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GRAPH EXPO 2006: Management Information Systems — MIS: Front and Center

November 2006 BY MARK SMITH
Technology Editor
A KNOCK frequently made against printers is that many don’t know their true costs and, as a consequence, can’t say if they’ve made money on any given job. Another way of looking at is that they don’t know the dollar value of individual jobs and customers to the bottom line.

In order to know that answer, shops need to have the required infrastructure in place and an ingrained discipline throughout the company to capture and analyze the relevant data. It takes a big commitment to implement and religiously use a comprehensive Management Information System (MIS), now also called Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), solution.

Part of the problem has been that this traditionally was seen as a business issue, not a direct production concern. Today, however, the vision of an integrated, automated printing operation has a MIS/ERP solution as a central component. Job data captured in the MIS is used to drive production operations and processing data is reported back for job and cost tracking.

A fair amount of skepticism has surrounded the JDF/JMF (Job Definition Format/Job Messaging Format) specification almost from its introduction. Nevertheless, the movement remains strong to implement it as the foundation for the integrated workflow.

The central role of the MIS is reflected in the priority given to it in the ongoing development of the specification. Just this past summer, the CIP4 (International Cooperation for the Integration of the Processes in Prepress, Press and Postpress) organization and PIA/GATF (Printing Industries of America/Graphic Arts Technical Foundation) finally launched the JDF Product Certification Program.

According to Mark Bohan, PIA/GATF’s director, research and integrated technology, the second and third phases of testing targeted are JDF Product Certification for the “MIS to Conventional Sheetfed Printing” and “MIS to Prepress” Interoperability Conformance Specification (ICS) documents. Each ICS defines a minimum, base level connectivity between two types of graphic arts systems.

By some counts, there are more than 100 software products that provide MIS functionality tailored for graphic arts companies. That makes it impractical to encapsulate the entire product segment in a single article. As an alternative, though, the exhibitors at Graph Expo 2006 represented a nice sampling of leading solutions and the announcements made give a sense of trends in the market.

To set the stage, the Executive Outlook conference was once again held on the Saturday prior to the show. One of the featured presenters was Donald Goldman, principal with the ConsultWare consulting firm in Marblehead, MA, and a long-recognized MIS authority.

Goldman contends that the technology exists—and, in fact, has been around for quite a while—to achieve the end-to-end integrated print workflow with the MIS as the system of record. “But it requires best practices with regards to driving the work through production, starting with the estimate/job plan. Management must support the discipline to force the full use of the MIS with electronic job tickets and that scheduling changes are made in the print management system to drive the job/workflow,” he says.

The unwillingness on the part of print managers to run their plants by the numbers, as opposed to the walk around method, is a key reason why more printers don’t use computer-assisted scheduling and won’t commit to really use JDF, Goldman continues. He asserts that a modern MIS solution should do more than just collect information that satisfies the accounting needs of a company. It should:

• collect and provide information that lets management control, monitor and react to the dynamics of change;

• provide the information for job setup and monitoring, with real-time feedback; and

• control and provide the communications link between print providers and their customers, as well as vendors.

Among the barriers to realization of this vision, Goldman adds, are lack of:

• knowledge about or belief in JDF or other forms of inter- connectivity;

• investment in an updated and CIM-ready print management system; and

• commitment to an electronic /job workflow.

It’s time for printers to think differently about MIS, Goldman believes. A properly implemented system must do more than just satisfy the accounting needs of a company, he explains. “It should collect and provide information that lets management monitor and react to the dynamics of change. Where it makes sense, it should be integrated with process control through JDF or other interconnectivity methods.

“In many ways, it (MIS) should be a production system that does accounting,” Goldman concludes.

There were signs at Graph Expo of this type of connectivity becoming a reality. Another trend was the introduction of solutions that tie MIS functions into digital printing workflows. Also of note was expansion of vendors’ offerings beyond the traditional definition of MIS, including into the realm of Web-to-print solutions.

As a technology demonstration, Kodak showed its Enterprise Management Solution (EMS) software exporting live JDF files for use by the MAN Roland printnet PressManager. The MAN Roland system converted the JDF information into a press job, including parameters such as quantity, form, size and colors. EMS is in beta and is scheduled to be commercially available in the second half of 2007.

At a pre-show briefing, Kodak reported that it had 100 installations worldwide where printing operations have integrated Prinergy and their various MIS solutions.

Having made its product introduction earlier this year at IPEX, in Chicago Hiflex Corp. was promoting the fact that three Hiflex MIS users were among this year’s CIP4 International Print Production Innovation (CIPPI) award winners. The award program recognizes outstanding success in the implementation of JDF-based workflows by printers worldwide.

Printable Technologies and Pace Systems Group announced integration of the latter’s ePace print management system with the former’s PrintOne Web-to-print solution. Pace also introduced its own new, integrated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) module for managing customer/prospect information and is integrating the CUSTOMER+ suite of variable data printing, DAM and fulfillment solutions from Responsive Solutions and Press-sense’s iWay Web-based workflow management solution. In addition, it announced an agreement to co-market SoftSolutions’ FLEX Systems for direct machine interface (DMI) data capture capabilities.

Avanti Computer Systems teamed with Xerox to demonstrate how its management software can integrate with Xerox’s FreeFlow workflow for driving digital devices. Connections can be made through FreeFlow WebServices, Process Manager and DocuSP.

As a broader directive, Avanti has been developing the ability to automatically submit jobs into the production workflow and bi-directionally pass JDF job instructions, costs, status and processing information.

HP showed the HP Indigo Commercial Job Estimator (CJE) that calculates job costs for digital and conventional presses to provide information for making production decisions and maximizing productivity. Offered free to HP Indigo customers, the application compares production methods based on cost and time factors.

Keeps Getting Better

Vendors also continue to make enhancements to the core functionality of their applications.

Shown as a product preview in Chicago, EFI’s Auto-Count Op- Forma system is designed to integrate with its MIS line to provide automated data collection from production workstations to eliminate paper time sheets and manual data entry. A version for Hagen OA is slated for release in the first quarter of 2007, with integration to Logic and PSI planned for later next year.

DiMS! organizing print launched its new DiMS! 700 software for medium-to-large printing companies. It features a new Advanced Production Tracking (APT) module that provides tracking of all production material, whether raw material or work-in-process inventory. Integration of iPlan scheduling enables real-time visibility of job status, time usage and inventory, along with providing automatic optimization of form or sheet layout when jobs are moved to a different size press.

Cyrious Software announced the addition of commercial printing products to its Control Out-of-the-Box software. The original releases included pricing for large-format printing, routed letter and screen printing products. This new version gives users pricing for print on-demand, quick copy and print brokerage jobs in a package that can be “immediately used out of the box.”

The latest release of Prism-Win from Prism USA offers an upgraded graphical user interface and enhanced scheduling module. A new pallet tracking module was introduced for the company’s QTMS iQ shop floor data capture system, along with greater modularity.

Prestige Scheduler v5, from Pivotal-Z, has been rewritten using the latest Microsoft .net technology. Enhanced resource tracking capabilities and new Web-based job viewing and tracking are among the benefits that have realized.PI

For more information on Graph Expo products, go to www.piworld.com and click on the Graph Expo roundup link.
 

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