Software improving flexibility and efficiency gives printers a lifeline

Today’s printing companies can barely survive without a powerful management information system (MIS). Matthias Prinz of German Crispy Mountain, developer of the MI system Keyline, explains what printers should consider when selecting and implementing such a solution.

Digital printing and the Internet as a distribution channel have dramatically changed the printing industry in recent years. The trend toward ever-shorter print runs means that the number of print jobs to be processed is on the rise, while administrative costs per job remain the same or even increase.

Money is no longer earned through high margins in the production of high print runs; the added value lies in related processes and their efficiency before and after printing. Without central management and control of all stages of print job processing, the daily routine of a modern print shop can scarcely be mastered. This is where MI Systems come into play.

The range of MI systems that is available for the printing industry has grown quite impressive. Printing companies have an abundance of choices as they determine which system will best meet their specific requirements, which ones can be implemented quickly and easily, and which will be the most easily accepted by users. Businesses must also consider which system will be the most future-proof and capable of adapting to the ever-changing requirements of a printing house.

In view of the large number of solutions available, what should print shops do to find an application that suits their needs?

From calculation to process management

Up to now, MI systems were primarily geared to calculate quotes. In a modern printing company, however, the MIS should keep its users fully informed about all processes within the company at all times – the MIS becomes the single point of truth.

Speedboats instead of tankers

Gone are the days when “monolithic” applications could be expected to solve everything on their own. Such programs might be powerful, but because they are also rigid, flexibly adapting to new tasks and requirements is practically impossible. Moreover, they usually represent a considerable investment and entail high follow-up costs for security updates, service packs, maintenance and support.

Also, due to increased requirements, legacy systems have typically become very complex. Preparing quotations even for simple print orders is often very tedious. A modern MIS, on the other hand, allows orders of any complexity to be calculated efficiently and quickly, thanks to a user-friendly interface and streamlined processes.

Basis for digital transformation of the printing industry

Even more crippling is the lack of connectivity of such legacy systems. They cannot be adequately integrated with other software solutions and machinery in the prepress, production and finishing processes. This is essential for the urgently needed digital transformation of printing operations that must include all process levels and machines.

The alternative is to rely on a networked infrastructure consisting of several satellites that are seamlessly integrated with one another. These could be other software applications, such as shop systems, accounting programs, Enfocus Switch, workflow solutions, special applications for calculating of printing forms or even the machinery for prepress, printing and finishing.

All of these units are constantly passing information back and forth. As the central data hub, the MIS receives and forwards data. It also functions as the mediator between the processes and thus forms the foundation for a smart print shop.

Openness is indispensable for automation The most important requirement of a modern software solution is therefore its openness. Support for open standard technologies and interfaces ensures that the application can be seamlessly integrated into any environment.

With the MIS keeping an eye on everything, the acceptance and checking of print data and, if the data is correct, releasing the job and forwarding it to production can be fully automated.

This openness is also key to offer customers additional services including self-service portals, Web2Print and more. This requires interfaces enabling such integrations in an easy way.

Software is a service nowadays

In light of today’s fast-moving printing industry, it’s necessary to further develop the software in a highly flexible manner. This usually works best when the respective solution is operated on a software-as-a-service (SaaS) basis.

This also provides business benefits compared with investing in an application installed locally, since monthly instalments are transparent and are considered operating expenses.

And, because a SaaS service runs in the cloud, it requires no local servers, which again would require maintenance, and the responsibility for the smooth operation of the application lies with its provider.

Putting familiar processes to the test

Introducing an MI system provides printing companies with the opportunity to analyse and evaluate existing working methods and processes and identify and correct inefficiencies that might be the result of outdated or bad processes.

Many printing company problems are the result of individual manual processes that have been developed over time. Once the existing procedures have been analysed, bottlenecks in the processes can usually be identified quickly. Processes can be significantly streamlined, resulting in impressive potential savings. The motto "time is money" is especially true here.

Involving the team right from the start

A successful implementation should involve the team right from the beginning. Employees can feel attached to familiar processes, even if they are not the most efficient. New software often cannot map this and can thus be perceived as an obstacle. In this case, persuasion is necessary.

A pleasant side effect of this approach: Often, individual employees have acquired silo expertise on processes that now can be incorporated into general-purpose software through the analysis of workflows. This increases the flexibility and security of work planning.

Realistic project planning

Although a quick implementation should naturally be sought, businesses must be aware that such far-reaching and sustainable change cannot be achieved in a couple of days. Along with the lack of employee involvement, unrealistic goals and scheduling are the most common reasons for the failure of such implementation projects.

The advantages of modern approaches within the SaaS model are also evident in project implementation: Instead of taking weeks just to gather the requirements, the users are typically involved at an early stage and the configuration is improved step by step.

MIS ensures competitiveness

A carefully implemented and integrated management information system helps print businesses optimise the flexibility and efficiency of their processes in previously unimagined ways. As a result, the MIS becomes an important prerequisite for securing the competitiveness and future viability of printing companies.

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