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Stop Wasting Time: Get an MIS System

Job boards and spreadsheets don’t cut it these days. Only by using a print management information system (MIS) can you effectively manage your in-plant.

April 2011 By Bob Neubauer
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BEFORE HIS in-plant's print management information (MIS) system went live last summer, John Meyer says the production environment was more than a little chaotic. With handwritten job tickets, job specs delivered by fax and Excel files to track production, the in-plant was frequently overwhelmed trying to manually input job data or locate individual jobs.

"It was just killing us because it took so long to get a job number and put a job into the system," says Meyer, director of Rochester Institute of Technology's HUB Print & Postal Services.

Since putting Avanti's Graphic Arts Management System into production, he says, life at the 21-employee print and mail operation has been so much better.

"This has helped tremendously in cutting down the amount of time it takes to, number one, do quotes for people, and number two, get the jobs into production," Meyer says.

This is the lesson in-plants everywhere are learning. Print MIS systems can save your in-plant by ending inefficient, time-wasting processes and letting you concentrate on producing high-quality work for your customers. Some 54 percent of in-plants use an MIS system, according to an IPG survey, with more coming on board all the time. Most find these systems invaluable.

"You cannot tell what you're doing without an MIS system," proclaims Al Goranson, manager of Imaging Services at the University of Colorado (CU), in Boulder. "You can't tell if you're pricing right, you can't tell if you're paying correctly for paper, you can't tell if your markups are right. It's almost a minimum business requirement for anyone that wants to be able to justify their operation."

The nine-employee in-plant (which also employs six students) added the ePace MIS system five years ago. Pace has since been acquired by EFI, and the shop has been upgrading its software regularly. It uses the modules for estimating, price list quoting, production, accounting and reporting. The system has made the in-plant much more efficient, Goranson says.

See Every Job at Once

"At a glance you can see every job in the shop," he points out. "We used to spend an inordinate amount of time getting phone calls and having people stand up and go search" for a job. Now student workers quickly answer customers' questions about the status of their jobs.

That's because operators input that information as jobs are running, so data is timely and accurate, unlike when using job boards and spread sheets, which are not interactive. By having this up-to-the-minute information, Goranson says, managers can quickly tell if a piece of equipment is overloaded with work and then make adjustments ahead of time, before it's too late.

Also, points out Brian Groves, interim director of the CU Book Store, which oversees Imaging Services, you can analyze the data in the MIS system to see if a job is taking longer than expected and decide if the price needs to be adjusted in the future. This is the kind of essential data you don't get from a job board.

At RIT, Meyer relies on his shop's Avanti Graphic Arts Management System to help him decide when it makes sense to run a job on the Xerox iGen4 and when to move it to an offset press.

"It's helped out a lot in making those kind of judgment calls," he says.

Each morning, Meyer runs a report on all open jobs, so he instantly sees which ones are active. This also shows him which are rush jobs, so he can make sure they're included in the first delivery run of the day.

"It helps out a lot with knowing exactly where your work is," he reports.

He and his team spent three years evaluating MIS systems and getting presentations from different vendors.

"Avanti was very interested in partnering with us," he explains. The company was also eager to work with RIT's renowned print program, so they worked out a good deal. Meyer acknowledges MIS systems aren't cheap, but he feels there's a strong payback. Without a system, he says, his shop would have continued losing business to outside printers.

"You're not going to be able to grow" without an MIS system, he says. "You're not going to be able to understand what new parts of your business you're going to have to pay attention to."

Cost Justification

In Boulder, Groves cost justified CU's MIS system in a different way. With the in-plant's old Parsec system, he says, he could never be absolutely sure each job was being billed.

"Now I'm confident that we are invoicing for every single job and that we are also collecting for every single invoice," he reports.

Like RIT, CU evaluated several MIS systems, attending vendor demos and webinars. But it was a visit to Iowa State University's in-plant to see its MIS system that changed everything. Former ISU Director Gary Boyd shared all the research his shop had done and provided a list of all the vendors he had evaluated. One of those was Pace Systems, a company Groves hadn't even heard of. He credits Boyd for making him aware of Pace.

One thing that impressed Goranson about ePace was its ability to integrate with CU's PeopleSoft billing software. He also liked that it was browser-based, platform independent and modular. Groves likes the fact that the ePaceStation reporting module lets him modify reports to create whatever kind of report he needs.

"If it doesn't exist, you can basically make it," he says.

Overall, both in-plants feel that their MIS systems have made their in-plants more efficient, more productive and greatly improved their value. Those that don't have an MIS system, Meyer notes, may find themselves in the uncomfortable position of not being able to instantly call up productivity and cost data when they most need it—"when you're face-to-face with somebody, trying to justify your existence."


 

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