Over the years selling ERP systems I've seen many manufacturing companies in many industries. In recent years I've learned more about the graphics arts manufacturing industry than I ever thought possible - and there is much more to learn.
What I have seen is that some businesses (in all walks) are more successful than others, and there are a few obvious activities that seem to stand out as differences.
Here are 5 tips that I've seen while selling PrintVis for Business Central to print manufacturing companies. These are what best-performing businesses are doing with their Print MIS that seem to make a huge difference.
1 - Template-Based Estimation
Using PrintVis or your Print MIS to rapidly and accurately generate estimates is one of the stand-out best practices.
There have been academic studies that more businesses close a sale if their quote is the first one to reach a customer. The findings are pretty significant. The first quotation to hit a customer has a significantly higher chance of being accepted than the 3rd. Almost double in fact.
Rushing a quotation out that is off by a little bit can have a devastating impact if it is off in the wrong direction and the quantities are very large. That mistake can be devastating.
Mistakes are so risky to the bottom line in the low-margin industry that we have today, people take longer and longer to be more and more accurate in getting their quotations and estimates done. Despite investment in Print MIS - we often see very slow quote turn around when we walk through the door.
The day-to-day of an estimator is getting harder all the time, with very high competition and low win rates. There is huge pressure to push out accurate quotations in as little time as possible to win jobs, and many Print MIS systems just are not as helpful as expected. Complex jobs are very tedious and time-consuming.
Good Print MIS software like PrintVis for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central can help improve this dramatically. PrintVis introduces a unique and flexible way to create quotes very fast. This is done with templates, pre-built based on any kind of job. Whether very simple or very complex, templates serve as a starting point to reduce the time spent by as much as 75% according to studies. In addition, a good Print MIS like PrintVis can actually increase quotation accuracy by using the most recent pricing and data from vendors.
A good Print MIS system should let you begin with a template as a starting point, manually overriding and adjusting it easily. It has to update dynamically as changes occur. It has to support almost unlimited variations in substrate, size, and quantity in today's world. Picky consumers want their cake and eat it too, and unfortunately, we have no choice but to give in.
Automating as much of the quoting function as possible in your Print MIS is one of the indications of a leader in the print industry.
2 - Automated Customer Integration
In today's world, large corporate customers often prefer a direct link to their vendors over a Web2Print site. Successful printing companies have significant competitive advantages competing for enterprise contracts if they can offer direct connections with their ERP system. Enterprise customers with the choice of dealing with these kinds of suppliers vs those with Web2Print sites will almost always choose the former.
This can be a huge competitive advantage for the smaller print manufacturer with the right Print MIS.
Web2Print solutions have their place with the small business and consumer customer base, but enterprise buyers often have very advanced (and complex) ERP systems and want to "talk directly" with your system.
In general business terms, this is sometimes referred to as EDI - and is achieved by sending files back and forth between the two systems. Few Print MIS systems do this well. The complexity of print requires more data to be sent than just order quantities and items. It might require a copy that needs to be put on a postcard, image data, sizes, substrates and special treatments, even graphics files for prepress.
With print data, typically this integration is made XLM files - which are special text files designed to send information between modern computer systems. In highly successful businesses, these XML files are directly fed into orders and dramatically reduce the order entry and order processing time.
Best performing print manufacturing companies use modern Print MIS systems that inherently handle XML and JDF to automate this entire end-to-end process. PrintVis for Business Central is one of those Print MIS systems.
The impact is that orders automatically flow into the Print MIS and if configured properly can use JDF to go directly to a digital press and finishing equipment. Several other automated workflows can happen, such as invoicing and shipping data generated with the job. Time savings from this automation is obvious and a huge benefit.
3 - Recovered Prepress Billing
Best performing graphic arts manufacturing companies are good at invoicing for every possible billable item. This includes time spent in prepress that needs to be charged to customers. This is no easy task if your Print MIS doesn't support tracking pre-press time or implement workflows to force users to check for discrepancies.
Graphic designers and prepress staff sometimes want to provide so much customer service that they forget the company has to make money to pay their salaries. We are not socialists - we are capitalists. Billing for work that is done on behalf of a customer is not bad, it's good business.
The classic case of expecting a print-ready PDF and getting a dog's breakfast of half-organized jpegs and copy happens more often than we care to admit. Billing for the time to fix this up and get the artwork approved happens much too infrequently.
It is not enough to know the time spent by press operators and finishing on jobs. We also need to track and control unplanned time in departments like Prepress. If a Print MIS can capture these small amounts, multiplied by hundreds or thousands of jobs, it can have a huge impact on the bottom line. Best-of-breed companies greatly benefit by systematically tracking deviations with software like PrintVis.
Typically they start by setting better expectations with the customer. This includes more clarity on quotes, a well-documented set of milestones, and other explicit conditions.
Successful businesses are very clear in their quotes to customers that prepress fees and charges are assessed under well-documented circumstances. A good workflow can build checks and balances into the system. Customers are generally happy to pay for extra services that are justified and clear.
Ensuring your prepress department generates a small revenue stream can have a massive bottom-line impact when margins are extremely tight. A modern Print MIS like PrintVis for Business Central can really help with that.
4 - Inventory Management and Control
Substrate inventory is often a higher cost than companies care to admit. Most commercial printers claim they only buy to the job, but leftover materials are common. In a perfect world, there would be almost no on-hand inventory as materials would be purchased directly and perfect for every job. In reality that is very hard to achieve, and some types of manufacturing require raw materials to be in stock.
Best performing companies manage their inventory to minimize the stock levels but maximize availability for production. Clearly the qualities of your supplier have a great impact on that, but proper Print MIS tools to manage inventory are just as critical.
Raw material forecasting and bulk purchases can cut costs (with purchase price breaks) and transportation fees. It can make a significant difference in costs if your planning department can easily calculate the most economically efficient purchases. If estimators can use standard stock purchased at reduced prices (and if customers can be guided to use this stock) it eliminates part pallets of materials that float around virtually all printer manufacturers.
PrintVis and other high-end Print MIS support Material Resource Planning such as that within Business Central and other inventory control tools that are found in larger ERP systems. These tools are designed to manage inventory and maximize cost and quantity efficiencies.
Studies have found that businesses can improve manufacturing cost efficiencies by controlling scrap use. There are other costs and wastes associated with production and inventory. LEAN manufacturing teaches that excess inventory is as much of a waste as scrap. Studies evaluating the extra cost of cutoff scrap against vs optimal size paper - it has been shown that standard product can be more efficient when factoring in intangible costs.
By this analysis, it is often better to use a standard “incorrect” size paper with up to 20% more wasted space than placing a special order. A good Print MIS like PrintVis allows these kinds of analysis. A good Business Intelligence solution like Power BI can allow planners to drill into data and analyze cost/benefits.
5 - Clean Data and Modern Systems
Best performing print manufacturers focus on maintaining the integrity and accuracy of their data. They want to collect information for analysis and ensure they are using up-to-date ERP and Print MIS systems.
Those companies that run unmanaged systems and see IT expenditure (of time or money) as "costs" not "investments" have been studied and shown to be industry laggards. Print MIS is so much more than machines and speed tables. There is a clear pattern of overperforming businesses maximizing their software, tweaking, and optimizing.
Ensuring accurate order input is important. Critical to success is constant maintenance and management of quoting rules and templates; paper prices and delivery performance; customer price agreements; paperless job tickets; capacity management. and many others.
For customers struggling to maintain data in antiquated MIS systems, it may be time to upgrade. Modern MIS allows data updating and management in tools like MS Excel. The ability to quickly export, correct and reload data is a huge time-saving.
All businesses aspire to be the best they can be. Achieving the results of the best performing businesses is hard to do, and is especially hard without the right tools.
We’ve seen outstanding results in companies where management sets clear priorities with tasks and milestones for the business. LEAN-inspired improvement efforts (Kaizen events) that have clear targets and are measurable always work better than massive efforts that are unfocused and prone to being dropped.
When those small improvements run into the brick wall of an obsolete Print MIS it is probably time to look at a full-featured, ultra-modern system like PrintVis for Business Central.
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