Binary Systems, DiMS!, EFI, ePACE, Meta Communications, Press-Sense, Prestige Scheduler Special Report by Cary Sherburne October 19, 2006 -- A highlight of Graph Expo is the list of Must See ‘ems presented at the Executive Outlook conference the day before the show opens. The session is designed to assist printers in making their time spent on the exhibition floor more meaningful and productive. This year, Graph Expo was described by the Executive Outlook team as a “technology avalanche,” with more than 5,700 products from more than 600 exhibitors across some 400,000 square feet of exhibit space, making it harder for printers to get the most out of the show without some type of assistance. This year there were 29 Must See ‘ems, 27 Worth-a-Looks and 17 Encore Award recipients (Encore awards are given to Must See ‘em recipients from 2004/2005 that were selected for continuing recognition as compelling products). While Must See ‘ems are well publicized, another aspect of the process that is less covered is the ranking of the show’s most important and compelling technologies—as differentiated from individual products—with emphasis on those developments that are most likely to have the greatest impact on a printer’s ability to survive in the short and medium term. This ranking, as well as the selection of products and services, is done by a panel of 15 leading industry consultants and trade magazine editors who are technology-knowledgeable print specialists. The technology area identified by this group as most important to a printer’s profitable survival was management information systems (MIS), described by some as a surprising result. But in the opinion of the selection committee—and in my opinion as well—printers must operate as a business, running their operations based on information rather than instinct. Another factor that was considered is the fact that MIS is a core component of computer integrated manufacturing (CIM), a concept that is mainstream in manufacturing at large but just beginning to make its way into our industry. Yet many printers have not made the MIS leap and are therefore not benefiting from access to real-time operational information as a basis for making key business decisions. As Bill Lamparter of PrintCom Consulting Group, who organizes the Must See ‘em program, said, “This is still an industry in which we deny that we are craftsmen anymore, yet we approach the business from a craftsman perspective.” And the Must See ‘ems brochure made available to show attendees contained what I categorize as a shocking statement: In pre-show surveys, printers indicated a high level of interest in automation, but very little interest in the integration of islands of automation within their plants. One can only hope that show attendees benefited from the guidance provided by the Must See ‘ems and the wide range of MIS solutions represented on the floor. While MIS implementation may bring to mind for many an associated price tag in the six figures—and certainly many require that—there are MIS solutions to fit just about any size or type of firm. Many are modular allowing a high level of customization and a phased implementation; some focus on particular parts of the process (such as scheduling or planning). A few are highlighted here. Binary Systems. Awarded a Must See ‘em, Binary Systems’ Elements is a new application that does estimating, production and job planning, price books and gang running. This flexible solution generates a list of every possible way a job can be run based on its specifications, and also calculates the cost of each method, including the impact of different impositions, ganging or groupings and more. DiMS! This is a web-enabled single server product using an Oracle database that allows multi-site firms (the base targeted by the company) to see across all facilities from a single database. The application takes what the company describes as a proactive approach to production, with iDiMS! Today, a customized “to-do” list that pops up for each user as they log into the system. It has a unique interface with Word and Excel that offers a lot of flexibility. For example, a quote form can be designed in Word and automatically populated by the system to generate a quote letter automatically. It covers everything from CRM through general ledger, including scheduling, across its various integrated modules. DiMS! offers an interesting pricing matrix, categorizing users at three different levels: sales, office and power users. System pricing, then, would be based on the modules acquired and the number of each type of user that will be accessing the system. DiMS! also understands that implementation of an MIS has an impact on the entire organization, and thus offers change management services as part of its standard implementation process. New at the show were updates to iPlan, its scheduling module; a new imposition creator; and a dramatically improved direct machine interface (DMI). Another unique capability offered by DiMS! is a new advanced product tracking tool. This provides the ability to track all the way back to raw materials if there is a problem with a printed job, including the ability to determine what specific lot number of ink, for example, was used in a particular job or portion of a job. EFI showcased the newest versions of its broad portfolio of MIS solutions, including Hagen, Logic, PSI, PrintSmith, Prograph and Proteus, as well as the family of PrinterSite tools and the latest versions of Enterprise Information System, PrintFlow Dynamic Scheduling and Auto-Count Direct Machine Interface. Of particular note, especially for the smaller printer, was the debut of a major and long-awaited upgrade to the EFI PrintSmith Site, the job submission and e-commerce add-on module to EFI PrintSmith MIS. In line with EFI’s strategy to move toward a common development platform for its solution set and common user interfaces, the latest version of PrintSmith Site features a user interface that is similar to EFI's Digital StoreFront, and adds technology from XMPie. Integrated storefronts are an important extension of end-to-end MIS solutions because they ensure that data is only entered once—in the case of storefronts, generally by the customer—eliminating rekeying and the associated possibility for errors as the job progresses through the manufacturing and delivery process. By adding XMPie to PrintSmith Site, the types of products that can be supported are extended to visually rich applications, including direct mail pieces, placing these lucrative applications within reach for even the smallest printer. Meta-Communications. Awarded a Worth-a-Look, Meta-Communications Workgroup 2006 unifies four Meta-Communications modules into a single application: Job Manager, Virtual Ticket, Approval Manager and Digital Storage Manager. These can be implemented as mix-and-match modules or in their entirety. Meta-Communications claims to be the only MIS-type solution that spans the entire graphic arts chain, from the marketing department and the creatives through publishing, prepress, and print. It can be used as a standalone or in conjunction with other MIS solutions. A JDF Solutions Framework is available for Virtual Ticket, allowing it to be used as the front-end graphical user interface to JDF-enabled production workflows. Additional optional integrations are available for Kodak Prinergy and Artwork Systems Nexus CTP systems. PACE Systems. ePACE from PACE Systems is a scalable solution targeted primarily at companies in the 30 to 50 employee range, although the company reports that both smaller and larger companies are included in its installed base of some 500. A key differentiator for ePACe, according to the company, is its open, Web-based implementation that allows easy integration with other systems. In fact, at Graph Expo, PACE announced integration with a number of partners, including Press-Sense iWay, Responsive Solutions, Printable Technologies and Soft Solutions. The company also launched the University of PACE, an on-line self-paced educational resource with the convenience of 24/7 access that helps companies address the training needs associated with deployment of MIS, including the ability for managers to track employee participation and training results. The company also launched a user group. A new module shown at Graph Expo is an integrated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) module that offers a convenient solution to the challenges of managing existing customer and prospect information, including sales reporting to track quota and pipeline progress. Press-Sense earned a Must See ‘em for its new Omnium MIS, a JDF/JMF compatible business management information system for medium to large commercial print shops that automates the fulfillment and manufacturing resource planning process as well as estimating, scheduling, production management and administrative functions. Organizationally, this unifies sales, customer service, estimating, planning, scheduling, procurement, delivery and billing administration into one ERP system. Omnium integrates with Press-Sense iWay to combine the creative process (i.e., development and order entry) with the business flow on the production side. Prestige Scheduler. Developed in New Zealand and marketed in the U.S. by Pivotal-Z, this application has been updated to Version 5, which is a complete rewrite on the Microsoft .NET platform. It includes a unique capability the company calls “scarce resources.” This means it comprehends in the scheduling process the need to plan for resources that are shared or constrained to ensure they can be accommodated within the desired timeframe—for example, a roving cutter used on more than one press or other components such as dies. Buyers can get into this system for as little as $10,000 for up to four users, with a turnkey implementation that includes development of connectors to other plant solutions starting at $16,000. It also supports grouping of like jobs and tandem production such as a project that is produced on two or more web presses that feed into a common finishing element.