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Need To Know

Management Information Systems - Part I

With management information systems commonplace in many print companies, Rob Fletcher looks at some of the latest developments with this software to see how this can further help print service providers boost business

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Take the lead

Management information systems (MIS) have had a huge impact on the way that many print service providers (PSPs) run their business. For many UK companies, gone are the days of stapling paper together and filing it in various places, with many have switched to digital techniques.

As PSPs become more used to these systems, they are looking to providers to see how they can enhance the software to further improve the way they can manage their business. Developers have responded strongly, with new updates coming to market all the time.

So what are some of the latest upgrades and product releases to keep an eye out for in the MIS market and how can they can help PSPs improve their business?

Take advantage

Available from Accura, the AccuraOnline v6 fully integrated B2B
e-commerce portal boasts enhanced B2C functionality to offer a public-
facing storefront

Accura is one of many developers championing the benefits of upgrading MIS in order to get the best out of software. Managing director Tevor Cocks says print businesses must adapt to remain competitive in the modern market, and this means embracing not new production technologies and software systems.

“MIS companies are consistently developing their software with new innovations all the time to improve automation and streamline processes,” Cocks explains, adding: “Printers need to take advantage of those changes to remain competitive, improve customer service, and provider a unique selling point, or risk falling behind and their business suffering.

“An example of this might be courier integration. Rather than book a courier using a third-party system, why not let the MIS talk directly to your courier and rate, book, and print labels for you?”

With this, Cocks draws attention to new developments from Accura, including a number of new modules to cater for the needs of the modern printer. AccuraPOD is billed as the ‘proof-of-delivery’ module, offering GPS tracking of drivers with SMS/email notifications for customers and signature image capture using the Detrack app provided.

Printers need to take advantage of those changes to remain competitive, improve customer service, and provider a unique selling point

AccuraSHIP with courier integration allows users to query and compare shipping rates from multiple carriers, then book directly, download barcoded labels and return a tracking link to customers. Meanwhile, AccuraSync provides full bi-directional background synchronisation of data between Accura and Xero or QuickBooks Online accounting systems.

The AccuraOnline v6 fully integrated B2B e-commerce portal now provides new enhanced B2C functionality to offer a public-facing storefront - with seamless client checkout and registration data flow to the Accura MIS. In addition, Accura has unveiled Accura360 as the new name for its fully integrated end-to-end solution featuring built-in customer relationship management, MIS and web-to-print.

Market evolution

Tharstern’s new Mobile Inventory feature allows users to manage
warehouse operations on the move via a mobile device

Elsewhere and Tharstern also offers computerised MIS systems to the printing market. Customer enrolment manager Ross Edwards says a modern MIS solution can make a company quicker and smarter by reducing the number of repetitive tasks and amount of manual admin in a workflow.

However, Edwards also says it is crucial for PSPs to update their MIS in order to enjoy the full benefits. He says: “It doesn’t just stop at investing money in an MIS. It’s crucial that they invest time and energy into getting their MIS set up correctly and once the system is set up, it needs to be kept up to date, to make sure they’re getting a good return on investment.

“Standing still with your technology and MIS can be detrimental to your business. It can mean that you’re missing out on opportunities to become more efficient, which often means you can’t offer the most competitive prices to your customers.”

Edwards says Tharstern is fully committed to bringing new updates to market, highlighting how at the start of the year, it released three new features in the form of Direct Mail, Installation Services and Mobile Inventory.

Standing still with your technology and MIS can be detrimental to your business

The Direct Mail tool allows estimators to quote for and manage all aspects of a direct mail project, including drops/cells, supplied goods and separate invoicing for postage. 

Meanwhile, as large-format or signage jobs often require installation services, Tharstern has developed the Installation Services. This is available alongside art-working, design, accommodation and mileage, as well as the print estimate so that users can more accurately quote for jobs.

In addition, Mobile Inventory, is a tool that uses a smartphone, tablet or scanner device to manage warehouse operations on the move. Edwards explains: “All data and statuses can be fed back into the MIS in real time and give complete transparency of your warehouse operations.”

O Factoid: Tharstern added three new features to its MIS this year: Direct Mail, Installation Services and Mobile Inventory.O

Evolving sector

Crispy Mountain, the company behind the Keyline MIS, merged with
Heidelberg last year

A provider that has a good relationship with Tharstern is Vpress. In December of last year, Vpress launched bi-directional RFQ (Request for Quotes) into the Tharstern MIS environment, meaning anyone from anywhere in any language on any device may request a live price from Tharstern.

Kelvin Bell, sales director at Vpress, comments: “This compliments other levels of integration we have done in the past bringing MIS and web-to-print close together.

“We also integrated into the primary software-as-a-service (or Cloud MIS) solution; Avanti Slingshot showing dynamic packaging and labels being created at the Print Show, on stand for people to walk away with. A total end to end affordable solution with rapid deployment.

“In addition, we have plans to add pre-flighting of submitted jobs into both Slingshot and Tharstern to provide instant pricing 24/7.”

Bell leads on from this to outline the primary benefits of PSPs upgrading an MIS so that they have access to the latest features. He says: “Print is an evolving sector in technologies utilised, processes a adhered to as well as substrates involved, a good MIS is a solution to aid the business is all facets of operation to support efficiency, scalability and most importantly profitability.

“As the market migrates to the cloud, other key benefits are offered giving business new dimensions in a diverse market to support multi-site operations and great efficiency.”

Importance of automation

Looking elsewhere and Resolve Business Management is able to work with PSPs to identify the MIS that would best suit their company. Joint managing director Wayne Beckett says software nowadays is all about connectivity, and having a stand-alone system defeats the object of a good MIS.

Beckett expands: “Software needs to cut down manual tasks, it needs to fully automate the production path and most importantly, needs to reduce touch points on a job. We all know run lengths are coming down and in turn margins too, so PSPs need to be able to handle hundreds or maybe thousands of jobs a day without having to manually input anything.”

One of the MIS providers Resolve works with is Keyline, whose creator, Crispy Mountain, merged with Heidelberg last year to further evolve the product, with the over-arching aim of developing a collaboration platform for the print sector.

PSPs need to be able to handle hundreds or maybe thousands of jobs a day without having to manually input anything

Key benefits of this platform, Beckett says, will be easier data exchange between existing on-premise MIS software, new cloud-based apps supplying functions like workflow, pre-flight and scheduling, as well as machine integration via an industry-wide open IoT platform.

Beckett says: “The existing Keyline product will be tightly connected and it is the hope of the Crispy team that other MIS vendors will follow suit and integrate their systems with the platform as well, giving PSPs a large range of solutions to chose from. Finally, a fully electronic procurement system will be part of the platform that allows easier and more traceable access to consumables.”

Achieve more

Also active in this sector is Imprint Business Systems, whose project manager, Peter Horwood, says if a PSP is paying for a system it makes sense to get the most out of it, including keeping it up to date.

Horwood says: “It’s a simple analogy but it’s like buying a new car, then never replacing it, and wondering why other people have all the modern features and you don’t.

“Everyone wants to achieve a better level of automation and integration within their system. The reality is this end goal is not reached without putting in the work and a good MIS partner should be able to guide you through what is achievable.

It’s a simple analogy but it’s like buying a new car, then never replacing it, and wondering why other people have all the modern features and you don’t

“This is an ongoing process of helping to identify where savings can be made within a business and touch points can be reduced. No matter how much people want an “out the box” or “just plug it in” system, a truly effective MIS needs to be set up and configured to suit a company’s needs in order to deliver their return on investment.”

With this, Horwood says that as a bespoke MIS with tailored solutions, Imprint is always evolving and developing new features, as well as integrating with other systems. Recent examples include new Integrated Carton design features, which allow non-cad operators to generate carton layouts.

Also from Imprint, its quick estimating module with optional price listing allows for quick price list style picking, which Horwood explains is particularly useful for multi-component jobs and direct mail.

Imprint also recently added automated production control loading. Horwood says that this allows hundreds of digital jobs to be loaded automatically onto the production board from B2B, web-to-print or internally. Other MIS components handle auto despatch and invoicing large numbers of small or large jobs.

Deliver savings

Meanwhile, iteba has seen success in the print market via its SolPrint MIS, with managing director Peter Griffin saying that upgrades are vital if PSPs are to keep up with developments elsewhere.

Griffin expands: “Systems need to be seamlessly integrated, portable and flexible whilst providing secure, reliable business and management support. Technology is continually moving forward, enabling companies to extend the reach of their system with the MIS now encompassing studio, shop floor, customers, suppliers and sales within the one environment.

“As the print market continues to move to shorter runs, automation is key to eliminating administration costs and keeping jobs profitable. A good MIS will provide the foundation to deliver savings and streamline process.”

Looking at the latest advances with SolPrint, Griffin picks out a number of recent advances. These include SolPrint Estimating, which he says will de-skill and automate the estimating process, with items being configured so that complex items are directed to an experienced estimator and other items automatically calculated and pre-defined pricing agreements applied.

A good MIS will provide the foundation to deliver savings and streamline process

SolPrint Scheduling has also been developed to deliver speed improvements on previous Windows versions, while a new Production Control Centre allows for real-time views of the current work to be shared with the business. Real-time updates are fed back to the schedule and the board dynamically updated to reflect performance issues and the knock-on effect highlighted.

Griffin says: “As the system moves to engaging with more external users, SolPrint MIS has been developed to allow for external stakeholders to update the system without the need to login with embedded email actions forming part of the latest developments.”

From speaking with some of the leading providers in the market, it is clear that by upgrading your MIS on a regular basis, and accessing the latest features as a result, this will be of significant benefit to your entre business.

If you have an interesting story or a view on this news, then please e-mail news@printmonthly.co.uk

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