Time for a new print MIS? 5 expert recommendations

I have been working with ERP systems for many years. During this time I have worked with companies in every imaginable industry. Although I was introduced to graphic manufacturing more than 15 years ago through an envelope maker, I really didn’t know much about printing until recently.

Since 2017 I have had quite an intensive education in all (or at least many) things related to printmaking. This is because we have started selling a print MIS system called PrintVis for Business Central and to be honest have been blown away by the response.

Throughout my career I’ve seen things done well and not so well with ERP implementations. ERP (more commonly referred to as Print MIS in this industry) is typically a combination of production, estimating, and accounting software. Good ones also have kitting, inventory management, Web2Print integration, JDF, and production. Here are 5 recommendations I can give to get the most out of your Print MIS system – whatever it is:

1 – Template based estimation

A good print MIS must enable you to create quotes faster and more accurately.

I’ve read scientific studies that show that the faster an offer reaches the customer, the more likely it is to sell. More companies buy the first offer they receive than all others combined. This is really important for a print manufacturer, especially a commercial printer.

Not having the right software leads to a hassle in preparing the offer. The result, some citations will be wrong by a small percentage. This can be devastating if the error goes in the wrong direction for huge amounts.

In fact, in today’s low-margin environment, these failures are such a risk that management is under pressure to take the time to make sure the bid is right. Likewise, the risk of losing the order is so high that there is pressure to rush the bid. You can see the problem!

Even companies that have invested in Print MIS are struggling with this. In fact, we often see very slow bid generation.

This is often because the older MIS systems were not designed for modern print production. Digital printing, kitting, fulfilment… none of these requirements exist today or they did 20 years ago.

Most print MIS systems were based on technology designs before these production requirements existed. An estimator’s job becomes increasingly difficult as he has to make adjustments to account for unsupported processes.

There are more modern print MIS software (like the one I sell, PrintVis) built on top of modern ERP platforms. Whether Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Epicor … these technologies are more up-to-date and flexible.

This problem with old MIS systems is not unique to printing. We’ve seen it in sign making, contract manufacturing, manufacturing, etc. Old technology that just hasn’t kept up with the times.

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Newer MIS systems offer more flexible options for creating offers. Often this is done with a ruleset or a product model. In the PrintVis system this means a templatewhich is a pre-packaged estimate that only requires a little bit of information to complete.

Templates (or rulesets or mockups) really help with all citations. Whether simple or complex, the template is a starting point to speed up estimation. Studies have shown that this approach reduces time spent by up to 75%. Any good print MIS should also increase accuracy by automatically using the latest prices from vendors.

2 – Automated customer integration

Web2Print is to the printing world what eCommerce is to more traditional manufacturing. Basically a website to place orders for products and track shipments, bills, etc.

Many small printers end up with corporate accounts, and most of them prefer Web2Print to a job desk.

You can get a “standalone” Web2Print, but if you integrate the website with a print MIS like Print Vis, you’ll have a huge advantage over your competitors.

A corporate customer deciding between a provider with or without Web2Print sites will almost always choose the former.

If you are a small commercial print manufacturer and have the right Print MIS in place, this can be a huge benefit.

Web2Print solutions have their place among small businesses, but larger business buyers want the next level: EDI.

EDI is a fairly advanced technology that aims to send data between ERP systems by sending files back and forth over a network. Not many print MIS systems can do that. Printing is much more complex than simply ordering a quantity of a standard item. You may need to send the copy for a business card, maybe a picture, substrates, sizes and other characteristics.

XML files are typically used for this type of EDI file transfer in print manufacturing. These special text files were designed to send more complicated information between computer systems. XML files can greatly improve efficiency when fed directly into orders.

JDF is a special type of XML used by most of the major manufacturers and software vendors in the printing industry. This is a must have for any MIS system you would choose.

Look for an MIS system that supports all three of these technologies: Web2Print storefronts; XML data exchange and EDI; and finally JDF – a must for an advanced MIS.

3 – Recovered Prepress Billing

You want to make sure you’re charging every dollar possible in today’s market. One area I personally struggle with is getting employees to report time that we should be charging for the little side things. This applies in particular to print production in the pre-press stage.

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One of the things that impressed me about PrintVis was the support in collecting this billable time. It helps users to track it easily and simply. It also separates the decision of whether to charge for it from the user. I think that’s the key.

Our employees want to provide the best customer service possible, and they often think doing things “for free” is the same. Customers are more than willing to pay for value-added work, and getting this information from your MIS is a key to maximizing your margins.

A case in point is expecting a print-ready PDF and receiving a messy, semi-organized bundle of JPEGs with edits and notes in a Word doc. We need to make sure we collect the time to fix the problem and then charge for it (or send it back to the customer for them to do).

Of course we want to track and control the time for the presses and finishing for job costing. Equally important is the separation of customer-caused errors so we can calculate them back. A print MIS should allow a press operator to report scrap caused by various problems. Bad paper scrap should be charged back to a supplier. Scrap from a license plate error because a customer forgot the correct phone number should also be charged. The most successful companies track every deviation and make sure they control the entire process with software like PrintVis.

Make it clear to your customers in your quotations that prepress and error-related fees will apply. Make sure you have a good workflow to build control into the system. Your customers are usually happy to pay for additional services that make sense to them.

And make sure your print MIS supports all this data collection!

4 – Inventory management and control

Coming from a more “traditional” ERP background, I am continually amazed at how poorly most print MIS systems handle inventory. Inventory is a basic module in Dynamics 365 Business Central and most other popular ERP systems. It really seems to be an afterthought in more than a few print MIS systems.

There are many types of inventory that really need to be controlled in print manufacturing. The most obvious is the substrate inventory as this is usually the largest cost of materials they have. Commercial printers claim they always buy to order, but the reality is that most wish they could buy big to save money.

Lean manufacturing principles teach that no inventory is the perfect environment, but that’s not very realistic. Many types of graphic manufacturing require raw materials to be in stock.

Companies that perform best are able to manage inventory and minimize total inventories while maximizing production. A good pressure MIS is good at this.

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In Business Central (e.g.), item forecasting and bulk purchases reduce costs by taking advantage of tiered purchase prices. You can even save on transportation costs by organizing your purchases better. We frequently train planning departments to make economically efficient purchases and maximize profits.

High-end print MIS support material resource planning as found in most mainline ERP systems. MRP is a tool for optimizing inventory costs.

5 – Clean data and modern systems

Graphics manufacturers need really good and accurate data in their system to meet most of the first 4 recommendations. When I meet companies looking for new ERP/MIS systems, I usually see many challenges with data. In order to maximize our business, we need to collect the right information, analyze it and make sure it’s correct.

Organizations that let their systems spiral out of control face huge additional costs (remember, time is money). Organizations that view maintaining data as a cost rather than an investment are always laggards. The best companies take their ERP or Print MIS system and turn it into a competitive advantage.

Old and difficult-to-use systems are often the cause of this. The effort involved in maintaining the data is many times higher than in a modern system. Being able to update data easily and efficiently using MS Excel is how almost all modern systems work. The ability to export, correct and synchronize data is critical.


You want your business to be the best it can be. If you’ve been in business for a long time, you know it’s not that easy. That’s especially true if you don’t have great tools to work with.

If your existing, old and outdated MIS system is holding you back, then it’s time to look for something new. Make sure you choose a modern MIS system that is built on 21st century technology and is here to stay. Obviously I’m a PrintVis fan, but there are other top-notch MIS systems worth checking out.

Once you’ve selected the print MIS that’s right for you, you also need a great partner to help you use and implement an MIS.

If the MIS/ERP implementation company does not follow modern “cloud-ready” implementation methods; know your industry as well as you do; bring best practices to the table; and is flexible and helpful – then you’ll have to look elsewhere.

The advisors you choose should understand these and other recommendations and be able to help you put them into practice in a simple and straightforward way.