Print MIS: Can You Follow the Money?

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

In the average week (as if there is such a thing!) how many different jobs and projects are on your plate? If yours is like many shops these days, your work in process may span offset, digital, and large format work, along with direct mail, data management, maybe some fulfillment, and even mobile communications. The deadlines are relentless, the pressure builds and the frustration mounts, at least some of the time. And then your lead sales guy comes in with a new job that will add 100,000 pages to your “awake at night” list for each month of the next year.

You have reached the point, you admit, that the time has come to go beyond the minimal automation you have in prepress or production and adopt an overall print MIS (Management Information System) that can tie your entire company together. So you take a deep breath, dig out the brochures from the last big trade show you attended and go online to dive into some details before you pick up the phone.

Do you know about your moving parts?
You already know from talking with owners of other businesses like yours that some possess a detailed understanding of all the moving parts of their operations while others seem to move from crisis to crisis. You hope you’re not like the latter, but you still have a sense of being on a treadmill that ends in a race to the bottom for prices, profits and survivability. You know a print MIS can make a huge difference, but also that they do not come cheap. And you wonder, after all the time and expense, where is the ROI?

A great question. It’s one of the first things I’m asked when print business owners talk to me about MIS options. It’s a legitimate concern because adding a comprehensive MIS spans every part of a business and absorbs a major chunk of time, effort and capital. So after spending some time with some people at Avanti at PRINT 18 last year I figured they might have a handle on this. So I gave them a call. I’ll try to give you the Cliff’s Notes version of the main points here, and also link you to some resources that may help you with the decision.

First, Are You Automated?
If you really want to cut costs, take some people out of the loop. This doesn’t necessarily mean reducing head count, but is more like ensuring that everyone in your organization adds value you can track and measure. An MIS helps you do this, but requires that you work to eliminate as many physical touch-points as possible from job receipt to shipping. There are obviously places were physical labor is unavoidable, but the key is to eliminate or reduce these as much as possible because every one of them costs money. Avanti feels that the biggest way to save is to cut costs and grow without increasing head count. That new 100,000-page-per-month job that just came in, for example, may only be worthwhile if you can handle it without adding to your head count.

3 Paths to ROI
It’s no surprise that ROI is always a hot topic, whether the pending acquisition is a press, finishing system or software. The ROI for a press or finishing system is somewhat different than for software, because the right software can make so many daily tasks easier or faster, so the ways it is measured are a bit different. There are three key points for increasing ROI with a print MIS.

1. Increasing revenue per employee
Do the math to see what your real-world costs are. Your Customer Sales (Service) Reps (CSRs), for instance, may be spending time chasing down a range of customer information that could be automatically captured in an MIS and be fully accessible as needed. How much time do your CSR’s spend getting information for your Sales Reps? What if the CSRs (or the sales guys) could get the information themselves? Or more simply, take a look at the cumulative number of hours your CSRs burn up manually entering or writing job tickets. Even only 10 minutes per ticket adds up fast in a busy shop. Think of all the things your CSRs do if you could save 10–15 hours per person each week. Would that make your place run a bit more efficiently? Would it save a salary? Could it help profitability? Does that help in calculating the ROI on a MIS?

2. Processing more jobs with fewer touchpoints
A printer I talked with a couple months back talked about how he “took his foot off the hose,” by adding automation and letting software monitor the work in his plant. He and his team got more done and both topline and bottom line numbers improved. Having fewer touchpoints is a true case of ‘less is more.’ Having a job land in the print queue of a digital print engine that can run those jobs automatically reduces labor time, especially when those job specs began with the job coming via remote submission, then streaming untouched through prepress, production, finishing, and end with a shipping label as the job goes out the door. In some cases, the first time a job is physically handled is when it is boxed for shipping, yet with a solid MIS you know about every aspect of it from when it comes in through shipping.

3. Adding new products, services and revenue
Understand one thing: If your team persists in doing many tasks manually you will never—never—make more money by adding new products or services because your costs will always go up. You will invariably add head count (and you know how hiring is these days) and no matter you optimistically you crunch the numbers you cannot get consistent profitability just by adding new capabilities. And if you don’t add head count, your team will sooner or later be stressed out by the increased volume and go looking for other places to work.

Having a print MIS and more automation empowers you to work more efficiently so you can comfortably add new products and services as revenue generators instead of cost sinks. Moreover, this lets you do more for existing customers.

I think of a print shop I was shooting some video in a few months back. The guy had been in business for over a decade and did not think of himself as a printer, even though he had offset, digital and large format presses spread around his plant. He relied heavily on automation and an MIS to completely track and control every aspect of his operation, to the point where new business was always welcome because he knew he could find ways to fit it in without adding head count or rearranging his business.

But Wait! There’s More
These overarching points are all mission-critical but a comprehensive MIS includes the detail to encompass all aspects of your operation.

Like many print businesses these days you probably engage with some, perhaps even most, customers using Web to Print (W2P) capabilities that provide a fast and convenient onramp for incoming jobs to enter your workflow. W2P automates job submission and gets jobs in process faster.

Once acknowledged by your CSRs W2P jobs enter prepress, where still more automation ensures they are ready to print without being physically touched by your team. This includes ensuring required fonts are present and that images are of the correct resolution for printing, as well as informing you, your team, and the customer of any needed changes.

When each job reaches production, the job ticket informs the press and finishing system operators of paper type and size, colors needed, number of prints required, and finishing requirements so a job can continue to run with minimal human touches.

And finally, the MIS guides the completed job to shipping. This, as specified in the original work order, can be for local pickup or delivery or shipment to anywhere on Earth, including printing of appropriate labels required by local courier, FedEx, UPS, USPS or other shipping organization.

A full-featured MIS provides not only the three key characteristics of a streamlined and automated print MIS, but incorporates the details to let you monitor every step of the process for each and every job in your facility. And, it lets you know of any points in the continuum of work where you may be able to improve the how your team works.

The real advantages of a comprehensive print MIS are that they help control an operation while enhancing your ability to meet customer needs. The best systems also give customers a window into the process, so they can know where their job is and if are any aspects of it need attention. This eliminates phone calls, emails, helps contain CSR costs and makes for more satisfied customers. And what business doesn’t want that?

There’s some great info about all this from Avanti that provide a much deeper dive into the details to think about when considering a print MIS. They have a several eBooks available at Ebooks - Avanti Systems . Get your copy and prepare to become well informed.


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