If the press is the beating heart of any printing operation, and ink and paper its lifeblood, then software is its DNA – shaping its processes, defining how it all works, ensuring everything develops just so. Jake Nelson speaks to experts on how to find the management information system (MIS) software that’s right for you.
Printers are always after the latest and greatest presses, platemakers, finishing machines and so on – but that’s only one piece of the print puzzle. Software is also key to ensuring your business succeeds, according to Nicola Bisset, group managing director at software developer Optimus.
“A well implemented MIS can literally transform a printer’s business and can significantly improve efficiency and profitability,” she says. “It can do this by helping to provide structured automation in both the back office and on the factory floor.”
In the back office, says Bisset, a good MIS can perform tasks such as creating accurate estimates, managing stock, and analysing sales.
“Doing these same tasks manually is normally a lot more inefficient, inconsistent, and prone to error handling,” she says. “One simple fact that invoices can be produced in minutes, and sent instantly, often improves a printers cash flow position beyond recognition; we have many Optimus customers who would testify to this.”
Meanwhile, on the factory floor, depending on the equipment and software installed, MIS suites can provide valuable connectivity and give power back to the printer, says Bisset.
“A good MIS can integrate with other workflow solutions and also combine to get data directly out of hardware devices directly, in order that a true and realistic picture of cost is captured to shine the light on what was planned to happen versus what did actually happen.
“The power and control is provided back to the printer, as they then have at their fingertips the ability to accurately analyse where any bottlenecks can be removed and any potential opportunities can be realised,” she says.
Daniel Aloi, senior regional sales manager APAC at EFI, adds that MIS solutions both unify a company’s workflow and can be modified to suit different requirements.
“MIS removes touch points, streamlines efficiencies and improves the organisation of a company. Giving organisations repeatability and control, plus providing measurable and workable data on activity and centralising information across the organisation, adds to a printer’s performance,” he says.
Integration is key
Software being software, printers should know that not all MIS systems are the same. Their ability to integrate with other software such as workflow, ecommerce and online functionality is key.
Developed locally in ANZ printIQ promotes itself as ‘much more than MIS’. The printIQ Core is made up of eight modules that create a seamless, end-to-end estimating, ordering and production workflow encompassing everything needed for successful label production. printIQ also comes out-of-the-box with an online portal (no bolt-on required), so that customers can submit, pay, and track orders with ease.
Printers can even create branded portals for each of their customers to make the experience that much more personal.
According to Mick Rowan, director of product development and marketing, printIQ differs from traditional software in that it understands the entire production process from quoting to fulfilment. He says, “printIQ maps out all possible alternatives for the job to pass through the factory. We do this by integrating your business rules with all the pricing rules based on your component inputs, such as labour, machines and materials.”
According to Rowan, working in fast-changing business environments means you have to adapt strategies and innovate.
“With printlQ you get groundbreaking software, and a team that specialises in transitioning you from your outdated MIS to a system designed and built for future growth. When you work with IQ you can start to see what future success looks like, and are assured that we’ll be there to help you leap into the future.
What to look for
So, what should printers seek in an MIS? According to Alan Dixon of Workflowz, which supplies software including Chili and XMPie, the key word is management.
“You need to ensure that you are connecting all the disjointed systems together, and interoperability is key. But it’s more than an estimating and job tracking tool – it’s far more wide reaching, touching CRM, inventory and accounts. “Working with the other incumbent solutions in your business – pre-press, on-press and post-press – is vital. Not all systems are equal; for example, some excel in different areas like shop floor data collection,” he says.
Matt Murray, general manager of Tharstern Australia, agrees, but goes a step further: it’s also important to have a correct production path from the point of the estimate, he says.
“Connectivity is great, but if your imposition has the wrong production path, then integration can only have a smaller amount of value. If you can get your production path correct from the estimate, you can streamline your systems a lot better.
“There are systems out there with no capabilities to connect, so you can never get the efficiencies and automation out of an integrated workflow unless your system can integrate. We also offer flexibility around integration – we have various methods to integrate, not just a single API. Robust connectivity is a pretty big reason to change systems as well,” says Murray.
Shanti Kumar, managing director at Quote & Print, adds that MIS software should enable analysis of business performance by customer and by product type, such as the quotes sent out and percentage jobs won, as well as actual versus estimated costs.
“When you turn on your computer in the morning, the first thing you should see is a summary of the key performance indicators, such as how many orders for this month, how many delivered, how many are late, what is the sales performance against current budget and last year and so on,” he says.
According to Kumar, all this information is key to the profitability and longevity of the company.
“Printers are surviving on thinner margins today, so accurate information is vital. PIAA research has indicated that many printing businesses who do not have a proper MIS do not know if they are making a profit or a loss on each job,” he says.
Making the switch
With all that in mind, the experts advise doing your research before changing MIS providers. Resourcing, for example, is one area that printers often don’t think about when looking for new software solutions, says Murray.
“Sometimes we find that print businesses don’t look closely enough or analyse their own business requirements before changing software – they do this after the fact rather than prior. That’s OK, it’s something we can help with, but that sometimes makes it harder,” he says.
Dixon adds that, because systems can be so varied, there isn’t usually a simple migration path – and the human factor needs to be considered as well.
“The re-training requirements are often overlooked. People get familiar to one system and resent having to change even though it’s for the greater good,” he says. “Cost of ownership is also a challenge, with new models like subscription or software-as-a-service being introduced.”
These models don’t necessarily make software cheaper, Dixon warns. “Usually all components and add-ons need to be applied to the entire user base, so costs can spiral,” he says.
Also critical is working with a dependable vendor to minimise risk and ensure success, says Daniel Aloi at EFI.
“Whether upgrading or changing its MIS solution, a company needs to manage the process and implement a robust ‘going live’ plan that does include training,” he says.
For a print business, changing MIS providers can certainly be as difficult as changing a person’s DNA – but with the right digital genes in place, the organism can become healthier and thrive better than ever before.
To have and have not
With the number of Australian print businesses declining year on year, having a good MIS is even more vital, according to Shanti Kumar at Quote and Print Software.
“There has been an attrition rate in the number of Australian printing businesses of about eight to ten per cent per year. Some of this relates to amalgamations, and some to long turnaround work such as books and magazines migrating overseas,” he says.
Kumar divides printers into two groups: the information “haves” and “have nots”. One side is clearly better positioned than the other, he argues.
“The ‘haves’ have effective access to information, and the others do not. Naturally it is the ‘haves’ who are the healthy and profitable businesses in the long term,” says Kumar.
Time and again, says Kumar, Quote and Print has found one common thread connecting all the “haves”: their software.
“We have personally met many printing business owners, not just in Australia but all over Asia as well. When we study the printing businesses that are doing very well, making money, purchasing equipment and even acquiring other print businesses, we find these companies all have good MIS systems.
“In these effective print businesses, the whole business team including the managers uses the print MIS. This enables them to tune the software to ensure they have the best information and they are making fact-based decisions.
“The old style general printer sitting on his backside waiting for the phone to ring is gone,” he says.
MIS: What’s on offer to printers
EFI, Optimus, printIQ, Quote & Print, Tharstern, and Workflowz each also have MIS solutions on offer to boost print businesses.
According to Alan Dixon, instead of selling its own MIS, Workflowz integrates with leading market players to provide price improvements and efficiencies, while focusing on adding value and raising quality standards.
“As a provider of both Chili publish and XMPie web-to-print platforms, we have most bases covered for B2B and B2C markets,” he says.
“We also supply Enfocus Switch, which provides a flexible conduit into the printer’s workflow, harnessing and cross-referencing job specs from the MIS and submitting flight-checked and production ready files into the heart of the business.”
EFI’s big advantage is the fact that it is also a hardware manufacturer, says Daniel Aloi, meaning its software solutions are easily integrated.
“We specialise in both software and hardware, so to tie these both together makes incredible sense to our customer base. We clearly understand the interactions between them,” he says.
Additionally, Aloi says EFI has a strong API integration for customers who develop and maintain their own systems. “EFI has its certified workflow: Market Direct Digital StoreFront and Market Direct Cross Media,” he says.
The locally developed printIQ software is winning accolades across the globe. It develops software for each segment of print including offset, digital, wide format, flexo, labels, packaging and mail.
Its IQ Core is the heart of its solution, then it has IQ Connect to API, Automate, Prepress, and VDP. The IQ Further is for in depth analysis. Intergration is key to printIQ, with workflow and other software, the company's tagline is 'more than MIS'.
A major drawcard for Tharstern’s software is its Layout Library, according to Matt Murray, who says it alleviates the problem of different printers running jobs different ways and making impositions complicated. “Layout Library helps solve that by allowing operators to create personalised impositions so prepress operators don’t have to manually redo or change them,” he says. “It’s a smart tool that you can personalise to your business, saying that when the job meets particular conditions, we want to do it this way.”
For Optimus, Nicola Bisset says its main advantage is its versatility: it can be linked to third-party software packages for applications such as accounts, production planning, workflow, and proof of delivery. “The Optimus dash MIS offers firstly a high degree of flexibility, with absolutely no restrictions on what you can produce,” she says.
“Literally any substrate, any process can be catered for – if you can produce it, an Optimus dash MIS can manage it.”
Launching at PrintEx, Quote and Print’s new cloud software is the result of a five-year, $1.3m upgrade using the latest Microsoft technology, says Shanti Kumar. “We have built-in mobile apps for both iOS and Android, to give you information any time anywhere. You can take your iPad in front of a customer and give them accurate online quotes on the spot,” he says.