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Selecting an MIS

Jun 1, 2009 12:00 AM

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A printing company's management should visualize an ideal computer management solution to meet its current real needs and anticipated future needs.

The company needs assessment should factor in expected company growth, likely customer/product/market directions, time-compression issues (e.g., faster estimating/proposal turnaround to keep up with the competition), major manufacturing changes such as the use of electronic prepress equipment, digital presses, or adding a first web press to an all-sheetfed plant, etc.

Identifying such a wide range of detailed current needs that cover the entire company is not easy for a newly formed team. In some cases the needs identification process is given cursory or limited inspection, with the logic that the team will return to this once more is known or as the particular area comes up during later steps in the process. Sometimes the employee who “yells the loudest” forces certain needs to be emphasized, or management focuses on where the biggest production bottlenecks seem to be, or where job cycle time is too long. Some typical statements might be: “It is too hard to predict where we will be in a year or two,” or “We need the system now and we've already waited too long,” or “Our reasons for the MIS were obvious and we needed to correct them immediately.”

Here are the eight suggested needs categories for a typical printing company. The bullet points under each category are presented for example here and should be expanded to include other items specific to each company. Other categories could also be added. The level of priority of each category will vary from company to company, but prioritizing might be helpful so long as the dominance of any area is not excessive. For example, the estimating staff might attempt to make a case that estimating is of greater need importance than accounting or production scheduling. Certainly if estimating software were the only need of the company — and it might be for a smaller firm — then it seems reasonable that only estimating and production planning staff should set the need parameters. Overall, setting priorities of the company's computer management needs, when done carefully, is beneficial.

Production management needs

  • Order entry system and reports.
  • Production analysis and scheduling system and reports.
  • Inventory control system and reports.
  • Job status and work-in-process control and reports.
  • Electronic job ticket capability.

3 Estimating and job engineering needs

  • Detailed and summary estimate capability.
  • Quotation and proposal development.
  • BHR development, number of cost centers.
  • Link with automated factory data collection and job costing.

4 Accounting needs

  • Invoicing and statement production (number of monthly invoices issued).
  • Payroll (number of checks written monthly).
  • Accounts receivable reports; link with job costing and job costing reports.
  • Accounts payable reports and production (number of checks written monthly).
  • General ledger.

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5 Management needs

  • Potential direction for company growth (long-range business plans).
  • Future company computer needs.
  • Initial cost of the computer system; long-term support costs.
  • Balance sheet and income statements.
  • Monthly and weekly financial statements; ratios and profitability.

6 Implementation and training needs

  • Warranties on hardware and software.
  • Projected cost of software support and hardware maintenance.
  • Training programs (availability, cost, need, and effectiveness).
  • Clarity of documentation (manuals) supplied with system.

7 Critical customer needs

  • Customer service interface with order entry.
  • Immediate work-in-process status inside plant.
  • Customer electronic telephone link for work in process.

8 Marketing and sales needs

  • Effective quotation control-pricing link.
  • Sales analysis.
  • Profitability by customer and job, value-added reports.
  • Customer list system for market development.

Practical and support needs

  • Physical requirements of the computer system.
  • User-friendliness of the system.
  • Computer system storage requirements and capacity.
  • Support personnel for the computer system.
  • Other uses of the computer system for electronic mail, word processing, etc.

The needs criteria should be detailed enough to establish system parameters, but not so detailed as to make the criteria unworkable. Certainly the greater the detail, the more information can be sought out about each system later, but excessive detail sometimes makes the process too overwhelming. For example, the modular system contains 17 modules, so another way to build the needs matrix is to use each module as a category listing and assign a team member the task of setting the needs for one or more modules. If all 17 modules provide the basis of the needs matrix, and each is broken down in great detail, the evaluation might become unnecessarily cumbersome.

Once the needs criteria are established, the team should spend time visualizing the optimum or ideal computer system the company would like to have. This visualization process can be done with reference to the needs criteria already established but should focus on what the company would optimally like from a computer management system.

Visualizing or thinking in terms of an ideal MIS for the company (1) allows team members to think beyond just a list of the needs criteria; (2) shifts thinking from being fixed on meeting a group of practical needs to addressing integrated problems the computer system will be able to resolve, such as plant scheduling; (3) allows team members to visualize themselves in a computer management environment; (4) empowers team members to think futuristically about the company as a whole; (5) permits team members to add valuable ideas that might not otherwise be stated.

Identifying current needs and visualizing the ideal computer management solution should not require a large amount of time, but it is important ground work for the next step.

This article was excerpted from “Printing Estimating: Costing and Pricing Print and Digital Media, Fifth Edition,” by Philip K. Ruggles. The author collaborated with Joe Polanco, president, Printing & Imaging Assn. of MidAmerica, in the digital print area. Copies can be ordered from Printing Industries Press Bookstore at

More MIS help online

Want more MIS information? You'll find many helpful articles at

  • W2P: From pricing to streamlining production, there's something for everyone, March 2009.
  • Automation pays (AGS uses Avanti's MIS to excel at lean manufacturing), January 2009.
  • EFI stays connected (2008 users group report), October 2008.
  • Board games: Some tips for better scheduling, December 2006.
  • MIS selection tips (Profectus' Craig L. Press details a three-step evaluation process; readers also offer their advice), April 2004.