Management information systems (MIS) have played a critical role in boosting productivity since the first basic price calculators began replacing sales reps’ order books in the mid-1980s.
They have evolved a long way since then, some of the more advanced configurations taking advantage of the CIP4 platform and its Job Definition Format, so that information from the order can pass into the manufacturing phase of the job – that is, prepress, CTP and printing, or for digital, straight to the press – followed by onboard or offline finishing to despatch.
MIS has matured in tandem with the growth of e-commerce, so it was perhaps inevitable that the ordering process would transform from manual entry by the print company to be driven by print customers’ mouse clicks and even taps on a tablet or phone.
The philsosophy has been that firstly, nothing should stand in the way of a customer ordering a job 24/7, and secondly, that this order can be transferred as extensively as possible into a manufactured print job – packed and mailed to its destination – in what approaches one smooth sequence.
Printers are more than likely to see ROI relatively quickly on their W2P and MIS workflow. Debbie Ludwig, marketing and sales manager at MIS and W2P vendor Pent Net, estimates typical ROI as within just six to 12 months.
The latest-generation of MIS products has been developed with a technological sync to web-to-print (W2P) systems. The morphing of MIS and W2P into a single dynamic has seen the exit of some smaller MIS developers and the entry of major print equipment sellers, integrating MIS and W2P intelligence into their workflow products.
There is no better example than EFI; its legendary acquisition trail has brought smaller MIS developers into its domain, helping it develop brands such as Digital StoreFront, PrintSmith, Pace, Monarch, Radius and most famously Prism.
Jillian Michaels, EFI’s marketing specialist, Asia Pacific, says EFI offer a W2P solution integrated with all its MIS and ERP systems. EFI’s Digital Storefront can be sold as a standalone W2P requiring no MIS, but to gain benefits in automation, EFI recommends an integrated solution.
“The seamless communication between our W2P and MIS products makes the integration process easier to manage, reducing system administration, system management and integration costs to the print business. In addition Digital StoreFront is also compatible with third-party MIS systems,” she says.
“Software technology is constantly evolving. Print businesses that have invested in bespoke or custom web-to-print solutions face the constant challenge and cost of keeping up with software languages and constantly changing third-party applications and mobile technology from independent vendors.
“Partnering with a vendor who constantly updates their software is an advantage for a print business. Digital StoreFront uses HTML5 and responsive design to provide users with a solution certified for desktop, tablet and mobile devices running Windows, Linux, Mac OS, Android and Windows Mobile.”
MIS specialists and W2P
But not all the genius is coming from hardware vendors. The MIS specialists figure strongly. UK developer Tharstern has bundled W2P and MIS into its e4printPRO offering.
Tresta Keegan of Mosaic, the Australasian Tharstern reseller, says e4printPRO is seamlessly integrated into the Tharstern Primo MIS in 60 per cent of Primo sites in Australia and New Zealand. She says, “Approximately half of these companies have an embedded specialist variable-data engine of one flavour or another, from a third-party supplier, where the software either resides in the same physical server environment as Tharstern Primo and e4printPRO, or uses an API to push out to a template cloud SaaS solution.”
In addition e4printPRO is occasionally purchased as a standalone procurement portal without the production MIS behind it, she says. “To my knowledge we have not integrated e4printPRO into a competitor’s MIS product, but we have integrated with existing inhouse solutions, generally as a temporary measure until such time as the production system is replaced end-to-end with Primo. Some sites want the egg before the chicken.”
MIS developer Optimus offers its Optimus Cloud W2P. Group managing director Nicola Bisset says it enables the printer’s customer to order products and also gives them the ability to prepare their own quotations, order stock items held by the printer and access key information including job tracking, previous jobs and previous quotes.
She says, “Optimus has always taken the approach of ensuring an open architecture in order to enable integration with multiple products including the printer’s W2P of choice. The only limitation is within the other supplier’s product.
“Without integration into the back-office MIS, the advantages gained in receiving orders from W2P are largely mitigated, as the orders then have to be processed manually, so the time savings disappear.
“With Optimus, orders placed online appear as a full production-ready job within Optimus dash, including materials required, invoice to be raised, and all tasks required to complete the job. No duplication of effort.”
Debbie Ludwig of Pent Net says the vendor offers a W2P and MIS mix and also connects to estimating systems such as Quote and Print, Dolphin, Prism, Tharstern, Optimus, EFI MIS, MYOB, Zero and SAP, to name a few.
“Connecting to our printer client’s MIS is not that complicated. It is really a matter of good communication with the printer and the MIS supplier. We usually sit down with our clients and have a detailed discussion regarding their information and information transfer needs. We then talk to the MIS suppliers to work out how the specific information transfer can be achieved,” she says.
“Our W2P and MIS has APIs, and most MIS suppliers also have APIs. It is then really only a matter of some discussions, testing and trials to set up an integrated system all the way from online ordering through to MIS, production, workflow and delivery.”
At Australasian labels giant Pemara, Pent Net has connected its Proof Manager system to the company’s Prism MIS and Esko system. Orders from Pemara’s plants in Vietnam, Malaysia and Melbourne go through Proof Manager which also acts as a workflow system, so jobs can be tracked, and then connects directly to Pemara’s Prism and Esko.
Pent Net now comes bundled together with Konica Minolta digital press hardware, and the progressive Australian W2P developer has also secured agreements with Lanier and HP for similar packages.
Vendors as integrators
Some hardware vendors do not directly provide W2P and MIS but act as integrators and W2P enablers for selected MIS products.
Fuji Xerox provides out-of-box integration with a number of MIS offerings with its XMPie StoreFlow (W2P) and FreeFlow Core (workflow automation) solutions.
“We have integrated with Quote and Print, Tharstern, EFI Pace, Monarch, Avanti, and HiFlex, to name a few,” says Peter Brittliff, Fuji Xerox group marketing manager, software.
With StoreFlow as a marketing portal, enterprises large and small can make document personalisation available within an online, user-friendly W2P environment, he says. End users or agents located anywhere can use desktops, tablets or smartphones to remotely access a centralised uStore storefront which can contain marketing collateral, multi-touch campaigns and promotional items – all of which can be personalised, edited and ordered, fully compliant with brand requirements.
But Britliff says W2P integration requires a state-of-the-art MIS, he says, “Not all MIS or W2P, particularly older or proprietary platforms, have the ability to export and import data. This severely hampers any business from integrating their core systems, so they are left with manually rekeying data – wasting time and increasing the risk of mistakes such as over and under charging.”
Professionalising online publishing
Online software developer Chili has brought its acclaimed online document editor Chili Publish to Australia via local agency Workflowz. Chili managing director Bram Vermiest tells ProPrint that his product (now in version 4.0) integrates into the cloud-based SaaS and MIS solutions of various vendors.
The magic of Chili Publish is its ability to take richly featured software such as Adobe InDesign and thread it through the eye of the HTML needle, so that it is browser driven. The company is working with Workflowz managing director Alan Dixon to build its Australian installed customer base.
Dixon tells ProPrint: “By focusing fully on creating an engine for online document editing, Chili Publish has succeeded in creating a tool which contains a large variety of features which are, at a minimum, exceptional.
“Since the product needs to be integrated, we put a lot of effort in the ways people can blend our product into a W2P, MIS, Portal and e-commerce solution.”
Chili Publish has been a hit in the tertiary and commercial sectors. The University of Melbourne’s branded and printed publications use Chili Publish.
Dominion Print Group, a 61-year-old commercial print house in Sydney, is a Chili Publish site, with managing director Kelvin Gage saying the software provides further integration for the company’s Tharstern MIS, which Dominion describes as “an online MIS system that covers all facets of our relationship [with the customer].”
The Silverwater company offers a comprehensive inhouse design and prepress facility to support its print, from a range of single colour to large multicolour presses, giving the ability to produce run lengths from 500 to 2,000,000 impressions. This is supported by a complete range of bindery and finishing equipment.
Dominion has a national and international freight distribution system, with production and warehousing capabilities in east-coast capitals.
MIS/W2P in the west
To further enhance the efficiency of its two five-colour Kodak Nexpresses, Perth commercial printer Picton Press has integrated them with its EFI Pace MIS, the first installed in Australia, including an EFI-supplied W2P component for online ordering, which the company has branded as Picton DIY. Customers can upload artwork and have a proof ripped in real time, and the first time the job is manually handled is when it is processed through the Nexpress.
“A mouse click releases the job to digital print. The electronic job ticket is sent to the machine, the file is sent to print, the job is trimmed, bagged and out the door. When you are dealing with 500 business cards for $25, you can’t afford to manually touch the job,” says Picton’s operations manager, Murray Scott.
EFI is now the biggest MIS develop on the planet, and for the past decade has been buying myriad software developers, the latest being personalised image developer Direct Smile
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Kingprint of Ballarat, Victoria, now draws 50 per cent of its revenue from online orders, after implementing W2P into its MIS in 2011. Online revenue is up from 10 per cent at the end of 2012, and Kingprint is aiming for 75 per cent by the end of this year.
The central Victorian digital and offset provider has essentially modified a system from Online Print Solutions, originally an Australia developer now in the EFI stable, making changes to the appearance and functionality of the system during the past two years, with more changes in the offing.
Managing director John Schreenan tells ProPrint: “Our aim was to purchase the core of a reliable product and do the bulk of the development ourselves. It has not been a simple process, mainly because our W2P supplier has made it difficult to open the code required to make the integration with MIS simple. Our MIS provider has assisted us, however, to provide a certain level of integration.
“Our clients are 100 per cent happy buying their print this way, as we have made their print ordering experience simple. Once they have used the system, they are unlikely to move their print elsewhere.”
Schreenan says the 15-staff company has been able to slim down to nine this year, with the aid of W2P and MIS. “If integrated correctly, it provides streamlined automation, allowing us to achieve more with less staff. We are seeing ROI now and have been for the last 12-18 months.”
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