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MIS--Automation Preparation

September 1998
BY JERRY JANDA


Phil Ruggles, a Cal Poly State University professor and consultant specializing in management information systems, estimates that this year there are approximately 70 vendors selling computer management systems to the graphic arts industry.

As of yet, no vendors sell software that makes selecting, and integrating, a computer management system any easier.

Ruggles notes that there is no easy way to determine which computer management system is best for a given company—there are simply too many variables to allow for a quick choice. Research and study by the printer are essential. And at the end of the research process, it is unlikely that any system will be ideal or perfect to address every need the printer has.

It's also unlikely that the installation process will be finished quickly. "It's not going to be done overnight," says Mary Ann Osting, systems administrator for Derby City Litho, a Louisville, KY-based printer that uses a computer management system from Programmed Solutions. "We have put in a full 18 months of intense work to get the system where it is today."

This time frame can vary, depending on the type of system you select. Ruggles, author of "Computer Dividends: Management Information Systems for the Graphic Arts" and "Printing Estimating: Costing Methods for Digital and Traditional Graphic Imaging," points out that printing companies can choose from four options.

The first is to buy a simple package solution that does one job, such as estimating. The second method is to install a full-blown system, purchasing hardware and software that automates everything. The third way is to buy the software only and run it on your own hardware; in this scenario, the printing company can secure the rights to open architecture software and modify it. The final choice is for printers to build their own systems using their own employees or hiring outside experts to do the work.

Ruggles points out that homegrown systems bypass the proprietary problems associated with mixing and matching computer management packages from various vendors, and allow printers to tailor systems precisely to their needs. However, homegrown systems take time to develop, and they don't come with documentation.

Perry Judd's, based in Waterloo, WI, once relied on a homegrown system for scheduling. Mark W. Karaffa, manufacturing systems manager for Perry Judd's, describes it as a haphazard creation. Since the system couldn't calculate in factors such as press speed based on type of work, the program showed every job on every press running at the same speed. This made long-term scheduling hard to judge accurately.

"We are a heatset web printer; we do a lot of publications, a lot of calendars," Karaffa says. "It's very important for us to load our plant months in advance—sometimes a year in advance."

Now, with the KEREN scheduling system from AHP Systems, Perry Judd's can sell future time slots and juggle work to get the most out of its web presses. "The KEREN scheduling system has given us the opportunity to forecast capacity fairly accurately," Karaffa says. "If we do start to see some bottlenecks, we can regroup our cost centers to see if by combining different types of work together we have a different capacity."

Intelligencer Printing, a $46 million commercial web and sheetfed printer in Lancaster, PA, also replaced a homegrown solution with a vendor's system. While the proprietary program had served the company well for more than 15 years, Intelligencer needed a solution that could move the company into the new millennium.

"We felt our system wasn't adequate anymore," says Steve Brody, president and CEO. "It wouldn't take us in the next century. It was not Year 2000 compliant, and we had doubts that it ever would be."

With the help of an NAPL consultant, Intelligencer Printing selected Hagen OA. Unlike the homegrown system's text-based interface, Hagen OA's GUI has been easy for Intelligencer's workers to grasp.

"It's so user-friendly, we don't feel it will be a cultural shock, just a cultural change," Brody says.

Indeed, the simplicity of your system will determine the degree of employee acceptance. Allied Printing Services, a web and sheetfed printer in Manchester, CT, made a smooth entrance into the world of automation with an easy-to-use Logic system for estimating, accounting, shop floor data collection and inventory.

"It was a cultural shift but an easy transition as far as the functionality of the Logic system," says Rich Fletcher, MIS manager. "We had some bumps along the way, but it wasn't because of the Logic system—it was because the employees were used to handwritten cards."

Convincing employees to adopt a new system requires artful management, according to Daniel Hanson, vice president of Branch Smith Printing. The management for this Fort Worth, TX-based sheetfed publication printer has created an environment where people are accustomed to change for the sake of improvement. So when Branch Smith Printing recently added a Printers Software system for estimating, order entry, data collection and inventory, the employees were extremely receptive.

Getting this type of cooperation from employees takes work. You need to get them involved early in the process, perhaps even give them a voice in choosing the system. In the end, you'll select a solution that your staff appreciates. Branch Smith Printing did.

"The people here have been involved in the process, and they've been frustrated with other systems," Hanson says. "When they got their hands on this system, they fell in love with it."

Not only should a computer management system mesh well with your personnel, it should mesh well with your technology. Image Systems, a Menomonee Falls, WI-based sheetfed printer heavily involved in computer-to-plate and direct-to-press output, wanted a Mac-based computer management solution that blended in with its digital production workflows. It only found PC-based solutions.

Image Systems chose to work with Tailored Solutions, which tailored a Mac-based solution. The result was an up-to-date system designed for today's digital workflows. Jobs move quickly from quoting to job ticket and beyond.

"In a digital arena, you need to turn things around quickly," says George Fiel, president and CEO of Image Systems.

His system from Tailored Solutions covers all phases of production—from prepress to finishing. Image Systems uses a different solution to handle accounting.

According to Ruggles, many printing companies keep their production and accounting systems separate but would like them integrated. "Today many of the vendors are providing an interface between their production software and many of the generic accounting packages," he says.

Don't Go to Pieces
Just because you can add generic accounting programs like Quicken to your computer management system doesn't mean you can mix and match computer management systems. Vendors make proprietary solutions that generally aren't compatible with the competition. Besides, piecemealing a solution doesn't yield the best results. Osting knows this from firsthand experience. Prior to adding the Programmed Solutions system, Derby City Litho relied on bits and pieces of homegrown and vendor solutions.

"It was a waste of time because we had to redo a lot of work," Osting says. "When we created an estimate, it was a standalone estimate. It didn't turn into a job ticket. And the inventory wasn't integrated."

While a full-blown integrated system delivers obvious benefits, it can also add up to an expensive investment. Intelligencer's Hagen OA system—which covers estimating, order entry, inventory, scheduling and shop floor data collection—won't go live until the beginning of 1999, and the company has already spent $500,000 for hardware, software and training. Still, Brody is very confident that the system's benefits will offset the costs.

"It will eliminate a lot of paper work with which we are currently inundated," Brody says. "It's going to streamline the operation and make us more cost-effective."

Ruggles notes that the benefits of a computer management system are hard to measure using traditional ROI methods. However, these systems do pay for themselves by reducing staffing or helping your employees accomplish more with less effort and in less time—as long they follow procedures.

In an integrated computer management system, the modules are tied together; a mistake in one module will throw the system out of whack. For this reason, every person in the company must learn to enter data correctly and adhere to policy. Every person must also learn the strengths and limitations of the software. Sales reps must understand what the software can and can't do before bringing in jobs.

"Sometimes the time savings that were gained with computer estimating get lost when the estimator is asked to do more complex, more convoluted things because the sales reps think that the computer can do all of that easily," Ruggles explains.

You can also lose time if you buy a system from a vendor with poor customer service. If a vendor makes great software yet doesn't employ enough CSRs to deal with questions quickly, you may want to take your business elsewhere.

"When you have a problem and you need an answer—you need an answer," says Mike Meyer, MIS manager for MWM Dexter.

This Aurora, MO-based printer uses a system from Logic, a company that excels at customer service, according to Meyer. Fortunately, he has not needed to take advantage of Logic's customer service too often.

That's important. Ideally, the system you install shouldn't force you to call your vendor constantly. Printing companies need computer management systems that work for them, not computer management systems that make them work.

Don't look lightly at ease of use, Hanson advises. "There are some systems that make you very dependent on the software company. They aren't easy to use, they aren't easy to customize.

"You don't want to be in the software business. You're a printing company. People get caught up in systems, and they wind up managing the systems instead of managing their companies."
 

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