Making systems integration work

 

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In my last blog I made the case for focussing on operational integration and describing the process by which you can plan such an integration. In this blog I want to examine what is good practice in Operational Integration. First let me remind you of what I mean by operational integration. That is to create seamless integration between your sales order processing, your prepress and your financial controls – ie MIS, workflow system and accounts package. These will be in most cases 3 different software packages from 3 different suppliers and you have to take the lead and be clear what you want both conceptually and in detail. This blog is aiming to provide a checklist of good practice.

Given the ever increasing number of orders received and lower order value, you must push towards electronic receipt of orders ie via a web-to-print system or storefront [emails do not count!]. Clearly this is easier in some markets and for some products than others, but we have yet to find any client for whom this is not a reasonable target for a substantial proportion of orders. Perversely one key stakeholder group that is often reluctant to grasp this opportunity is the account managers, for this is seen as a challenge to their professionalism and often is even seen (erroneously in most cases) as a threat to their jobs.

Once a job is accepted then works order, materials request, dispatch note etc. must be raised. This should be done electronically and automated. There will always be exceptions that need manual intervention – regardless of whether it is a physical or electronic job bag. The key is whether there can be seamless transfer of data from MIS to production workflow and vice versa. Another tip is to discover all the ‘private’ or even shared spreadsheets that people run alongside your MIS and production workflow. In most cases they are there for good reason and you need to integrate the information captured therein into your core systems.

The electronic job bag has been a goal for many for sometime, but it is now entirely feasible. It is not easy but once implemented it raises accuracy and simplifies updating. Even if a manual works order must be sustained for the time being, making it accurate is critical. I have talked about the curious lack of effective automation of pre-flight checking before. But this must be tacked in the large number of printers for whom this is still a largely manual step. There is no excuse for this not be largely automated. Most printers now have some form of shopfloor data collection and machine generated performance data is increasingly common. For those who have yet to grasp these opportunities, let me encourage you to do so. Neither is easy but both offer substantial benefits.  For those who have implemented one or both, the question is whether this data is gathered into an integrated system or is simply captured independently.

One major benefit can then be to tackle scheduling in a largely automated fashion. We have a mid-sized commercial print client who still ties up a senior member of the management team almost full time to manually schedule all jobs. To be fair they have started to load the jobs onto the presses semi-automatically, but still rely on daily, no hourly manual revisions to the ‘board’ to both cope with ‘life’ and in particular to manage the bindery and dispatch.

One major benefit of good shopfloor and machine data collection is effective performance management ie identifying Key Performance Indicators, agreeing targets, gathering the data, sharing it in a timely and transparent manner and thereby raising performance sustainably. Information should be gathered on all key processes including office and prepress to cover the use of labour, equipment, materials and workflow. The data gained should then be used to both manage the staff and equipment and for process improvement.

 

 Richard Gray – Print Tribe

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