CMS--Winning the Installation Game
Discipline, flexibility, planning, responsibility—key ingredients to successfully implementing computer management systems.
BY MARIE RANOIA ALONSO
The installation of a computer management system is not purely an academic process—it is an arduous, yet ultimately beneficial, production process that must be initiated, controlled and completed without impeding the regular, day-to-day business tasks of any commercial printing operation.
Easier said than done. In a perfect world, implementing new software solutions for estimating, electronic job ticketing, job costing, job invoicing, inventory tracking—essentially every administrative data collection component of a print production cycle—would be as easy as sticking a disk into a CD drive and executing a few, effortless mouse clicks.
In actuality, as many commercial printers are already painfully aware, the process of installing a computer management system—whether for a $2 million or $20 million commercial printing operation—is a delicate undertaking.
The best way for any commercial printer to approach such a daunting task is to face it with open communication. Trust the computer management system supplier, depend on them for advice and direction, share with them your infrastructure concerns, brief them on your personnel's technological aptitude; but, by all means, do not relinquish complete responsibility of the installation process to your supplier.
Business as Usual
In short: Stay in charge. So advises Paul Grieco, president of Printers Software Inc., which specializes in computer management system installations at commercial printing shops ranging from 10 to 200-plus employees in size.
"Installing a computer management system at any commercial printing site should not interrupt the day-to-day print production and administrative operations of that site," Grieco advises. "The installation process must be managed intelligently by the supplier and the printer, and not be a disruptive chore attacked in a one-day, or even one-week, period."
For many small- to mid-size commercial printing operations, a successful implementation includes two important ingredients, according to Grieco. "First, the software to be implemented must be designed to be self-installed. It must be easy to use, easy to understand. Second, the commercial printing operation itself must be a disciplined environment, comprised of people willing to take responsibility for their own successful installation."
A successful installation, for many small- to mid-size commercial printers, is achieved by reviewing technical manuals on the software of choice, asking proactive questions of the technology supplier, establishing a sound plan with key company personnel and, at all costs, maintaining an open dialogue with the supplier.
While the supplier may be responsibile for solid customer service, a proven and quality technology, and the technical support to deliver a successful implementation, the scope of the administrative planning and technical aptitude on the printer side, ultimately, will set the tone for the implementation process.
"Installation is the middle phase of a system implementation—and its success will be determined by the planning that went before, as well as the plan that comes after," advises Carol Andersen, president of Micro Ink, which serves small- to mid-size commercial printing operations. "No installation will succeed if management does not get behind the implementation of a new system; the installation time for any new technology is not the time to abdicate one's leadership role in any commercial printing company."
New systems bring change, Andersen continues, and most people fear change. "If managers are not involved in the entire process of implementation, then fear of the unknown will take over, the implementation will drift and the system will never be properly utilized," she contends, noting some chores that Micro Ink presses its users to do prior to installation:
- Appoint a project leader, or point person, to be the liaison between the vendor and the company. This employee will work with the vendor project leader to meet the implementation goals.
- Establish a realistic go-live date, and stick with it. The point person and the project leader can make this happen if management recognizes that the point person will need time to make things work.
- Establish milestones that should be reached as the project moves toward the go-live date. Milestones should be noted militantly on the calendar and distributed to all who are involved with the implementation. The vendor project leader and point person will work together to see that the milestones are met.
- Be open minded. A new system will invariably present information in unfamiliar ways. You may be getting the same information that you have always had, but it will look different. The greatest resistance seems to come from staff who use the company work order or job ticket. Electronic job tickets look different. They capture all the necessary information, but the look and feel are foreign. Windows-based systems look and feel different from DOS systems. There will also be some trepidation if an older, legacy system is being replaced with a new Windows system.
- Keep your staff informed about decisions and progress. Most people will welcome the newer look of today's systems, but management must present the changes in the most positive light if they expect staff to accept the new system. An implementation will run into trouble if the staff is not fully prepared for change.
Expect failure if managers and staff are unwilling to look at doing some things in a new way, and if research was not conducted carefully for the choice of the new computer management system. "Managers should conduct an internal needs assessment before bringing in any vendors," Micro Ink's Andersen advises. "A good second step would be to send out an RFP, and then narrow the vendor selections down to three or four vendors that meet the required specifications."
Making the Meeting
Tailored Solutions, the developer of Litho Traxx job management software for prepress and mid-size commercial sheetfed printing operations, encourages companies to schedule weekly meetings at the start of the implementation process. "These weekly meetings are good times for users to discuss workflow and procedure issues, as well as assemble lists of questions or concerns for the software developer," advises Ken Meinhardt, president of Tailored Solutions.
Certainly, the recent formation of printCafe—merging, among others, computer management system manufacturers Prograph, Programmed Solutions, Hagen Systems, Logic Associates and AHP Systems—is changing the landscape of the business management system market.
Surveying top technologies from printCafe and various computer management system providers, including Franklin Estimating Systems, Micro Ink, Printers Software, Professional Systems, PowerQuote, PRIMAC Software, MetaCommunications, Tailored Solutions and others, will allow any commercial printing operation to make an intelligent technology selection.
After the selection, the success of the installation rests heavily on the shoulders of both the technology developer and the commercial printing operation—which will not only get what it pays for, but will achieve success based on the effort and planning invested before and after the purchase.
Primac's Teamwork Tips
One of the first decisions to be made is the selection of an Implementation Team. The activities of this team are critical to the success of the implementation. A project leader must be selected to head up the implementation team.
All members of the implementation team, assembled from each of the functional areas that will use the system (production, costing, accounting, inventory control, purchasing), must be given time to participate in the implementation process.
The project leader's role in the implementation process is the most important of all. The project leader must keep the team motivated and on a forward path. The project leader should also be the primary contact with the technology developer—channeling any questions regarding the application and installation.