More than managing print

Management information systems (MIS) have moved a long way since the days when they were clunky. They now present a more intuitive proposition. Today’s MIS packages are not your dad’s management information system. They are a piece of true 21st century software ingenuity.

What is more, MIS is now moving towards a cloud-based service, meaning printers are never out-of-date with their software, pulling down the latest versions from remote servers in the form of Software as a Service (SaaS), rather than loading the contents of a purchased set of CD-ROMs that arrived in a cereal-box like package. Forget the 2000s – today’s MIS is increasingly connecting with web-to-print systems (W2P) and offering customer-driven online print estimating.

 

Kingprint 60% online orders

At Kingprint in Ballarat, which prints books and general commercial jobs, around 60 per cent of work now comes from online orders, a massive jump from six years ago, when the ratio was three-to-four per cent, shortly after the Victorian regional company introduced W2P. “Transitioning to online has been a success story with us,” reflects managing director John Schreenan.

Online job orders range from mid-sized to large, with typical book runs of 10,000 up to 50,000. The 37-year-old company, with 12 staff, also offers a broad array of general commercial print to its national customer base, and being located in regional Victoria is no drawback, due to its online capabilities.

Kingprint has integrated Printworxs, its Cloud-based DolphinWorxs MIS, based on Dolphin’s v4 software, with EFI’s Online Print Solutions platform, the W2P end of the operation – all of it feeding a Xerox FreeFlow Core workflow to Kingprint’s Xerox iGen 150 and Color 1000 digital presses and to its offset complement – a Shinohara A2 five-colour press and a Heidelberg Speedmaster two-colour (for PMS work). The company has further enhanced its options with the recent addition of a Horizon rotary die cutter.

There are two levels of clientele, explains Schreenan. “We have got corporate clients whose artwork and other specifics are catalogued within the system, ready for their next order, and retail and trade clients who can place orders from scratch.” Clients can track their project from job lodgement, through artwork, prepress, print and despatch.

Customers log in and place their order through the EFI OPS system, which prints out a job ticket. Information is then transferred semi-automatically to the DolphinWorxs Printworxs MIS, and a Printworxs job bag is created from pre-existing templates, using the MIS’s estimating, production and CRM. OPS provides client ordering, file uploading, estimating and approvals as well as backend preflighting. Schreenan would like to see the W2P component fully integrate with the MIS component and anticipates that a fully automatic handshake between the EFI and DolphinWorxs ends of the workflow will soon be established.

 

Vendor’s MIS products

Stephanie Gaddin, CEO of DolphinWorxs, says the MIS developer is working on integrations – not only with EFI’s OPS – but with Aleyant’s Pressero, and is in early talks with Workflowz, Australian representative of online editware Chili Publish. DolphinWorxs offers two MIS products to the Australian market. Printworxs, a Cloud-based MIS, integrates directly to Xero Cloud Accounting. This feature is built into the software and does not require any technical setup. Meanwhile, Dolphin MIS can be set up to integrate to cloud systems such as Xero, but has to be done on an individual basis, because each Dolphin client has a uniquely configured system and workflow.

“Dolphin MIS is a system built around the client’s needs and workflow,” she says. “The modular structure allows clients to buy what they need and fit individual features around existing systems and other third-party applications. It is infinitely flexible and almost every aspect of the software can be configured around clients’ needs and preferences. Printworxs allows work from any internet connected device and subscriptions come with free phone applications.”

MIS vendor printIQ is at the forefront of integrating today’s web innovations into its management software. The company’s director Mick Rowan describes the new breed of web-enabled print management systems as standing out from the traditional MIS products on the market. “Everyone accesses the application from an internet browser. It can be hosted in the cloud, at a local databank, or internally if you have an IT infrastructure. Production staff manage the factory, while customers quote, order and track, all from anywhere in same application.”

Rowan says that with no software to install, and no separate web portal or online ordering system to add on, printIQ “certainly does represent a quantum shift from what most printers are doing right now. The main differentiator between using the printIQ MIS as your W2P solution is that printIQ is more than just a shopping cart. It combines the power of the Quote Intelligence pricing engine with an integrated online ordering process to give your customers an online experience specifically designed for the complexities of print.

“The combination also removes the need to integrate the online order with your MIS. With printIQ, the online order hits production as soon as the order is confirmed by the customer. This is a smart move, given that integration is rated as one of the biggest frustrations with IT systems,” he says.

Rowan sees printIQ integrating itself into a lean, digital-style production regime, with features such as fast and user friendly quotes turnarounds, W2P and MIS in the one, single system, artwork submitted directly into printIQ with a thumbnail of the PDF appearing on the quote screens, job bag and the invoice, and online payments made through an integrated credit card gateway. There is an interactive job bag that allows recording of time, altering the production path, generating POs and updating job statuses.

Tharstern is one of the pioneering MIS vendors in this market, and Tresta Keegan, managing director of the trans-Tasman company, says the latest generation of its MIS products have all the cloud acumen available today. She reports that around 25 per cent of Tharstern’s Australia-New Zealand users now access its Tharstern Primo product remotely, utilising virtualised environments, working with providers like Rackspace; or creating that infrastructure inhouse to achieve the same result. “In Australia, our first virtualised environment of nearly 100 users was in 2006 and well before cloud was the buzzword it seems to be now.”

In terms of integration with other cloud-based services, Thastern Primo, the majority of new customers coming on board over the last two years have opted for seamless integration with Xero Accounting; and Tharstern has a large site using the features of the cloud-based Netsuite solution – both are in the cloud, where sites using Primo are a mix of Primo in the cloud and locally hosted onsite in the printer’s environments.

Similarly, Tharstern’s MIS range is fully W2P compatible, explains Keegan. Tharstern has standard tools – APIs and web services using cXML — so collaborative partnerships with other industry vendors is typically easy to scope, develop and implement. “We have our own web portal product called e4printPRO which seamlessly integrates with Chili Publish for powerful variable data but Primo also seamlessly integrates with partner products like XMPie and Pent Net,” notes Keegan.

“Tharstern UK also offers a range of solutions not so openly adopted in Australasia but the portfolio is reasonably large and it means customers implement solutions that have the features relevant to their particular business objectives.”

Nicola Bisset, group managing director of Optimus, says the UK-based MIS pioneer’s product suite integrates well with W2P products. “At a technical level, a specially designed ‘web service’ uses internet-standard communication protocols; this allows it to receive messages from a variety of sources.

“Typically, these messages would be a request to create a job from a W2P order, or for related information such as to generate a price for an online quote. Because W2P systems utilise a wide range of message formats, once the messages are received by Optimus they are passed to an adapter which then converts them into a form that Optimus can process efficiently. This ‘adapter layer’ also means that Optimus can be easily adapted to talk to a wide range of W2P systems.”

She says that from a standalone MIS perspective, a Cloud-based Optimus dash MIS is able to deal with any process or substrate. “Given the diverse nature of our global industry and client demands, this has proven to be good software matchup for companies that might do things a little differently.”

Steve Leverington, sales and marketing director of Printers Choice, says its B2B solution can be skinned to a customer’s corporate branding. “It keeps track of current stock levels, allowing customers to review and place orders. Features include advanced searching, order status, order approval process and a selection of reports.”

He says the Australian-developed Printer’s Choice MIS, flagship product of the 14-year-old local software company, is a completely integrated solution from online to general ledger. It has the ability to run on Cloud-based servers, enabling companies with little or no network expertise to take advantage of the latest server technology.

 

W2P for a range of MIS

Australian developer Pent Net’s cloud-based W2P integrates with most MIS offerings, including Tharstern, Quote and Print, Dolphin, and EFI’s various MIS products, says Pent Net director Peter Ludwig.

He says Pent Net, an independent Australian software supplier specialising in the print industry, goes further than just integrating with MIS. It also connects to workflows, such Enfocus Switch and Pitstop, as well as Prinergy and Prinect.

“Pent Net’s philosophy is to enable our print customers to automate as much as possible, via connecting with their MIS, as well as their workflow systems, then all the way to their various printers such as HP Indigo, Fuji Xerox, Canon, Ricoh,” adds Ludwig.

MyPrintCloud is a W2P Cloud solution with an integrated print management suite to help commercial PSOs and design houses have instant web presence. Lucas Eyre, global business manager for MyPrintCloud, notes that it is shipped with a ready Retail Web-to-Print store, a catalogue of thousands of professional templates, and is as easy to use as a self-design tool and a shopping cart.

“The Web Stores are tightly incorporated with our integrated print management solution which enables you to collaborate across your processes effectively,” he says. “We also provide a CRM and Email Campaigning module to help companies build relations with their customers in an effective manner and keep track of their sales. The main aim of this comprehensive Print Enterprise Solution is to take the local print and design businesses a step forward, and build loyalty with existing customers in corporate and retail, while building a brand name for MyPrintCloud at the same time.”

 

Whirlwind for W3P

Andrew Cester, CEO of Whirlwind Print, a major trade printer located at Knoxfield in Melbourne, is a print ecommerce visionary. He sees flexibility and speed as the keys to the future of commercial printing nd predicts that MIS, equipped with cloud capability and web-to-print, will become the preferred model, as print buyers will be able to complete the majority of a design brief from their tablets, from where it can be fed into a remotely located art department, prepress and onto the presses.

These days, MIS is a concept that reaches far beyond simple order taking, even if that has long ago migrated online. The power of the web carries far more potential for print transactions than that.

Nineteen-year-old Whirlwind Print began as a graphic design agency and its heart has always been in this phase of the printing process, reflects Cester. So it was only natural that it would one day invest itself fully in design-rich web-to-print, a concept that is ingeniously being marketed as W3P, to differentiate it from W2P, which omitted design templates from the web equation.

Whirlwind’s W3P offerings, through exclusive Australian rights to UK design company Grafenia, were announced by Whirlwind to industry acclaim last year. There is w3client, which enables print buyers and ad agencies to create customer-specific, editable templates from Adobe InDesign in as little as ten minutes, and have them ready as orders, complete with print-ready PDFs. And there is w3shop, aimed at SMEs and micro-businesses, which can order online using a library of over 80,000 design templates and 25 million photos from Grafenia’s Fotolia image collection.

Cester tells ProPrint that since Whirlwind launched its W3P services, more than 100 Australian PSOs have signed up and he forecasts further rapid growth. Some printers have signed up for the w3client MIS alone, which enables integration with various financial software, such as Xero, and can generate invoicing, or be interfaced with internal financial systems.

However, most of Whirlwind’s printer clients have chosen the full online print management solution, including in their package w3shop, which can be transparently integrated as a tab in their websites. For example, Design To Print Solutions in Somerville on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, a Whirlwind client, has transformed its website from a relatively static repository of basic company information into a dynamic, content-rich ecommerce platform.

“The printers taking w3shop are either developing specialist niches in terms of their products and services, or else they want to become the most successful printer in their locality,” says Cester. “Right now, less than 30 per cent of printers in Australia have a true transactional website but we believe that will change quickly.”

Ecommerce relationships with w3client and w3shop users around Australia – integrated into Whirlwind’s production hub – have started to pay dividends for Whirlwind, bringing significant amounts of work to its Knoxfield site, keeping things busy on its Komori Lithrones, and increasingly also on its Xerox iGen and HP Indigo. Cester reflects: “We’re adding value to the design, print and procurement process and that’s the way of the future.”

 

 Choosing a MIS – some pointers

“The printer needs to have a clear vision about the problem – or multiple problems – they are trying to solve by installing the MIS. Knowing what they want to achieve from the MIS and communicating this to the vendor prior to install means far less miscommunication. It also allows you to select the MIS based on its strengths and best features to suit the problems you are trying to solve.”

Stephanie Gadden, CEO, DolphinWorxs

“Set aside resources to get the job done. Do the work to get the solution going in the shortest period of time. It is not a destination, it is a journey. Make sure that you review your solution every six months with your staff and also with the solutions provider. Staff leave, customers’ requirements change, there may be new machinery in your business, and this can all affect how you use or integrate your MIS solution into your business.”

Steve Leverington, Sales & marketing director, Printers Choice

“An MIS in our experience is an investment motivated by many different reasons and desires. Often these are born out of a particular bottleneck or multiple inefficiencies that bring a business to the point where doing nothing is no longer an option. A good MIS can accurately reflect sales, production and financial data in a myriad ways, in isolation and in combined form. Therefore the choices are numerous, so the key to preparing an MIS to be utilised to the best of its functionality is, in simple terms, to ensure that the company knows what specific emphasis they want presented from the get-go.”

Nicola Bisset, Group managing director, Optimus

“A printer needs to make sure that their MIS supplier is willing to work with other software suppliers so that the MIS can be integrated as part of a suite of software solutions including W2P and workflow. Then over time, all the various software can be integrated to enable true automation.”

Peter Ludwig, Director, Pent Net

 

 Avoiding MIS-takes

  • Customers must do their due diligence and make sure that they have chosen the right MIS. This is the number one priority. A close second is that the MIS vendor should have a solid local team that understands the market.

  • The MIS vendor should have a well-structured implementation process with key people to manage the project, pricing, set-up and support.

  • The data must be correct before entry into the new MIS and this is the perfect time to data-cleanse and take the time to test the current pricing, look at the product mix, and make the right business decisions.

  • Willingness to change is a strength that should be applauded but the key stakeholders should be aware that an MIS installation may plunge part of the business into confusion for a while; there is no escaping the upheaval. However the benefits, to the business, are enormous if it is executed well. The view of the business, with the right MIS, will be clearer and strategic decisions will be exponentially easier.

 

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