Tailormade technology

One size certainly does not fit all when it comes to management information systems. There are few investments at a print shop that come in so wide a variety of styles, from off-the-shelf to tailormade. If you’re a small operation, customising your MIS probably isn’t the best look (chances are a basic small business enterprise package will suit your needs) but if you’re a larger, more complex operation, bespoke is the buzzword. The principle is to identify your company’s requirements before slap­ping down your cash. Talking to printers that have recently changed up their MIS, ProPrint finds that there are as many different variations as there are users.

Just like in high fashion, going bespoke is not the cheap option. If your spending power is big, you’re more likely to be able to afford the tweaks to suit your personal needs. The large print companies in Australia that have been installing MIS products in recent times have the kind of leverage to ensure their MIS vendor responds to a lot of extra spec’ing out.

The franchise print network is perhaps the ultimate test of integrating a MIS. It needs to work across a nationwide web of shops where a patchwork of practices, pricing and products comes into play. Worldwide Online Printing recently announced it had chosen Quote & Print as the MIS of choice for all franchises. The installation includes two-way information transfer with Worldwide’s production hubs, integrated management reporting for each centre, and integrated web-to-print. There are as many as 100 jobs each day, most on low volumes with lightning turnarounds, which require a load of automated management muscle.

Snap to it

The country’s largest franchise group, Snap, needed a workflow accessible to all parts of its business, from storefront, to printers, designers and bindery, across more than 150 franchises. A Prism customer for many years, Snap switched to Press-sense iWay some six years ago, but after the supplier entered administration and was acquired by a larger company, Snap returned to Prism. Snap has been rolling out a customised version of Prism’s WIN product on a scale rarely seen locally.

With four sites already fitted, Peter Driscoll, Snap’s general manager of IT, says Prism WIN is providing greater hour-by-hour operational intelligence, and greater cohesion on business goals.

The Report Writer module can effectively be used to create an extra layer, so there is the option to access all functions and menus. Driscoll says this can be used to tailor interfaces to suit the needs of different users, to “create a multitude of consoles for the entire business.

“For instance, if you’re a graphic designer, these systems often feel remote: they don’t work like InDesign or Photoshop, so you end up getting poor use. We found we could create an interface that’s effectively a website. Designers click on a design console that lists all jobs in their tray. They interact with that console: click on it for more notes, to send it out for proofing or to access files. It’s an interface they’re comfortable with.”

Another module that stands out for Snap is ‘Wizards’, which has superseded templates in the ordering process. Wizards enable consistent transactions, based on highly customised questions to the print client, depending on the type of job.

There has been a high degree of collaboration between user and vendor. Snap’s nine IT personnel, based both at the corporate HQ in Perth and in Sydney, have worked closely with Prism. Snap, in turn, has had valuable feedback from the franchises running WIN. For example, Wizards has been redesigned, as it initially “assumed too much expert knowledge”, says Driscoll.

For a completely different type of Prism customer, look no further than signage giant Mills Styrox, which runs a specialised version of the MIS. Chief operating officer Melissa Gittus says its Prism MIS is fully customised across all modules including accounts, purchase ordering, sales order processing, but especially in quoting and job entry.

“Fortunately I had several years exper­ience with Prism and was able to complete most of the customisation myself, so the direct costs of Prism carrying out configuration work were minimal. That said, Prism is very adaptable and if you have a senior person with a vision of the expected outcome, together with someone with systems experience, it’s very easy to configure in-house.

“The more you do in-house, the better. You aren’t just saving money but getting an integral understanding of the system. We have found this is critical as the business grows and evolves, fine tuning or adding processes and machines to whole business acquisitions,” says Gittus.

“However, there will always be short-term indirect costs of training and loss in productivity, opportunity cost during implementation, not to mention potential hardware and network costs to get the foundations ready to install.”

Helping each other

But tweaking the system isn’t always a costly exercise. Melbourne-based Print Bound wanted to change a feature in the production control module of its MIS, Printer’s Choice. Specifically, it needed to track the overs to the length of the run. Print Bound wanted this to occur in an incremental or smooth way, rather than in the more rigid way that the software calculated overs by default.

The changes were written by Printer’s Choice as they applied to Print Bound’s two Heidelberg presses, a 12-colour Speedmaster SM 102 and a six-colour CD 102, and to the bindery, on a Heidelberg Stitchmaster ST 350 and two Stahl TH 82 folders.

Mauro Mattarucco, managing director of the 20-year-old print house, which has 50 staff and also offers photography, design and finishing services, says: “Because it was a feature that Printer’s Choice could use with other customers, we weren’t charged for the customisation.”

To date, he has not asked for any changes in the MIS that would be unique to Print Bound, but reflects it would be fair enough for a supplier to bill for a one-off modification that had no further applications across its customer base.

Straight out the box

Making the case against high-level vendor customisation is Hyde Park Press. IT manager Peter Lawrance says that most of the modules of the company’s TharsternSQL MIS suited its needs straight out of the box (with some exceptions, such as laminating).

“Although Tharstern does not have a laminating module, we find the reel width and material length parameters in their web printing module generate correct times and material usage for laminating estimates,” says Lawrance.

“About the only customisation we have requested involved displaying the word ‘digital’ in the purchase requisition list against stock that must be purchased promptly for digital jobs. The customisation we requested carried the sort of per-hour cost you would expect for writing database scripts.”

How much should you customise in-house? “It depends what you count as customisation,” says Lawrance.

“Most of our reports and other documents, such as job dockets and purchase orders, we have written ourselves. Our MIS supplier is happy for us to write SQL triggers to do such things as export data to our CRM or check for operator errors. Tharstern has a handy feature called ‘alternative text’ that we use extensively to replace British terminology with our preferred terms, for example, swapping ‘origination’ with ‘pre-press’ and ‘carriage’ with ‘freight’.”

It’s obvious that customisation is widespread at Australian print shops. But does size mean clout in demanding that extra level of customisation?  

“Probably, yes,” says John Durkin, managing director of MIS developer Printcost. “But bigger printers drive development a lot of the time anyway. When a bigger printer pays for bespoke work, in effect they’re paying to be the first business to have the new feature up and running.”

vendor views customisation


The MIS is known for being hugely customisable, says ANZ managing director Tresta Keegan. “The tools that sit within the framework of the MIS for creating customi­sation are varied, with the sky the limit.”

Quote & Print

Marketing manager Marie Dias says: “The most productive approach is for MIS vendor and printer to work co-operatively to understand the way the system’s flexibility enables us to meet many business require­ments. In our experience, printers who try to do a large amount of software develop­ment in-house usually turn out be better at printing than at software development.”


Managing director John Durkin says: “Leave it up to the supplier. It’s what they do and what they’re good at. It’s a false economy to try to do configuration work in-house.”


Managing director Nicola Bisset explains that its MIS is designed with an open architecture to ensure it caters for all sectors within print. Optimus Dash has a ‘sales enquiry’ system producing quotes for any work, regardless of substrate.

EFI PrintSmith

Ricoh Australia recently added the MIS to its offerings. Damien Robins, Ricoh Australia’s product manager, production software solutions, says the software is highly customisable in terms of forms, reports and how quotes are generated.

Printer’s Choice

Sales and marketing director Bill Kuyper says in its MIS can be tailored for offset, web, screen, digital and wide-format, pre-press and finishing houses, print management and online ordering, and now for sign makers.

Dolphin Software

Managing director Stephen Leverington says: “We charge out customisation at our stan­dard service level rate. Some customisations range from one to two hours to a complete project that we create a full specification for, and agree on with the customer.”

Case study Colorpak

Over the first quarter of 2011, the packaging firm took over the folding carton division of rival Carter Holt Harvey. Colorpak now operates folding carton printing facilities at Reservoir, Mt Waverley, Braeside and Dandenong South in Victoria, Regents Park and Villawood in NSW and Penrose in New Zealand. When it announced it would roll out Optimus 2020 to all the new sites, it became the UK MIS developer’s largest local installation. 

With scale on its side and a collaborative culture at the client and vendor ends of the deal, customising 2020 to the package print giant’s requirements was a challenge well met, says Colorpak’s chief information officer, Paul Grobler.

Colorpak needed Optimus to develop a tailormade module for tracking and reporting reel-to-sheet flow on the SAP system introduced by Carter Holt Harvey. “As you can imagine, SAP is a very big beast and expensive to customise,” says Grobler. The reel needed to be identified by the number assigned by the mill, before being sheeted into sizes required for a particular job. Colorpak wanted the ability to track and report every piece as it flows from reel, to sheet, to product.

“So if we end up with any problems, we should be able to identify the reel. That would also enable us to identify which customers are affected. We might not sheet a whole reel in one go, so we needed accountability to pinpoint the reel. We needed to be able to say it was a reel received on a certain date, of a certain weight, and for a certain type of carton. It’s a quality issue, and we needed to be able to spot a problem and trace it back to the source.”

That was not the kind of spec that could be explained in an emailed brief, says Grobler. Consequently, Optimus software design director Henny Van Esch was flown out from the UK to collaborate with Colorpak’s national applications manager Rachelle Lace on developing the module within the 2020 framework. They spent a day at the Reservoir site talking to production and financial personnel, gauging how they track and report through SAP, before producing a brief they presented to stakeholders. On approval, work began on writing the software for the module. Grobler says the module will be integrated into 2020 before it goes live across relevant sites that use the reel-to-sheet module.

While Grobler acknowledges the sheer size of the installation made it worth their while to invest so heavily in a customisation spec, he credits the MIS developer with great foresight: Optimus, which has been Colorpak’s MIS provider for years, had supported its client when Colorpak was smaller.
“They’ve always been there and able to assist us with making scope changes when required. They’ve always made the effort to get someone out on site to understand the business.”

So, the 2020 install at Colorpak is an object lesson, not only in technical acumen, but in loyalty to the client and relationship marketing.

Comment below to have your say on this story.

If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at editorial@sprinter.com.au.  

Sign up to the Sprinter newsletter

Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required


Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.