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Back to Basics


In the second feature of our two-part series, Print Monthly takes a look at some of the latest developments in management information systems and the benefits these offer to print companies

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Operational efficiencies

Without making too much of an assumption, the chances are that you will be well aware of what a management information system (MIS) is and the importance of having such a solution in place at a modern print business.

The core issue when it comes to working with an MIS is ensuring you are using the system the right way and getting the most out of it, as well as keeping up to date with the very latest developments and releases from providers in this market.

Having explored a number of options earlier in the year, the second piece in this two-part series considers the latest products and updates now available to the market, with suppliers offering advice and guidance on how to ensure you can use these solutions to improve your business’ performance.

Backbone Of Business

Kicking off the debate is Esko and Jan De Roeck, director of industry relations and strategic marketing. De Roeck says gathering data from customers during the job onboarding process, from multiple online systems in the company during production, analysing the information, and producing reports to aid management decision-making, has led to contemporary MIS solutions being viewed as the backbone of any organisation.

“From the energy crisis and the erosion of margins to material shortages and labour and skills deficits, we know there are many significant challenges for businesses, not only today, but also going forward in the future,” De Roeck says.

“We experience a period of one new macro-economic and global challenge after another, a trend that looks set to continue for a good while. That's why it's imperative to continuously review business operations. The role of technology and innovation is key in surmounting these challenges.

Esko says it is imperative to continuously review business operations

“It is now imperative that companies review their current business operations and identify areas where they can make meaningful improvements and drive operational efficiencies in order that they not only survive but thrive.”

So, what should print service providers (PSPs) be looking for in an MIS? De Roeck lists efficiency as the biggest benefit of a standardised workflow, saying standardisation is the necessary foundation of any successful automation.

It is now imperative that companies review their current business operations and identify areas where they can make meaningful improvements

“Businesses today are often operating in multiple silos, often a legacy of previous growth,” De Roeck says, adding: “One of the ways to break these silos is to make sure the MIS system interconnects not only disparate systems, but also departments and people. Not having to re-enter data twice in disparate systems but having a real time interface between disparate systems is a solid basis for operational efficiency improvement.

“In the face of the disruptive market trends in the industry, we continue to work closely with our customers, listening and developing innovations that respond to demands and deliver tangible benefits.”

As for what is new from Esko, its latest solution is software version 23.07, which extends the availability of the Share & Approve cloud native service that enables users to connect their prepress to their customers and stakeholders with a new gateway through to their artwork editor applications.

“With 50 complimentary approval cycles each month, Share & Approve enables users to share files, automate workflows, gather approvals, track milestones, and ultimately speed up approval cycles by as much as three times,” De Roeck says.

He adds: “Anyone can join, anywhere, for free, and share assets with any stakeholder using Esko’s cloud-based platform. This means quick and easy accessibility - without the need to download any software - and the ability to connect from anywhere on any device.”

Efficiency And Profitability

Another MIS provider is i-teba, which lists SolPrint as its stand-out MIS solution. Managing director Peter Griffin says an MIS should be the cornerstone of any PSP or print management business.

SolPrint is the core MIS solution from i-teba

“A browser-based MIS that provides access from diverse systems over multiple platforms or devices will enable the business to grow efficiently and profitably,” Griffin says, adding: “The system should allow staff, customers, and suppliers to interact with the MIS either directly or via the API.

“The system should have an intuitive, reactive interface that ensures information available from the MIS provides real-time notifications of business issues and opportunities for all users dependent on their roles.”

Griffin says SolPrint is a good example of such a system. SolPrint is modular and covers all areas including customer-facing shopfront, web-to-print, sales CRM, estimating, order processing, studio, scheduling, SFDC, JDF/JMF integration, stock, costing, invoicing, warehousing, and full accounting suite or links to a third-party accounts system via the SolPrint API.

He says SolPrint continues to be developed with the aim to drive efficiencies and reduce costs. An example of these improvements includes the latest Quote Builder, which allows the system to streamline the estimating process by product-based wizards leading the user through a simple process to generate complex, standardised pricing.

“Accurate, real-time information is key to the efficient running of any business,” Griffin says, adding: “As systems grow the level of data can become excessive meaning that important issues are missed or not noticed while resolutions or actions can still be implemented. SolPrint events and notifications allow for users to have targeted notifications providing real-time information so resolutions can be implemented to eliminate costs.

“Graphical dashboards can be customised based on a user’s roles and responsibilities to provide an instant real-time representation of the business performance with drill down functionality allowing the details to be further interrogated.”

Linking Together

Elsewhere, Trevor Cocks, managing director of Accura, says only through true “touchless” integration can the full return on investment (ROI) of an MIS be capitalised. For this reason, he says PSPs should be looking holistically at their software and processes, seeing where automations can help save money.

“Since the pandemic, PSPs have seen escalating costs in terms of materials, energy, wages, cost-of-borrowing, outwork service increases, and more,” Cocks says, adding: “With these increasing costs, and downward selling price pressure from clients, profits are stuck in the middle being put under pressure. We call this ‘The Margin Squeeze’ and it is affecting PSPs everywhere.

“MIS can help by automating processes, reducing labour costs, admin, errors, wastage and duplication of tasks, thus utilising staff on productive, not non-productive tasks.

“But even MIS cannot do it all; true automation comes with front-end systems like CRM and web-to-print, feeding into MIS via full integration, while backend systems like imposition, workflow, and digital-front-ends (DFEs) are being driven via MIS xml output. It all has to link up, from start to finish.”

Accura is very much in tune with market demand and continues to release updates and new solutions to satisfy demand. Its latest launches include AccuraOnline, its integrated web-to-print portal with features such as live chat, voucher codes, and single-step checkout.

Other recent releases include the addition of customer-specific layout sets to its core Accura MIS, as well as the expansion of its AccuraSync bi-directional API-driven accounts synchronisation tool to more accounting platforms such as Sage Cloud.

“Printers do not think twice about buying the latest press when their end-of-lease is coming up, yet they stick with a stagnant, poorly supported, non-upgradable, dead-end MIS for ten-plus years,” Cocks says, adding: “This holds them back just as much as any piece of equipment.

“All because change is hard. Yes, change is hard, but it’s also good; change is what keeps you fresh, change keeps the lights on. If you won’t change, and others will, you lose.”

Importance Of Implementation

The importance of linking with other systems such as web-to-print is backed up by Infigo, a web-to-print provider, and its head of sales, Paul Bromley. He says that while the pandemic accelerated digitisation in the industry, with demand for short-run print increasing, there is a huge opportunity for printers to meet this demand. However, he adds having the right sort of MIS and web-to-print systems in place is vital to take full advantage.