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Need To Know

Management Information Systems – Part II

With further developments across the industry over the past year, Rob Fletcher looks at what is new with management information systems and finds out how this can help your business

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Imprint-MIS focuses its MIS developments on two key areas: system speed and ease of use, and reporting tools

Marvellous management

In what is now an extremely busy market, print-service-providers (PSPs) are on the lookout for any new kit, solutions and products that can help them gain an advantage over the competition. One of the most effective ways of doing this is by ensuring you are managing your business properly.

Management information systems (MIS) play a major role in the running of many modern PSPs, with these computerised solutions helping them keep track of the production process, as well as the overall running of their business.

Due to the fact that they are based on computers, MIS products are constantly being upgraded, with new updates being released on a regular basis. Whether it is new modules for certain parts of the software, or additional features to offer the user even more control, MIS is an area of great development. With this in mind, we pick out some of the latest advancements in MIS software.

Don’t stand still

Accura MIS is one developer that is committed to the approach of releasing new modules for its MIS products. Managing director Trevor Cocks says that MIS is the pivotal hub of a print operation as everything flows in and out of it. As such, PSPs should ensure the system they are using is up-to-date.

“Printers spend a lot of time evaluating the best MIS for their business, the best vendor, what support and upgrades they will be offered, what system offers the right combination of ease-of-use, features and return on investment, Cocks says.

“But the print industry doesn’t stand still, and neither do the needs and demands of clients. A five or ten-year-old MIS may still work, but does it meet the needs of the printer and their clients in the modern age? Printers should not settle for a ten-year-old MIS, anymore than they would consider buying a ten to 15-year-old press or workflow technology.”

Printers should not settle for a ten-year- old MIS, anymore than they would consider buying a ten to 15-year-old press or workflow technology

With this, Cocks highlights some of the latest development from Accura in terms of new and enhanced modules for its MIS software. First up is AccuraOnline, its e-commerce/web-to-print platform, which has been extended to support both B2B and B2C functionality. Cocks says this means that users can browse, get pricing, add to basket and purchase products online, and then sign up and pay online at checkout, rather than needing a pre-approved account.

“This encourages more consumer (hence B2C) buying and ad-hoc B2B business from new clients, rather than established customers,” Cocks says, adding: “New B2C specific functionality includes improved page design, customisable menu editor, product tiles, top feature products and/or product groups on the home page, advanced search and filtering.”

Also new from Accura is AccuraPOD, a new module in the form of an Android or iOS app that allows the printer to gather proof of delivery by digital signature, captured directly on the device.

Meanwhile, AccuraSHIP is a new module that allows PSPs to compare courier prices, live book a courier service, download and print barcoded parcel labels, and supply tracking data to the client. This is all done from within Accura using direct API access to courier servers, without any rekeying of data into third-party systems, which Cocks says helps to reduce errors and save time.

In addition, Accura now offers AccuraSYNC, a module that provides seamless, bi-directional integration with various accounting platforms.

Market trends

Another supplier able to offer advice and assistance is Imprint-MIS, whose chief executive, Glennys Bourne, says that any MIS should be continually developed and refreshed.

Imprint-MIS used The Print Show 2019 to unveil its new brand and latest MIS developments

Bourne comments: “In a fast moving consumer-driven world current trends are evolving on a daily basis. It is vital that companies keep abreast of market trends and make sure their systems are as up-to- date as possible.”

In terms of new developments, Bourne says these are split into two main areas: system speed and ease of use, and reporting tools. In the first instance, Bourne picks out the eXpert estimating tool, which immediately works out the most efficient way to produce and create a quotation letter without any loss making templates.

Bourne says: “The user can access the quote letter and check imposition layout complete with JDF information, or they can edit or convert to a job, while all of the necessary documentation is automatically produced.”

With its latest reporting tools, Bourne says its integral Report Generator allows reports to be created simply and quickly with no particular skill, while other innovations allow the reports to run live. Other developments have also been built in to allow reverse integration, allowing for fields to be edited in a report, but updated in the whole system. 

Bourne says: “Our ‘transparency’ module allows graphics, charts, graphs and cells to be combined into one window that runs live – it could be an accounts KPI but it could also be a view of the company’s entire factory floor showing the activity on every machine and in every department.  The tools are only limited by the user’s imagination.”

Other new developments in the pipeline at Imprint-MIS include a new browser-based, fully functional Shop Floor Data Capture module that can run on a tablet.  Imprint-MIS is also trialling an interactive web-based desktop that it said will be superior to any typical app.

Bourne adds: “Our systems are now able to load hundreds of small digital jobs in seconds onto the Imprint production board which then plans them intelligently.”

Ongoing development

Elsewhere, iteba SP has been developing its SolPrint MIS for 29 years from DOS to Windows, and now as a complete browser-based MIS. Managing director Peter Griffin says the system provides portable, cross-platform support, granting all stakeholders access to a database, which helps drive efficiencies and streamline process.
The latest version of the iteba MIS system is SolPrint v19, which Griffin says provides “unparalleled” automation and integration from client enquiry through estimating, production, despatch and invoice.

Griffin comments: “SolPrint is continually developed with the aim to improve efficiencies. The SolPrint API allows for integration with third-party systems covering client, supplier, production, courier and financial systems. As the run length and value of jobs reduce it is more important to automate process wherever possible and SolPrint v19 provides a solution for this.”

Features on v19 include the SolPrint warehousing/finished good stock module with integrated workflow management, which Griffin says provides graphical Amazon-style catalogues to drive client- based pricing and order management.

SolPrint is available as either a hosted cloud-based rental solution or a traditional purchased software option making it affordable to all.

Griffin adds: “If you continually develop the MIS, your business will benefit with the resulting cost and efficiency savings from automation.”

Meanwhile, Chris Burn, head of product at MIS specialist Tharstern, echoes this commitment, saying the developer is focused on bringing new technology to market to support its customers.

Burn says: “As cheesy as it may sound, time really is money when it comes to delaying investment in your MIS. If you have a system that is not up do date you are missing out on potential business savings for every month you delay an upgrade.

“Other companies keeping up-to-date are of course continually increasing their competitive advantage, creating a gap that becomes increasingly difficult to bridge. This holds true for upgrading an existing system or investing in a new one.”

Among the latest developments from Tharstern are Layout Library and Sheet Optimisation. Recognised as a ‘Red Hot Technology’ at Print 19, Layout Library allows companies to teach their MIS to automatically select the imposition layouts that they would have manually chosen, thus minimising the amount of time needed to correct imposition layouts which means saving time and money.

Sheet Optimisation enables users to create complex production ready layouts for variable sized rectangular and non-rectangular shapes from within Tharstern’s Estimating module. It seamlessly integrates with the IMP imposition tool from Insoft Automation, with estimators able to interact with IMP from within Tharstern Estimating.

Tharstern’s new Sheet Optimisation allows users to create complex production ready layouts for variable sized rectangular and non-rectangular shapes from within the Estimating module

Burn adds: “In the coming years, you’ll see lots of innovations that come from customers, and some pretty cool major module add-ons that we’ve identified as being important for the continued technological evolution of the printing industries. We have some major ones that we’re working on at the moment, so watch this space for announcements in the coming months.”

Turnkey solution

Elsewhere, Resolve Business Management represents three cloud-based platforms, with the aim of promoting the benefits of cloud-based Software-as-a-Service to PSPs. Joint managing director Wayne Beckett highlights Keyline – one of the platforms it works with – joining Heidelberg as one of the stand-out moments of 2019.

Wayne Beckett, joint managing director of Resolve Business Management, says the industry is beginning to gain an understanding of the benefits that software can bring to a print business

Beckett says: “Keyline is a revolutionary platform and it’s been hard to persuade customers to move away from all the manual tasks that they have been doing for many years, and to understand how an automated system like Keyline can improve margins.

“Manual input and the creation of things like jobs, job bags, ‘work to’ lists and job planning, that in a fast moving business are out of date as soon as they’re produced, is something that the industry has done for years and is no longer necessary.”

Resolve also works with Flex4, a cloud based web-to-print e-commerce platform this is just about to launch a full integration where customers do not have to spend hours setting up templates in both their MIS and web-to-print system. Beckett says this saves masses amounts of set-up time and will revolutionise MIS/W2P integration.

Meanwhile, Resolve is partnered with Complis, a cloud-based, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) system for the print management market. Beckett says Complis is highly customisable, can be tailored to deliver to specific customer requirements and is not restricted to any internal workflow or business sector.

O Factoid: An MIS is an information system used for decision-making, and for the coordination, control,
analysis, and visualization of information. 

In terms of the role Resolve plays, Beckett says: “Resolve offers a full turnkey solution, whereby we work with all the software providers involved in the workflow and project manage the installation.

He adds: “I think our industry is beginning to gain an understanding of the benefits that software can bring to their business. If you look at some of the fastest growing businesses in the print sector at the moment, you will see that they have implemented cloud-based software and are certainly ahead of the game in this area.”

Beckett’s closing comments sum up the value of an MIS; by having a quality system in place, you are putting your business in a solid position for growth. As Beckett says, industry understanding of the benefits of MIS is increasing, and with plenty of products to consider, there is a solution out there for businesses of all shapes and sizes.

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