I’ve worked with ERP systems for many years. During that time, I have worked with businesses in every conceivable industry. Although I was exposed to the graphics arts manufacturing through an envelope manufacturer more than 15 years ago, I really didn’t know much about print until recently.
Since 2017 I’ve had a pretty intense education in all (or at least many) things related to print manufacturing. This is because we started selling a print MIS system called PrintVis for Business Central and frankly we’re overwhelmed by the response.
During my career, I’ve seen things done well and not so well with ERP implementations. ERP (more commonly called a Print MIS in this industry), is usually a combination of production, estimating and accounting software. Good ones also have kitting, inventory management, Web2Print integration, JDF and production. Here are 5 recommendations that I can make regarding getting the most out of your Print MIS system – nomatter which one:
1 – Template-Based Estimation
A good Print MIS needs to let you get quotes done faster, and more accurately.
I’ve read academic studies showing the faster a quote arrives at a customer, the more likely a sale will be made. More businesses buy the first quote they receive than all the rest combined. This is really significant to a print manufacturer, especially a commercial printer.
When you don’t have the right software, this results in a rush to get the quote out. The result, some quotations are going to be wrong by small percentage. That can have a devastating impact when the mistake is in the wrong direction with huge quantities.
In fact, these errors have so much risk in today’s low margin environment, the pressure from management is to take the time to ensure the quote is right. Likewise, the risk of losing the order is so high, the pressure is to rush the quote. You can see the problem!
Even those companies who invested in Print MIS struggle with this. In fact we often see really slow quote delivery.
Often this is because the older MIS systems weren’t designed for modern print manufacturing. Digital print, kitting, fulfillment… all of these requirements exist to day and didn’t really 20 years ago.
Most Print MIS systems were based on technology designs before these production needs existed. The work of an estimator is getting harder all the time, having to make adjustments to account for unsupported processes.
There are more modern print MIS software (like the one I sell, PrintVis) that are built on modern ERP platforms. Whether that is Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Epicor… these technologies are more current and flexible.
This problem with old MIS systems isn’t unique to print. We’ve seen it in sign manufacturing, job shops, production etc. Old technology that simply hasn’t kept up with the times.
Newer MIS systems introduce more flexible ways to create quotes. Often this is with a rule set, or a product model. In the PrintVis system this is called a template, which is a pre-built estimate that just needs a few pieces of information to finish.
Templates (or rule sets or models) really help all quotes. Whether simple or complex, the template is a starting point to speed up estimating. Studies have found that this approach cuts time spent by as much as 75%. Any good Print MIS should also increase accuracy, using the most recent pricing from vendors automatically.
2 – Automated Customer Integration
Web2Print is to the print world what eCommerce is to more traditional manufacturing. Basically, a web site to place orders for products and to track shipments, invoices etc.
Lots of small printers end up with corporate accounts, and most of these prefer Web2Print over an order desk.
You can get a “stand alone” Web2Print, but if you integrate the website with a print MIS like Print Vis, you’re going to have a big advantage over your competitors.
A corporate customer choosing between a vendor with or without Web2Print sites will almost always choose the former.
If you are a small commercial print manufacturer, and have the right Print MIS, this can be a huge advantage.
Web2Print solutions have their place with the small corporate business, but larger enterprise buyers want the next level: EDI.
EDI is a pretty advanced technology meant to send data between ERP systems by sending files back and forth over a network. Not many Print MIS systems do this well. Print is much more complex than simply ordering a quantity of a standard item. You may need to send the copy for a business card, perhaps an image, substrates, sizes and other features.
XML files are usually used for this kind of EDI file transfer involving print manufacturing. These special text files are designed to send more complicated information between computer systems. XML files can greatly improve efficiency when they are directly fed into orders.
JDF is a special kind of XML used by most of the major manufacturers and software vendors in the print industry. This is a must-have for any MIS system you would choose.
Look for an MIS system that supports all three of these technologies: Web2Print storefronts; XML data exchange and EDI; and finally JDF – which is a must have for an advanced MIS.
3 – Recovered Prepress Billing
You want to make sure you are invoicing for every dollar possible in today’s market. An area where I personally struggle is getting staff to report time we should bill for the little incidental things. This is true in print manufacturing in prepress especially.
One of the things that impressed me about PrintVis was the support for collecting this billable time. It helps users track it, easily and simply. It also separates the decision as to whether to bill for it from the user. I think this is key.
Our staff want to give the best possible customer service, and they often think doing things for “free” is the same thing. Customers are more than willing to pay for value added work, and getting that information from your MIS is a key to maximiing your margins.
A typical case is expecting a print-ready PDF and getting a messy, half organized bunch of jpegs with edits and notes on a Word document. We need to make sure we collect and then bill for the time to fix this (or send it back to the customer for them to).
Obviously we want to track and control time on presses and finishing for job costing. Segregating errors caused by customers so that we can bill it back is just as important. A Print MIS should let a press operator report scrap caused by different issues. Scrap from bad paper should be charged back to a vendor. Scrap from a plate error because a customer forgot the right phone number should also be charged. Best performing businesses track every deviation and make sure they control the entire process with software like PrintVis.
Be very clear in your quotes to customers that prepress and error related fees will be assessed. Make sure you have a good workflow to build control into the system. Your clients are usually happy to pay for extra services that make sense to them.
And make sure your print MIS supports all of this data collection!
4 – Inventory Management and Control
Coming from a more “traditional” ERP background, I am always surprised how poorly most print MIS systems handle inventory. With Dynamics 365 Business Central, and most other main-line ERP, inventory is a basic module. It really seems like an afterthought in more than a few print MIS systems.
There are a lot of types of inventory that really need control in print manufacturing. The most obvious is substrate inventory, as this is usually the largest material cost they have. Commercial printers claim they always buy-to-job, but reality is that most wish they could make bulk buys to save money.
Lean manufacturing principles teach that no on-hand inventory is the perfect environment, but this isn’t very realistic. Many types of graphic arts manufacturing do require raw materials to be in stock.
Companies that do best are able to manage inventory and minimize total levels while also maximizing production. A good print MIS is able to do this well.
In Business Central (for example) item forecasting and batched purchases cut costs by taking advantage of purchase price breaks. You can even save on transportation fees if you organize your purchases better. We often train planning departments to economically efficient purchases and maximize profit.
High end print MIS support Material Resource Planning like thata found in more main-line ERP systems. MRP is a tool designed to optimize inventory cost.
5 – Clean Data and Modern Systems
Graphic arts manufacturers really need good and accurate data in their system to achieve most of the first 4 recommendations. When I meet companies looking for new ERP/MIS systems, what I usually see is a lot of challenges with data. To maximize our business, we need to collect the right information, analyze it and ensure it is accurate.
Businesses that let their systems get out of control see huge extra costs (remember, time is money). Companies that think of the maintenance of data as a cost not an investment are always found to be laggards. The best businesses take their ERP or print MIS system and turn it into a competitive advatage.
Old and difficult to use systems are often the cause of this. The effort to maintain the data is way higher than in a modern system. Being able to update data with MS Excel, in an easy and efficient way is how almost all modern systems work. The ability to export, correct and synchronize data is critical.
You want your business to be the best it can be. If you have been in business a long time, you know this isn’t at all easy to do. That’s particularly true if you don’t have great tools to work with.
When your existing, old and out of date MIS system is holding you back, then it is time to look at something new. Be sure you select a modern MIS system that is built on 21st century technology and is going to be around a long time. Obviously I am a fan of PrintVis, but there are other top tier MIS systems you should look at.
Once you pick the print MIS that’s right for you, you also need a great partner to help you use and implement an MIS.
If the MIS/ERP implemetation company doesn’t follow modern “cloud ready” implentation methods; know your industry as well as you do; bring best-practices to the table; and is flexible and ready to help – then you need to look elsewhere.
The consultants you pick should understand these and other recommendations and be able to help you put them in practice, easily and simply.