Is it time to choose a new printing MIS? 5 expert recommendations
I have worked with ERP systems for many years. During that time, I have worked with companies in every imaginable industry. Although I was exposed to graphic arts manufacturing through an envelope manufacturer over 15 years ago, I really didn’t know much about printing until recently.
Since 2017 I have had a pretty intense education in all (or at least many) things related to print manufacturing. This is because we started selling a print MIS system called PrintVis for Business Central, and frankly, we’ve been overwhelmed by the response.
During my career, I’ve seen things get done well and not so well with ERP implementations. ERP (more commonly called Print MIS in this industry), is generally a combination of production, estimating, and accounting software. The good ones also have kitting, inventory management, Web2Print integration, JDF, and production. Here are 5 recommendations I can make to get the most out of your Print MIS system, no matter which one:
1 – Template-based estimate
A good print MIS should enable you to quote faster and more accurately.
I have read academic studies that show that the faster a quote gets to a customer, the more likely a sale will be made. More companies buy the first quote they receive than all the others combined. This is really important for a printer manufacturer, especially a commercial printer.
When you don’t have the right software, it means you’re in a rush to get the quote. The result, some quotes are going to be wrong by a few percent. That can have a devastating impact when the error is in the wrong direction with large numbers.
In fact, these mistakes are so risky in today’s low-margin environment that the pressure on management is to take the time to make sure the listing is correct. Also, the risk of losing the order is so high that the pressure is to rush the price. You can see the problem!
Even those companies that have invested in Print MIS struggle with this. In fact, we often see very slow delivery of quotes.
This is often because older MIS systems were not designed for modern print manufacturing. Digital printing, kitting, fulfillment… all of these requirements exist today that really didn’t exist 20 years ago.
Most Print MIS systems were based on technology designs before these production needs existed. An estimator’s job is increasingly difficult and he or she has to make adjustments to account for non-compliant processes.
There is newer print MIS software (like the one I sell, PrintVis) that is based on modern ERP platforms. Whether it’s Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Epicor… these technologies are more current and flexible.
This problem with old MIS systems is not unique to printing. We have seen it in sign making, workshops, production, etc. Old technology that just hasn’t kept up.
Newer MIS systems introduce more flexible ways to create quotes. Often this is with a set of rules or a product model. In the PrintVis system, this is called modelwhich is a pre-built estimate that just needs some data to finish.
Templates (or rule sets or models) really help all quotes. Whether simple or complex, the template is a starting point to speed estimation. Studies have found that this approach reduces the time spent by up to 75%. Any good print MIS should also increase accuracy, automatically using the latest prices from vendors.
2-Automated customer integration
Web2Print is to the printing world what eCommerce is to more traditional manufacturing. Basically a website for ordering products and keeping track of shipments, invoices, etc.
Many small print shops end up with corporate accounts, and most of them prefer Web2Print over an order desk.
You can get a “standalone” Web2Print, but if you integrate the website with a print MIS like Print Vis, you’ll have a huge advantage over your competitors.
A corporate customer choosing between a provider with or without Web2Print sites will almost always choose the former.
If you are a small commercial print manufacturer and have the correct print MIS, this can be a huge advantage.
Web2Print solutions have their place with small corporate businesses, but larger business buyers want the next level: EDI.
EDI is a fairly advanced technology intended to send data between ERP systems by sending files back and forth over a network. Not many Print MIS systems do this well. Printing is much more complex than simply ordering a quantity of a standard item. You may need to submit a copy of a business card, perhaps an image, media, sizes, and other features.
XML files are typically used for this type of EDI file transfer involving print manufacturing. These special text files are designed to send more complicated information between computer systems. XML files can greatly improve efficiency when entered directly into orders.
JDF is a special type of XML used by most of the major manufacturers and software providers in the printing industry. This is a must for any MIS system you choose.
Look for an MIS system that supports these three technologies: Web2Print stores; XML and EDI data interchange; and finally JDF, which is a must for advanced MIS.
3 – Prepress billing recovered
You want to make sure you are billing for every possible dollar in today’s market. One area I personally struggle with is getting staff to report the time we need to bill for the little incidental things. This is especially true in prepress printmaking.
One of the things that impressed me about PrintVis was the support for charging for this billable time. Help users to track it, easily and simply. It also separates the decision to bill from the user. I think this is key.
Our staff want to provide the best customer service possible and often think that doing things “for free” is the same thing. Clients are more than willing to pay for value-added work, and getting that information from your MIS is key to maximizing your margins.
A typical case is expecting a print-ready PDF only to get a bunch of messy, half-organized jpegs with edits and notes in a Word document. We need to make sure we collect and then bill the time to fix this (or send it back to the client to do it).
Obviously, we want to track and control time on presses and finishing to calculate the cost of the job. Separating errors caused by customers so we can bill them is just as important. A print MIS should allow a press operator to report rejects caused by a variety of issues. Defective waste paper must be returned to a supplier. Scrap should also be charged for a plate error because a customer forgot the correct phone number. Top performing companies track every deviation and make sure they control the entire process with software like PrintVis.
Be very clear in your quotes to clients that fees related to prepress and errors will be assessed. Make sure you have a good workflow to build control into the system. Your customers are usually happy to pay for additional services that make sense to them.
And make sure your print MIS supports all of this data collection!
4 – Inventory Management and Control
Coming from a more “traditional” ERP environment, I am always amazed at how poorly most print MIS systems handle inventory. With Dynamics 365 Business Central and most other major ERPs, inventory is a core module. It really seems like an afterthought in more than a few print MIS systems.
There are many types of inventory that really need control in print manufacturing. The most obvious is substrate inventory, as this is typically the largest material cost they have. Commercial printers claim they always shop for the job, but the reality is most wish they could buy in bulk to save money.
Lean manufacturing principles teach that no inventory on hand is the perfect environment, but this is not very realistic. Many types of graphic arts manufacturing require raw materials to be in stock.
The best performing companies are able to manage inventory and minimize total levels while maximizing production. A good print MIS is capable of doing this well.
In Business Central (for example), item forecasting and batch purchasing reduce costs by taking advantage of purchase price rebates. You can even save on transportation costs if you organize your purchases better. We often train planning departments to make purchases economically efficient and maximize profits.
High-end print MIS supports material resource planning like that found in most mainline ERP systems. MRP is a tool designed to optimize the cost of inventory.
5 – Clean Data and Modern Systems
Graphic arts fabricators really need good, accurate data in their system to achieve most of the first 4 recommendations. When I meet with companies looking at new ERP/MIS systems, what I usually see is a lot of data challenges. To maximize our business, we need to collect the right information, analyze it, and make sure it’s accurate.
Companies that let their systems get out of control see huge additional costs (remember, time is money). Companies that think of data maintenance as a cost and not an investment are always left behind. The best companies take their print ERP or MIS system and turn it into a competitive advantage.
Old and difficult to use systems are often the cause of this. The effort to maintain the data is much higher than in a modern system. Being able to update data with MS Excel in an easy and efficient way is how almost all modern systems work. The ability to export, correct and synchronize data is essential.
You want your business to be the best it can be. If you have been in business for a long time, you know that this is not an easy thing to do. That’s particularly true if you don’t have great tools to work with.
When your existing, old and outdated MIS system is holding you back, then it’s time to look for something new. Be sure to select a modern MIS system that is based on 21st century technology and is going to be around for a long time. Obviously I’m a fan of PrintVisbut there are other top-tier MIS systems you should consider.
Once you choose the print MIS that’s right for you, you’ll also need a great partner to help you use and implement an MIS.
If the MIS/ERP implementation company does not follow modern “cloud-ready” implementation methods; knows your industry as well as you do; bring best practices to the table; and is flexible and ready to help, then you should look elsewhere.
The consultants you choose should understand these and other recommendations and be able to help you put them into practice, easily and simply.