Make your system shine

There are plenty of reasons a print business might upgrade to a new management information system (MIS). 

The technology is constantly expanding, and now embraces once-separate functions, like web-to-print. Downstream, production data is readily accessible by management – even cloud-based and driven by smartphone apps.

When 50-staff Adelaide printer Hyde Park Press swapped from a custom-written DOS system to TharsternSQL in 2010, it was driven by a quest for a more sophisticated way of tracking, says systems administrator Peter Lawrance.

In general terms, he cited improvements in computer power and speed, data management and storage, enabling large amounts of information to be stored and reported on. “There has been an explosion in the number of developers around the world that offer industry-specific MIS systems and they are in active competition, so the choice of systems with varying capabilities and varying prices is large. 

“Improvements in network and internet technology has made such things as JDF, real-time shopfloor data collection and integration of email and web applications possible in new systems, where older systems were not written to include them.”

Before investing in the Tharstern product, Hyde Park Press listed its aims. It wanted more accurate tracking of sales and production, from estimating to purchasing, scheduling, despatch and invoicing. The DOS system could not take advantage of today’s refinements.

Lawrance says he was encouraged by the relative ease of buying and installing an MIS, compared with a decade ago. “The internet has made geography irrelevant. You can buy a system from someone based interstate or overseas and get almost as good support as you would from someone in the next street. They can log on to your server or desktop PC remotely and see what you see while talking to you on the phone or by Skype. They can fix a problem in the database or email you a file in a matter of minutes.”

Installation of Hyde Park’s Tharstern version began around April 2010 and went live in June that year. But Lawrance emphasises the prep really began in January 2010 with reorganisation of the computer network and upgrading of desktop computer hardware and software. After go-live, it took two or three months before users were fully operational and confident. Early this year, Hyde Park Press upgraded from T4 to the new Primo version of TharsternSQL, which brings rules-based automation to the party. He says this was a relatively minor adjustment as opposed to the initial install.

Why change?

Tresta Keegan, Tharstern’s local managing director, says printers are motivated to change up their MIS when they see new functionality that offers process automation, such as integrated online ordering. It’s a good idea to first identify the reasons to change. 

“These should be detailed down to the needs of each department in the form of a checklist, such as ‘we have this feature now and don’t want to lose it’; ‘we dream of being able to do this’ or ‘in this depart-ment, how can I do more with less?’ ”

When Printworks Australia decided to upgrade its systems four years ago, it was a major seachange. The company made the giant leap from Excel spreadsheets to a fully fledged MIS from UK developer Accura. General manager Ben Freeman says it was a big step up. The new MIS, the first of its kind in Australia, enables the company to track quotes and provide consistent quoting. 

Since bringing the MIS on board, Printworks added a W2P layer in 2011 for its offset, digital and wide-format customers. “We were only a three-person business when it was first installed, and I was the only user, but the challenge has been teaching others to use it.” The company now has 12 staff.

What are printers looking for when they make the plunge with one MIS vendor? Optimus group managing director Nicola Bisset says the feedback from customers at Drupa was that it had to be future-proof. She says a chosen supplier has to be continuously developing new function-ality, such as Optimus’ Cloud Mobile.

“Another issue that printers appear to be facing is getting quotes out the door as fast as possible and in a multiple product environment – for example, litho, digital and wide format all being produced by the same print provider,” she says.

According to Marie Dias, marketing manager of Quote & Print, most printers are looking to rationalise processes. They want ease of use. In the past, printers had a tendency to “thrown more human resources at a problem, rather than trying to use their MIS to resolve the concern”.

“Now that printers are looking at ways to become increasingly efficient, they need to rely on their MIS to provide such information in a seamless manner across all departments,” she says.

EFI Australia regional manager Anthony Parnemann identifies a number of reasons why a print business might want to upgrade or switch to a new MIS. He says printers want to be able to drill down into production data to make better decisions. Parnemann also says customers are demanding integration, so that information does not have to be re-keyed every time the job moves between stages of the production cycle. And lastly, there’s an overall push for greater automation; tasks that took five steps now take two or three, while simpler tasks are eliminated. But printers need to be able to articulate to prospective MIS vendors why they are switching or introducing a new system.

Bill Kuyper, managing director of MIS vendor Printer’s Choice, says printers are seeking out new systems as their business needs change. “We’ve experienced increasing interest in online ordering functionality over the past two years.”

Making the change

The cost of installing Hyde Park Press’s Tharstern MIS was, very roughly, around $100,000, says Peter Lawrance. “Of course, there are indirect costs relating to disruption of normal workflows and lowered productivity while learning the new system.” 

At Printworks, the cost of the original Accura MIS plus last year’s integration of web-to-print brought the total cost to around $50,000, estimates Ben Freeman. “As we added module by module, licence by licence to the system, it was a very small fee. When you break it down, and let’s say you’re doing about 200 invoices a month, it adds about $3 to the cost of an invoice to pay for the system.”

Recalling the web-to-print integration, the best advice he can offer is to plan ahead. “We did it right from the time it was installed. We use a lot of template libraries, so 90% of our work comes from standardised items like A4s, DLs, six-page DLs, booklets, and so on. Since we had all that set up, it enabled us to go online virtually instantaneously.

“It was more a case of showing the online customers how to use the online parts, because it can be a bit tricky. But overall it worked well. Out of an active base, we probably only had 15% of customers using it, but we had a massive push about a month back, offering discounts to customers who use online, and now it’s around 40%.”

Freeman has a print and IT background and was the sole early driver of the Accura implementation at the client end, so installation was fairly smooth. “The training’s been the hard aspect. I’ve got a training night next week that will take staff right through the Accura. Unfortunately, when there are upgrades, they come with additives, which makes us put in new elements like job type, marking-up profiles, and so on.” 

He notes that supplier Ideal Solutions has been supportive.

Nicola Bisset’s formula at Optimus is “planning, planning and more planning… a very consultative approach to understanding the issues faced by the print business and providing solutions. We then plan the changeover with as minimal disruption to the business as possible.”

Quote & Print’s Marie Dias sees the transformation as a partnership. “Sites need to ensure they have local project resources to manage the process internally, so all requirements are communicated between partners. We work extensively with project management to determine what transfer information is required, what the effect of any data transfer is, and how this information fits within their new system.”

EFI assigns a project manager to each installation who then works with a professional services team to deliver training and implementation tailored to suit that business, says Anthony Parnemann. Once these are complete, the professional services team remains involved as needed, but the day-to-day support for EFI’s MIS clients is handled by a local helpdesk.

Bill Kuyper says Printer’s Choice provides advice to the business about preparing for the transition, and then on-site support and training on change over, ensuring that the transfer is implemented as smoothly as possible. Ongoing telephone and online support
is then provided free of charge for the first 12 months.



MIS overhaul what can go wrong

• Software bugs

• Operator errors during training

• A much bigger investment in upgraded software than
originally anticipated

• The MIS fails to perform a critical function for which it was bought

• There is no way to extract the data from the old system in a format that can be dumped into the new system, so somebody has to spend weeks entering it by hand

• Data from the old system is lost
or corrupted before it is properly entered into the new system (unlikely if you keep proper backups and engage a professional to handle the data)

• The new MIS is so difficult to operate that staff actually get through less work in a week than they did with the old system

• Project creep – being partly installed with a system and then finding out you have to buy more modules or services

• An over-commitment to the project when perhaps it should have been
a phased install

• Management doesn’t consistently back the project or listen to those managing the project when management and stakeholder backing is essential

• Not enough time committed to the project

• Not enough training to end user

• Trying to make the new system do what the old system did to fit in with internal procedures that may need reviewing

• Lack of smooth transition that prevents the business offering continuity of service to print customers

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