MIS is Critical to Productivity, Profitability, Decision Making for Printing Companies
For a number of years, the trade media has reported that a majority of commercial printers have installed a management information system (MIS) to help advance their businesses. A minority, however, have not yet taken the plunge. Sure, they might be lagging behind their competitors, but not too far considering that a good number of those who have an MIS might be running an outdated system or underutilizing it.
Anyone watching the tech market is seeing that MIS/ERP solutions have evolved, most notably becoming more open, more cloud-based, and more modular. Plus, the number of software (and hardware) providers offering MIS solutions has grown. At the recent PRINTING United 2022 expo, visitors had the pickings of at least 20 MIS solutions, with several new providers entering the market in just the last two years.
This is a strong signal that there will be some shifts in the coming year as end users begin revisiting the latest solutions. The cards are stacked in their favor since the competitive field for MIS solutions is strong, allowing them to cherry-pick the solution best suited for their requirements. This, of course, is easier said than done, since implementing an MIS can be a significant undertaking.
For this article, we gathered information on three companies with MIS/ERP offerings serving different customer needs. Our objective is to shine a light on the technologies that are aiming to advance the printing industry and to give food for thought to the companies thinking about adding an MIS or upgrading an existing one — anything to help in the decision-making process for this important investment.
Arguably, the most important benefit of an effective MIS is access to real-time business and production data, including things like which customers and/or applications are profitable (and which are not), which equipment is experiencing significant downtime and why, whether there are operators that need additional training to be more effective, and whether the production operation is generating excessive — and costly — waste.
In today’s highly competitive commercial print market, there are several factors companies should take into consideration when thinking about the future of their businesses:
How many print jobs does your company produce in a day, week, or month?
How many of those jobs have shorter run lengths and require faster turn times than in the past?
How much labor is involved with the handling of each job — in customer service, estimating, prepress, production, finishing, and shipping?
What percentage of those jobs are delivered on time?
What percentage of those jobs are profitable?
These are just a few of the questions an effective MIS can answer. The answers help companies better manage their operations by making real-time, fact-based business decisions and thus better serving their customers while protecting profitability.
For commercial printers looking to acquire an MIS or replace an existing one, the following three providers are among those that had a presence at PRINTING United 2022. Each has a slightly different approach to its business, and these brief overviews they shared are designed to provide insight into how or whether one or more of them might help a printing business move into a more successful future.
Aleyant (content provided by Aleyant)
Aleyant was founded in 2005 as a cloud-based web2print application. From its original Pressero B2B and B2C web2print solution, the company has expanded into a full suite of products including eDocBuilder for personalization of materials to be printed, tFLOW prepress workflow, and PrintJobManager, an entry-level MIS. All products are integrated and support bidirectional data exchange; all are cloud-based and available as individual modules. Aleyant is also part of the Zapier cloud-based API hub and has already established integrations with more than 2,000 third-party apps via direct API or Zapier.
Although Aleyant is integrated with a number of MIS solutions, the company found the need to develop its own entry-level MIS to meet customer needs. This was due to the fact that Pressero customers were trying to use the web2print solution as an MIS, and it was not effective. The goal for PrintJobManager was to integrate an MIS that could make it easier for printing company employees to estimate jobs without the weeks of training required for traditional estimating modules. You could end up getting different estimates from each estimator, and it could take a day or two to turn the estimates around. With PrintJobManager, employees can get fast, accurate pricing from anywhere.
With an integrated suite, whether all Aleyant products or including third-party integrations, one of the key benefits is the need to establish only one pricing table that can be accessed and updated from either Pressero or PrintJobManager, making it easier to use and less prone to error. When a job is configured in Pressero, for example, the user, whether an end user or a sales rep, can immediately see the pricing, making it fast and easy to deliver estimates to customers and more quickly close sales.
Aleyant claims that implementation time can be as little as a month or two. Its Professional Services support as well as an extensive training academy for self-paced learning come in handy for onboarding new employees, keeping up to date with new developments, and generally refreshing knowledge. Some customers find it more convenient and cost-effective to utilize professional services when they need modifications or other assistance rather than having a full-time employee manage the system.
HiFlow Solutions (content provided by HiFlow)
HiFlow Solutions, a Microsoft Silver partner based in Miami with offices in Poland and Mexico has almost 24 years of experience as a provider of MIS. The company has 112 installations worldwide, mostly in Europe with six in the United States, primarily in packaging operations. Customer size ranges from 20 to more than 1,000 employees. The system supports folding carton, flexible packaging, labels, corrugated, and commercial printing, especially for those who also offer packaging products.
The HiFlow system comprises 70 different modules, making it easy for customers to choose the most appropriate modules at a very granular level. It does not include prepress or accounting modules but does support integration to a wide range of third-party options. The system offers track and trace across the entire workflow, which is accessible via a customer-facing portal. It does not include web2print, per se, at this point. The solution is based on a SQL Server and is written in .NET. While it is a highly configurable solution, it is not offered as Software as a Service; rather, the initial software is purchased, and an 18% software maintenance fee is assessed annually, although a leasing option is available. At this time, the customer-facing portal does not include an estimating engine, although there is an estimating module available for internal use.
HiFlow experts work directly with customers in the pre-sale stage with a discovery call to understand the customer’s current situation and help determine the best possible configuration for each. It also has an extensive reporting feature with the ability to generate customized role-based dashboards. It can be hosted on-premises or on Microsoft Azure Cloud, depending on customer preferences. Implementation can take from six to nine months, depending on the complexity of the configuration and the customer response time. During implementation and beyond, the company takes a very hands-on approach to customer support, with fast response times, easy access to engineers, and more.
One differentiator for HiFlow is its visual workflow, where each required step in the process is clearly spelled out, making it easier and less error-prone for operators. The company’s YouTube channel has a wealth of information about the visual workflow as well as a range of customer stories. The company records all training sessions and makes the recordings available to the customer (in a Microsoft Teams channel accessible only by that customer) for reference and onboarding of new employees. That means that each customer has its own support library documenting how the system was configured, based on their machines, their needs, and their processes, a unique approach. The Teams channel also gives customers fast, easy access 24/7 to developers as needed.
Twist Print (content provided by Twist Print)
In a show the size of PRINTING United, it is important to look at new solutions as well as the ones we are all familiar with. That’s how we discovered Twist Print, an MIS solution with a presence in more than 15 countries.
Co-founded by the company’s CMO, Jorge Guzman, the company has its headquarters in Chile, with U.S. offices in Fort Lauderdale, FL and Alpharetta, GA. Guzman says, “Twist Print, which automates and simplifies the end-to-end printing workflow, has helped hundreds of printers of all sizes to increase their productivity and competitiveness. Printers in the commercial, packaging, label, and large-format sectors have not only seen how the digital transformation via Twist Print is possible from an economic point of view, but they have also seen that it helps to manage projects designed specifically for small and medium businesses.”
A key foundation of the company is the ability to take what is a complex industry — printing — and simplify the process of running the business with an MIS that allows printers to manage their operations in the cloud, automate processes, and make fact-based decisions regarding their businesses. Easy-to-read data and indicators push Twist Print users to be more agile, dynamic, and flexible, focused 100% on productivity.
Twist Print reports a broad-based community of users who are seeking to improve themselves, share best practices, and grow their businesses. The company prides itself on listening closely to the needs and experiences of its customer base and responding rapidly to evolve the product to offer increased automation and better tools. That way it can help printers transform the way they operate to stay aligned with changing customer needs while keeping processes as simple and streamlined as possible. In addition, Twist Print users can be up and running in as little as four weeks, unlike other systems that can take months to implement. It automates management, scheduling and business control across the entire plant, and coordinates relevant operations of partner businesses where outsourcing is part of the production process. Twist Print’s solution also incorporates artificial intelligence to determine the best production formula for each order. In addition to automating internal production, users have the ability to automatically send files with production details to outside vendors where outsourcing or distributed production is required.
Twist Print includes modules for quoting and estimating, job submission, scheduling, prepress, production, bindery, warehousing/fulfillment, and shipping in addition to customer relationship management capabilities.
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