Remote Access: Is it for you?
Customized MIS software and a little creative thinking can generate new sales
In the mid 1990s, estimating software vendors promoted Remote Access to link staff and customers to a company’s management information system (MIS). Remote Access enabled sales reps to input requests for quotes (RFQs) or enter orders while on the road. Customers and prospects could request estimates or place orders from their office without a rep’s assistance, access a work-in-process list to see the status of their orders, or see what jobs were delivered over the past month, for example.
Last year, e-commerce grabbed everyone’s attention. Everything was going to be done online. Customers would enter their own specs, invite specific printers to tender, estimators would estimate, orders would be placed, and the work would be produced directly from digital files. Even payment could be made online. Although this e-commerce model has not gained widespread acceptance, I am aware of some successful projects using different Remote Access features. Let’s take a look at why they are successful, what common elements they share, and how you can apply some of these techniques to future business.
One of the earliest applications, of which I am aware, is a printer who had a major automaker as a customer. They had a good relationship with many commercial print projects on the go. The customer saw the sales rep regularly, but there were often times that the customer needed to know the status of work in process (WIP). Telephone tag can be frustrating so the printer had his MIS software vendor develop a module that granted access to the customer. The printer determined which jobs the customer would have access to, along with being able to place RFQs and orders online. This helped to retain the automaker’s business, solidifying the relationship between the printer and his customer.
The Printing Industries of Michigan, with more than 250 members, worked with the state’s automakers and built a collaborative printing e-procurement tool (see www.printwire.org). The association claims the system has been used to purchase and process in excess of $1-billion worth of printing. One print buyer says this process has reduced the turnaround time on order processing by 33%, going from three days to two.
Access to books
Another printer created an online order entry and digital print system for book manufacturing. Customers place orders for one to 500 books via the printer’s secured Web site and enter the job specifications. Specifications are based upon the customer’s pre-approved-pricing database. As the order is completed, the price is displayed, approval granted, and the PO issued. The customer can then access a list of titles in the digital library. New title files are submitted via an FTP site, and an appropriate proofing cycle begins. The orders are then transmitted from the prepress department to the digital print department where high-speed, roll-fed digital printers print the black-and-white text portion, while a digital colour printer prints the covers. Printed digital books are delivered as collated book blocks ready to bind. Delivery can be either two, five or 15 days, subject to the service level desired—there is a premium for rush orders.
One marketing communications firm has representatives across the country who require promotion material for their customers in the hospitality industry. The firm has set up a Web site where its customers can go online and build promo material from templates and, from a digital library, insert images with specific typefaces and graphics. All these items are pre-approved, so the corporate image remains consistent and the quality high. The file is then forwarded to the printer with detailed instructions for quantity, delivery, etc. and the job is shipped within 48 hours.
It works for the small printer
Given these examples involve large printers and even larger customers, does this mean that a small, independent quick print operation would be unable to develop new business opportunities from online transactions? Certainly not.
I met a small printer in Montreal who was successful in winning a significant amount of business from a ski resort several hundred miles away. How? Using a high-speed digital file transmission service provider, like Wam!Net or FileFlow, he helped his customer submit large files online which he then downloaded, printed and shipped the next day. Offering digital file submission to customers enabled the printer to successfully win orders from many competitors. There was no major investment in FTP sites, programming or prepress technology. The file transfer partner provided the tools and support to get this set up.
Most, but not all, of these projects involved using custom applications to solve customer-specific business issues. The real challenge is to think outside of the box for these solutions. You must envision how a custom model can benefit the customer, convey those benefits and implement the change. There is a big difference between concept and reality. Good luck with your efforts, and let your imagination work for you and your customer.
Bob Dale is the president of Pilot Graphic Management Services Inc., a company providing management consulting and custom training for organizations. He is also on the executive of the Toronto Club of Printing House Craftsmen. Bob can be reached at (416) 410-4096, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.