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Back to Basics

Management Information Systems

With print firms under increasing pressure to deliver work at faster rates, Rob Fletcher looks at how the latest management information systems can help businesses take greater control

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Having an MIS helps to ensure production is managed efficiently and profitably, according to Tharstern

Excelling in efficiency

There is no doubting the importance of the role software has to play in the print production process. Be it colour management products or enterprise resource planning, software hands greater control to the print service provider (PSP) and allows them to maximise the impact of the hardware they have in place.

One of the key pieces of software in place at many PSPs in the modern market is a management information system (MIS). Such products allow the user to switch from paper-based systems to computerised setups and install a greater sense of control in production, enabling them to make changes to processes at a much faster rate.

Developers are bringing new MIS software solutions to the market on a regular basis, offering PSPs more option and features when it comes to managing their production. Here, we look at some of the latest products and analyse how they can help print companies boost business.

Quicker and smarter

One of the leading names in MIS technology is Tharstern, which recently opted to switch its launch schedule to a monthly cycle in an effort to keep customers as up to date with the latest developments as possible. Chris Burn, product manager at Tharstern, is under no illusions as to how important an MIS for a modern print business, saying it plays a huge role in their day-to-day life.

Tharstern has switched its launch schedule to a monthly cycle to help keep customers up to date with the latest developments

“A quality MIS has the potential to make a company quicker and smarter, by reducing the amount of repetitive tasks and manual admin that needs to be done,” he says.

“Having an MIS helps to ensure production is managed efficiently and profitably. It also helps to identify any issues with costing and scheduling, as well as keeping management informed about differences between estimates and actuals.”

Burn acknowledges that some print business are still working with paper-based MIS, but urges these companies to make the switch to electronic systems and enjoy the benefits that they bring.

“Migrating from a manual system to an electronic MIS is a big step, but the return on investment you receive should make it all worthwhile,” he says, adding: “The overall goal for any printer investing in an MIS is to increase efficiency by streamlining their workflows and reducing touchpoints, instead of increasing business costs by hiring more and more staff.”

With this in mind, Burn draws attention to Tharstern’s range of MIS solutions, in particular its API, which he says has drawn the most interest over the past 12 months or so. Burn says the technology has empowered several of customers and partners to create some “amazing integrations”.

On the services side, Tharstern recently launched a new Professional Workflow Services Team to help keep pace with the changing demands of our customers. Burn says more users have their own developers or integrators who are writing their own software or using Tharstern’s API in conjunction with systems such as Enfocus Switch or Esko Automation Engine, and Tharstern has had to adapt as a result.

Increasing capacity

Elsewhere, Accura MIS is also keen to highlight the benefits of going electronic with an MIS, with its managing director, Trevor Cocks, saying a modern print business is almost impossible to run without computerised MIS.

He expands: “Manual systems used to run a print business are paper-generating, unwieldy, disjointed, and resource-hungry on staff. This poses challenges as work volumes increase – introducing delays, and costly errors. A computerised MIS can help automate basic admin tasks, reduce admin time/errors, and streamline processes to reduce touches – and requires less staff resource to run – thereby increasing capacity.

“Furthermore, an MIS acts as a hub, to connect third-party systems together. Both upstream systems, such as web portal, and downstream (imposition and workflow) can be linked to increase automation and efficiency without manual rekeying.”

With this, Cocks says Accura MIS is one of only a few ‘end-to-end’ solutions on the market, where all components are written in-house and support provided from a single source vendor. Accura’s suite encompasses the core business components of CRM: an MIS and a B2B Web2Print module in the form of ‘AccuraOnline’.

Cocks says that the benefits of opting for a system like this, where everything is developed in-house, makes the process much easier for the PSP. He expands: “We believe that if printers opt for separate third-party systems for each component they will need to buy-in expertise to provide programming and integration. This cost alone can outweigh the cost of the MIS or web-to-print solution itself.

“Furthermore, even once established, ongoing costs and complexity are increased as these separate systems all have to be supported and upgraded independently.”

However, Cocks says that if PSPs have invested in legacy third-party web-to-print systems before purchasing Accura, the company has developed a tool to help with integration. The ‘XML Integration Toolkit’ allows Accura customers to integrate with their legacy web-to-print platforms while they migrate to AccuraOnline.

Constantly evolving

Also focusing on new features is Complis, which recently added the ability to send out hundreds of request for quotations (RFQs) for a whole campaign in a matter of seconds.

Lee Eyre, technical director at the company, also says users can evaluate the responses to the requests, as well as select the chosen suppliers and issue purchase orders all with just a few mouse clicks. Then, when the same campaign is repeated the following month, users simply copy the project and Complis will automatically repeat the process for you.

Complis has recently added the ability for users to send out hundreds of request for quotations for a whole campaign in seconds

Eyre comments: “Complis is constantly evolving; our in-house development team work closely with our customers around the world to add new features and help them save more time and money.

“In the first quarter of 2019, we will also be implementing automatic artwork pre-flight, fixing and imposing. Also planned for later in the year are integrated business intelligence and data analytical tools, allowing users to analyse their data visually and drill down into the details instantly.”

Eyre goes on to advise those companies that are investing in new MIS kit to look at exactly what they want for their business before properly researching the market to see the solutions are available to them.

When looking at the different packages available, ask for live demonstrations so that you can make sure that the flow is seamless, and it does what they claim

He expands: “When looking at the different packages available ask for live demonstrations so that you can make sure that the flow is seamless, and it does what they claim.

“There is little point in investing in an MIS that only works for a small section of your business, you will then find that you are having to purchase other products for other requirements, making a more expensive and less efficient process in the long run.

“When using a quality MIS, time saved to the business can be huge, because data entry is minimal or automated and you do not have to duplicate anything.”

Something different

Meanwhile, Wayne Beckett, joint managing director of Resolve Business Management, which is behind the new Keyline MIS solution, says a good MIS should be the backbone to understanding your business. The brand launched in the UK six months ago and is already working with various print companies—including Colourfast Financial, which became the first UK customer when it signed off on a deal at The Print Show 2018.

Colourfast Financial became the first UK company to commit to Keyline MIS when it signed off on a deal at The Print Show 2018

Beckett says the attraction of Keyline is supplied as a plug-and-play software, which is not the norm in the print industry. He expands: “As a Software as a Service (SaaS), we make integration simple. Keyline acts as a conduit, linking all your existing together.

“Being cloud-based, Keyline can simply connect to you W2P, CRM, production equipment, accounts and reporting software via application programming interfaces (APIs) that you will be able to download from the Keyline App Store.”

Beckett goes on to say that Keyline plans to continue to develop as a SaaS system by working with more original equipment manufacturers to develop the range of APIs available in the App Store. In addition, Beckett says Keyline will include other apps not developed by the company in its App Store to help open up more options to its customers.

O Factoid: Colourfast Financial was the first UK company to commit to the new Keyline MIS solution, signing on the dotted line at The Print Show 2018. O

He expands: “As our customer base grows and our customers develop their own APIs, these will be added and our customer base will be able to generate revenue from our App Store.”

As to why he believes MIS is the best way forward in terms of management for modern PSPs, Beckett says this type of software offers a wide range of options to help users boost their business.

The new Keyline MIS solution is offered as a plug-and-play software, which is not the norm in the print industry

Beckett comments: “As print runs reduce and margins get tighter, understanding your costs – estimated against actual – is the only way to move forward. Also, a good MIS will reduce touch points on a job; by reducing touch points and improving your job data, a business will become far more effective.

“Automated scheduling and easy to use shop floor data collection will also mean your business will run smoother, and if your equipment is fully integrated into your MIS you know the data will be accurate.”

As is the case with all other areas of print, technology is having to evolve in order to keep up with the ever-changing demands of the customer. MIS is no different and developers are keeping abreast of these developments, adapting their own software to help offer users the most effective solution.


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