Implementation is the thorn in many a print shop's side. While the promise of new hardware and software is great, and it's clear that workflows could improve in the very near future, organizations may feel permanently stuck with their current systems due to the period of uncertainty and risk that seems to come with implementing a new solution. Changing from one technology approach to another is a skill, one that is widely applicable and that comes with its own set of practices and procedures.

When organizations become truly skilled at implementing new technology, they gain benefits that go beyond the current evolutionary period. When it's time to replace another part of the workflow, or if the new solution becomes antiquated itself, it's always valuable to have a working process in place for upgrading without a breakdown or a period of mass uncertainty.

The MIS mission
When it's time for a new print management information system, there are a few specific practices a print service provider can stick with to ensure the implementation doesn't turn into a lengthy or troubled process. WhatTheyThink contributor Jane Mugford specified a few. She began by noting the inherent risk of making such a transition. This is rooted in the fact that the company has to shut down its workflows for at least some time to move over. Furthermore, the costs can be considerable. These factors just make it more important to stick the landing and emerge with value.

As for actual, concrete steps companies can take to cut down the risk to their operations, Mugford recommended taking the MIS implementation in phases. This means printers will have to understand their own needs, as well as the features they hope to add to their software over time. Identifying the minimum features that will absolutely necessary to keep the company running is the most vital part of this process, as singling those options out and putting them first will minimize downtime.

Once those absolute essentials are sketched out, it's time to think about the features that will enhance those core options. These will make up phase two of the implementation, and they'll include integration with other solutions, as well as functions that take the place of time-consuming processes such as using outside spreadsheets. Then, with phases one and two accounted for, leaders can think about phase three, where the system will deliver next-level functionality that goes well beyond what they've had access to before.

No matter how well thought-out and planned an MIS implementation is, there will inevitably be problems along the way. Ensuring that these don't take the team off-task for too long is another of Mugford's essential suggestions. This means everything beyond the absolute necessities can be tabled and delayed in the name of getting the solution off the ground. This doesn't mean print shops should let features be permanently abandoned. However, it does mean that snowballing delays are to be avoided at all costs.

A world of software
Of course, the print MIS isn't the only critical software deployment for companies in today's printing industry. Printing Impressions contributor Philip Beyer pointed out that the MIS is one of the key systems that allows print service providers to be truly "under control," an ideal state of affairs that will let leaders get some well-needed time to think about strategic matters, or to simply get away from the office.

Beyer stated that there must be harmony between four different systems – business process management, enterprise resource planning, MIS and customer relationship management solutions each fill essential niches in the modern printing business. Once all of these products are not only in place but communicating with one another and sharing consistent data, a print shop will stand a chance of operating without constant, hands-on attention.

When it comes to getting to such a state of software-driven operations, Beyer also recommended codifying a leader's experience in an official procedure manual. No matter how many software solutions are put into place, companies are still run by people. Leaders should therefore let their processes become company knowledge, available for consumption. Then, they'll be able to leave the office and be confident that the workflow won't descend into chaos. This human element is part of getting a company under control, as software alone isn't a workflow cure-all.

The modern printing picture
Getting in step with competitors in the print industry may mean upgrading key software. This is something businesses simply have to go through, despite the trepidation it can inspire. With a thought-through approach, even a central solution can be replaced without sending the shop into chaos.