10 September 2018 Business

To make sure the price is right

Visit the Print Show to explore the possibilities in MIS to help make running the business easier, to cope with the proliferation of short run jobs that need to be delivered tomorrow and to make sure that on this type of work the are still profits to be made.

The back of a fag packet method of running a print business is no longer possible, and not just because today’s cigarette packets are impossible to write on or have been replaced by impractically small cartons for the nation’s vapers.

Nor is the Excel spread sheet a viable means of running a print business where the speed of raising an estimate, the accuracy of that estimate and the ability to track a job through the production process become essential. A generation ago, a job might be on press for the best part of the day, two sections printed in the morning, two in the afternoon. A printer had a couple of weeks to deliver a job and there was plenty of manpower to talk to the client and to produce the invoice once delivered.

That has gone the way of bowler hats and bobbies on the beat. Today a print business needs to deliver in two days, has to produce dozens of jobs a day and has fewer not more staff to do so. Walking around and asking about job progress is disruptive let alone a waste of resource. Automation is the order of the day. This is why printers need modern approach to MIS.

In its purest form, these provide information that is useful to the management of the business, running the calculations about the cost of a job, the scheduling of that job and the imposition of that job to plate. The MIS will also calculate the best way to produce any job, whether on the digital press or on the B1 litho machine. Add in the tracking of the job as it moves from receipt of a digital file to prepress, press room and into finishing and dispatch.

Increasingly the job will come in through a web portal. Indeed the job ought to come in through a web portal because the act of opening on email and extracting the PDF attachment is in itself a touchpoint that is unnecessary.

This is pretty much the minimum requirement of an MIS today and those suppliers at the Print Show ought to be positioned to answer these questions. The traditional MIS providers are represented by Tharstern, Imprint MIS, EFI and Optimus. All are supporters of JDF as the format to enable communication between the MIS and the production equipment, both sending data about the job to help automate set up and cut makeready times, and also to receive back information about progress of the job. Once this structure is in place, the delivery of that data to a dashboard, to a mobile phone or tablet, automating alerts if necessary, becomes relatively simple.

Accura MIS is another of the long standing MIS providers, but it has taken a different approach to automation. Rather than work with JDF to enable different systems to communicate with each other, Accura has built its own solutions from a web to print portal through the tracking and management of the work. It has adherents in the independent printer sector.

The most interesting developments in MIS are coming from the application of cloud computing technology to what has been a client-server structure. This was needed because job data would be held in a data base and the number crunching needed to work out the estimates and balance the scheduling requires heavy computer power. A server was the only practical approach. No longer.

Optimus with Dash was probably the first to employ an icon led and software as a service approach to building a different style of MIS. This was because the range of products that its customers need to produce extends well beyond traditional sheetfed litho into wide format, packaging, promotional goods. And because the highly experienced estimator needs greater support from account handlers because of the number and variety of jobs that can be produced.

Clarity MIS comes from the wide format sector with tools that cover the cost of installation as well as features to minimise waste. “Our next phase of development will be to enable quoting in the cloud,” says a spokesman.

German developed Keyline is among the first of the generation of suppliers using the latest computer technology. It is entirely cloud based, it makes extensive use of APIs to link to third party solutions. Need a link to a preferred open source CRM system? Can be done in hours, not weeks or more.

The traditional MIS providers are still in the game and are becoming more flexible, in part thanks to improvements in computing. A new version of JDF, XJDF, is worth asking about. This will help make integration projects faster and simpler and this is needed because the pace of development in print is increasing not slowing and there is no longer the time to step out for a cigarette let alone to scribble on the back of the packet.

Gareth Ward

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Dashboards help managers spot trends and identify which jobs are generating profits. They also provide information that is useful to the management of the business, and calculate the best way to produce a job, as well as track jobs as they move from receipt of a digital file to prepress, press room and into finishing and dispatch.

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