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Commentary & Analysis

Your Marriage to Your Print MIS May Be in Trouble!

There are several marriage mistakes that lead to divorce: cheating, dishonesty, addictions, and major changes in priorities. What does this have to do with your print management information system (Print MIS)? I am suggesting that your Print MIS is your most important business partner.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: May 6, 2014

There are several marriage mistakes that lead to divorce: cheating, dishonesty, addictions, and major changes in priorities (quoted directly from the Internet so it must be true).

What does this have to do with your print management information system (Print MIS)? I am suggesting that your Print MIS is your most important business partner, just as your spouse is your most important life partner, and therefore, you need to stop the behavior that leads to Print MIS divorce, which—much like human divorce—can be very painful and expensive.


Most printers aren’t using their Print MIS to its fullest capabilities; they have lots of workarounds and many features that have not been implemented. There are many activities that happen every day in your business that are required for the business to run but are being conducted “offline or outside your primary system of record” as a patch to a broken process. You’re cheating on your Print MIS and that can be grounds for divorce! For your relationship to be optimal, you need to be monogamous – meaning your Print MIS has to be THE SYSTEM OF RECORD for EVERYTHING that happens in your business.

Many printers go even further and actually buy a second Print MIS, running them concurrently (yes, this is like having a mistress). So now you have two supposed “systems of record” which is a misnomer; you can only have one if it’s a true system of record. This makes your business life more complicated than it needs to be. You can’t get a complete view of your business in one place; you are constantly working hard to bring data together in a manual way to understand what’s happening in your business.

I know what you’re saying to yourself as you read this: “My existing Print MIS doesn’t fulfill all my needs.” (not going to go any further with the marriage analogy in this case for obvious reasons). I can’t run my digital business through the Print MIS I’m using today because it hasn’t been upgraded in more than a decade.”

What’s wrong with this picture? Why are you trying to run your modern print business on a platform that doesn’t support where print is today, or even where print is going, but rather, where it was years ago!


We don’t like to admit how we’re underutilizing our Print MIS. We pretend the data is accurate; we fool ourselves into thinking its close enough. We aren’t fooling anyone. We justify these “white lies” because we know the potential horror stories of replacing our Print MIS – months and months of implementation, unpredictable costs, and lots of frustration, with no guarantee of success. We want to avoid that so we keep telling ourselves that it isn’t that bad to run on a computer system that looks like it was built in the 1980s. We live in the information age, data is the raw material of this age – you need easy access to relevant and timely data about your business in order to remain competitive.

The alternative is that you keep developing more and more elaborate workarounds – you ask your people to become data consolidators, manipulators, and general purpose acrobats so that they can provide you accurate data. You are spending the money on labor that you should be using to invest in new software. Software is the primary tool of efficiency in the information age. Successful printers know how to leverage and utilize software to replace as much labor as possible – throwing more people at a problem is no longer a viable option.


We are addicted to blaming the software – because software is an easy target. Here’s the reality we should all get used to: software isn’t perfect and it doesn’t move very fast. Does this sound painfully familiar? We see all our challenges from the perspective of how the software fails us. We don’t take any responsibility for our part in the equation. Wow, that sounds like the proceedings from a divorce court! There are marriages that succeed; there are marriages that fail. Print MIS software solutions are sold to many printers. Some are very successful with them, and others fail miserably. This is the same software; the only difference between success and failure is what the printer brings to the partnership.

The key is to focus on what you have control over. Are you looking at the software trying to find things that won’t work in your current setting? Software, like humans, is a target rich environment for flaws and weaknesses. If you go looking for everything that’s wrong, you will be successful in finding flaws. Too many printers get stuck in a rut there and then only see the Print MIS through the lens of “if it only did this or that then I could be happy with it.” Don’t waste your valuable labor hours trying to discover everything wrong; instead, figure out how to optimally utilize what the software does well to your greatest advantage. Succeed in spite of its obvious weaknesses!

We also want to break the habit of marry – divorce – marry again – rinse and repeat. Buying another Print MIS and not changing your side of the equation will lead to the same outcome. Because you and the software solution are in a relationship, you co-create both success and failure. Its time to make sure you’re taking care of your side of the fence before you throw out the technology and bring in the next bright, shiny, perfect software as described by the latest software sales representative. Eventually you live with that new software and realize it has its own unique set of weaknesses, quirks, bugs, and blemishes that you’ll need to learn to accept because you love its strengths and how it improves your overall business.

Change in Priorities.

Lots of printers say, we’ll get around to fixing our Print MIS problem once we’re done with the this list of other more important business items. There are always competing priorities; there just seems to be a collective avoidance of the Print MIS issue because it isn’t a project that anybody wants to take on. Sort of like filing your taxes. Data is critically important to your business in the information age. Your Print MIS should be your system of record for the data of your business. When you think about it that way, how can you really run your business without a loving, trusting, and long-term committed relationship with your Print MIS? Every other decision you make about your business should be based on data coming from your Print MIS.

The Dream Relationship.

In the glory days of print, your printing equipment was your primary differentiator. Now, though, more and more of your differentiation will be determined by how you utilize technology in your go-to-market strategy and your operational strategy. Your Print MIS is the foundation of your business software. All technology decisions should be made with Print MIS integration in mind. Isolated point solutions (non-integrated) should be avoided at all costs.

The dream isn’t realized in one step, and it surely isn’t realized with one purchase order. The “implementation” of your Print MIS never ends because your business should be in a constant state of evolution, and your utilization of the platform should be incrementally increasing over time. Think long-term, think like it’s a marriage, and if you want it to work you need to keep working on it. The real work starts after the honeymoon (otherwise known as the sales process). A true system of record is a differentiator in the marketplace because it will enable you to make data-driven decisions at almost every level of your organization and operate your business more effectively and profitably.

Jennifer Matt is the managing editor of WhatTheyThink’s Print Software section as well as President of Web2Print Experts, Inc. a technology-independent print software consulting firm helping printers with web-to-print and print MIS solutions. You can reach her at jen@whattheythink.com.



By Carl Gerhardt on May 06, 2014


You hit the nail on the head. Many if not most printers or should we say graphic arts companies have made a mess out of their MIS. Add to this that too many suppliers have done a sorry job of integrating a basic order entry/pricing system with the other modules to take jobs all the way from conception to the customer....conception to birth.

In so many cases we have a patchwork of pricing/estimating/design/workflow/W2P/sales management/billing/accounting/ modules most of which do not talk to each other. And many that are an upgrade or three behind. Add to this the issue of outdated hardware and networks and it's no wonder why many firms have unsuccessful marriages and have trouble efficiently giving birth to jobs. This is even more pronounced with smaller firms that can't afford the investments to make their software marriages succeed.

You have a fertile field for this new Software special interest area. And by the way, what really is Web2Print???(j


By Jane Mugford on May 06, 2014

I totally agree with you Carl. There is no shortage of complexity and challenges when it comes to MIS. The biggest fallout is that printers often end up backed in to a corner and end up creating workaround on top of workaround (get out the box of bandaids!) to compensate for 'problems' within the MIS. The truth of it is no system is perfect but whatever system you have, you need to know you are getting the most out of it. Most often printers just don't have the time to sort it all out because they are 8hrs+ busy a day with just running their business. It ends up being such a lost opportunity to add success.


By Jennifer Matt on May 06, 2014


Thanks for your comments. I would very much like to pull the Print MIS conversation out of the weeds(features, implementation challenges, etc.) and talk about the business objectives you should be getting from your Print MIS. Are you making data-driven decisions based on the accurate and timely data you get from your Print MIS? If not, the system isn't doing its job. Ask more of the system, start with the end in mind. On a recent on-site visit with my colleague Jane Mugford, we simply asked each functional area of the operation: "where do you go for information at the start of your day in order to understand what you're in for?" What a clarifying question that is! We rooted out all the workarounds and are now incrementally implementing them back into the system of record.



By carol andersen on May 06, 2014

Spot on, Jen. We run into this problem on a daily basis with our clients. About two years ago we started to offer site audit services to help them identify where they were underutilizing the management system and how we could help them fully exploit their system. While this has helped, it also made it quite clear that we, as a print MIS vendor, needed to be more pro-active with our clients by constantly reminding them of features and functionality that would make their lives easier. We instituted a series of videos that appear on our website, each one dedicated to some important feature or function of the system, and these have been extremely well received. But, at the end of the day, we need to do a better job of just picking up the phone and calling clients, especially the long term clients, on a more regular basis - just to see how things are going, or if they're having any problems with the system that we don't know about.
Carol Andersen
Chairman/Founder - EPMS


By Jennifer Matt on May 06, 2014


Many printers think implementation is a process that has an end. The business of print keeps changing and software solutions keep changing so the "implementation" process is never-ending.



By John Lacagnina on May 07, 2014

Great discussion. In my mind, MIS is not complete unless you have automated the entire "business of printing", which means integration from the sales process (W2P) to workflow to MIS to data mining. All of these systems have to be tightly integrated to both optimize your printing business AND assist you in your everyday decision process. Every manager and executive should ask themselves; "what are the top 5-10 decisions I make everyday?" And, if your W2P, workflow, MIS system is not helping you make better, faster decisions, you need to replace it!
John Lacagnina, CEO/Founder prInternet


By Jay Hartway on May 07, 2014

We're well aware that implementation is lacking in our shop. I'd hired the divorce attorney, drafted the filing for divorce and found the pretty young thing to move on to before reading this. I have known all along that I'd soon be equally disappointed with the new spouse just for different reasons, but tech support has been so frustrating it makes you desperate for something better. So I'll call the marriage counselor and give it another try to see if better implementation is all we need or if there is truly an integration and technology lag we just can't live with anymore.


By Jennifer Matt on May 07, 2014


Hysterical. Yes, press reset. First press reset with your team. Decide you're going to succeed in spite of the perceived frustrations with the technology/vendor.

Find a printer that IS SUCCESSFUL with the technology you bought (get their perspective). Go get independent counsel on the exact challenges you're having - sometimes you just need a different perspective on the challenge to unhook it.

Try and take the emotion out of it, I know its hard but you have to move out of it before you can look at things clearly.



By Jennifer Matt on May 07, 2014

Jay -
One more thing, I think everyone should be in a peer group with others that use the same Print MIS who are not competitors. Why wouldn't you have a peer group that you could learn from and bounce ideas off for utilizing your Print MIS more effectively.



By Jane Mugford on May 07, 2014

Such great comments all around, and Jay, thanks for the afternoon laugh!

If only MIS systems would come with the manual "What it's really going to take to be successful with this system", the end result would probably be a lot better. Most of the systems currently available are actually quite good. How to make them work in your environment is where the challenges arise and things often fall apart. One size doesn't fit all. Each printer is different and the technology has to be pliable to be able to weave it's way in to the specific environment. The printer shouldn't have to squeeze itself in to the technology.


By Jim Rosenthal on May 09, 2014

I seem to agree with Jennifer more than I do with my wife (just joking... sort of). Coming into this year we made "re-implementation" a priority, even though our system really is the center of our business. It starts with training training training. A visit to some other companies using the same system also gave us a lot of guidance as to a) What things we could do better and b) What new ways we could better use the system. We made it a point to visit "successful" companies. One other thing that we have always done - be active with the company who's software you use. Make sure you push support and development, and question how the system works and what features might be added in the future. Ideally, if they have Users conferences - make sure to attend. Its worth it


By Jennifer Matt on May 13, 2014

Jim - thanks for agreeing with me and also having lively discussions when we meet up at print events, you also challenge me quite often!

I took your advice when I was running a retail Kinko's, when our Xerox machine went down, the first thing I did was send our driver out for the technician's favorite coffee from Starbucks - every time he showed up at our store, he had his favorite drink and more importantly we considered and treated him like he was part of our team. I really think he liked coming to our store best - hence our machine was down for less time which equated to more money for everyone (we had a great profit sharing incentive back then)!

We cannot succeed in a vacuum, we need technology partners, we need suppliers, we sometimes need advisers, we need friends. Our businesses are a loosely coupled network of relationships - some make this network work for them, others make it work against them.

Thanks for engaging in the conversation.



By Samuel Shaffer on May 13, 2014

So Jen, I want a cute MIS that does it all for me. What dateing service should I use to find her?


By Jennifer Matt on May 13, 2014


I would NOT start with shopping and getting demonstrations - this tends to confuse you and get you sucked into the feature fire hose (making you think, more is better). I would start with clearly defining (internally) what you want your MIS to do for you. For example, is your business pivoting on the estimating function - meaning do you estimate everything or do you do a ton of price list pricing? I've seen printers who are 100% price list pricing buy MIS systems that really center their whole existence around the estimating function.

You want to find a cute MIS that does what you need and as my colleague Chris Reisz-Hanson says, "you walk down main street with your use of the software" - meaning you're using the software as it was intended to be used. Once you start going rouge (trying to do things that the software was never built to do - you get in all kinds of trouble).

I wouldn't recommend a dating service but maybe a quick note to Jane Mugford (my co-contributor in the WTT Print Software section) jane@web2printexperts.com would give you more detailed advice on how to think about finding your perfect mate ;-)


By Chuck Werninger on May 24, 2014

Jen, I'm really enjoying this series and hope you'll stay on if for a long time. I've recently learned the same thing about our print MIS, what has plagued us with the current "relationship" would follow us into the next one also. With that in mind, we've found counseling and feel our marriage strengthening already! We've got lots of work to do patching up the errors and omissions in the years-ago setup of our system but are optimistic about the future again. I can't go to their users' conference next week but am committed to going next year.

Keep up the good work!



By Jennifer Matt on May 24, 2014


Glad to hear you sought out the help you needed to repair your Print MIS relationship. The first step in moving forward is to accept your role in the situation. Virtually everything we get ourselves into is an act of co-creation (you and someone/thing else). We only have control over our side of the equation so why not clean that up and then see what happens instead of getting stuck hoping the other will change? (frustrating)

Good luck moving forward and thanks for following our series, we are having a lot of fun writing and engaging on this critically important topic of print software.



By Etienne Van Damme on May 30, 2014

I have a simple question.. why is it that in the print business we seem to stick to MIS systems and discussions, whereas the rest of the world has moved on and talks ERP system. MIS very feels late 80's .. Don't printing businesses need much more? Business process management of which MIS is a part? Thanks for sharing your insights.


By Jennifer Matt on May 30, 2014

Etienne -

Print MIS and ERP are the same thing. I think the Print MIS market has matured into ERP (adding features and functionality like CRM, etc. The name Print MIS has stuck, in my opinion the ERP acronym has a bad name since just about every month we hear about someone spending millions on SAP or Oracle and then tossing them out (I think management systems is the most difficult IT project to execute on - the larger the company the riskier the project).

So for now, I see Print MIS as synonymous with ERP.



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