Commentary & Analysis
Transforming and Automating Workflows: Workflow Dominates Print13 Part Two
In part two of this article, David looks at new and updated MIS/ERP business management systems that were introduced at Print13 in Chicago.
By David Zwang
Published: September 23, 2013
In part one of this article, we reviewed some of the new and updated Production Workflow solutions introduced at Print13. In this article we will review the MIS/ERP business management workflow solutions that were introduced. One of the things that is encouraging about many of these announcements is the focus on the realities of the business requirements of today’s service providers. These include multiple job input channels, hybrid production environments that include both digital and offset print, the beginnings of cross media production support and adaptation, and cloud implementation.
Before we get started on the new announcements, as a refresher, there are really three distinct data paths required to fully support business automation and the requirements of the future. Those are the production data files (i.e., the PDF working files), the production data instructions (i.e., JDF or other production instructions), and the business data (i.e., estimating, scheduling, planning, tracking, costing, etc.). Production workflow solutions address the production data files, and in many cases the production data instructions. On the other hand, business management workflow solutions address the business data and in some cases the production data instructions. For a more detailed description, see this previous article.
Founded 29 years ago, Avanti Systems’ Print MIS has been one of the premier business management solutions for years. With that background, and the experience the company has acquired, Avanti decided it was time to build a new solution from the ground up that supported the latest technologies for its infrastructure, and the current and future requirements of the market. At Print13 they released the new product, Avanti Slingshot. As is the case for most MIS/ERP solutions, Slingshot includes all of the standard features you would expect to see in a solution of this type, but as a ground up development they have also been able leverage many new technologies and concepts. Built on a Java-based Rapid Application Development (Java RAD) environment, open architecture seems to be a key focus of the new solution. It can reside either in the Cloud or on premise, it is OS platform (Mac OS, MS Windows Server, Linux) and database independent (MS/SQL, Oracle, DB2, MySQL, etc.) so you can use whatever database fits your requirements. It is browser based, so it is compatible with any platform, including tablets.
Ease of integration is also a focus of the new solution, and Avanti designed it to be “The Hub of Production Workflow.” For order input, it is architected to support a wide range of web to-print solutions as well as custom order input through eAccess, Avanti’s web storefront solution. For production automation, bidirectional support for most of the production workflow solutions on the market is included.
Slingshot development also focused on ease of implementation and use. It has a very intuitive GUI, something we are starting to see in other solutions to shorten the learning process and reduce errors in the long term. Avanti has also ‘pre-loaded’ over 460 devices, and operations including representative BHR’s (Budgeted Hourly Rates) in its QuickStart database to reduce the time and effort required to get the system up and running in a new environment. Slingshot supports hybrid print as well as cross media marketing environments. It also has a unique acquisition options structure that supports on-premise or hosted services, with either a perpetual or subscription based pricing.
As the largest supplier of packaged MIS/ERP solutions, EFI products include, for the commercial print market, PrintSmith Vision, Pace, and Monarch, as well as Radius for the packaging market. EFI is in a unique position in that in addition to supplying MIS/ERP solutions, the company also develops and markets the Fiery line of production workflow DFEs. As a result there is tight integration across both product lines in supporting workflow from web to print through business management and production management. This tight integration is designed to provide “lights out automation” with web-to-print workflows. We will be covering web-to-print workflows in a future article.
At Print13, EFI introduced IQuote estimating software. This new-to-North-America browser-based solution was originally developed and introduced in Brazil by Metrics Sistemas de Informaçå, a fairly recent EFI acquisition. It is quite unique, and offers a welcome change from the more conventional estimating solutions. It offers a very interesting and intuitive GUI which includes many very visual review and reporting screens. For example, you can see a graphical cost breakdown of any estimate or job. The back end calculations select the best path for any estimate and its corresponding production based on your individual plant configuration. It also supports the ability to look at ‘what if’ scenarios should you want to look at other options, or need to because of other pressing production conflicts. It was designed to provide a more repeatable and reliable estimating solution, independent of the skill levels of the CSR, Estimator or sales rep using it.
IQuote release is targeted at 2nd quarter 2014, and will initially be integrated with the EFI Monarch ERP solution.
Since 1997, Meta Communications has been offering workflow and automation software. One of its first products, Virtual Ticket, has been one of the more flexible job ticketing workflow systems in the market. Over the years, Meta Communications has continued to develop additional modules, based on customer request, that work in conjunction with Virtual Ticket. These include; Approval Manager, a tracking and collaborative review tool; Digital Storage Manager, a DAM solution; and Job Manager, an estimating and costing tool. Recently Meta Communications started to offer them as a complete workflow solution under the name Workgroups DaVinci.
Since Meta Communications and its customers have started to look at the solution as a total product, new solutions and module integrations are being actively developed. At Print13, Meta Communications introduced some significant enhancements to the Workgroups DaVinci. These include customizable visual dashboards, electronic smart form performance, CRM, advanced workflow and scheduling, MS Office integration, and new HTML5-based proofing tools, that support any browser-, IOS-, or Android-based devices.
While conventional offset press manufacturers were sparsely represented at the show, and to many probably not the prime focus of Print13, Komori was on the offensive and proud to show that the company is in it for the long term. In my estimation, Komori ‘gets it.’ Sure, the company was promoting its offset presses and showing the new jointly developed sheetfed production inkjet press with Konica Minolta, the KM-1/IS29, but what do they have to do with an article on workflow solutions?
Komori showed Canadian-based PDQ (Predictive Dynamic Quoting), a new and innovative estimating solution that works in conjunction with the Axis MIS system. PDQ takes a similar approach to the EFI IQuote solution previously discussed. It is an intelligent estimating solution designed to provide consistent estimates independent of the operator based on your individual plant configurations. While not as graphically rich in its GUI as IQuote, it offers a very easy-to-use and intuitive interface.
In the next article, we will look at some of the new marketing communications program workflow offerings.
Remember, if you have any topics you think are important and would like us to cover during the balance of this series, please let us know!
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