The importance of MIS in signage


Initially designed to support an offset based commercial printing business, Print Management Information Systems (MIS) have been in the market for decades.  This software was intended to enable commercial printers to see profitability of a print-run based on costs as opposed to selling prices.

However, companies within the signage realm have more recently been implementing MIS solutions in order to have a similar advantage, but with details more specific to their industry and the kinds of material that they use.  This would give them real-time access to information that would enable them to make better estimating and production decisions.

Whilst some of the requirements between offset and signage companies are the same, many are not.  If you are in signage or you have that offering as part of your production mix, you will understand some of the shortfalls of a standard MIS designed for commercial printers.

With the way that digital marketing has grown exponentially over the past number of years, commercial printing companies have needed to evolve by entering into the wide format printing space.  This in turn has led to many signage businesses needing to diversify by including some commercial print and/or packaging offerings to their mix. This means that even if your business still hasn’t moved in this direction, it is important to choose a software package that effectively addresses at least commercial print as well as wide format, because it is only a matter of time before you do.

For any MIS implementation, especially for signage and display graphics, it is important in the setup process to be able to create as many definitions as you need.  You simply cannot afford to be limited here. You don’t want to have to redo it or to need to add an additional system if you introduce more product and press types to the mix. Do not limit yourself to one press definition and average your pricing, if five definitions can make it easier for estimators to choose and create accurate pricing based on the type of job you are producing.

It is always best to capture as many definitions as necessary to safeguard accurate pricing and costs; this will ensure that you are not charging too much for easy jobs or too little for difficult ones. This will also make it possible for all the pricing and other information to be readily available without the user needing to make a lot of decisions in order to generate a quote.

You may be wondering what is meant by “definitions”? Let’s that say you have a hybrid flatbed/roll system in your plant. Instead of just defining it as a hybrid roll-to-roll/flatbed device, you can create separate definitions for when it is used to print rigid versus roll substrates etc.

Along with the printing definitions, if you have a customer who specifies a roll substrate that you do not normally use, you should charge the customer for the entire roll instead of the specific number of square metres that the job requires. This is because you may never use whatever is left over. This is a standard practice in most wide format businesses and setting the system up front to accommodate this need makes it easier for your estimators to quote the right price, each and every time.

You want your cost centres and definitions to be specific to the piece of equipment, because separating them will help you in fact-based decision making e.g. understanding how much roll-fed versus rigid product this piece of equipment produces. This is important to know if you are considering investing in a new piece of equipment. Perhaps you are best served by acquiring a roll-only printer to boost your capacity in that area, as an example. Unless you break out descriptions by each piece of equipment and the various application types, rather than lumping everything under wide format, you don’t easily have access to that level of detail.

Another important consideration is what happens when a job is quoted on one piece of equipment, but then is actually produced on another. For example, what if you have a job quoted on a low-cost machine, but that particular piece of equipment is not available? You move it to a more expensive machine to meet the customer’s requirements. In fact, what if you do this regularly without considering the financial implications of this decision? Your MIS should have a costing feature that allows you to see the actual versus quoted cost. Should you find yourself doing this frequently or there is a big difference in printing costs, you have the necessary information that will enable you to make adjustments to your production portfolio or your estimating standards.

In display graphics, you will have discovered that you have a broader selection of standard and specialised substrates than you may have in a commercial print environment. That also needs to be taken into consideration in selecting an MIS solution so pricing tables can be set appropriately. For example, if you are producing a roll-fed job, you would use the entire width of the roll in your substrate definition and price accordingly, regardless of the actual width of the job. With a rigid substrate on the other hand, you likely will price the job based on the actual width and length to be used. Offcuts from a rigid material job may be able to be used for another project, while you more than likely won’t be able to use the offcuts from rolls.

Before making a decision on MIS for your signage business, take a good look at your operation and how you price work, assign it to various stages in your operation, who is involved at each step, and how you account for machine time, labour, materials and consumables etc. This in-depth look will help guide you in your decision process as well as being critical to getting the system set up as efficiently and effectively as possible once you’ve made that decision.