I have worked with ERP systems for many years. During that time, I have worked with companies from every imaginable industry. Although I was exposed to graphic arts manufacturing through an envelope manufacturer over 15 years ago, I really didn’t know much about printing until recently.

Since 2017 I have had a pretty intense education in all (or at least many) things related to print making. This is because we started selling a printing MIS system called PrintVis for Business Central and frankly we are overwhelmed by the response.

During my career, I have seen things done well and not so well with ERP implementations. ERP (more commonly called Print MIS in this industry), is generally a combination of production, estimating, and accounting software. The good ones also have kits, inventory management, Web2Print integration, JDF, and production. Here are 5 recommendations I can make regarding getting the most out of your Print MIS system, no matter which one:

1 – Template-based estimation

A good print MIS should allow you to quote faster and more accurately.

I have read academic studies showing that the faster a quote reaches a customer, the more likely a sale will be made. More companies buy the first quote they receive than all the others combined. This is really important for a print manufacturer, especially a commercial printer.

When you don’t have the right software, this results in a rush to get the quote. The result, some quotes are going to be wrong by a small percentage. That can have a devastating impact when the error goes in the wrong direction with large amounts.

In fact, these mistakes are so risky in today’s low margin environment that management pressure is to take the time to make sure the listing is correct. Also, the risk of losing the order is so high that the pressure is to rush the price. You can see the problem!

Even those companies that invested in Print MIS struggle with this. In fact, we often see really slow delivery of quotes.

This is often because older MIS systems were not designed for modern print manufacturing. Digital printing, tailoring, compliance … all of these requirements exist today and didn’t really exist 20 years ago.

Most Print MIS systems were based on technology designs before these production needs existed. An estimator’s job is getting more and more difficult as it has to make adjustments to account for unsupported processes.

There are more modern printing MIS software (like the one I sell, PrintVis) that is based on modern ERP platforms. Be it Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Epicor … these technologies are more current and flexible.

This problem with older MIS systems is not unique to printing. We have seen it in sign making, workshops, production, etc. Old technology that just hasn’t kept up.

Newer MIS systems introduce more flexible ways to create quotes. This is often the case with a rule set or a product model. In the PrintVis system this is called template, which is a pre-defined estimate that only needs some data to finish.

Templates (or rule sets or models) really help every appointment. Whether simple or complex, the template is a starting point to speed up estimation. Studies have found that this approach reduces time spent by up to 75%. Any good print MIS should also increase accuracy, automatically using the latest vendor prices.

2 – Automated customer integration

Web2Print is to the world of printing what e-commerce is to more traditional manufacturing. Basically a website for ordering products and tracking shipments, invoices, etc.

Many small printers end up with corporate accounts, and most prefer Web2Print to an order desk.

You can get a “standalone” Web2Print, but integrating the website with a printed MIS like Print Vis gives you a huge advantage over your competitors.

A corporate customer choosing between a provider 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 among small businesses, but larger business buyers want the next level: EDI.

EDI is a fairly advanced technology intended to send data between ERP systems by sending files back and forth over a network. Not many Print MIS systems do this well. Printing is much more complex than simply ordering a quantity of a standard item. You may need to submit the copy for a business card, perhaps an image, substrates, sizes, and other features.

XML files are generally used for this type of EDI file transfer involving print fabrication. These special text files are designed to send more complicated information between computer systems. XML files can greatly improve efficiency when directly entered into orders.

JDF is a special type of XML used by most of the major manufacturers and software providers in the printing industry. This is a must have for any MIS system you choose.

Look for a MIS system that supports these three technologies: Web2Print storefronts; XML and EDI data exchange; and finally JDF, which is essential for an advanced MIS.

3 – Prepress billing retrieved

You want to make sure you bill every dollar possible in today’s market. One area I personally struggle with is getting staff to report the time we should bill for small incidental things. This is especially true in prepress printing manufacturing.

One of the things that impressed me about PrintVis was the support for charging for this billable time. It helps users to track it, easily and simply. It also separates the billing decision from the user. I think this is the key.

Our staff want to provide the best customer service possible, 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 key to maximizing your margins.

A typical case is waiting for a print-ready PDF and getting a bunch of messy, half-organized jpegs with edits and notes in a Word document. We need to make sure we charge and then bill for the time to fix this (or send it to the customer to do).

Obviously we want to track and control time on presses and finishing to calculate the cost of the job. Segregating customer-caused errors so that we can bill them is equally important. A print MIS should allow the press operator to report rejection caused by different problems. Waste of defective paper must be returned to the supplier. The scrap of a license plate error due to a customer forgetting the correct phone number must also be charged. Top performing companies track every deviation and make sure to control the entire process with software like PrintVis.

Be very clear in your quotes to clients that fees related to prepress and errors will be assessed. Make sure you have a good workflow to generate control in the system. Usually your clients will be happy to pay for additional 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 environment, it always amazes me how poorly most MIS printing systems handle inventory. With Dynamics 365 Business Central and most other mainline ERPs, inventory is a basic module. It really seems like an afterthought in more than a few printed MIS systems.

There are many types of inventory that really need control in print manufacturing. The most obvious is the substrate inventory, as this is usually the highest material cost they have. Commercial printers claim they always buy for work, but the reality is that most wish they could buy in bulk to save money.

Lean manufacturing principles teach that no on-hand inventory is the perfect environment, but this is not very realistic. Many types of graphic arts manufacturing require a stock of raw materials.

The companies that do it best are able to manage inventory and minimize total levels while maximizing production. A good print MIS can do this just fine.

In Business Central (for example), item forecasting and batch purchases reduce costs by taking advantage of purchase price discounts. You can even save on transportation fees by organizing your purchases better. We often train planning departments to make purchases economically efficient and maximize profits.

MIS support for high quality Material Resource Planning printing as found in most mainline ERP systems. MRP is a tool designed to optimize the cost of inventory.

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 come across companies looking for new ERP / MIS systems, what I typically see is a lot of data challenges. To maximize our business, we need to collect the correct information, analyze it, and make sure it is accurate.

Companies that allow their systems to spiral out of control see huge additional costs (remember, time is money). Companies that think of data maintenance as a cost, not an investment, always lag behind. The best companies take their ERP or MIS printing system and turn it into a competitive advantage.

Old and difficult to use systems are often the cause of this. The effort to maintain the data is much greater 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 essential.

Conclution

You want your business to be the best it can be. If you’ve been in business for a long time, you know that this is not an easy thing to do. That’s particularly true if you don’t have great tools to work with.

When your existing, old, and outdated MIS system is holding you back, then it’s time to look for something new. Make sure to select a modern MIS system that is based on 21st century technology and will be around for a long time. I’m obviously a PrintVis fan, but there are other top-notch MIS systems that you should consider.

Once you choose the right printing MIS for you, you will also need a great partner to help you use and implement a MIS.

If the MIS / ERP implementation company does not follow modern “cloud-ready” deployment methods; know your industry as well as you; bring best practices to the table; and he’s flexible and ready to help, so he must look elsewhere.

The consultants you choose should understand these and other recommendations and be able to help you put them into practice, easily and simply.

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