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COMPUTER MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS -- The MISsing Link

March 2002

As an open-source project, Tambora is open to all interested parties and is not specific to any company or software, Green says. So far, two other U.S. printers have signed on—Courier Corp. and Phoenix Color. Open source also means there are no fees associated with the program, but all participants are expected to invest sweat equity toward its completion, points out the company exec.

Green believes the cooperative nature of this effort is key to its acceptance. "The e-business marketplace in book publishing is still very new," he notes. "For any solution to be successful, it must have a broad base of support among both print customers and vendors."

For its part, Von Hoffmann is first working on Web-enabling firm order (reprints only) and quote/pricing requests from major educational customers, according to Green. "We will follow this with capabilities for job planning/first print orders and advance shipping notices. Clients will also be given online access to job status, schedule and inventory information."

The book printer is using PRIMAC business management software as the underpinnings of its Tambora implementation, Green says. "The software provides an easily customizable environment and creates an open and highly scalable management system," he explains. ODBC provides the link that enables data to be pulled from the PRIMAC system into a secure Web server, he adds.

Von Hoffmann also has started down the path of electronically linking its internal business management and production systems. "We have developed an electronic job ticket tied into our PRIMAC software and accessed via our intranet. It's basically just the paper ticket we were using before now in an electronic format," Green says. "We don't intend to set up equipment with this digital data, however. We might possibly create that type of link in the future, but it's not high on the priority list right now."

In-house Integration

Indianapolis-based Masco Support Services technically is a captive printing operation, but it functions like a commercial printer and fulfillment/mailing house. Started as the in-plant printer for Delta Faucet, the organization has been expanded to serve the needs of the some 30 home-building product companies that make up Masco Corp., which acquired the faucet manufacturer. It currently has around 110 employs operating several six-color, 40˝ presses, a state-of-the-art prepress department and in-house bindery.

The primary function of the plant is handling the production, inventory management and fulfillment of product literature for the group of companies. This service currently adds up to more than $30 million in work per year.

Given the volume of literature fulfillment it handles, the organization first set out to implement a "finished goods" system with Web-based order entry capabilities, reports Terry Alverson, new business development and special projects manager at Masco Support Services. It found a good place to start in the e-Finished Goods Order Entry module from CRC Information Systems, Alverson says.

The printer has been working with CRC and a local Website developer, called Elavio, to customize its implementation of Web-enabled capabilities, he reports. The software manufacturer's willingness to do customization was reportedly a big factor in Masco's buying decision.

Although not part of the initial plan, Alverson says the system's other e-capabilities were a bonus that Masco is implementing in stages. The next phase is providing an online form that clients can fill out to receive a job estimate, he explains. Data entered into the form is automatically downloaded into the estimating system for processing and then a quote is returned via the Web.

The third phase will involve enabling customers to track jobs online, the project manager says. A notification will be sent when a job enters production and the customer will then be able monitor its progress through prepress, press and bindery. The system will also send an e-mail notice when a job has shipped, with a hyperlink to the shipping service (UPS, FedEx) for tracking delivery.

An "auto-invoicing" function will be available for completed jobs, as well, Alverson adds. "That is going to be a huge benefit for us because it will provide one-button processing. Currently we have one employee processing invoices all day long. With Auto Invoice, it will only take one hour," he claims.

Graphic Communications Corp. (GCC), in Lawrenceville, GA, started Web-enabling its operations about 18 months ago. President Hoyt Tuggle likens the company to a very large "quick printer" because it focuses on fast turnaround in meeting the business printing needs of its clientele. The shop employs about 60 people and currently runs five sheetfed presses—three 40˝ and two 25˝ machines.

GCC has added a secure "Client Access" feature to its Website, which clients can log-on to in order to access a number of online features. These tools include Request for Quote, Current Jobs, Proofs to be Viewed (as PDFs), Job History (for reprint orders) and Invoices (which can be viewed onscreen or printed locally).

Through the "Current Jobs" option, customers can view all of the information gathered by GCC's internal data collection and printing management system, Tuggle notes. While a job is in production, a client can find out exactly which department it is in at any given time, he says. Shipping information is provided for completed jobs so customers can track delivery.

Most of the printer's online tools are powered by the ePace capabilities of its Pace 2020 business management software, from Pace Systems Group. Job information is passed to and from this system. GCC has a Website and interactive media development department that collaborated with Pace to bring the service online.

Tuggle says the company did investigate turnkey e-production/e-commerce services, but management was hesitant about having somebody else retain its job information on an outside server. "We wanted to control the system ourselves," he explains.

The other reason for deciding to build an internal system was to enable the Internet interface to be used internally by GCC's staff, instead of the usual setup of work-stations on a LAN, Tuggle says. "Our staff works with the system in the same way as our customers," he notes, "and our clients can see everything we do except for our costs."

Web Interaction

The company president admits the idea of giving customers direct access to job information led to a big internal debate. His response was to point out that clients already could get the same information by calling and asking, which requires more effort on both ends. Also, the online connection is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Tuggle notes.

"We held focus groups with customers to explore how they wanted to interact with us over the Web," he reports. "They said the only time they might want to find out where a job stood in this way was after-hours. They are not going in every hour to see if a job has gone from prepress to plate, or press to bindery. People don't have the time to be doing that."

No matter how they choose to use them, all of GCC's Web capabilities have been well received by its customers, Tuggle says. "Business-to-business Web services are not dead like people have said. It's going to be the way to do business going forward."

Also in the printer's future is linking its business management system to production, the company president says, but it's only just starting down that road.

Another printer, Chicago-based R.R. Donnelley & Sons, is developing a Web enabling strategy for its operations that will include three components—customer, employee and supplier portals, reveals Eva Chess, director of communications for Donnelley's Business Process Redesign project.

The customer portal allows users to check the status of their orders, from scheduling through shipping. The employee portal, or corporate intranet, is for internal use only and encompasses back-office functions such as order entry, scheduling, inventory and production management. Employees also can access human resource functions, including benefits, policies and online training. The supplier portal enables XML-based transmission of supply chain transactions.

To support its Web strategy, R.R. Donnelley is integrating its order entry and scheduling systems with shop floor execution and data collection systems, as well as inventory control systems, Chess says.

"We have taken a holistic approach in choosing and implementing systems to support our vision of a streamlined supply chain across our enterprise. We are following a phased implementation methodology as the foundation for our approach," she explains.

The software providing the building blocks for this program is the iDiMS! enterprise-wide management information system from a company called DiMS! Organizing Print. The system is an Internet-based, multilingual business solution and is said to be especially suitable for middle- and large-size printing companies. Donnelley has started rolling the system out at two plants, but reportedly plans to use it at its 30 largest graphic divisions in North America.

These examples are just a taste of what is possible when computer management systems are linked to broader printing operations. The full potential will be realized once all processes are integrated into a database-driven environment.
 

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