By Jez Abbott, Monday 25 September 2017
Past, present and future were the focus of his new piece of technology. After eight years in business Imagink managing director Mike Saunders resolved to invest in a management information system.
Like all such systems, the main purpose of an MIS is to provide the right information to the right people at the right moment – not easy when at any one time you are balancing dozens of jobs for dozens of clients involving thousands of items of print. So when he sought to bump up productivity at his business with a £325,000 investment in wide-format kit, the MIS was integral to that spend.
The litho, digital and large-format printer based in Aylesford, Kent, launched in 2009 to target medium-sized high-street retailers with anything up to around 100 stores. The 12-staff company currently turns over around £1.5m from the point-of-sale market using a range of wide-format kit, including a 2m-wide Durst Rho P10 200 that was installed in March.
But it was late December 2016 when Saunders’ team christened its new MIS. Up to that point Imagink relied on a bespoke system that was “old and clumsy” and lacked consistency, he says. Estimating meanwhile was “more sophisticated than a back-of-a-fag-pack job, but not much more” while job sheets were just that, sheets of paper that cluttered desks and draws and could go astray.
“We were coping quite well with our internal system, but clients want an easier life and an MIS gives them just that,” says Saunders. “A key feature of an MIS is online ordering enabling customers to view their own stock and order printed material with more ease. For the printer meanwhile an MIS offers much more consistency, transparency and access to data by all the team.”
As well as estimating, job data and order processing, management information systems can handle proofing requirements, fulfilment, invoicing, production scheduling, ordering, stock control and remote data capture (RDC). The trouble for print bosses like Saunders is the choice: the company considered several options including those from the leading players in the market.
The first system Imagink tried was a modular MIS that has thousands of users across the world, but Saunders found the interface difficult to get to grips with.
At the same time, as “pure coincidence” had it, Saunders received an email from from Data Design Services about the Accura MIS. He called the supplier up, arranged a demo and along came the reps last summer. Flipping open a laptop computer they demonstrated the functions of the Accura system, logging on to live sites to give an idea of ordering print jobs via the MIS.
“More important than the compatibility issue of the third-party online site, was the simplicity and user friendliness of the Accura system. Saunders says it felt more comfortable. The Accura system was excellent at providing information on past, present and future projects and on events inside and outside the organisation.”
Like the first option Imagink tested, Accura is also a modular system, incorporating an e-commerce portal, file submission and pass/fail document capability for customer reviewing. The technology enables users to send out estimates and subsequently book in jobs, streamline back-office operations and, in the words of Saunders, “lets us concentrate on our printed products rather than bog ourselves down in admin and paperwork”.
Imagink paid around £26,000 for the Accura MIS and in December 2016, the system was licensed and installed on to five of the printer’s PCs and then configured on to the Imagink server in half a day. Accura’s installers spent another half day tweaking personal preferences to suit Saunders’ team. Changes included tailoring the default layout of quote documents and the content of client letters.
The Imagink team spent a further two-and-a-half days learning how to use the system and coming to grips with its potential in detail. They still haven’t quite got there: “We’ve had the system for eight months and are still finding new ways of improving how we do things. We are very pleased with the technology, but the learning curve with management information systems is long and complex.”
And there were teething problems with the system. The biggest was a “glitch” that prevented the exact replication of print when ordered for stores in different locations. This however was quickly smoothed out by an Accura team Saunders rates highly for its quick response, fast diagnoses and speedy problem solving.
Another test for the team was a tiny calculator-function problem, which the trouble shooters solved the same day with a quick telephone call. Saunders has been impressed with the back-up from the MIS techies “who are always at the end of the phone” and if they can’t fix a problem online will jump in a car and visit Imagink in Aylesford.
The few glitches aside, from installation to booting up live, the Accura MIS required no major IT infrastructure or power changes except the upgrading of one old PC. “You don’t realise,” Saunders explains, “how old some of your technology is until you come to load it up with new software.” Users can log into any of the five licensed PCs and are ready to roll on a fully integrated system.
Clients meanwhile can go on to their online product portfolio and, in a matter of a few keystrokes, order things like 500 letterheads or posters, fill in their store destination and click the order button. Saunders’ team will decide which of its seven printing machines including Epson, Roland and the Durst is best suited to the job, print it, box it and dispatch the order to arrive as scheduled.
“The client orders the job and sees what the finished print will look like and we do everything in the middle,” says Saunders. “It’s hard to say what it has brought to our company, as we apply the same production methods and run the same printing machinery. But it has given us an improved job sheet with more information and in a format that’s much more clear and accessible to all.
“The Accura MIS has also added transparency to every process we undertake; it makes everything traceable and has increased our professionalism. Everyone has their own interpretation of how to explain something, which can cause communication problems. That discrepancy has now gone. The MIS has us all speaking the same language with select phrases as opposed to using our own wording.
“It has therefore brought more than clarity to how work gets done. It has also brought peace of mind.
“I know that at any stage of the process, from initial sales work and booking to dispatch and final invoicing, that the information at my fingertips is accurate, looks clear and has been professionally handled from the very start to the very finish of the ordering and printing process.”
Software Accura 5.01 and Accura Online 5.03 were launched this June
Core functions Estimating, order processing, proofing, deliveries and dispatch, sales invoicing
Modules Production scheduling; purchase ordering and stock control; remote data capture (RDC); time and attendance
Price Around £26,000
Contact Data Design Services 023 8024 0470 www.accuramis.com
Imagink is a litho, digital and large-format printer based in Aylesford, Kent, which specialises in point-of-sale materials for customers including brand owners and retailers. Its wide-format equipment includes an Epson SureColor SC-8600 printer, a Roland VG-540 printer-cutter, a 2m-wide Durst Rho P10 200 printer and two Fujifilm Acuity flatbed printers.
Why it was bought
Managing director Mike Saunders wanted to streamline workflows, improve communication and transparency between the print team, and make it easier for the client to order print. And he also wanted to work with an MIS supplier with one port of call, and no third-party contacts.
How it has performed
“The Accura MIS has done everything they said it would do and everything we wanted it to do,” says Saunders. “It ensures clarity of ordering, gives us a much clearer view of jobs and adds professionalism to what we do. Clients also value having access to quotes and job information: they simply log on to the system and don’t need to be sending emails. I would certainly recommend this MIS.”