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MIS selection tips

Apr 1, 2004 12:00 AM

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Finding the right management information system (MIS) isn't an easy task. Profectus Consulting (Sarasota, FL), a national print consultancy, has compiled more than 1,000 functional requirements for companies to consider when reviewing MIS options. According to president Craig L. Press, the midsize printer should consider at least 400 of these. Press suggests a three-step process for matching your company's current needs and to prepare for future growth.

  1. Form a committee of end-users from all areas of your shop who use the system on a regular basis. Assess which options staff requires and which other suggestions may improve workflow.

  2. Identify your business goals. Are you interested in adding fulfillment capabilities? Do you see full JDF-integration of your pressroom in the near future? Prepare now with a system that offers these capabilities, or pick an MIS that can be easily upgraded. Don't overlook small details, such as the data you want to see listed on a job ticket.

  3. Make a grocery list of features you want your MIS to include. “Be sure to prioritize the items on your list,” advises Press. “Will you be able to live with a third-party accounting program if an otherwise-perfect system doesn't include one?” Within each module, note the capabilities you absolutely require in a system. Rate the rest according to importance. (For a checklist of MIS functions, see “Making the best MIS choice,” February 2003.)

See the system at work

Thorough preparation will help you draft a request for proposal outlining your exact requirements. Weed out the inadequate systems and invite the top contenders to give you a demonstration. Create a demo script based on typical job scenarios in your plant. As the vendor walks you through the process, refer to your prioritized shopping list.

Press warns against being penny-wise but pound foolish. Rather, your requirements should drive your choice. High-end systems provide more functionality, flexibility and customability — the extra capabilities may be worth the investment.

The consultant notes we're still in the early stages of seeing JDF functionality built into MIS systems. As JDF matures, end-to-end computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) may soon be viable for even small printers. Review your JDF priorities with prospective MIS vendors. Gareth O'Brien's special report, “JDF and the supply chain,” (p. 41) offers advice on developing a JDF strategy.

Most system vendors have significantly expanded Internet capabilities, with Web browsers being used to execute programs, perform queries or even enter data for estimating or data collection. Many vendors have joined PrintTalk (Reston, VA) to facilitate MIS interfacing to third-party e-commerce systems. PrintTalk, a non-profit consortium of MIS and e-commerce vendors, was formed in 2000 to create an open standard for the direct communication of data between e-commerce applications and business-management systems.

A selection of recent MIS introductions for midsize printers follow. We'll be keeping a close eye on MIS news at Drupa next month and will keep you posted.

Avanti Computer Systems

Avanti Computer Systems' (Toronto) MIS can be customized for commercial, in-plant and on-demand companies. The system is modular and PC-based, but is said to provide solutions for both PC and Mac users. It can be run with a Pervasive SQL database or MS SQL database engine. The system accommodates single- or multi-location printers, and from five to more than 1,000 users.

Avanti's front-end features Internet and intranet modules; back-end options include production management, scheduling, job costing and tracking, reporting, invoicing, chargebacks, accounting integrations, purchasing, inventory and fulfillment. Integration with MS Word allows users to print pre-formatted quote letters; MS Project assists with scheduling and immediate data capture. Two types of job tickets are easily customized, and real-time data can be tracked using bar codes, keyboards or touchpads.

Established in 1984, Avanti is a founding member of PrintTalk, which has become a close partner with the CIP4 group in developing the JDF specification.

EFI PrintSmith, PSI and Logic

EFI (Foster City, CA), which acquired Printcafe in November 2003, offers PrintSmith, PSI, Hagen and Logic, each targeting different size users.

EFI PrintSmith automates processes from estimating through production to receivables for digital, on-demand, quick and small commercial printers. The latest release, V7, runs native on Mac OS X and features a new user interface. Options include custom reporting, point-of-sales support and an e-commerce add-on, PrintSmith Site, which offers customers an Internet-based desktop with product catalogs unique to each client. New orders and requests for quotes are sent directly from the PrintSmith Site to the MIS.

EFI Logic, EFI PSI and EFI Hagen also are making expanded use of the Web with EFI PrinterSite, a tool for the print-sales team. The Internet-based specification and job-status tool eliminates re-keying of job information. And, once a salesperson hits the submit button on his or her laptop, the spec is delivered to the estimating department and mapped directly into the estimating process.

EFI PSI offers tools for the growing commercial printer with sheet, web and/or flexo equipment. PSI's foundation suite includes estimating, quoting, job management, pressroom data collection, inventory and purchasing. Key options include PrintFlow Dynamic Scheduling for generating “what-if” scenarios and Auto-Count, a direct machine interface that links production equipment and the MIS for job-costing data collection. Best known for its web-press capabilities, Auto-Count is also offered for sheetfed and postpress equipment.

Auto-Count and PrintFlow are also offered with EFI Logic SQL. This MIS, for midsize and large commercial printers, has special features for digital, screen and in-plant facilities. An Estimating 3 module can be programmed to handle virtually any piece of equipment and/or process.

Since the Printcafe acquisition, EFI has added more than 20 employees to its MIS development and quality staff. EFI is currently working on JDF-conforming “connectors” to PrintSmith, PSI and Logic that will provide interfaces to prepress, press and finishing equipment.

Heidelberg Prinance

Heidelberg's (Kennesaw, GA) Prinance system fully integrates with other components of Prinect workflow solutions, but can also be used by companies without Heidelberg systems. Prinance uses MS Word for all written correspondence. V4.2 reportedly has the ability to import and export JDF, meaning a remote request for quote may be imported and much of the job data automatically inserted to begin an estimate. Prinance produces a paper job ticket as well as an electronic job ticket and JDF file. HTML versions of the electronic job ticket can be sent to any shop workstation with an Internet browser for up-to-date order information. When integrated with the Heidelberg Speedmaster Press via Prinect CP2000 Center, data from confirmed jobs is sent directly to the press through Prinance, complete with job name, sheet size and thickness, run-length and additional data.

Microprint system

Microprint (St. Catharines, Ontario) offers an integrated system for small to midsize sheetfed printers (less than $5 million), as well as customized estimating and order-entry modules for specialized printers. Other modules include estimate history, order entry, job-changes management, problem history, purchasing, inventory, job costing, data collection, shipping and sales analysis. Third-party accounting systems, such as Peachtree or Quickbooks, can be integrated. Also available are e-commerce solutions and Enterprise applications for multiple plant installations.

Microprint's latest upgrade allows for e-mailing of estimate quotes, job changes, order confirmations, packing slips and invoices directly to the customer.

Pace Systems Group ePace

Pace Systems Group (Jacksonville, FL) offers ePace, a browser-based business management and e-commerce system that operates internally on a local network, but also provides remote access to printers and their customers via the Internet. Estimating, planning, production, accounting and e-commerce modules can be integrated into one solution with a Web-browser interface. The latest version, V14, includes enhanced Web ordering and new user-interface improvements.

A Customer eService module enables printers' clients to perform real-time job status checks, online PDF proofing, shipment tracking, inventory management and standard order processing with variable-text replacement. The Pace System is JDF-compliant and uses an XML file structure for integration with other systems and applications.

Parsec Pinnacle

Parsec Corp.'s (Arvada, CO) Pinnacle system targets $3 million to $25 million commercial printers as well as in-plants. Pinnacle is available as an MS SQL server or MS Access application. Modules include estimating, job ticketing, job costing with productivity reporting, paper tracking, purchasing, scheduling, invoicing and sales analysis, data collection, fulfillment, finished goods, inventory and more. Integrations to a variety of accounting systems are possible. Pinnacle's newest feature is touchscreen data collection: Touchscreen monitors can be wall-mounted to gather information without typing; data is then integrated directly into the MIS.

An abbreviated version of Pinnacle, the ELS System, which offers estimating and job ticketing modules, has been developed for smaller print companies ($1 million to $4 million). Users can upgrade to the full system.

Printers Software MIS

Printers Software, Inc. (PSI) (Sarasota, FL) offers a PC-based MIS for commercial and in-plant print shops including sheetfed, web, binding, finishing and prepress. Modules include estimating, job control, Internet job tracking, shop data collection, scheduling, custom job ticketing, purchase orders, payables, finished goods, e-commerce and more. PSI regularly offers automatic upgrades based on user suggestions to enhance accuracy, speed and efficiency. Recent upgrades include faster estimate spec entering, expanded inventory-roll-stock management options and more flexible purchase-order entry, formatting and reporting. Founded in 1979, Printers Software reportedly was the first MIS with PC-data collection, dynamic scheduling and electronic job ticketing.

PrintPoint Graphic Arts Management

The PrintPoint (Palisades, NY) Graphic Arts Management system's cross-platform software suite includes estimating and quoting, automatic conversion of estimates to jobs, job tickets, job costing and tracking, data collection, purchase orders, shipping, invoicing, customer history and links to popular accounting systems.

PrintPoint's Litho Estimating system lets the user access all functions from a single screen, including automatic three-quantity estimate generation, instant access to paper, ink, press, prepress and postpress settings, and a graphical environment for job layouts. A large-format module allows prices to be calculated based on coverage or the user's pricing tables.

New features of PrintPoint V5 include to-do calendars, purchase orders, handling of metallic inks beyond silver and gold, network sharing of customized list views, storage of shipping records and built-in FedEx tracking.

Prism-USA Enterprise

Prism-USA's (Plymouth, MA) Enterprise system for midsize printing companies and in-plant printers is a scaleable system with customized user interfaces, Internet access for e-commerce and integrated accounting. Enterprise runs on the MS SQL Server 2000, and can accommodate multicompany database setup or centralized database setup for multicompany environments.

Enterprise consists of a suite of modules ranging from estimating/order entry to real-time shop-floor data collection. A standard Web-browser module allows system access by staff and clients. Recent additions include an integrated accounting suite, an e-mail module and a barcode inventory module.

Profit Control Systems C/S series

The Client/Server (C/S) series MIS from Profit Control Systems (PCS) (Carlstadt, NJ) is designed for commercial sheetfed, web, on-demand and specialty printers, as well as prepress, binderies and finishers. The series includes modules for e-commerce, request for quote, estimating, order entry, job jackets, fulfillment, data collection and financial control, among others. A new data-warehousing tool, based on the Pervasive SQL database manager, provides information for analyzing market trends and financial forecasting. With Crystal Reports' SQL Report Designer, the user can integrate specialized reporting requirements to fit a shop's individual needs.E-commerce applications provide instant order confirmations, status inquiries, change orders, shipping information and electronic billing.

C/S Revision 4 now has a collaborative order-processing system, which allows you to send automated e-mails based on defined events, for example, entry of an order or shipment notification. Also new is a fulfillment module, which features multilevel kitting, inventory tracking, notification of product availability at order entry and generation of picking lists.

PCS is one of the founding members of PrintTalk. PCS will continue to contribute to PrintTalk, which in turn supports the CIP4 Organization.

Tailored Solutions Litho Traxx

Tailored Solutions, Inc. (Milwaukee) created Litho Traxx specifically for midsize commercial sheetfed offset printing companies and prepress houses. The system offers front-to-back job-tracking software that integrates every staff member, function and department.

Litho Traxx runs on both Mac and Windows, and consists of nine individual modules including estimating, order processing, invoicing, job costing, fulfillment and quality control. Another module, E-Traxx, provides in-shop and remote Web-based access for customers and employees. A new Price Tuning feature helps printers evaluate bidding opportunities with “what if” scenarios that allow for adjustment of profit margins or prices of materials, labor and overhead. Printer sales access enables remote personnel to determine the status of jobs via password-protected online data.

Tailored Solutions is exploring JDF-integration tools and options. The company says that when these connectivity solutions “are practical for midsize printers,” it expects to support workable protocols.

Real-world MIS issues

Joe Metzger, president of Metzgers Printing & Mailing (Holland, OH), responded to our “In Register” e-newsletter request for real-world MIS feedback. He told us Prism's (Plymouth, MA) Enterprise is a perfect fit for his company.

“We are a $5 million printer/mailer,” writes Metzger. “We have warehouse/inventory within the same system — Inventory is connected to a website for instant inventory counts. We provide estimates to customers within two hours, and track all estimates and new projects daily. The internal paperwork is customized for our company and has let us grow, and more importantly, manage our business.”

Metzger also stresses the importance of in-house technical expertise. “No matter what system a company installs, it needs to have an information technology (IT) person on staff.”