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The bottom line

Aug 1, 2006 12:00 AM


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Properly used, management information systems (MIS) are the keystone of a successful printing operation. Senior management relies on these programs to evaluate overall company performance while production employees use the systems to communicate all manner of job data from virtually all departments, as well as customers. JDF connectivity is enabling unprecedented process automation not only for internal manufacturing, but for external efforts, including Web-to-print and other initiatives. Here are some recent developments.

Reports for the rest of us
EFI's (Foster City, CA) Enterprise Information System (EIS) has been described as “a command center for decision makers.” In addition to tracking traditional performance metrics, users can monitor CRM data, such as buying patterns. The dashboard-style program lets users drill down to see more detail or ask questions creating a new view, using historical data and real-time information.

“EIS gives decision makers all the information they need in real time, organized the way they want to use it, with custom visuals,”explains Chuck Gehman, EFI's director of product marketing. “It's integrated with our industry-proven MIS solutions. It doesn't replace reports; it's an interactive way of seeing and packaging information to meet users' specific needs.”

EIS lets users click through data and instantly see a level of detail that previously was restricted to sophisticated users with extensive data mining and report creation skills. “It removes layers between the decision maker and the information so you don't have to be an MIS power user,” says Gehman. “It's unique and extremely valuable.”

Dave Minnick, CTO for Consolidated Graphics Group (Cleveland, OH) concurs. “EIS is a perfect fit, because you don't have to be in the MIS application to run it,” he says. “I can manipulate the information I want without having to rely on a custom report created by our programmers. It really puts the power of information into executives' hands without hours of programming custom reports.”

Consolidated Graphics Group is a 140-employee sheetfed printer with mailing, fulfillment and warehousing capabilities. The company has used EFI's PSI for almost a decade and beta tested EIS for 9 months.

“It works, and that's the most important thing,” declares Minnick. The CTO likes “knowing sales numbers, what's coming down the pipeline, what's going on in estimating, which sales made it to the plant and are in production, and which are out the door.”

Compared to a conventional MIS, EIS is faster and more flexible. “We might be looking at a pie chart showing our top five sales people,” says Minnick. “We can change that quickly, with a click of the mouse, to our top 10 or 20 salespeople. We can massage the query against the data very rapidly, moving from the current month to quarter or year.”

The Consolidated Graphics' team also uses the program for “what-if” scenarios. “In less than a minute, we'll look at the balance between our print and fulfillment — a snapshot for three years ago vs. today,” Minnick says. “All of a sudden, we'll [recognize] dynamics not seen in our normal reports.”

EIS is now in general release for EFI's PSI MIS and soon will be in beta for Logic and Hagen. Current EFI customers can get two named users for no additional cost; more users can be added for an incremental subscription fee. See www.efi.com.

Integrating print and business workflows
Kodak's Enterprise Management Solution (EMS) lets users integrate their print and business workflows. “It allows you to move away from having separate systems for RFPs, quoting and so on,” says Bob Kutschke, Kodak GCG's (Rochester, NY) GM, business workflow product group. “It integrates all of these pieces, [resulting] in a much more efficient, streamlined workflow.”

Creo began developing EMS in 2003, following the vendor's stymied attempt to acquire Printcafe. Kodak acquired Creo last year. “Creo recognized customers' workflow solutions are a critical part of their day-to-day business,” says Kutschke. “It's a natural addition to Kodak's unified workflow strategy.”

EMS targets $10 million and larger companies. It was built on an existing ERP (“Vantage”), which Kodak tailored to printers' needs. In addition to standard MIS features, EMS offers integrated quality tracking mechanisms and lot of data-handling flexibility — users can personalize the program to their specific needs.

While it won't be easy to compete with entrenched MIS vendors, Kutschke says Kodak, as a newcomer, can better serve the industry's changing requirements. “Typically, older MIS solutions focused on the traditional offset market. They might struggle with digital print, mailing and fulfillment or facilities management.”

Kutschke says EMS offers a real-time look at company performance. “It's proactive — it monitors the health of your business, such as the production department's activity level and status of outstanding quotes, and can alert you if things are out of balance.”

EMS was announced at PRINT 05 and currently is in beta testing with a 2007 release projected. Beta users include a mix of offset, web and digital printers ranging in size from $7 million to $100 million in annual revenue.

See www.kodak.com.

Automation and efficiency for better profitability
Hiflex (Warrenville, IL) is the leading European MIS vendor and hopes to build on that success in the United States.

“Hiflex is No. 1 in Europe because we have worked diligently with all of the press and prepress vendors to ensure our software is compatible with their equipment,” says Gary Marron, president. “We've helped make JDF a reality.”

Marron adds that Hiflex's strong alliance with graphic arts equipment suppliers has lead to many referrals. “We get a lot of leads from vendors who have our software in their facilities. They recommend it to customers looking for automation solutions.”

Hiflex initiates the MIS discussion with a needs-based analysis. Prior to visiting a prospect's facility, Hiflex requests feedback from all of the printer's department managers. “We ask them about ‘preservation,’ the things they don't want to see change as well as areas of abandonment, the things they hate about their current setup,” says Marron. “We then do onsite interviews. On our end, we're doing more listening than talking.”

Hiflex targets users ranging from $2 million to more than $100 million in annual revenue. “We help printers grow more efficiently so they can be more profitable,” says Marron.

Hiflex MIS modules include: Office, Factory and eBusiness. The Office suite includes estimating, order management, CRM, materials logistics and document management. Factory encompasses shop-floor data collection and production data collection, scheduling, shipping and JDF interfaces. eBusiness tools inlcude online PDF creation, finished goods ordering, fulfillment, data handling and online proofing.

Marron says Hiflex doesn't advocate cutting costs via reduced functionality. “By and large, every customer has everything we offer. You don't see amazing features and options in a demo only to lose them later on due to a competitive pricing situation.”

Knowledge is JDF power
This past June, Hiflex launched the first of five JDF Webinars. Led by Mark Anderson, Hiflex's director of professional services, the first three seminars covered JDF basics, Acrobat connectivity and JDF's role in prepress. On Sept. 6, Anderson will cover “JDF to Press and Postpress,” and he'll conclude the series on Oct. 3 with “Buying JDF-Enabled Products.”

“Showing live integration, especially with an MIS system, really helps printers understand the day-to-day usage and implications of the technology,” says Anderson. “It also will provide a good overview of what's achievable today.”

See www.hiflex.com.

Serious about growth
Don't call Cyrious Software (Baton Rouge, LA) a start-up. The 10-year-old company boasts 40 employees and about 1,700 installations of its business management software. Sign printers are a key segment, but Cyrious also offers solutions for small and midsize digital and commercial printers.

Years ago, founder Scott St. Cyr and his brother owned a five-location sign printing business when they found themselves at a crossroads. “Most entities grow [until] the owners are maxed out,” says St. Cyr. “We had reached that limit — the only way we could grow was with a system that had a top-level ability anyone could use. We needed to automate our salesforce and pricing — that was the genesis of Cyrious.”

The St. Cyr brothers considered adapting some MIS programs to suit their sign business, but ultimately determined no existing program could meet their requirements for a high level of automation coupled with a user-friendly approach to pricing even the most complex job.

“The systems were all fine for [general] production tasks, but they couldn't help us grow,” says St. Cyr.

A former IBM employee, St. Cyr holds a BS in electrical engineering from the University of Louisiana as well as an MBA from Harvard. He and his brother have long since sold their sign business, but they retain their entreprenurial spirit. Says St. Cyr: “We're focused on serving companies looking to grow, companies that want an MIS that can be configured to meet their specific businesses rather than the other way around.”

Cyrious' software packages include integrated marketing and CRM tools. By tracking purchasing patterns including total order cost, last order date, geographic location and other characteristics, the system enables users to run various database queries for targeted e-mail or direct-mail promotions. If a good customer hasn't been heard from in a set period of time, the system can automatically schedule a follow-up call on the salesperson's calendar. Users also can schedule automatic internal and external follow-up messages for certain events. For example, once an estimate has been received, the system can schedule a follow-up call with the customer as well as issue reminders to CSRs.

The company's flagship product, Cyrious Contol, recently beefed up its scheduling capabilities to provide a “virtual whiteboard” showing the date, time and length of scheduled activities.

See www.cyrious.com.


Katherine O'Brien is the editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at KOB@americanprinter.com.



MIS Products

Know your desktop productivity
How efficient are your prepress operators? EFI's new Auto-Count OpForma (to be demonstrated at Graph Expo) offers an alternative to browser-based data collection programs or paper logs. “It provides automatic data collection from production workstations,” says Gehman. “The collected information about what is being done on the workstation feeds into an OpForma server that is then integrated into an MIS for job costing.”

Today, catalogers use OpForma for production tracking. “It shows which operators are the most productive,” says Gehman. “In a high-volume page building environment, managers can analyze detailed information about [operators'] activities.”

The system also collects data automatically from workflow systems throughout the enterprise, including RIPs, file transfer solutions and DAM systems.



MIS overview
A new PIA/GATF bulletin summarizes the features and capabilities of 43 MIS programs. The report is based on a survey that consisted of 39 questions, 25 of which focused on the capabilities and compatibility of the MIS. Data mining has been used to identify MIS by function, including accounting, estimating, raw and finished material inventory, electronic job ticket, JDF support, fulfillment services, data collection, budgeted hourly rates, production standards, operating systems, printing markets, network capabilities, price range and Internet interface. Cost for the PDF is $99 for PIA/GATF members; $250 for nonmembers. See www.gain.org.
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Pricing books and much more
Founded in 1917, Franklin Estimating Systems (Salt Lake City, UT) still offers its pricing books, but the company has grown to include a full line of estimating and business management products. Franklin's 6,000 customers range from small shops to multimillion-dollar printers and national franchises.

Estimator 5.4, a recent release, lets users add copy machines into the press section, override Franklin Rates, archive estimates from client machines to a server, and print job tickets on sheets up 8.5 × 14 inches.

Other Franklin programs include Digital Print and Copy Estimator, and Data Manager, a job costing, data collection and employee time card system. See www.franklinestimating.com.
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Flexo and narrow-web solutions
Tailored Solutions (Milwaukee, WI), known for its Label Traxx print business software for flexographic narrow web converters and printers, recently debuted Label Traxx Version 5.0. Highlights include the latest version of the company's 4th Dimension database, a totally revamped user interface, enhanced order entry workflow and more connectivity to various digital printing presses. The new software version runs native under the Macintosh OS X and Microsoft XP Pro operating systems. See www.tailored.com.
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Colorcraft choses Prism
Colorcraft of Virginia Inc., (Sterling, VA), a high-end commercial sheetfed and digital printing company, has selected Prism USA Holdings' (Plymouth, MA), Prism-WIN print management system.

Colorcraft clients include industry associations, agencies, designers and corporations. Jim Mayes, president of Colorcraft, specifically cites Prism-WIN's navigation, ease of use, cost, support and flexibility.

Prism-WIN is JDF compliant and fully customizable. It offers 20 templated modules for commercial, digital or label printers. Prism-WIN operates in 15 countries worldwide, with more than 5,000 users. See www.prism-world.com.
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New GUI look and feel at Graph Expo
Avanti Computer Systems (Toronto) will showcase MIS solutions for commercial and in-plant printers at Graph Expo.

Highlights include:

  • A new look and feel for the graphical user interface.
  • CRM module, which includes full contact management functionality, sales forecasting and marketing campaign management, completely integrated with other Avanti modules.
  • Triggers and alerts that provide e-mail notification of events or status changes.
Founded 22 years ago, Avanti specializes in solutions for sheetfed, web, digital, large format and binderies. See www.avantisystems.com.
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Expanded tracking
Following 18 months of development, DiMS! (Lisle, IL) will debut DiMS! 700 at Labelexpo Americas. Key features include extended functionality of the iDiMS! Today workflow page, a new tracking tool for all production material whether raw material or finished goods; WIP inventory; a new estimating and pricing model, the Label Estimation Wizard; and an Order Management suite that searches for production and shipping efficiencies, and proposes cost- and time-effective production methods.

Founded in 1986, DiMS! serves the global packaging and printing industries, with offices in the United States, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, Germany and France. See www.dims.net.
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Choosing a system
David Taylor, president of Radius Solutions (Chicago), will give a presentation on selecting and implementing an ERP system Sept. 14 at Label Expo.

Founded more than 30 years ago, Radius Solutions got started in the packaging market and has branched out into the commercial print sector, specifically targeting large printers. Its flagship product, PECAS Vision, has more than 100 installations around the world. See www.radiussolutions.com.
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