By Terry Nagi

In our past five articles we have examined the advantages and reasoning for moving beyond a basic Web-to-Print system, to a full-blown I-COM (Internet Customer Order Management system. Today, Web-to-Print has gained significant attention and is becoming expected of printers offering digital printing. An I-COM system will be a requirement for all printers in the near future. In recent articles, we have interviewed some of the major providers of I-COM systems, some of whom also offer an MIS option. The objective is to provide a more learned response from the companies that actually provide MIS and/or I-COM solutions. This week we examine the response of Avanti Systems to key questions to assist a printer in selecting and implementing an I-COM system.

TN: What do you see as the prime benefits of implementation of a complete MIS solution, concentrating of the newest segments which provide the client to use the Internet and customized  templates to request estimate, place orders and reorders, request changes, bill and pay bills electronically, etc.?

Avanti: The #1 goal you want an MIS system to achieve is the ability to streamline a print shop's workflow, eliminate breakpoints and to increase productivity.

A breakpoint is defined as any instance in which data previously entered into the system has to be re-entered. Whenever that occurs, there are additional costs associated with the workflow and the overall process is not as efficient as it could be. You want to make sure you have an MIS system in place that allows the business workflow to communicate between prepress, press and finishing.

Another great benefit of a complete MIS is that it allows the print shop to implement newer technologies like JDF, CRM and executive dashboards; all of which increase productivity and efficiency, allow for seamless transfer of information between departments, and give the shop the ability to track key metrics and business indicators in real-time. And, of course, these will all result in greater customer satisfaction, and the ability to track ROI throughout the company's initiatives.

Also, it is important to choose an MIS system that has the ability to do all of those things over the internet – Avanti is one of the few MIS systems that has a completely integrated internet solution, meaning our software can take all orders over the internet, and all of that information is available for viewing in real-time. This goes beyond the notion of data exchange – our internet system and production system are accessing the same database, and therefore everything happens in real-time.

Finally, as digital printing continues to gain momentum, you want to look for a system that can handle both the digital and litho aspects of your business, often referred to as a "hybrid" environment. Avanti developed a product specifically for digital estimating and does very well there. Now some competitors are beginning to offer it, but our advantage is that we are now in our 7th generation of software for digital estimating, and our litho estimating product has been around for over 23 years. Avanti is the only MIS system available today with a true hybrid digital system, with two separate products for digital and litho estimating.

TN: What comprises a complete system?  List the complete set of modules which comprise a total MIS system.

Avanti: There are two types of workflow in any print shop:

Production Management Workflow such as:

- Create: Adobe

- Submit: Web Storefronts

- Prepare: Imposition S/W Make Ready, Process Manager

- Print: Output Mgmt and,

Business Management Workflow, Avanti MIS:

- CSR/Sales: RFQ's, CRM

- Estimating

- Purchasing

- Order Entry

- Schedule

- Shop floor data collection from key points of the workflow: Prepress, Digital, Litho, Finishing, Shipping

- Inventory Management/Fulfillment

- Shipping

- Accounting

An MIS system must be able to handle all elements of the Business Management workflow while communicating seamlessly with your Production Management workflow.

•       Avanti offers a complete end-to-end solution, from web submission and order entry, right thru to shipping, fulfillment and invoicing. Avanti has a complete offering of modules to run every aspect of your print shop.

TN: Where does your system fit in, and what can it do for the printer?

Avanti: Avanti is an end-to-end solution for both commercial and in-plant printers. Avanti has more than 23 years experience providing software solutions to the graphic arts industry. Because of this, we are very familiar with the unique challenges printers face. Avanti also has a proven implementation process that helps print shops streamline their workflow, thus providing maximum return on investment.

TN:  What are the steps a printer should use to decide which and the extent of the MIS system they should purchase?

Avanti: We see eight steps printers should be aware of.

1. Make sure you have senior management commitment

Installing, implementing, training and "going live" require both effort and commitment. Employees are constantly watching the senior management team to check in on what's important. Without a member of the leadership team championing the project and "walking the talk", it won't get done.

2. Buy software that runs your business, not someone else's

The software should provide a framework that lets you tailor the package to the way you do business (not the other way around). Avoid software designed with a "One Size Fits All" philosophy.

3. Don't focus the purchase decision entirely on the software.

Remember that a salesperson's role is to make the sale and then move onto the next opportunity. Be sure to meet the folks from your vendor who will be managing your implementation, delivering your training and supporting you after the installation.

4. Find a product that has the ability to grow with your business.

It's easy to get caught up in your daily challenges. Your immediate needs and priorities drive the majority of your decisions. But the only constant is change. Avoid getting caught up with a product and vendor that can't grow or adapt with your business.

5. Budget properly for user training

Under-estimating the amount of vendor support and the number of days of training required is one of the biggest pitfalls out there. "Train the Trainer" sounds great from a budgeting perspective but you need to ask yourself the tough question: "Are you or anyone on your team an experienced and qualified trainer?"  Further, onsite versus offsite or web-based training also makes a big difference. People learn best in their own environment and on-the-job, so on-site training is the best option.

6. Don't create another "island of automation"

Done correctly, your Business Management Software can be the "glue" that facilitates cross-departmental communication and integration. Done incorrectly and you've merely got another "island of automation".

Look for software that can handle JDF (Job Definition Format). JDF is an emerging standard that allows you to bridge the information gap between your Prepress systems, your Presses and Production equipment and your Management Information Systems.

7. Don't take on more than you need to

Your new Business Management Software package should be modular in design and not force you to scrap your investment in other systems (i.e. accounting and/or prepress) – it should integrate into them.

8. Assuming digital is just like litho

Business Management Software for Litho printers has been around for over 20 years. But the needs of a digital or hybrid shop are very different than a straight litho shop. Digital shops need to handle over the counter jobs, product and kit functionality, pricing contracts and turnaround-specific pricing. The hybrid environment, where Litho, digital and large format co-exist, requires easy-to-use software able to handle many, yet less sophisticated, estimates on the digital side as well as the complexities of a Litho estimate (i.e. choosing the best press, estimating complex processes like "an 8 over 2 job that must run on 2 different presses with multiple passes, make ready, plates and handle PMS colors").

6. What training would you recommend, to which responsibilities, in a printing company?

Everybody using the system should have the knowledge to use it properly. Training time is based on the number of modules purchased. Avanti's over 23 years of experience in delivering systems has proven that the two most important factors for a successful implementation are planning and training. Avanti places enormous emphasis on planning, project management and end user training. If users are not properly trained, system implementation will take longer and will be more difficult to accomplish, and the printer will not fully leverage all the functionality intrinsic to the system.

Still more to the story

We will continue to investigate and analyze the necessity and opportunity for implementing  an I-COM system inyo a printer's organization in the coming  issues of OnDemand Journal, including:

  1. An additional three-part series featuring the real world experiences of printers implementing an I-COM system.
  2. Finally, two reports detailing the major providers of I-COM solutions, what they provide and their position in the marketplace.

Stay with us while we continue to investigate one of the major change agents in the printing industry.

In case you missed them, the previous four articles in this series are available on ODJ:

From MIS, JDF and CIP3 to I-COM (Part 1)

From MIS to I-COM (Part 2)

From MIS, JDF, CIP3 to I-COM (Part 3)

From MIS, JDF, CIP3 to I-COM (Part 4)

From MIS, JDF, CIP3 to I-COM (Part 5)