Avoid Headaches, Manage Your Shop Effectively
Need order in your life? A computer management system can help you achieve that, as well as productivity, efficiency and convenience.
What if you could determine the status of any job, at any time, from anywhere in your in-plant?
What if you could put customers at ease by instantly telling them the status of their jobs?
What if you could determine the estimated cost of a job without putting pen to paper?
Well you can—if you own a computer management system (CMS). Such a system lets you offer customers efficiency, convenience and accuracy at the touch of a button, while eliminating excessive phone calls, paper work and lost time.
As a manager, you're always looking for ways to increase productivity and offer customers convenient, quality service and products. A CMS can help you with that by managing your production schedules, monitoring inventory and handling invoicing, accounting and other business-related information.
"Our print management system is literally the glue that holds the company together," admits Larry Lorino, director of Printing Services at University of Texas-Houston. "I don't understand how we operated before we had it."
How A CMS Can Help You
With the help of a CMS you'll be able to:
• Track job orders—follow the job as it flows through the shop.
• Estimate costs—eliminate expensive errors by providing your customer base with the right price, the first time.
• Respond to customer's queries while they're still on the phone.
• Handle chargebacks—bill your customers accurately and efficiently.
• Schedule—be able to list "need it by 9 a.m." jobs and know whether you can fit them into your workload.
• Control inventory—keep close track of items in stock.
And finally, what every in-plant manager wants: increased productivity. A computer management system lets you evaluate the productivity of your employees and determine how much downtime you've had over the year. Put simply, a CMS allows you some breathing room.
Spend Less Time On The Phone
Managers agree that having a CMS improves customer service. As Joe Goss, director of University of Indiana Printing Services, points out, he can respond to his customer's queries while still on the phone, saving excess incoming and outgoing phone calls.
"According to our receptionist, 12 to 15 calls a day are saved with our system, and she saves time by not having to call anyone back about job orders," says Goss.
"Having a system allows the in-plant [managers] to know what's going on in the shop, without leaving their desks," explains Avanti Systems President/Software Designer Richard Wallin.
He compares a customer calling up to check on a job to him calling an airline to check a flight arrival.
"I don't expect the agent to go out to the runway and check when the flight is coming in," he says. "I expect the agent to be able to tell me, in seconds, the information. These days, in-plants are expected to respond with the same level of service for customers."
"In order to be efficient, you have to manage, and in order to manage you have to have information," notes Nick Orem, president of Logic Associates. "These systems are more important today than 10 years ago when in-plants were treated as cost centers. Now most companies want to operate them on a cost-effective basis because they are competing with the outside world."
After all, if companies find it less costly and more productive to outsource all their needs, what would justify an in-plant's existence?
Linking To The Web
The Internet brings a lot of new opportunities to CMS owners. At the University of Indiana, customers have easy access to job status information and ordering through the Printing Services Web site.
The in-plant uses a 20-year-old Stwart system and supplements it with a Filemaker Pro database program that enables linkage to the Web site. Customers can inquire about jobs and even pay for them—all with the click of a button.
The site features a job order form that the customer can fill out and send to the in-plant. They are then sent an e-mail confirmation with a job number. "It's really effective for simple jobs like reprints and stationery," explains Goss.
With the job search module, customers can check on a job's status by entering their account number. The screen will show all of the orders for that account, as well as their status.
"The nicest benefit is it dramatically reduces phone calls. The Web site is easy access for them," says Goss.
Printing Services gets about 1,000 orders via the Internet, which is 10 percent of its overall orders.
"I anticipate that number growing by 25 percent in 1998," says Goss. "We're constantly working on our system to make it better."
When he purchases a new system, Goss will be looking for one that offers scheduling, business management-accounting, inventory control, job tracking and estimation—in that order. Goss believes that estimation should not be a priority when purchasing a system because if an in-plant categorizes its work, it should know the estimated cost of the jobs regularly.
"At my in-plant, we print a lot of magazines and books so we do signature printing," says Goss. "I know that I will be printing 16 pages or something with four pages at a time so I know the costs will stay the same."
His solution is a template system where prices are already established, like paper costs. "I think we spend too much time estimating when we really need to figure out what business we're in and find out what our costs will be," continues Goss.
Estimation Provides Accuracy
But for Doug Miller, director of Printing and Graphic Services at Grand Rapids Community College, estimation provides accuracy.
"Our Avanti system accurately tracks costs and fine tunes our estimated standards," justifies Miller.
He's had positive experiences using the system for job tracking, job costing and automatic chargeback. But he's partial to one feature in particular.
"Avanti offers a counter job system, which is a quick method of entering smaller jobs without having to use the shop system," explains Miller about his favorite feature. "It's all done in one step; it's a huge timesaver."
The counter job system allows the user to define a range of simple and standard jobs, together with specific price schedules or calculation formulas. The job is captured, priced and a job jacket and/or invoice can be printed, in one simple, fast operation.
The job costing module on the Hagen system is a favorite for Lorino, of University of Texas-Houston. "It lets me know what my costs are, whether I'm pricing jobs correctly and it prints job tickets from estimates," he enthuses.
Lorino, can't stop praising his Hagen system. Purchased in 1988, the system has him so organized he says it's "sickening."
"I know where all my work is because each worker in the in-plant keys the job they're working on in the computer," he says, "so if a customer calls me up and inquires about a particular job, I look in the computer and can tell them about 100 things about it."
Connect And Inquire
• Joe Goss, University of Indiana:
• Doug Miller, Grand Rapids Community College:
• Larry Lorino, UT-Houston:
How To Pick A System
Advice From A Manager
To help you determine which system to buy, Doug Miller, director of printing and graphic services at Grand Rapids Community College, offers the following tips:
• Determine exactly what you want to be able to do with a system.
• Develop specifications and prepare a request for proposal.
• Ask specific questions. Avoid asking "can you" questions; instead, ask "how do you" questions.
• Review proposals and select vendors to invite for a demonstration.
• Demand a thorough demo that shows how the system handles your applications. Is the system flexible enough to complement your methods or are you forced to use the vendor's? Can you customize the system and develop your own formulas for costing and estimating?
• Find out if the system can be implemented in stages.
• Understand what types and formats of reports are available.
• What type of training and technical support is available?
• Is the system compatible with current platforms?
Miller also advises managers to be prepared to face several pitfalls in connection with their systems:
• Long implementation curve. He suggests taking your desired implementation schedule and doubling it.
• Major time commitment. This includes training, handling staff questions and problems, rethinking how and why things are done, hardware and software problems, and developing cost centers and standards.
How To Pick A System
Advice From A Vendor
In Evaluating Printing Management Systems, a guide written by Steve Hallberg, president of Parsec, Hallberg says that any system is better than none—you just have to be comfortable with it.
"If it's too complex, you won't use it, if it's too simple, you'll quickly become bored with it and want to trash it."
Here are some of his suggestions:
• Evaluate the vendors. Don't be swayed by what one particular vendor says. Make them prove it. Check references—and not just those supplied by the vendor. Ask yourself: Does the vendor have a history in the business? Is the vendor exclusively involved in printing management systems, or is it a sideline? Beware of companies that drift in and out as the market demands.
• Prioritize your needs. The best system for you is the one you can understand and use on a daily basis. Look for software that makes sense for your business. Feel confident that the vendor you're dealing with today will be around tomorrow to offer you support.
• Price and cost. Add in the maintenance costs that will help define a portion of the actual total cost. With some systems, the biggest single expense is the cost of implementing the system.
"We've met printers who have spent well over a year of hard work just trying to get their systems online, and the effort involved the work of more than one employee," Hallberg says. Needless to say productivity was not increased. The time required to get your system online should definitely be a topic of discussion, he adds.
Avanti: President Richard Wallin says in-plants are demand print environments and the CMS software they use has to treat them as such.
"It has to be able to understand that a DocuTech isn't a Ryobi," says Wallin who also designs the software for Avanti. "Look beyond standard options like job tracking, estimation and chargebacks. Providing service at a competitive cost to your customers is vital to your operation."
Hagen Systems: Hagen just introduced an upgraded version of its estimation module at Print 97. Executive Vice President Steve Peterson believes that estimating and scheduling are the two most important elements in-plants are looking for.
"We are also contributing the automatic collection of data from prepress data. And again, scheduling. As shops get more jobs from different departments, scheduling is an enhanced value. It is our top priority."
Logic Associates: "We are offering a user-defined job ticket that allows the user to add their own fields to the database," says Orem.
Logic also offers a direct machine interface, that allows its system to be connected to machines on the shop floor.
"The benefits are real time information, reduced waste and reduced press overruns," says Orem. "In a cost-conscious environment it's important for in-plants to eliminate waste and overruns."
Parsec: "If it were a perfect world, in-plants wouldn't need things like job costing and estimation, but since we don't live in a perfect world, they are probably two of the most important features for in-plants," says President Steve Hallberg. Along with other vendors, Parsec is currently preparing a Windows version of its system for more capability.
Programmed Solutions: "In-plants have to report back to management why they exist, and computer management systems give them that speed and ease," says Dennis Stroud, vice president of sales and marketing.
Instant Benefits of purchasing a system
With corporations making cuts all the time, finding a management system that increases productivity can help you justify your existence.
View the following benefits and determine whether a CMS is good for business—and good for you.
• Follow the flow of the job through the shop.
• Estimate the cost. Eliminate costly errors by providing customers with the right price, the first time and ensure profit.
• Respond to customer's queries while they're still on the phone. Provide the ultimate customer service in instant answers to your customer's questions. E.g.- "When will my job be finished?" "How much will it cost?"
• Chargebacks. Bill your customers accurately and efficiently and produce departmental costs analysis and budget information.
• Scheduling. Ability to list "need it by 9 a.m." jobs and know whether you can fit it into your work load.
• Control inventory. Keep close track of items in stock and have a history usage on all materials.
• Increase productivity. What every in-plant wants. Be able to evaluate the productivity of your employees and determine how much downtime you've had over the year.
Stephen Hallberg, president of Parsec, suggests that your system's success will depend upon three things:
• The system must be capable of correcting the problems.
• The vendor must be willing to support you in this effort.
• You and your employees must be willing to use the system to attain this goal.
Assessing Your Needs For A Computer Management System
The following are assessments in identifying your plant's needs for a computer management system.
• Production management. A CMS offers production analysis and scheduling system reports, inventory control system and reports, job status and work-in-process control and reports, order entry system and reports and electronic job ticket capability.
• Estimating and Job Engineering. Offers detailed and summary estimate capability and quotation and proposal development.
• Accounting. This program can meet all your in-house business needs by offering invoicing and statement production, payroll services, accounts receivable report linking with job costing and job costing reports and accounts payable reports and production.
• Management. Provides potential direction for company growth, future company needs, initial cost of the computer system, long-term support costs and monthly and weekly financial statements complete with ratios and profitability.
• Critical Customer Needs. Provides customer service interface with order entry, immediate work-in-process status inside plant, and customer electronic telephone link for work-in-process.
• Marketing and Sales Needs. Effective quotation control-pricing link, sales analysis, profitability by customer and job, value added reports and customer list system for market development.
• Practical and Support Needs. User-friendliness of the system, storage requirements and capacity, support personnel for the system and other uses of the CMS for electronic mail, word processing, etc.