Managing Presses, Processes and People: The latest and greatest Print workflow software and CRM systems

Managing Presses, Processes and People: The latest and greatest Print workflow software and CRM systems

If you’re wondering what a Print MIS (Management Information System) and a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system have in common, the answer is quite a lot, actually. The former allows you to communicate better with your in-shop hardware, departments and employees; the latter allows you to communicate better with your current and potential customers. Most importantly, using each properly can significantly boost your bottom line. Let’s explore Print MIS first.

I’ve always believed that workflow software, especially in a deadline-oriented print shop, is underappreciated. Today we’re so used to every single task being automated that we seldom imagine how labour-intensive and stressful our daily work life would be without it. This sophisticated technology performs many functions you may currently be doing manually, or not doing at all. It will save money, employee hours, resources and other expenses, while reducing waste. In fact, studies estimate that employees not using workflow software can waste up to 25% of their workday with tasks not involved in their areas of expertise.

Basically, Print MIS is a computer-based, end-to-end system that enables printers to plan, organize, coordinate and automate all shop activities – including production – from one single source. It can also generate estimates, track deliveries, eliminate data re-input, and so on. Speed, integration and customization should top of mind when choosing any system. There are literally dozens of excellent Print MIS providers out there, but for this feature I’m going to look at five Canadian leaders: Ultimate TechnoGraphics, Ricoh’s Avanti Slingshot, DocketManager, Tilia Labs and Global Vision.

Ultimate TechnoGraphicsULTIMATE TECHNOGRAPHICS. Ultimate TechnoGraphics of Montreal invented digital imposition software with the first release of Impostrip in 1989. Today, Ultimate is an acknowledged industry leader in imposition and finishing automation solutions that facilitate hands-free automation for digital print environments, web-to-print businesses, on-demand book production and more. Its products specifically for digital printing include a PDF imposition workflow, advanced dynamic barcoding options, digital book optimization control, and on-demand impositions of different sizes and quantity on the fly. For offset printing, true automation is also available for CTP and web-fed offset. Ultimate Impostrip’s intelligence, combined with Ultimate Bindery JDF automated finishing hub, offers a dynamic prepress imposition to finishing set-up workflow for all types printed products. The company also continues to partner with the industry’s leading OEMs to integrate its solutions into their hardware and software – including HP, Ricoh, Xerox, Konica Minolta, Canon, Horizon, C.P. Bourg, Duplo, and more.

Ultimate’s solutions are designed to facilitate their connectivity with upstream systems such as MIS, web-to-print and workflow solutions. Using a comprehensive and complete data mapper, it gives print service providers and in-plant printers the ability to easily set up a completely automated workflow without the need for extensive programming. It offers reliable automation for medium-volume to high-volume printing processes. Ultimate has a series of certified connectivity with various proven systems in the industry such as Aleyant Pressero and TFlow, Enfocus Switch, Print IQ, Avanti, EPMS and many more. But it can also connect with a homegrown system or other system brands not mentioned here. Ultimate Impostrip also drives customer value through these integrations that allow exceptional flexibility and the ability to determine several imposition parameters for maximum integration, efficiency and cost savings.

RICOH’S AVANTI SLINGSHOTRICOH’S AVANTI SLINGSHOT. Ricoh acquired Print MIS leader Avanti Computer Systems of Toronto in January of 2017, enabling the OEM to further expand and improve its production print workflow to customers, as well as help to upgrade their shop-management efficiency and productivity. Avanti’s multiple-award-winning Avanti Slingshot solution, now available to Ricoh’s print production clients, is one of the most advanced JDF-certified Print MIS solutions on the market today. JDF is the industry standard for process automation in pre-press, press and postpress. Its modules address just about every aspect of automating a printing business – from web-to-print, estimating, scheduling and inventory, to printing, bindery, fulfillment, shipping and invoicing. Avanti began in 1984 by providing an estimating tool to traditional offset printers who struggled to accurately quote jobs and understand their costs. Ricoh’s Avanti Slingshot software has won awards for its BCC software integration, closed-loop integration into HP PrintOS Site Flow, Mobile Fulfillment, XMpie StoreFlow and Enfocus Switch. It continues to be seen as one of the most open systems and most integrated print MIS platforms on the market today – and that translates into excellent ROI for Ricoh customers.

DOCKETMANAGERDOCKETMANAGER. London, Ontario-based DocketManager is in a unique position to help printers because owner and President Mark Darling is a former commercial printer himself. The technology consolidates all print shop information into a single and easily manageable system. This includes creating quotes and orders, showing past order and quote history, in-shop workflow, personalized online ordering, accounting, sales tools, job templates, reporting tools, intelligent estimating, inventory management, billable-hour time tracking, and marketing tools to manage campaigns more effectively. All of this comes together to reduce touch points, increase capacity and reduce mistakes to drive profitability. There’s also a fully integrated web-to-print platform with full, two-way communication to get the complete benefits of having your clients place orders online. The integration eliminates double entry as well as trying to manage two separate systems – which eliminates hours of work per week as well as any potential for mistakes.

TILIA LABS. Let’s look at two proprietary products from Tilia Labs of Ottawa, Ontario:  Phoenix and Griffin. Tilia Phoenix is a sophisticated, open-API planning and imposition application that uses AI technology to improve efficiencies for printers. Phoenix Imposition AI takes an entirely different approach to common imposition solutions. Rather than template-driven, it operates according to machine and production requirements to generate print-ready layouts on the fly. It factors in parameters such as job specifications, print devices, finishing requirements and delivery considerations, to search across potentially millions of possibilities for the optimal layout. When a final option is selected, it generates print-ready layouts and JDF or die instructions for all devices in the production chain. Uniting planning and prepress functions, it can be integrated into your chosen workflow or Print MIS.

Exclusively for wide-format production, Tilia Griffin provides simplicity for printing and cutting by searching millions of combinations in minutes to find the most cost-effective, tightly nested layouts. Griffin is vendor-neutral and designed to provide the same efficiencies with virtually all printing machines and cutting tables, with layouts intelligently tailored to the specifications of each individual device. Available as a standalone desktop app or as an integrated module in leading complementary workflow solutions, Griffin can deliver immediate benefits for large-format printers struggling to meet deadlines or manage costs.

GLOBAL VISION. Montreal-based Global Vision is a world leader in automated proofreading technologies. Its solutions have been integrated into the packaging workflows of leading consumer packaged goods companies worldwide, major printing firms, and over 72% of pharmaceutical firms across the globe. They include Proofware (for brand packaging inspection), DocuProof (for text verification, document inspection and document comparison), ArtProof (an artwork inspection solution for Mac and Windows environments), ScanTVS (a print inspection solution for printed packaging and scanned components), Scan360 (a cylinder scanner for consumer packaged goods and pharmaceuticals), Scan Wet-ink (wet ink roll scanner), ScanBook (booklet scanner for medical device and pharmaceutical markets), BrailleProof and BraillePoint (for inspection of Braille text), BarProof (a barcode verification tool and decoder), and iCount Insert Counting Tool (accurately counts inserts, outserts and cartons in as little as 1/30th of a second).

CRM: Creating and delivering the right message to the right person at the right time

Customer Relationship Management (CRM), aka Customer Communications Management (CCM), is a strategic, automated approach to manage a company’s interaction with current and potential customers. It uses data analytics about your customers’ history to improve business relationships with them – specifically focusing on client retention and ultimately driving sales growth. CRM systems analyze customer data so business owners can make more informed decisions. It can utilize data from a shop’s website, social media, live chat, telephone, email, marketing efforts and more.

Practically, CRM allows users to learn more about their target audiences, individual preferences, how to best solve their unique problems, and ultimately, how to cater to their specific needs. For example, by analyzing their buying patterns, you might discover that some clients haven’t been buying wide-format products like they did in the past. The owner might then decide to market to these groups differently, or offer discounts on the products they’re asking about at an optimal time. So basically, CRM enables you to better communicate how your products and/or services will benefit specific groups.

CRM’s history

The concept of CRM began in the early 1970s, when customer satisfaction was evaluated using written surveys, mostly taken by front-line sales staff. This information was later categorized and put onto lists and spreadsheets. In 1982, database marketing appeared and applied statistical methods to analyze and gather customer data. By 1986, a customer evaluation system called ACT was created. It was based on the principle of a ‘digital rolodex’ that for the first time, offered contact management services.

These trends were followed by companies and independent developers attempting to maximize the potential of these sales leads – including Tom Siebel, who designed the first CRM product, Siebel Systems, in 1993. In order to compete with these stand-alone CRM solutions, the then-established Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software companies (such as Oracle, SAP, Peoplesoft and Navision) started bolstering their sales, distribution and customer-service capabilities with embedded CRM modules. This included embedding sales force automation or extended customer service as CRM features into their ERP systems.

Customer Relationship Management became popular in 1997, due primarily to the work of Siebel, Gartner and IBM. Between 1997 and 2000, leading CRM products added shipping and marketing capabilities. Siebel introduced the first mobile CRM app called Siebel Sales Handheld in 1999. The idea of standalone, cloud-hosted and moveable customer bases was soon adopted by other leading providers at the time, including PeopleSoft, Oracle, SAP and Salesforce.com.

The overall goal of CRM

The primary goal of Customer Relationship Management is to integrate and automate sales, marketing, customer support and other related activities that a company deems essential. These systems typically have a dashboard that gives an overview of all functions regarding each and every single customer. The dashboard may provide client information, past sales, previous marketing efforts, and more, summarizing all of the relationships that have occurred between the customer and the company. Operationally, CRM is made up of sales force automation, marketing automation and service automation.

Sales force automation works with all stages in the sales cycle, from initially entering contact information to converting a prospect into an actual client. It implements sales promotion analysis, automates the tracking of a client’s account history for repeated sales or future sales, and coordinates with sales, marketing, call centres and retail outlets. It eliminates annoying duplication between a salesperson and a customer, and also automatically tracks all contacts and follow-up initiatives between both parties.

Marketing automation focuses on simplifying the overall marketing process to make it more efficient. CRM tools with marketing automation capabilities can automate repeated tasks (i.e. sending out automated marketing emails to customers at specific times), or posting marketing information on social media. CRM systems today also work on customer engagement through social media. Ultimately, marketing automation’s goal is to turn a sales lead into paying customers. Service automation focuses on direct customer-service technology. Through service automation, customers are supported through multiple channels such as phone, email, knowledge bases, ticketing portals, FAQs, and much more.

Let’s take a look at two Canadian leaders in this space and an ambitious start-up.

CRAWFORD TECHNOLOGIESCRAWFORD TECHNOLOGIES. Multiple-award-winning global software solutions leader Crawford Technologies (Toronto) provides solutions to vastly improve and manage a company’s documents. Its solutions enable some of the world’s largest banks, insurers, healthcare providers, utilities – and printers – to use their existing technologies, documents and data in new, more efficient and more responsive ways. Crawford has also played a key role in helping its clients navigate the challenges in leveraging legacy applications in the platforms and applications of the future. Its services include automated document accessibility software, content services and enterprise output management.

Crawford’s AccessibilityNow is a complete platform for the creation and management of accessible documents. Providing high levels of automation and integration into any environment, it includes software solutions and a wide range of tailored services. Leveraging AI and automation, the platform supports both the unique processing requirements of high-volume transactional documents, as well as static documents of all types. Crawford’s Content Services provides solutions to a company’s content communication and distribution challenges. It provides “the right content at the right time in the right format to only the right people.” Teams can quickly access and distribute the required content in their chosen format – electronic, mobile or accessible. Crawford also assists in ensuring that your content management system supports your print shop’s digital transformation and customer-experience goals.

Crawford’s Enterprise Output Management solutions are especially helpful to commercial printers. They can prevent shorter print runs from slowing down production, reduce excessive print-stream transformation timeframes and errors that impact your ability to quickly onboard new applications, transform existing documents into responsive, mobile-ready communications, reduce time-consuming manual document processes and rework, easily track the real-time status of all production processes and jobs across multiple sites, and much more.

MessagepointMESSAGEPOINT. Toronto-based Messagepoint is an award-winning SaaS-based system that enables organizations to enhance customer experiences with optimized communications. Its AI-powered Customer Communications Management (CCM) solutions focus on intelligent approaches to managing and authoring content to enable maximum efficiency and impact. From simple correspondence to more complex documents, its intelligent content management capabilities enable marketers, customer experience specialists and service teams to efficiently create timely, relevant, compliant and highly personalized ‘customer-facing’ communications across print and digital channels. Its technology provides intelligent content management, enabling teams to centrally manage and share content across multiple communications and templates. These powerful capabilities dramatically reduce time to market, simplify change management and can ensure consistency and compliance across all user communications.

In May of 2019, the company unveiled its Messagepoint Advanced Rationalization and Content Intelligence Engine (MARCIE), an AI and machine-learning-powered capability within its cloud-based CCM platform. MARCIE enables organizations to intelligently migrate, optimize, author and manage the complex content that’s the foundation of customer communications. MARCIE also drives consistency, brand alignment and compliance across all customer communication channels. The new AI-powered engine is leveraged when migrating legacy content into the Messagepoint platform, when cleaning up existing content libraries, and also continuously – through new, assisted authoring capabilities. MARCIE’s analytics focus on compliance with brand standards, improved reading comprehension, evoking emotions that positively impact customer experiences, and consolidation of duplicate and similar content for greater re-use and better efficiency.

ODAIAODAIA. This ambitious Toronto-based start-up company specializes in “AI-driven customer journey intelligence for sales, marketing and customer experience.” ODAIA analyzes all your customer touch points to help you not only understand, but actually predict and then change, a customer’s journey. Its technology allows users to tailor customer journeys to specific segments then quickly establishes which journey paths are positive and which may lead to problems. Its unique software can predict a segment or specific customer’s next best action, level of engagement, or probability of churn (a churn rate, also known as the rate of attrition, is the rate at which customers stop doing business with a company). Change can then be facilitated because a client’s journey can be evaluated against specific goals while identifying the best way to “reroute” them towards a more optimal path. The platform delves deeply into your customers’ activities and reveals which clients are most likely to abandon their journey with you – and more importantly, why. It then drives actions directly back to your CRM, customer experience, and omni-channel marketing automation tools. The company is currently targeting Fortune 1000 companies. Will this start-up become the next wave and the future of CRM? Only time will tell.

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Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.