modular and offers support for all areas including customer facing shopfront, Web2Print, sales CRM, estimating, order processing, scheduling, SFDC (salesforce dot com), JDF/JMF integration, stock costing, invoicing, warehousing, and full accounting suite or links to a third party account system via the SolPrint API.

Depending on the individual PSP’s budget, users either can opt for SolPrint as a hosted cloud-based rental solution or they can purchase the software. The MIS is also available tailored to sectors of printing including digital, litho, web, screen, wide-format, and labels, and comes with a print buyer option for print management companies.
Peter Griffin, managing director of iteba SP, explains how the system is always being developed to help streamline processes and reduce costs.

He says: “The latest user Hubs have been designed to provide instant information for any user type (client, sales, production, commercial, quality assurance, management, supplier) via real-time graphical dashboards with drilldown support. Mobile optimised screens enable users to use the system from user-friendly interfaces regardless of device or location.

“A Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) allows for artwork to be centrally stored with customer online proofing providing one central source eliminating version issues. JDF integration with studio systems enable a streamlined process to manage work.”

Describing how these features can benefit print  businesses, Griffin cites the system’s ability to provide instant accurate information which in turn allows operators to make informed decisions and improve efficiency and as a result, boost profit.

He adds: “Automated client imports allow for quotes and jobs to be automatically generated with one quote able to combine products of different sizes, quantities and processes. In addition, finished stock items can be included on the quote allowing a complete proposal for the required work.”

What’s more, integration with the SolPrint API enables users to bring together diverse systems into a single business solution which removes the risk of duplication.

As well as improving the overall efficiency of a production process, SolPrint also offers a store profiling feature which print-service-providers and print management companies can offer to their large retail clients.

Griffin concludes: “This is used to drive print requirements and a campaign management tool manages each item’s progress from quote, proofing, production, to collation, packing and logistics with seamless integration with courier systems via the SolPrint API.”

Embrace technology

Elsewhere, Tharstern also has a number of MIS options available to the market. Amanda Newman, head of marketing at Tharstern, says that if 2020 taught us anything, it is that companies need to be agile and that critical business data needs to be accessible online.

Tharstern has announced a number of updates for its MIS products in recent months

“No matter what happens, we need to have things in place so that we can always access the important data that we have in our business, and to carry on engaging with our customers, no matter where we are located and even from home,” Newman says.

“What that essentially means is that companies need to make sure their technological systems are up to date, so that integrations work correctly, and information is passed to all aspects of the business. This is particularly true of a company’s MIS solution because it acts as the central hub of the production workflow, connecting all the other parts together.

“Technology is advancing at a rapid pace, and companies in all sectors have had to work hard to keep up. From our own experience working with our customers, we can see that it’s those companies that really embrace technology and actively seek new opportunities to implement it, that are leading the way in the industry and doing really well.”

Leading on from this, Newman highlights some of the latest developments during what he says have been an exciting few months at Tharstern. In July, the company announced a new MIS product for the labels sector – Tharstern Cloud for Labels – which will be available in Q1 of next year.

O Factoid: Tharstern works with more than 7,000 users across all sectors of print including digital, litho, large-format, and carton packaging O

Tharstern also launched a major update for its Tharstern MIS solution, based around the Remote Access Portal that Newman says has been designed for sales and account management teams to access their MIS remotely on any device and create estimates and orders and track jobs.
The Remote Access Portal on Tharstern MIS allows users to access their MIS remotely on any device

“The portal can also be used by our customers’ clients to self-serve, allowing them to create quotes and place orders themselves online,” Newman says.

In addition to this development, Tharstern has added new traceability functionality for enhanced quality control of both the product lifecycle and supply chain, smart packing and shipping features, and functionality to manage multi-location retail campaigns more easily.

Tharstern also moved over to a new software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscription model of pricing. This monthly SaaS approach is being adopted across the whole of the software industry and, according to Newman is the preferred model by most companies because it eliminates upfront costs and one-off payments for new products, tools and services.

“It was a natural evolution for our customers, who are used to this approach from the other more horizontal software products they use,” Newman says.

Achieve goals

Meanwhile, Solimar Systems can support MIS users across the UK printing industry with its Chemistry Platform, a modular set of solutions that Jonathan Malone-McGrew, its senior director of engagement, says can help users achieve greater efficiency and visibility in their processes.

“Our solutions are middleware and workflow solutions within the printing industry,” Malone-McGrew says, adding: “One of our latest innovations includes PDF optimisation solution ReadyPDF Prepress Server that helps both the print production and electronic creation and delivery process for the printer and in-plant printing centres.