In-plants Add Efficiency With Print MIS
For some in-plant operations, a dedicated MIS solution might seem like a waste of time, money or effort when a spreadsheet is working just fine. But the reality is that print MIS solutions bring more to the table than just job tracking. They give in-plants a wealth of data that can be used to improve operations, increase productivity and ultimately increase the bottom line. No wonder 39% of in-plants have a print MIS, according to IPG research.
First and foremost, MIS solutions will bring a level of organization to in-plants that spreadsheets and other homegrown solutions just can’t match. Columbia Print, the in-plant at Columbia University in New York City, was hand-writing job tickets, then manually entering them into the invoice system. Matthew Dougherty, assistant director of the 23-person team, notes that everything was being done twice, and it made knowing where anything was at any given time a challenge.
“The only way anyone would know if a job got done is if that person knew their order was done,” says Dougherty. “There was no way of telling where jobs were in production. So if someone called out sick and a client called asking about a job, everyone would stop what they were doing and run around to try to find the job. It was very disruptive.”
Then the in-plant added Print Shop Pro from edu Business Solutions.
“Now, we can easily look at that CSR’s job list or type in customer names and get information 1,000 times faster.”
Adding Capacity Without Adding Staff
Better organization has another benefit as well: the ability to increase capacity without investing in new people or equipment. MIS solutions allow in-plants to free up time and resources, which can then be reallocated back to the actual business of producing print.
That ability to do more for a wider range of customers was one of the draws for the 70-employee in-plant at Our Daily Bread Ministries, a nonprofit, global ministry based in Grand Rapids, Mich. The operation was looking to sell excess capacity to other like-minded ministries and nonprofits in its market, but needed a better way to coordinate jobs and track efforts. So it implemented Avanti Slingshot.
“[Before the MIS] there was very manual job costing, very little job tracking, a lot of spreadsheets and just a general lack of coordination,” says Ron Underwood, senior business analyst for Our Daily Bread. He went on to note that as the in-plant looked to a more business-like structure, he knew solving those issues was a requirement. Fundamentally, he says, it comes down to information, and the ability to access that information any time it is needed.
MIS Improves Communication
MIS is also about being able to better communicate with customers. Online shopping and next-day delivery of goods has trained many people to look to the Internet for everything — and print is not excluded from that.
More in-plants are looking to add storefront capabilities to their operations, allowing users to submit, track and manage print jobs themselves. However, to do that effectively, the in-plant needs a system that can ensure the storefront information, the prepress department, the presses and the invoicing and billing operations all speak the same language. A good MIS is the piece that ensures nothing is lost in translation.
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center’s (TTUHSC) General Services Department, based in Lubbock, Texas, is an in-plant that has embraced the storefront benefits of its PressWise MIS from SmartSoft. Debbie Cate, managing director, who oversees a staff of 37, notes that while her organization did have an old MIS, it was obsolete and in need of an upgrade to fill the shop’s current and future plans — which include an online presence.
“One of the coolest things about [the MIS] is that the production operator controls the impositioning,” she says. “It’s no longer done at the designer level, and that has been absolutely huge for us. When a customer goes into the storefront and uses one of our creative templates to order an item such as a business card, the first person in the shop who sees it now is the production operator.”
TTUHSC was able to tweak the system to best fit its workflow, with jobs coming in via template being routed to the CSR to ensure all the little details are included so there won’t be any issues on press. Prices are updated in real time, based on a range of factors, including bindery options and even the current paper stock the in-plant has on hand. More complicated jobs do still require customers to send in the specs, but, she notes, when they get the quote back, there is a “place order” button that routes them right back into the online system to actually complete the transaction.
“It is so integrated, it’s amazing,” says Cate.
MIS Saves ‘A Significant Amount of Time’
Admittedly, implementing an MIS solution isn’t for the faint of heart, which is why many in-plants choose to stick with spreadsheets or outdated software solutions. But for many, the benefits gained once it was in place far outweighed the growing pains.
“We learned that there are a lot of things these systems can do that, while [they] might change the way you work, it will end up saving you a significant amount of time to allow you do to important things, and spend less time doing the tedious button pressing,” notes Dougherty.
He points out that the newer technologies are there to help shops be more productive, and the end result, for Columbia Print, he says, is that while the employees are still working just as many hours, and working just as hard, now they are doing work that actually helps grow the business.
One of the biggest keys to success, notes Underwood, is to have buy-in from every level of the in-plant and parent organization from the start. But that doesn’t mean just paying lip service and giving a stamp of approval, he says. Rather, he believes it is key to have a person on staff — either someone who already has the skillset, someone the in-plant hires or a consultant brought in for this purpose — to help smooth the way.
“[You need] someone that understands your business, understands process development and systems,” says Underwood. “Hopefully someone who understands how to take databases and create reports — a technical person and someone who understands finances of the business. They don’t have to be one person, but without support from those elements, it’s going to be really tough.”
Another thing to keep in mind is that the in-plant will need to build time into the process to get all employees comfortable with the new way of doing things. TTUHSC got around that, says Cate, by using the new MIS internally alongside the old system for six months before taking it live. The shop had the CSRs going into the MIS to enter the information that came in as if they were the customers, allowing them to get comfortable with how everything worked, and allowing the in-plant time to work out any kinks or problems before taking it live with customers.
“After six months everyone wanted to turn the other stuff off,” says Cate. “It was so much easier to find everything and price everything with the new MIS system.”
Implementing an MIS isn’t a small project. It will likely change the entire way the in-plant manages and tracks jobs, but the end result is a more streamlined, more efficient, more productive operation. That, in turn, means better margins and revenue on every job that comes through the door. There are many great MIS solutions on the market today, so it’s only a matter of exploring the options to find the ultimate fit — and reap the rewards.
Related story: New MIS Leavens Our Daily Bread’s Workflow