ERP Strategy in the Print Industry – 6 Key Areas to Consider

When embarking on any ERP project the first challenge you will face is the perennial question of ERP vs Best of Breed, which way should you go?  This is particularly relevant to the Print Industry as there are a number of niche products catering to this industry with only a few of the larger suppliers offering solutions.  Below are some of the key areas you should consider when developing your ERP Strategy which in reality will be a choice between either a standalone ERP system or a combined ERP plus Best of Breed solution.  This is by no means an exhaustive list but is a good starting point.

1. Estimating

At the heart of any solution for a printing company is the estimate.  This is likely the first contact the business has with their customer and must therefore be as slick a process as possible; be that in the form of a self-service website or a fast response from the estimating team. So ease of use is important but equally so is the underlying configuration – can it handle all the machine types you have now and are planning for in the medium term? But more than that, the estimate will determine the manufacturing processes required for each element, how long it will take and what materials are required.  A good estimating system can drive the manufacturing process as well as improving the customer experience.

2. Order Entry

Each job that runs through the factory is bespoke, so it is crucial sufficient information be communicated to the factory to enable them to complete the job.  But commercial pressures on lead times mean works orders need to be entered faster than ever.  So is it feasible to automatically create the order or will some manual intervention be required?  It is certainly worth reviewing your works order to establish what is actually required.  This will enable your customer services team to focus on the customer rather than entering orders. 

You should also remember that not all jobs will have a formal estimate (some customers may have price lists) so how do you want to handle these?  Will an estimate be created for all jobs or should it go straight to production control?  This has implications at both stages and should be carefully considered.

3. Production Control

How will each job be scheduled?  Some companies like to manually load each job while others prefer the system to load them automatically.  The quality of the estimate can have a major impact here; if this is simply a list of all the machines required for the production how would the system decide which element is needed for which sub-project?  But an estimate detailing each sub-project and the production route simplifies scheduling while increasing the complexity of the estimate.  You need to be able to decide which is best for you.

There are other questions you need to consider such as what happens if you move a job to a different machine with different run speeds, how is the time / material required re-calculated?  How do you optimise your production process and can this be improved?  Also, how will you track the job through the factory? 

4. Purchasing

Details of what material, how much is needed and approximately when it is needed by comes from the order, but the exact date the job is required for will not be known until it has been scheduled.  Also, if a job is switched from one press to another (such as switching from a sheet fed litho press to a digital web press), this can fundamentally alter the material required. So the interactions between production and purchasing need to be clearly understood and factored into any decision.

5. System Integrations

Having a clear understanding of the external systems you need to integrate with is vital but equally important is how they integrate.  These integrations could be via the industry standard JDF file format or a bespoke interface may be required.  The requirements of these external systems will have an impact on your plans.  Also, selecting a combined Best of Breed / ERP solution will create a requirement for additional integrations which will need to be managed. 

6. Bespoke Developments

The other important area is that of bespoke developments. Over the years many print companies develop their own bespoke peripheral systems to solve particular problems – this is often in response to limitations in their current system.  So, if you are looking at new systems, now can be a good time to challenge the assumptions behind these developments.  You may decide you are happy with these systems, but if not you may be able to absorb some functionality into the new system.  You may decide to treat this as a phase two as the potential risk may outweigh the cost of developing the interface twice.

Selecting a system is never an easy decision to make, but by taking time at the outset to consider your ERP Strategy (the type and scope of solution you want) you can add some much needed clarity and focus to the selection process.

This blog was written by Paul Muspratt, Principal Consultant at Lumenia Consulting. If you would like further information on ERP Strategy or Selection please send an e-mail to Paul Muspratt.