MIS are often made to sound complicated. They are not. Simply put, a MIS is a software package that presents an accurate picture of your business in such a way that you can use the information to make informed decisions to improve it.
Used properly, MIS opens the door to greater efficiency, better relations with customers, suppliers and staff, and reduced costs throughout the printing process.
However, they are not just about raw data. Most quality MIS provide a range of tools that allow printing plant managers and owners to act on information, eliminate many costly operations from their business, increase their amount of saleable time and even go so far as to interact directly with customers via the Internet, updating them on such factors as job status and delivery times.
But some printers have been slow to react to the benefits of MIS. In spite of the time consuming and complex nature of manual quoting, a series of factors initially prevented printers from embracing the automation and accuracy presented by a good MIS. The theory that printing was a craft and that estimating could only be done by an experienced member of a printing company was a myth that held on too long.
But it is gone now and most printers of ambition have at least realised the value of automated quoting as provided in a MIS. In purchasing a system however, there are many important factors to bear in mind beyond the quote.
The first and most crucial is to make sure you choose a system that has room to grow with your business. Most vendors provide multiple levels on the same basic platform or, at the very least, some degree of scaleability. A print MIS should enable growth for your business. Outgrowing its capabilities will make it the opposite, a dead weight holding you back.
For the small commercial printer or copy shop with no intentions of growing beyond current levels there are a number of lower cost packages available that handle the basics such as quotes, job tickets, invoicing and accounts receivable. In today’s rapidly advancing technological climate, such a package is generally regarded as the minimum necessary to maintain efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
One thing a MIS won’t do is make poor quality information look better. At some point, humans must input data into the system. If this data is not accurate, then the power of the MIS is lost. So printers must understand that the set-up of an MIS is not a cure-all for their business. There are certain responsibilities that go along with it.
However, most developers of MIS realise this and have taken steps to guard against it. This is especially so in estimating, one of the most valued tools in any MIS, and an area traditionally prone to human error. Standardised, electronic estimating forms help to ensure that all quotes are generated the same way, with correct specifications for calculating costs.
An area where MIS can provide huge benefits to printers is scheduling. The days of sitting around thinking, “What would happen to that job if I made a change to this job” are gone. Smart systems can work through complex scenarios far faster and more accurately than a human brain.
So what are some other areas where a MIS can deliver benefits to an average print shop? According to a report produced by Philip Ruggles of California Polytechnic State University, significant advantages are gained throughout the process, from accounting to inventory, estimating and job costing/production control.
In the accounting department, Ruggles states that typical improvements that come with the installation of a MIS include improved cash flow management, reductions in bad debt collections and more timely financial reports.
Gains in inventory are made through more accurate and consistent estimates, faster turnaround and better cost and production control. Ruggles’ report states that a MIS can lead to a reduction of up to 50 per cent in the cost of producing estimates.
Estimating has long been one of the cornerstones of MIS. Indeed, some smaller packages focus almost exclusively on this area. Ruggles says that improved utilisation of inventory and better control of waste and spoilage are two of the key improvements that can come in this area with the use of a MIS.
Some of the biggest changes that MIS can bring to a printing operation come in production control and job costing. Faster billing, better control over costs and more information with fewer people are a few of the benefits that Ruggles has observed in this area. He estimates labour savings of around 50 per cent in job cost preparation and billing.
In a traditional print environment, any time a staff member produces more than one estimate for the same job or keys in the same information more than once, or keys in more information than is necessary, it is costing the company time and money. And most paper-based systems, intentionally or otherwise, involved plenty of this repetition.
This is where the simplicity of an MIS is at its most elegant. It eliminates re-keying, minimises inputs and means that staff time can be used more productively. And this is where many efficiency gains are to be made.
Some systems allow sales staff to create job quotes remotely, even while sitting with a client. Tools can be set in place that automatically remind salespeople to follow up on a quote, or to notify them of any other action that needs to take place, even generating and sending automatic emails or thank you notes. So customers rarely disappear from sight. The MIS simply doesn’t allow it.
The importance of MIS is equally critical for future-proofing a printing operation. As printers are forced to squeeze more and more efficiency out of their businesses, and concepts like JDF and computer integrated manufacturing (CIM) become a necessity rather than a status symbol, MIS will come to the fore. Indeed, they will be the heartbeat of any organisation operating a CIM environment.
Ruggles himself goes further, predicting that any printing company operating without an integrated management system will be unable to function effectively over the long term.
But it is no small investment, and is not to be taken lightly. MIS is rarely plug and play. The cost of implementation often outweighs the initial investment several times over and the system will likely be used by every member of staff. Nevertheless, it should not be put in the too hard basket. If a printer asks himself: ‘what is more important – a late model press or an MIS that can improve the efficiency of my entire operation’, the answer should be obvious. The problem is that the question is not always asked because the knowledge of what a MIS can do is not always readily available.
At the recent Print ’05 exhibition in the United States, MIS was a significant contributor, and the category was made a ‘Must See ‘ems’ selection by an independent panel of graphic arts experts. Must See ‘ems are an honour bestowed upon categories or specific products that are making, or are capable of making, a major impact on the industry.
“The most profitable 21st century printing plants’ sales, business and production operations are run based on information and data rather than instinct and seat-of-the-pants judgment,” read the selection committee’s report in ranking MIS a Must See ‘em.
“MIS is rapidly becoming one of a printing company’s necessary core competencies. While most printing companies have a computer on the premises, many limit its use to estimating, frequently utilising basic spreadsheets and perhaps job ticket preparation.
“Today’s MIS offer much more and are becoming a critical control point in the implementation of computer integrated manufacturing.
“Management information systems were selected as a Must See ‘ems technology category because of their increasing importance in printing plant operations and because there are new systems entering the market while some existing systems are being upgraded and improved so that they are almost new. Even printers that are satisfied with their existing MIS approach should review the current generation of MIS software to be sure that this aspect of their business is up-to-date and using currently available technology to improve and enhance operations,” the committee concluded.
The rate of change in the world of MIS is perhaps one area that has some potential investors thinking twice. Undoubtedly there have been some MIS vendors come and go. Any regular attendee at trade shows here and overseas could probably make their own list of names. However, only a little investigation can turn up those names that are established and not going away anytime soon. Just as you wouldn’t buy insurance from any Johnny-come-lately, likewise it is important to be cautious with MIS.
Look for suppliers with good networks and strong service operations. If they are sold through a distributor, check what other products the distributor sells, their reputation in the market and their service teams. With MIS, as with all software products, the installation is just the beginning. Knowing that you have a strong team behind you to ensure the smooth running of your operation throughout the installation and beyond is critical.