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Trade Comment

Management Information Systems

Brendan Perring asks: “Many in our industry still see management information systems (MIS) as a dark art; what would you say about how it could tangibly help improve their business?”

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Wayne Beckett, sales and marketing director, Imprint-MIS

Collecting data

MIS systems are looked at in different ways by different people; in my opinion, an MIS should be viewed as a way of getting a better understanding as to what is going on in a business.

Obviously, things like web-to-print integration, accurate quick estimating, pre-press automation, workflow, production control, and auto invoicing, are aspects of having a good MIS that speak for themselves. In my opinion, the real benefit is getting actual and accurate costs on every job a print-service-provider runs.

When a job is created in Imprint, the system automatically generates a cost sheet that contains all the estimated costs for that job. Then, as the job moves around the shop floor, actual costs are added by either JDF/JMF or our own SentinelNet machine monitoring system straight from the machines, or alternatively this data can be collected via our Shop Floor Data Capture system.

This data can include actual waste, machine times and speeds, and material used and can be easily compared to the estimated data. Daily, weekly, or monthly estimates to actual cost reports can then be produced, highlighting where actual have exceeded estimated costs.

In my opinion, the real benefit is getting actual and accurate costs on every job a print-service-provider runs

The advantages of collecting this data is that users know the actual margin on every job, which I think most people will agree is very important in today’s market.

Whether you are running a multi-million web job or 50 two-colour business cards, if you know your actual costs, you can be far more competitive or even move away from that type of work altogether.

I believe that in today’s market, this type of information is becoming more and more important. Estimating jobs and guesstimating profit is a thing of the past—accurate cost data allows our customers to be more targeted in the type of work they take on and also gives them the option to tweak estimates if required, to be more competitive.

Get intimate with MIS

Lee Ward, sales director, Tharstern MIS

Nobody should see MIS as a dark art; it is there to shed light on everything, and the more people and departments that use it in a business, the more light it sheds. It is only a dark art if you leave it in a dark corner without using it properly. 

As it has developed over the last few decades, MIS is reaching into more areas of a print business, and giving greater transparency to owners and executive teams. MIS vendors have recognised that the best value we can provide our customers is to take all the information that is collected in their MIS and make it as easy to access as possible for them to access it in a meaningful way. 

That is why the latest improvements have all been about business intelligence—giving our customers an easy way to access all this data in their MIS and have it presented in a way that highlights problems or opportunities, which lets them analyse relationships and uncover hidden trends. The printing industry is way ahead of most other industries in this way; most other types of businesses do not have the luxury of something as comprehensive as this.

Nobody should see MIS as a dark art; it is there to shed light on everything

For those who do still think of it as a dark art, this is our advice—get intimate with your MIS. Take the set-up process seriously, put time aside to come up with the data you put into it. Make sure it is accurate, because that is how you will get the most value out of it.
Get involved in any training to see how the processes will work for your team and help set up the product templates in your estimating process. Get to know your MIS and you will know how it works, there will be no secrets, and, at the end of it, you will have learned lots of valuable information about your own business and how to improve its prospects.

Value of systems

Geoff Needham, chief executive, Wildcard Software

In my opinion, MIS is a poor acronym for what these type of systems do. I think they would be better called Printing Business Management Systems, as what they do is to help you run a print business.

The print industry still sees MIS as a dark art because most MIS companies speak about their systems in superlatives and buzz words. MIS systems are often perceived as complicated and cumbersome programs that are hard to understand, just a select few employees use and only large print companies have.

However, big companies know the value of systems and procedures, and that is the reason they use MIS, but the same benefits would equally accrue to small and medium size print businesses. Why not have a dedicated system in place, where staff can do estimating, have the platform to automate outsourcing of jobs, create works and delivery dockets, and purchase orders and invoices with the few clicks of the mouse? Not to mention a platform to manage internal production and see various reports.

MIS systems are often perceived as complicated and cumbersome programs that are hard to understand

Having a system means not only cutting down on admin time, but increasing the value of your business, because you will be able to identify your best customers quickly, tackle problem areas in production, and improve processes that already work well. Also, it will make it easier when new staff join as there will be a system in place to follow.

At Printlogic, we do not talk buzz words and hyperbole; we talk in terms of pricing work, sending quotes, delivery labels, job dockets, and emailing invoices. We also get our hands dirty; we will help to set the system up with you—not just sell it to you and leave you on your own—and five years down the line, we will still be eager to help.

Printlogic is an entirely cloud-based software that can be operated from PC, Mac, and mobile devices. Our system is so easy, simple, and intuitive, even people not associated with the print industry can do estimating. We offer free training because it is so easy to get to grips with.

Blowing the roof off MIS

David Whiteley, managing director, Flex4

In our experience, printers are usually very busy people and, like all businesses, they need to win more orders and have systems in place to make sure these orders are handled as efficiently as possible.

MIS systems are usually modular and this allows a printer to pick and choose just the bits of an MIS system that are most relevant to their business. Typically, there are modules for estimating, scheduling, job management, invoicing, customer relationship management (CRM), and stock control—as well as some that offer integrated web-to-print software.

Most MIS systems help with the management of orders that are received, however our Online Print Store (OPS) system goes further by also providing a powerful website that combines e-commerce with web-to-print and can be deployed either as a public access website, or using private client storefronts.

A public access OPS website, when combined with digital marketing services, is a proven way for a printer to generate more enquiries and orders from the online print marketplace. When asked recently one of our customers said that since the website was launched, the number of telephone enquiries had literally ‘gone through the roof’.

A private web-to-print storefront helps printers retain important customers by providing them with easy online ordering, and this also benefits the printer by streamlining order processing and pre-print work.

One of our customers said that since the website was launched the number of telephone enquiries had literally ‘gone through the roof’.

Many of our customers also use our price calculation functionality to make it easier for them, or their staff to provide quotes more quickly and easily. Another OPS module even provides a quotation system that helps to streamline the entire process of handling enquiries and provides a way for customers to pay online and upfront.

OPS is not all about winning new business though, it also includes a powerful back-office system that makes it easy to enter and manage any order, whether it was placed online or as a result of a telephone or email order. Recently we have also added stock control, and we are happy to discuss adding any other requirements a print or design business might have.

So, if a printer wants to improve their business prospects and have an easier life, an MIS system is definitely worth investigating further. In my view, the best option is OPS from Flex4, but I would say that, wouldn’t I?

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