State-of-the-art printers often pride themselves on their embrace of new technology, even as they strive for excellence in printing and customer service. They see it as a key to growth because it helps automate the printing process, while providing the intelligent controls necessary to optimization. Tathwell Printing, a mid-sized firm in Charlotte, North Carolina, is one such printer, delivering a full suite of web, sheetfed, and digital print, along with prepress, photographic, finishing, and fulfillment services to its customers, all powered on the business side by a front-to-back web-based print MIS system. In turns out, Tathwell has had not just one, but two complete ePace systems in place since 2002 ---one for the print side of its business, and the other for the fulfillment side, through its TDM Direct division. "Back in 1999, when ePace was still in beta, I saw the potential of a browser-based MIS system, both for our clients and our internal print process," relates John Rawlins, plant manager at Tathwell Printing. "Clients would be able to log in and check the status of their jobs in real time and basically see the same information we do. Employees would have remote access to the system, wherever they were and no matter what computer they were on--and that includes the Macs at home, as well as in the office." The web-based system eliminated client installs and all the support headaches that go with that. The fact that Tathwell's ePace system is on a leased Linux appliance--a Xeon server, outfitted with all the bells and whistles it needs --meant it was stable and secure.

The benefits of automation The promise of ePace has been fulfilled, according to Rawlins, who describes a front-to-back print management process that's fully automated --from the time a potential client goes onto the Tathwell Printing web site and submits a request for an estimate, to the time the printed product goes out the door and the customer is billed for the job. "We've deployed every module that Pace Systems provides, including the front-end eCommerce modules that allow us to build Web-to-print and online fulfillment applications for our clients, as well as all the back-end accounting modules for all our core financials," says Rawlins. "In fact, every employee at Tathwell taps into the system to do their job--and it's automated to the point where anybody can step in and do anybody else's job." Every employee at Tathwell taps into the system to do their job--and it's automated to the point where anybody can step in and do anybody else's job. The benefits are numerous. Once estimate specifications have been entered, requotes for multiple quantities or changes can be automatically recalculated. CSRs can automatically convert estimates to real jobs, building a job ticket without re-keying. New jobs are automatically transferred to the ePace scheduler, which schedules everything except digital POD jobs--loading for equipment, hours on the press, bindery and finishing, and the lead or lag time for special shipping.

Meanwhile, all the purchasing data for materials goes automatically into the purchasing module and all job costing is done in real time. Finally, ePace utilizes Pacestation Reports, which are customized electronic reports specific a person's area of concern. "All a salesperson need do, for example, is log into his Report page and he can get the status of all his jobs, where they are in the process, and the due date," explains Rawlins. "The don't even need to print out the reports." In a similar way, there are online reports for the Collections office, where AR personnel can view an aging schedule on the receivables for their clients. And on the fulfillment side of the company, on the customer-facing website, all clients need to do is log into their company portal and order their finished goods for pick-and-pack and rapid delivery. "Some jobs just simply couldn't be done without ePace," notes Rawlins. "For example, we do 168-page programs for the race tracks, where the ads are sold over time and the pages are coming in one by one. Not only can we keep track of on the ongoing process of building the magazines, page by page, our customers can get their PDF proofs online and sign off electronically.

In a similar way, we also do yearly calendars for automotive dealerships. These are personalized and ordered over a three-month period, which means we need to track a continuing production process. ePace helps us manage all that." Discipline needed Key to success of the implementation was the fact that Tathwell Printing already had the discipline in place to milk the ePace MIS system for what it could provide. "We believe in same day billing and the system is ideal for that." says Rawlins. "But to do that, there have to be rules and regulations that must be followed. For example, no job is entered without an estimate--and it has to be an ePace estimate, so it can be automatically converted to a job. No changes are done without doing a change order in advance on pricing, and so on. And if all that's done, you can invoice the same day, no matter what the shift. But if you're not willing to enforce the rules with your sales force or CSRs, then you're basically back to a manual system with some electronic help. That's not the way to do MIS." If you're not willing to enforce the rules with your sales force or CSRs, then you're basically back to a manual system with some electronic help. That's not the way to do MIS."

For the future, Tathwell Printing is building a web-to-print personal calendar site that will build on their experience with calendars, but will allow customers to upload photos and order custom calendars online--a system that will tap into ePace from the get go. "We've had 20% annual growth for the past four years--an achievement I attribute largely to the ePace MIS system," says Rawlins. "This leads me to say: if you don't have an MIS system to take care of things for you, and you're not getting into digital printing, you're not going to be around in five or six years." Please offer your feedback to Terry. He can be reached at: [email protected] See More Exclusive Articles Terry A. Nagi, President of Terry A. Nagi & Associates, a 27 year consulting organization which specializes in the integration of digital printing, data base development and management, integration of fulfillment and mailing, creation of customer focused and friendly I-COM solutions to reduce the cost and increase the efficiency of customer focused print employees, and he development of training workshops for a printers? customers to successful utilize an I-COM system.