October 2003
Time to consider a new system?

Since the fall trade show season is here, we have an opportunity to prepare our shopping list and browse the aisles of goodies. The focus normally is on production equipment, because we know how to make money with presses, copiers and bindery equipment. How about those other shopping items that may not generate revenue but actually save us money? I remember when I quit smoking—almost 20 years ago—I thought my finances would improve significantly. I don’t recall my bank account ballooning, but logic tells me that I am much better off, financially and health-wise.

Is it time to reflect on your company’s health and consider if you should be investing in a new estimating/workflow-management information system?

Your management system may be obsolete. Ask these questions to find out
I have visited small shops that are still using manual paper-based estimating and order entry systems. These manual systems may seem like the most economical method, but most would argue that it’s not the case. Consider staff time required for manual administrative functions and resulting communication errors because of misinterpretations of written information. Then consider your limited ability to perform any significant business analysis and make informed decisions based on facts. Suddenly a case for an automated system is easy to make. Here are some other points to ponder.

Does your company have a number of stand-alone modules for estimating, order entry, job costing, invoicing and accounting? Integrating these modules would improve efficiency and reduce errors caused by using different systems.

Are your systems connected? In other words, is the information from your estimate used to populate the electronic order? Do you even need an estimate, or is much of your work unquoted? Can you easily build an order for your work, from simple to complex projects?

Has business growth caused your systems to be inadequate? Many shops may think they have a good handle on things like job costs with no formal system, or perhaps a manual system, but as the company grows, this information is critical—one person can’t do it all. Management reports and review of costs and expenditures are key. There was a printer in the news earlier this year that had left important financial work to the bookkeeper. The result was that over a few years the bookkeeper siphoned off almost $250,000! Reports may not have prevented this, but it stresses how important it is for owners to have tight control of information.

Do you have the information necessary to make informed decisions? In today’s marketplace there is extreme pressure on pricing. Many factors need to be taken into consideration, but when the basis of a quote is cost, there is no substitute for an accurate estimating system and the detailed knowledge of how it works. I have worked with large companies that did not have a proper method for building an accurate cost estimate. They had the ability to provide a “price” for work, but it was based on a number of price lists, ratio factors and adjustments that could not be related back to true costs. Are you in this situation?

Do you currently use an old DOS system that is no longer supported by your vendor, or has your system outlasted the vendor? If you cannot get support for your system, you should consider reviewing the new features available today.

Do you use a custom system developed by your cousin, the techno nerd, which has no documentation, support or ability to grow? That may be great, but now that he is living in the U.S. how are you going to improve efficiency?

Do you have a system that has not been fully implemented? Companies often invest in systems that have all sorts of wonderful capabilities. Then when it comes to implementation, they just want to get going, and start with the basic functions; continuing implementation of the other functions takes a back seat to immediate requirements. In addition, you may have bought a system and only purchased some of the modules, but often there will be efficiencies gained by revisiting your current vendor and checking what’s new. Adding modules from a current vendor is often the most economical way to go, especially when you factor in training.

In the end, I am not suggesting that all printers should invest in the most sophisticated system available. But I will identify four levels of business systems that should be considered, in the simplest of terms.

Class 1: Simple stand-alone modules—perhaps estimating, order entry, invoicing. These may be custom developed using spreadsheet or database programs, including Access, FileMaker Pro, etc. All have limited job-cost data collection.

Class 2: Basic small systems—may have a degree of integration, basic functions for small business, including price list application, or simple estimating, order entry, and invoicing, perhaps with cash charges functions.

Class 3: Mid-range systems—increased degree of sophistication, expanded print-specific modules for estimating, order entry, job tracking, job costing. Includes either simple accounting modules like purchase order, accounts receivable, accounts payable or requires integration with larger accounting systems.

Class 4: Full Enterprise Resource Planning modules, CIP3 or CIP4 capabilities, integrated with electronic workflow, job tracking, scheduling, real-time data collection, accounting, and perhaps other features that facilitate business workflow.

In a recent issue of the Ontario Association of Quick Printers newsletter, the quote of the week was “Educated risks are the key to success” by William Olsten. Your management information system is your key to success. Begin to improve your financial and health well-being by quitting smoking and upgrading your MIS system right now.
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
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