MIS: Is Your System Working For You or Against You?
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MIS: Is Your System Working For You or Against You?

Implementing print management systems is not a democratic activity. What you need to become is a dictator to ensure proper implementation.

By Carol Andersen, Chairman, Enterprise Print Management Solutions

"The salesman said this print management system would streamline everything for us, and increase our profits! So far, none of that has happened! This system is useless."

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  • Sound familiar? You spent months researching MIS solutions, then months putting together a requirements list, then more months scheduling demos. Finally, you and your team made a decision. You bought a system, spent thousands of dollars, got trained, and two years later, you're still writing job tickets by hand! What happened? The simple answer is nothing much… literally. You did all the right things up front, and it still isn't working.

    That system you purchased should be handling your quotes, your job tickets, your change orders, your schedule and, in most cases, your financials. Your staff should have accurate information on-demand, and you should have instant information on the critical areas that impact your business. Data should be collected on jobs in real time, as they pass through the shop, and inventory counts and values should be available in real time, and accurate. Your Web-to-Print software should be sending orders to the management system, and shipping information should be bi-directional between your UPS or FedEx software and the management system. When all of this is working together, your workflow is smooth, your invoices get out on time, and your revenue increases along with the increased efficiencies. When a system is only partially used, or not used properly, none of these things will happen.

    There are three major obstacles that can derail an MIS implementation:

    1. Poor project management
    2. Lack of training
    3. Failure to maintain the system
    Managing the Project
    Print management systems are complex business tools that touch every aspect of your plant. If you have already purchased a system, you knew that going in. If you are looking for a system, you need to know that going in! Fully exploiting these systems requires oversight and support from the top and a good project manager in the middle. Most people hate change, and what your project manager must become is a change manager. What you need to become is a dictator. Implementing print management systems is not a democratic activity.

    While most systems are flexible enough to mimic about 80 percent of your current workflow processes, there is that 20 percent that will force you and your staff to look at and do things differently. Your project manager must make sure that the 20 percent factor doesn't fall by the wayside. If support from top management is lacking, or the project manager is not a good leader, change won't happen and the project will begin to drift. The system will be used less, old habits will prevail, and the real benefits of a system won't be realized. Maybe you didn't have the right project manager in place. Maybe you didn't put your full support behind the implementation. Maybe your staff didn't get the message that things were about to change.

    There are two things you can do to get things back on track:

    1. Make sure you have the right project manager in place. You need someone who has real leadership skills and a good understanding of the areas in your company that need to be streamlined. This person must also be technically astute since so much of today's print work incorporates new technologies and sophisticated software. He/she will need to be allocated enough time to spend with staff, making sure that they are using the system and using it properly. If your current project manager doesn't have these skills, then you need to put someone in place that does.
    2. Re-engage the vendor by having them do a site audit. They will be able to identify where things went wrong, and suggest corrective action to be taken.
    Training, Training, Training
    Inadequate training is a major reason why companies don't get the full benefit from their management systems. There is a very simple rule: If you invest in training your staff, you'll get a return on that investment (ROI). You spent thousands of dollars on a business management system; why wouldn't you take advantage of all the training available to your staff in order to secure a solid ROI? Maybe, in an effort to keep system costs low, you didn't follow the vendor's recommendations and you skimped on training. The result? Your staff doesn't know how to use the system properly, which makes using it too difficult, so they just stop using it and slowly go back to "the old way of doing things." The MIS vendors know from experience how much training their system will require. The salesman who told you that the system would streamline your business also told you how much training it would take to make that happen.

    In a small company, sending people to a vendor for a week's training classes is a tough challenge. With everyone wearing a lot of hats, it's hard to release even one key person for a few days. But, if those few days will ensure that you get that system up and running as quickly as possible, it would be prudent to send your people rather than risk the certainty of a delayed implementation if you don't.

    Refresher training is equally important. New hires need to be trained, and current users need to be kept up-to-date when there are new functional enhancements or major updates released. Most MIS vendors will agree that this is the area most often overlooked by their user companies. Online training sessions can be both highly productive and very cost effective when used for refresher training. If your company is in "drift" mode with your MIS, one way to get it back on course is to schedule some online training sessions, or request on-site training from the vendor. This is one of the best ways to make sure that all users fully understand the way your system needs to be used.

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    System Maintenance
    Every MIS vendor does at least one major update annually. Many do smaller updates quarterly and one major update annually. Those updates often contain functional enhancements designed to make every user's life a bit easier. Updates sometimes require IT administration or intervention, and very often companies will skip the updates to avoid the additional maintenance costs. That may be all right for one or two updates, but when you skip several, you get so behind in versions that it could be problematic to bring the system forward easily. More pain, more complaints from staff, all equating to less usage, and greater dissatisfaction.

    System maintenance should be on your project manager's radar screen. Most of the MIS solutions available today require little maintenance. However, when an update is available, it should be taken and installed on the server and the workstations. Everyone needs to be working from the same version, otherwise errors will occur. If the update has major functional enhancements, your project manager must make sure that everyone is aware of those changes. The vendors frequently run online training sessions at no charge to review updates. Take advantage of those, and make sure that at least some of your staff participates in those sessions.

    Database maintenance is also another key task. Periodic database maintenance will keep things current, and keep the system running smoothly. Archive data that is not being used, or get rid of it permanently if it will never be used again. Most MIS vendors release periodic technical bulletins. Make sure that those are read. With all the email coming in these days, it's easy to put those announcements aside. Don't! They may contain information that will further ensure a smooth running system for your company.

    Chances are your MIS salesman presented the features and benefits of the system to you correctly. He may not have managed your expectations well, or he may not have understood your requirements fully, but if you did the due diligence up front, you most likely have a good system in place. Here's what your MIS should be doing to streamline your workflow:

    • Producing accurate estimates and well-designed quote letters
    • Generating a readable, usable job ticket that can be viewed electronically on the shop floor
    • Managing change orders and recording them on job tickets and invoices
    • Connecting to your pre-press workflow applications
    • Connecting to your Web-to-Print/Store Front product
    • Collecting accurate data on the shop floor
    • Managing your raw stock and finished goods inventory
    • Helping your production managers schedule work and understand shop load capacity
    • Providing integrated accounting so that you are working on just one database, with one vendor

    If you exploit all of the functionally of your system, your company workflow will be streamlined and an uptick in your profits will follow.

    Carol Andersen is the co-founder and Chairman of Enterprise Print Management Solutions (EPMS). She is a past contributing editor for several computer industry and office products publications and a published fiction author. She can be reached via e-mail at : carol.andersen@entpms.com

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, November/December 2013 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2013 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (www.sgia.org). All Rights Reserved.

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