The days of the expert estimator are numbered, so too the process of filling in successive screens to define the parameters of a print job and submitting a quotation 24 or 48 hours later for the client’s due consideration.
In the 21st century print business there simply isn’t time for this. If a company that prides itself on its efficiency elsewhere in production, from automatic selection of the appropriate screening, exposure of printing plates, set up of the press and folders, is insisting on talking to customers about every job, any gain in the production area is lost before the job has even begun. When margins are wafer thin, no printer can afford to operate like this. And the rise of technology means that they do not have to.
Shorter runs mean more jobs per day, more customers. It is simply impossible to process this number of jobs in a conventional way. Speaking at Labelexpo, HP Graphic Systems general manager Elon Bar-Shany explained the vital nature of this: “If you do not know how to process 200 jobs a day, you will not survive.” 
In this world, job submission must be through an online portal. Ideally job specification and costing should also be calculated by the customer, using interactive technology to offer up some alternatives – the choice of paper or format, the difference between saddle stitching and perfect binding for example. The danger is that the prospect will opt for cheaper when a smart salesman will focus on the upsell possibilities. As yet software cannot make all the decisions about the way that the job is defined when it is printed, though this is where MIS can make a real difference. The latest improvements can cope with different technologies as well as different formats.
The giant German online print businesses exploit this. Customers willing to wait five days for delivery will be offered a lower price than someone waiting three days while those wanting overnight delivery will pay a premium for the service. This is because the longer turnaround gives the printer a better chance of filling an imposition so spreading a makeready across multiple jobs rather than simply one or two. The algorithms aim to fill each large format sheet to the best possible way, easier to do when there is a longer delivery time. 
In all cases the aim is to get the client to upload a finished PDF through a web portal where it can be picked up automatically by the MIS and loaded into the production workflow. The price of the job is either calculated according to a price matrix which limits the customer to certain common formats, papers and run lengths. The tacit agreement is that anything outside this framework counts as a bespoke job and will be charged accordingly to take into account the amount of time necessary to tap into the MIS screen to calculate a price in the traditional way. 
The calculating engine behind the web portal is capable of delivering dynamic pricing to adjust up prices on the web site and down from a centre line according to how busy the presses are or according to a discount that had been identified by the client’s log on information. Under a contract pricing model, the details of the job are captured and costs are added to the end of month invoice along with details of whoever ordered the job in hand. 
This is how ‘job of one’ workflows can operate. The front end is hosted by the greetings card or photobook publisher with prices negotiated by the print service provider to be adjusted at the web portal for any promotion that the publisher is running. Production details are captured for the workflow with delivery date driving the majority of subsequent decisions.
This is the thinking behind the huge order that EFI has won to equip more than 100 Kwik Kopy Print and Design Centres here in Australia with EFI Digital Storefront feeding into the latest version of the PrintSmith Vision MIS and where possible into an EFI DFE at the press. 
Chairman Stephen Penfold explains that the motivation was a more integrated and automated web to print offering allowing each franchise to be in communication with customers 24/7. The customers will be able to log on, test different options in terms of cost, submit files and receive a quote without disturbing any of the operation’s staff. 
The storefront can be custom designed to suit a particular customer, a fast food or retail franchise say, and preloaded with artwork and templates that each outlet can edit and order while remaining inside the brand’s design guidelines. If ordering print can be reduced to the fewest possible choices, the greater is the likelihood that print will be used.
With a Fiery rip to drive a digital press the incoming job administered by the PrintSmith Vision MIS will be placed in the job queue ready to print without human intervention. As and when the job is executed data about the job flows back to the MIS and potentially to the customer through job tracking applications.
For all MIS tracking is now an essential feature, though dependent on JDF or another way to communicate with production equipment. 
The MIS is no longer simply a smarter way to achieve a quote, it has to be the eyes and ears of the production manager and managing director. 
For the production director, shop floor data collection either with a direct machine interface, a bar code scanner, or sheet counting unit, is essential to know where every job in the plant is. 
As the jobs per day count rises and the number of sheets in each job falls, tracking the job by walking around and checking pallets is not sensible or an appropriate use of technology. HP’s OneFlow and SiteFlow job production system operate with a printed bar code which is scanned at each production point as the best way to track where an individual calendar or photobook is in the process. It is part of the expanding PrintOS Cloud suite of applications, which also includes the Avanti Slingshot MIS.
Cloud and browser based MIS will inevitable become more popular and powerful. For the software supplier, support and upgrade become easier, for the user the implementation is quicker and the learning curve shorter. There is no need to take account of the operating system or age of the computers that the customer has. 
PrintIQ uses a browser to display with clarity information from what it describes as a management workflow system. The boundaries between what is a pure MIS and what is an ERP or even a production workflow is becoming blurred. Heidelberg’s approach has been to offer all elements, the MIS and business management system sitting above the Prinect workflow in parallel. It acquired Belgian MIS Cerm with particular expertise in job planning and with a second string in MIS for labels, one adept at handling multiple jobs a day.
For PrintIQ web-to-print is integral to the overall solution. This comprises eight modules in the Core of the system with additional modules for specialist applications or the different technologies and job types. It means that instructions about jobs can be tailored to the relevant operation via a user specific view. It means that production scheduling is a key element and it is fast. PrintIQ reckons an estimate will be generated in less than 10 seconds.
PrintIQ is also typical in that integration with other software applications are part of the proposition and the company is part of the XMPie users group. Avanti is another that has extended the MIS beyond the host system, linking with XMPie, Indigo web to print and Marcom Central for example in its Slingshot MIS. 
The Canadian company became 100 per cent owned by Ricoh at the start of this year. Now Ricoh is starting to get behind the cloud based MIS with some success and report advanced discussions if not too many installations outside North America. It comes from a digital print background so is at home in that environment and does not carry the baggage from old ways of working.
This meant that Optimus completely reengineered its MIS in 2010, introducing Dash as a technology agnostic modular MIS that would use the internet and would be product focused enabling someone with a modicum of understanding to generate an estimate quickly, or for that process to be fully automated. Web-to-print is fully integrated and hosted in the Cloud for easy implementation while managers and sales people can log in remotely to track jobs, raise quotes or submit an order.
The year, Dash has been extended into packaging, enabling users to generate quotes for what is a fast expanding source of revenue for many commercial and digital printers. It is ‘growing market for so many of our customers in Australia’, says Optimus managing director Nicola Bisset.
Tharstern has also entered the packaging realm introducing a web-based imposition module which can nest different jobs on the same sheet and assign the costs of printing the sheet to each of the jobs on that sheet regardless of size of how many carton blanks there are. The Advanced Imposition system was first developed for running multiple greetings cards on a sheet. Now it can cope with non-standard shapes, calculating the best way to impose jobs according to delivery, material and customer. What had been a job which might take a skilled estimator hours, if not days of work, is now completed in minutes. 
The new generation of MIS has opened the gate to the path towards full automation of the printing plant.



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