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Computer Management--Proactive Management

November 1999

"It should be noted that all of the major printing management systems of this era were at this same level. Within the last two years, the three major players in this area—Programmed Solutions, Hagen and Logic—have all undergone major upgrades. So major that I would say, if you haven't seen these latest versions, you haven't seen a printing management system," Condon reports.

The largest bottlenecks to Challenge's original print management system revolved around communications. Job tracking was a matter of going around the shop to physically find the job. Realistically, only one person had access to the job information at any one time—the person holding the job ticket. So multi-tasking on a job was cumbersome. Any changes to a job already in progress required manually tracking the job down and changing all related documentation.

With this type of system, production cycle time, rework costs and billing cycle times are all impacted, as Challenge quickly discovered.

The solution: "The solution to our workflow and communication issues was Programmed Solutions [PSI]. Some of the features that we were looking for in a new system, and that we found in PSI, include: user friendliness; full integration of data, from estimating through accounting; utilization of the same data throughout each module, thus eliminating duplication of efforts; and real-time data management. When changes are made to a job, all relevant documentation is immediately updated," says Condon.

Condon reports that other attributes of the PSI system that make it attractive to Challenge include the ease and openness by which it extracts needed data and its ability to handle 150-plus workstations with multi-tasking data collection capabilities.

The evaluation: "We have found PSI works very hard to meet all of our computer management needs. Computer management systems are no longer a luxury; they are a necessity. Both external and internal customers are driving this necessity for computer management systems. External customers are demanding an electronic link to your facility for quote requests, job tracking, inventory. Internal customers are demanding information about sales trends, costs, equipment utilization, production standards and just about anything under the sun.

"Technology, in general, has given us immediate access to more data than ever before," explains Condon. "We have grown to rely on this data to guide us in our decisions. Computer management systems allow you to more quickly identify changes and respond more rapidly and more exactly—both from a market trend standpoint and an internal cost standpoint.

"For those printers looking to invest in a computer management system, watch out for any hardware investments/upgrades that will be required. I cannot stress this strongly enough. Involve your IS department or an outside consultant. Implementation process is key. Set up an implementation team that is a good cross-section of all departments. This is far too much work for one person. Make sure that the people you assign to this team are dedicated full time to this project. Make sure that you have executive-level support for this project.

"And, most important," Condon emphasizes, "don't underestimate your company's resistance to change. Have patience. This will be a long process that will probably take place in phases, but it will pay off."

Fort Worth, Texas
The Problem: Daniel Hanson, vice president of Branch Smith Printing, a short- to medium-publication printer serving Texas and the South Central area, reports that, before implementing Printers Software's computerized management information system, the company operated like several different groups, acting independent of one another. "One group or department didn't have the information the other group had, and that produced all kinds of inefficiencies and mistakes. We had poor information gathering and tracking, which meant it was hard to make good business decisions," Hanson reports.

The solution: "We ended up going with Printers Software after looking at and trying some others. The reason we selected Printers Software was because of the intuitive nature of their programs—they seemed to emulate the thought processes of printing estimators and production personnel better than some other programs, which were obviously written by programmers without a lot of printing experience.

"Consequently our learning curve has been shortened, and we did not have to change our intuitive way of thinking to match an information system with which we were unfamiliar. Today, we are using the Estimating, Ticketing, Order Entry, Shop Floor Data Collection, Inventory/Purchasing and Accounts Receivable/Billing, plus the Reporting modules of the Printers Software system. We had severe needs in all of these areas. The Printers Software system has greatly improved our information flow and team communications."

The evaluation: "Computer management systems are critical for any printer; the need to gather, track and re-access data is vital to running a healthy printing operation," Hanson reports. "I cannot imagine running a printing operation today without this type of information—the ability to estimate more accurately and actually compare the production standards and rates to actual performance are essential to manage an increasingly capital, material, and labor intensive process. Printers Software also did an excellent job in making special changes in their product to fit us even better, which was and continues to be a real bonus."

Omaha, NE
The Problem: Prior to implementing a computer management system, there were daily challenges in the print production process at Regal Printing. "Just attempting to expedite all the administrative and manufacturing processes inherent in a manufacturing/printing job posed a challenge," reports Regal's VP of operations, Jim Bosco. "Workflow issues were a separate management chore in themselves. We struggled with self-imposed, independent-type controls established in each of the areas of the production process.

"The talents of our employees blossomed as they got better each day at solving daily issues as to how to expedite getting jobs through the shop. "Whatever it takes" became a key motto as to how we approached every job. Everyone accepted that this winning attitude was necessary to keep up with the workload."

However, Bosco reports, Regal Printing recognized and had to face the fact that its extreme workflow demands were not allowing the company any extra time to step back and see what else it could do to improve its overall production process. "We were satisfying immediate needs but not being future-thinking, as to what else the customer needed that we were not focusing on," he reports.

The solution: "We invested in Hagen and implemented its fully integrated system—all modules. The system offered us full and complete integration. We did not have this with our old system because we were only using the estimating and job cost part of it. Hagen seemed to have it all put together, and we saw a harmony in its system. It was an easy choice. All the existing duplication of effort and bottlenecks, which we never anticipated would be relieved, simply disappeared. The time Hagen has allowed us to save overall has gotten us to an entirely new level of operation and gained us hours of valuable extra time."

The evaluation: "My opinion of computer management systems is that they are a necessary tool/service in establishing the secondary foundation of your operation for many of the manufacturing controls needed in running a business. If they assume too much of your business focus and management time, they are not right for you. They have to be a fit, so right, that it is difficult to explain. The system provider you choose must be a progressive company, open-minded, in touch with the printing industry's needs and, most of all, receptive to your individual company's needs."

Iowa City, IA
The Problem: Mike Wilson, vice president of prepress and sales manager at TruArt Color Graphics, a general commercial printer serving eastern Iowa and west central Illinois, knows well the production headaches that can come with multiple shifts running a full-service prepress and multi-color pressroom operation—specifically, the challenge of keeping track of digital information flowing across the prepress area.

"Although we remain very satisfied with an older computer management product we have, we admit that we needed a better solution for our electronic prepress area," Wilson states. "We installed Job Manager from Meta Communications four years ago, and then added Meta's Virtual Ticket for archiving last year."

The solution: Meta's products are extremely flexible and easy to customize, reports Wilson."We use Job Manager for order entry, time and material costing, and job tracking. Virtual Ticket is used as our archive solution and for electronic forms throughout the shop—change notifications, shipping labels and purchase orders," he states. "We simply recreated our printed forms as e-documents and fill in the blanks. The system saves each document as part of the archive, so if we ever pull up a job to rerun, all the history is there."

Wilson reveals that, to date, both Meta products have performed very well at TruArt and are easy to maintain. "The software runs on an inexpensive NT server with Mac clients; training is straightforward," Wilson explains. "An operator simply opens the electronic ticket, charges out the time and materials, and types in billing notes to explain any customer comments or job errors. When the job is done, I can either invoice directly through Job Manager or upload the charges into our [other] system for costing."

The evaluation: "Electronic data collection is critical to any size operation. Computers, imagesetters and proofers live on two or three year leases, and you have to recover their cost as soon as possible," Wilson contends. "The only way you can recover the cost is to bill all of your time and materials as accurately as possible—paper tickets and memory just do not work anymore."

Boston, MA
The Problem: Specializing in retail inserts and Sunday magazines, Quebecor World Retail is no stranger to the hazards of last-minute production bottlenecks. Michael Pender, director of information systems, reports: "Given the number of acquisitions Quebecor World has made over the years, one of our challenges has been the disparate group of custom-developed planning and scheduling applications across our Retail Network. Many of these systems were not integrated, which resulted in duplication of efforts as data was entered into the different systems or, in some cases, tracked manually. Given the breadth of the Quebecor World Retail Network, there were significant opportunities for errors, as well as inconsistencies, between the systems. There was a lot of redundancy."

The solution: Pender reports that the implementation of ROS (Retail Operations Support) allows Quebecor World to unite a nationwide network of production facilities into a "virtual mega-plant" whose capabilities are unmatched. "We selected the Prograph systems, as there was really no true alternative on the market that would provide us the planning, scheduling, shop floor and EDI capabilities we required," explains Pender. "All of the other systems we looked at had a cost-focused approach, and the critical details about the job—page contents, versions, run list information—were not handled in the system. Prograph was also the only system that could support the EDI we wanted to achieve with our customers, for many of whom we produce tens of millions of inserts on a weekly basis across multiple production locations."

"We thought it was critical that we find a truly integrated production management system, which could also receive all of the instructions from the customers electronically. We can provide a seamless, responsive interface for our customers, from job creation to billing, and are positioned to accommodate the changes and time constraints inherent in the retail insert market."

The evaluation: With the ever increasing demands for flexibility and responsiveness on the part of its customers, Pender says that Quebecor World Retail had no choice but to install a system that allows the company to meet its customers' needs. "In order to maintain our competitive position, we must have a system that allows us to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of our equipment and our people," he says. "Prograph's systems allow us to do this by giving us a view of our enterprise as a whole and to plan the most efficient utilization of our considerable assets."

Pewaukee, WI
The Problem: Quality Color Graphics' world, prior to implementing a computer management system, can best be described by the company's Operations Manager Richard Polster: "Estimating consistency was a nightmare; the scheduling room looked more like a war room, a visual system with tags; production cycles segmented paperwork and production cycles, nothing interrelated; and day-to-day routines were redundant or fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants hectic," says Polster.

The solution: After reviewing several systems, Quality Color Graphics selected LithoTraxx by Tailored Solutions. Two main reasons are cited: "The flexibility of design, allowing the system to work the way we wanted the cycles to happen, and a very strong commitment to customer support by developers," reports Polster, noting that Tailored Solutions' concept—of the processes being driven by the estimate —lends itself to many efficiencies. "With the system in place, everything is working as a unit. Digital information is available in seconds; changes or alterations can be updated instantly; and team morale is heightened because our entire production now works as a connected unit. LithoTraxx has heightened our effectiveness tenfold."

The evaluation: "Our advice to any commercial printing company considering a similar investment: Make sure you trial the system before purchase. Make sure the system has the design that will work for you—not the other way around," Polster advises.

Saskatoon, SK, Canada
The problem: Nick Cannon, special projects manager at Mercury Graphics, a security and specialty printer, reports Mercury—as a company experiencing rapid growth—found it necessary to keep adding administrative staff just to handle day-to-day increases in volume.

"Our manual system caused an awful lot of running around, being reactive rather than proactive, when making production decisions," Cannon states. "As we decided to go with an MIS system, we recognized that this was a good opportunity to look at our business processes as a whole and initiated a process re-engineering project to coincide with the MIS implementation. We felt this would help in implementing the chosen system and ensure that we design our own best practices, rather than the system dictating them."

The solution: "We chose Logic because of its flexibility to fit in with whatever best practices we designed during our process re-engineering, and because of their reputation as the largest supplier and their exemplary customer service," Cannon reports.

The evaluation: As Mercury now reaches the halfway point of implementation of the Logic computer management system, Cannon reports he can see the company's production managers getting excited about the information at their fingertips and the added control over their environments. "The investment for Mercury is huge, but I think necessary for our continued growth, if we are to remain competitive in this ever-challenging marketplace."

(Editor's Note: Unfortunately, as this issue went to press, users of comparable technologies from Micro Ink, PowerQuote, Primac and Professional Systems were too busy meeting print production demands to comment. Good news: At least they weren't worried about tracking their jobs, organizing their quotes or keeping up with administrative details—just delivering the goods.)

The Flow of Professional Systems

The cornerstone of technological development at Professional Systems is a concept that stresses flexibility in every conceivable way. The focus of current and future developments of PROSYS Print/Windows is on optimizing the workflow across all departments and all task areas, and on increasing the flexibility of the user interface. Improvements in existing modules, and completely new ones such as the PROSYS media server, were presented at the annual user meeting.

The flow of information starts with customer marketing, assisted by the PROSYS customer module, which provides a database, that makes all relevant data regarding the customer and each contact person clear and easily accessible. Customer reports are automatically passed on by the integrated e-mail based follow-up system to where the information counts.

When customer contacts result in requests for proposals, the data regarding the job is entered in the PROSYS estimation module. The creation of the proper estimation is a mostly automatic process under the control of the estimator. Quotation and order confirmation are both created based on the estimation data.

Adding an order to the PROSYS order book usually does not require entry of new data. Even if no estimation is to be created, the need to enter new data remains minimal. Information can instead simply be copied from an already-existing order. The delivery of data by the customer can be done in a multitude of ways and formats. The PROSYS media server helps maintain a clear picture at all times by storing the data, administrating the different versions, delivering data on-demand and providing security. Doing this, the PROSYS media server ensures an ideal flow of information within, as well as to and from, the prepress area.

For running the PROSYS system, Unix, Linux and Windows NT servers can be used with a wide variety of workstations: Windows 95/98/NT, Macintosh and Linux.

— Technical information supplied by Professional Systems.



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