In addition there are now other suppliers that offer software packages that can be added on to existing systems for client relationship management (CRM), quality control, environmental performance, warehouse management, shipping, color management, inspection, pre-press, third party connection, accounting, e-Commerce, EDI and other related areas. Indeed the list of add-on software solutions continues to grow all the time.
Many label and package printing companies may already have standard software packages, such as Sage for their accounting and financial control, before deciding to invest in a more sophisticated MIS system to help them administer and manage their, increasingly sophisticated, administration and production operations. This is particularly true for those that have invested in digital printing and have found they need to handle more and more shorter runs, all kinds of versions and variations, personalization and color management, more invoicing and increased management functions . all of which can cause bottlenecks.
Choosing a Management Information System can therefore be a challenge to any label or package printer that has not really had to think too much in the past about the way they manage their business and may have got by using home grown spreadsheets or custom products, yet now want to provide an increased level of service, reduce turn-around and production times, and manage and analyze a growing volume of sales, production, management and business data.
Few will know initially what they are looking for and what to include in their MIS investment, or really know who to talk to about the challenges and options available. Certainly there will be some soul searching and internal discussions well in advance of actually purchasing a system. Is the company ready for change? Will the staff embrace the change? If not, then it may be advisable to halt the investment process at this stage.
Let’s take this a little further and try and set out some guidelines on how to go about successful MIS investment.
CHOOSING AN MIS SUPPLIER
There can be little doubt that chosing the right MIS supplier is an important decision for any label or package printer, probably alongside decisions like buying a new press or pre-press hardware and software. It is important for the future management and profitability of the business, and has implications regarding employees and training.
It is also important to understand the benefits that a universal industry specific MIS can bring to a company, as opposed to a having a number of different systems. It will undoubtedly bring particular benefits for large businesses with a lot of equipment and processes, but even some of the smaller label and package printers – particularly those that have, or are about to invest . in digital printing.
For those in a label or package printing business that are responsible for sourcing an MIS there will be a need to think carefully about what they want to achieve within a complete business-wide integrated MIS implementation, especially on deciding where to best focus attention and on what areas of the business most require help or support to improve efficiency or performance.
Initially, a wish list of features . defined and written down . will need to be prepared as a starting point for talking with MIS and other specialized industry-related suppliers. This list needs to be broken down into categories (estimating, order processing, production management, inventory control, quality control, costing and accounting) in a way that can be given to potential suppliers. The workflow chart (Figure 10.1) is perhaps an ideal place to start.
Figure 10.1 The basic functions of MIS and Workflow Automation and how they relate to each other in a typical MIS workflow system
Knowing what the company would like under each heading or category, or more precisiely, what they actually need, is therefore a prerequisit. Finding the right solution and supplier can be a challenging and serious business, but the company must clearly define its requirements under each heading before starting the search.
Undoubtedly the most successful installations will be the result of having clearly set-out the company’s requirements and then both sides agreeing on exactly what is being supplied, when and at what cost. However, do not make the mistake of having too big a team to draw up the specifications; everyone will be asking for different (often conflicting) requirements and this can end up delaying implementation and maybe an over-specified and much more costly installation. Perhaps better to concentrate on the basics, but which can be readily upgradable.
Having now mentioned ‘cost’ it should be stated that this is a key factor that needs to be agreed at a very early stage, even before approaching a supplier. The company should certainly have a pretty clear idea of a budget target or cost limitation before talking to any vendors; something that potential suppliers will certainly want to know.
Key people in the company obviously need to be involved in decision making, with the leadership staying involved, rather than looking to delegate the whole project. Also make sure to use the vendor’s experience, use their training services as often as is required, and make sure that the project team meets on a regular basis.
A key point to consider is that with all information management systems it needs to be agreed prior to establishing and implementing that all information assets are corporate assets; that information should be made available and shared (although not all information is available to everyone in the company); and that all information that the company needs to keep and archive is retained and managed corporately.
This can be increasingly important today when internetworked information systems play a vital role in the business success of an enterprise. The Internet/intranet can provide the information infrastructure a business needs for efficient operations, effective management, and competitive advantage.
It perhaps also needs mentioning that is important to choose an MIS supplier that understands the company’s specific industry sector needs (labels, cartons, sleeves, flexible packaging, etc.) and that will support the company’s business through ongoing growth and other changes.
Certainly a close relationship with the MIS supplier will be a vital component in the success of the MIS installation and in the ongoing development of the business.
Probably one of the most common and really expensive mistake company’s make when choosing a MIS solution is when the label or package printer gets sold a system by a supplier that doesn’t really understand the intricacies (tooling, range of substrates, foils, different printing processes, etc.) of their specific business. There are certainly horror stories about label converters and package printers that have purchased generic print MIS solutions that were built for general commercial printers and didn’t fulfill the company’s requirements. Implementing a new MIS is already a major exercise without having to be faced with teaching the supplier about things such as die libraries, unwind directions, foiling and flexography.
Many of the leading label and package printing industry suppliers will advise potential MIS buyers to go and visit some of their MIS customers and discuss the experiences that they have had with sourcing and installing a system before going ahead. Also ask about the quality of vendor support services: maybe they have a ‘User Group,’ and is the vendor prepared to partner with other suppliers used by the business in, say inspection, pre-press, finishing? They may well also advise testing (or demo ‘tasting’) the software before purchasing.
Initial MIS software demonstrations today are frequently carried out Online, which makes them both efficient and cost-effective. More than one general demo may be required before moving to a more detailed and specific demonstration using the printer’s actual shop floor data – which is really the only way to see how the system would handle the work required.
Members of Trade Associations can also talk to other members and to their peers, as well as read the trade press and visit trade shows such as Labelexpo (an ideal way of talking to and reviewing many different suppliers in a relatively short period of time).
Remember, the overall aim with a good management information system should be to end up with a single system that is able to manage the entire business, streamline the administration process and reduce costs, eliminate errors from the re-entry of data and minimize personnel. It should also be label industry specific.
The key benefits that can be achieved with a good MIS include:
The ability to identify the company’s strengths and weaknesses through reports, sales and production records, etc., and so enable the company to make improvements
The ability to provide an overall picture of the company and the way it operates
The opportunity to improve decision making and speed up actions
The capability to better manage customer information and target sales, marketing and promotional activities
The ability to gain a competitive advantage when compared with other label converters
However, even with a dedicated industry specific MIS supplier, it still may need to be decided whether a ‘straight out of the box’ MIS will provide the answers for everything that needs to be achieved, or whether modifications, additions or basic tweaks will be needed so as to get the most out of the system. Sometimes a bespoke system configured to a company’s specific needs maybe a better solution, albeit more expensive. But don’t necessarily believe the sales pitch; the label or package printer knows the business best. What’s needed is a software supplier that knows about the demands and requirements of the label converting or packaging printing business. But try to focus initially on the basics. Complex systems are not always better, and remember too that software and workflow automation equipment is improving rapidly.
Having said that, the ease with which the MIS is able to integrate with other workflows such as those, for example, used by other market leaders that include Heidelberg/Gallus, HP Indigo, Xeikon, Domino, Esko, AVT, ABG, QuadTech, etc., is becoming increasingly important in providing ‘joined-up’ workflow as seamless workflow automation continues to develop.
Ensuring that the MIS supplier chosen is easily contactable is also important. Queries need to be dealt with quickly. Ideally, there should be a direct relationship with senior members of the MIS provider so that communication can be undertaken directly with them. Undoubtedly there will be challenges with an MIS roll-out on such a scale, but then the benefits of the investment are almost certainly going to strongly outweigh these.
Indeed, why not select MIS (as a tool), based upon the improvements it can make to the profitability and performance of the business: achieving significant improvement in quality and lead time and cost?
INITIAL AND ONGOING TRAINING
One of the most important challenges with investing in an MIS is the people. It is frequently said that people are afraid of change. In reality, people are afraid of loss. Loss of control, loss of responsibility and status tend to resonates through their brains.
Education and training for MIS installation and operation is therefore one of the projects that CEOs, VP’s and owners should never look to delegate. Use the investment as a change agent to improve the efficiency, productivity, operation and profitability of the business.
Initially, the MIS team or group will need to meet frequently as a group and discuss ways to improve or modify processes. Meet weekly to begin with, then monthly as the system gets implemented. Involve the software supplier as needed; they have years of experience that the team can take advantage of.
Once the MIS/workflow automation system is up and running it will still probably require modifications to take into account the types of jobs undertaken, new press or finishing equipment being purchased, new people joining the business and a changing customer base. Continuous training at some level will therefore most likely be required.
Equally importantly, with the MIS in operation it will start to generate all kinds of data, reports, dashboards, etc. that can start to be used to make management decisions which, on a daily or pre-determined basis can include:
Evaluating customer profitability
Quoting and costing to standards and actual times
Making process improvement
Monitoring sales, marketing and customer trends
Tracking production improvements.
Examine the procedures in the office
Reviewing who does what and why? Does it bring value?
It is strongly advised that label and package printers should not pursue investment in digital printing without a completely integrated MIS and pre-press system (such as Esko’s Automation Engine) which enables comparison estimating for both digital and conventional presses, eliminates the multiple challenges of being swamped with orders, being even more swamped with artwork, and the requirements of proofing and proof approval.
So what would the summary advice be when looking to invest in and run an MIS?
To begin with:
Invest early and make it a system team effort
Look at a complete solution
Manage the people involved
Switch to the new system sooner than later
Leadership MUST be involved
However, such a short list is probably not enough for label or package printers looking to invest in a streamlined MIS for the first time, or for those upgrading from a simple to a more complex MIS system. It has therefore been decided to provide a guideline checklist as an aid for new project managers and project teams.
Hopefully the checklist on the next page will speed-up the steps that need to be taken when looking to buy a system and then provide for a smooth investment and implementation stage of whatever MIS supplier and system has been chosen. If the homework has been well done and the correct software modules have been carefully chosen, then the printer can look forward to a more efficient, streamlined and successful.
If anything, overbuy the system . that is purchasing and then USING as many modules as possible. Automate and leave as little to human error as possible, and pull the plug on the old system as soon as feasible. If it is desired to keep a copy, have this on the oldest and slowest computer and discourage employees from using it.
Once installed and operating successfully, use the data and reports to become a data-driven business. Use the data in the system to improve processes, productivity, systems and procedures and, above all, use the system to ensure the business becomes more competitive and more profitable.