Written by Howard Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant
NAPL

If your company is anything like most of the other companies in our industry, you are always looking for new opportunities and new services that have more value for your customers. One of these more popular opportunities in the last few years has been short-run digital color printing.  But while many companies have become successful in converting longer printing runs done on offset presses to shorter run lengths done on digital presses, it has also created bottlenecks. This is especially true after a web-to-print is implemented successfully.

A successful web-to-print installation can increase the number of jobs from dozens/day to over 100 jobs per day. This is good news and bad news. While it’s wonderful to see work increase, it can create a burden on estimating, customer service, scheduling, billing, and the overall management of those jobs. How do you manage all this short-run digital work?

Some companies try to deal with this by increasing their customer service staff. But that does not work well because it increases costs. A better solution is to try to automate as much of the work as possible. There are 3 software automation tools that are growing in importance: web-to-print, Print MIS and Prepress PDF workflow solutions. One solution is to use a web-to-print solution to automate the estimating process, create an electronic job ticket and then push the files directly into a prepress PDF workflow solution. In addition, the Print MIS system could schedule and monitor those orders and then convert them into the billing system or charge a credit card.

Of these 3 software automation systems, it is the Print MIS systems that we saw implemented more by the profit leaders and then by the rest of the industry. In our digital services study the greatest differences reported between digital leaders and laggards was for 2 features of Print MIS systems. There was a 26 point difference between leaders who have automated estimating and those who have not. In addition, there was a 24 point difference between leaders who have automated job floor tracking and the non leaders who did not.

The problem is the schizophrenic perception of the value of print MIS systems by most companies who have a love-hate relationship with their print systems. They love when it works and when it provides them with information that they need to manage their business. But they hate it when the manufacturers discontinue their product, discontinue support of their product, or ask for exorbitant fees to upgrade to the latest version of the software. As a result, there is a large number of companies that continue to use outdated and unsupported Print MIS systems.

The burden from outdated estimating systems, manual customer service processes, and time consuming billing processes is like a noose slowly tightening around their necks of companies and strangling them with increasing manufacturing costs. Sooner or later those companies will be forced to either upgrade their systems or change their providers.

The question is how tight is the noose; how bad is your pain and how fast is the noose tightening?


Howard Fenton is a Consultant and Business Advisor at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers and in-plants on benchmarking performance against industry leaders, increasing productivity through workflow management, adding and integrating new digital services, and adding value through customer research. He is a paid contributor to this blog.