Successful strategies for thriving in a tough market
Make no mistake, the business climate for commercial printers is challenging. In fact, according to the National Association for Printing Leadership, revenues for the US commercial printing market have contracted to $80B annually after peaking at over $100B before the 2008 recession. But the most recent economic indicators actually identify that the market is stabilizing and actually showing a small measure of growth. Nevertheless, with a smaller pie to go around, there is increased price competition between the remaining market players.
Fundamentally, successful commercial printing companies are dealing with the increased price competition in the same way that savvy business always have—by creating new value adds, improving sales and marketing effectiveness, and reducing operational costs to lower prices without sacrificing profitability.
Commercial printing accounting software and its role in the new economy
The explosion in the technical capabilities available in business management software is one of the primary mechanisms helping commercial printers to cope with a tough economic environment. The business management software market has matured significantly over the last decade and has brought the benefits of effective accounting and operational management platforms to companies of all shapes and sizes. The days of requiring expensive custom application development to meet industry-specific needs have ceded to a marketplace delivering dozens of pre-developed accounting and business management software options appropriate for the printing vertical.
Commercial printing software applications are helping businesses mitigate the challenges of price competition in some novel ways. Online portals and document management tools are making it easier for customers to share content with printers. Customer relationship management software is helping printers more accurately anticipate and meet customer demands, while capturing more data-points about buying behavior. Financial and operations management software are driving more efficient workflows, leading to cost savings and reduced cycle times for both production and accounting tasks.
A wide range of business applications are available to support commercial printing management needs. While comprehensive coverage can be the result of multiple programs or a single end-to-end system, a fully realized IT approach should at minimum provide support for the following finance, sales and marketing, operations, and human resources management requirements:
Unlocking efficiency with improved operations management
Traditional offset, screen, digital… the individual printing methodologies can vary, but commercial printing businesses share many of the same basic business management challenges when it comes to operations control. Fundamentally, printers need to effectively manage materials, order communication, equipment scheduling & maintenance, and production cost tracking to thrive. The software industry offers a variety of modules designed to accelerate the ability of printers to reduce costs and improve operations.
- Work order management. Work order management modules provide the baseline capabilities to capture and communicate order instructions. A typical printing work order will define the information needed to process each order, including: quantity needed, material requirements (ink, paper, binding), content, packaging, and layout. Work order management systems generally will include status tracking capabilities to define how far along in the printing process each order is. A work order will sometimes define the specific steps to be taken in the printing process, though this is often covered in more depth in a production planning module.
- Production planning. Production planning modules pick up where a work order system leaves off—in the sense that they are utilized to translate work order instructions into the overall scheduling of equipment and labor. A production planning module can help optimize resource utilization. Improved utilization of resources can enable higher throughput, reduced process bottlenecks, less material waste, and quicker turnaround time on print jobs.
- MRP. The most comprehensive and advanced approach to operations management in the printing environment is material requirements planning (MRP). MRP tackles basic work order management and production planning tasks, but broadens the scope to also optimize the provisioning of materials needed for production.
- Estimating. The costs associated with individual printing work can vary significantly on an order by order basis. An estimating module can help handle the complex calculations related to predicting material, machine, and labor costs. Accurate front-end estimating is critical to ensure job-by-job profitability.
- Job costing. A job cost module provides order by order cost tracking capabilities. Job cost modules allow costs to be assigned to particular categories to provide more granular insight into what expenses are driving overall job costs. In combination with estimating functionality, a job cost module provides visibility into identifying not only if a job was profitable, but where specifically cost accrued within the order. By tracking profitability back to different job types or attributes, executives can use job cost data to identify the most profitable types of work to pursue.
- Equipment management. Printing companies by necessity invest heavily in equipment assets. Equipment management software is used to track preventative maintenance and perform other asset management tasks, such as condition monitoring, parts tracking, and warranty tracking. Equipment management software helps reduce equipment maintenance related operating costs and prevent interruptions in production capabilities.
- Inventory control. The inventory control demands on printing companies are significant. Baseline inventory capabilities of course help printers identify how much of what materials are on-hand. But printers have some more advanced, specialized inventory tracking needs, such as the ability to perform unit of measure conversions (roll to square foot, for instance) and lot/batch tracking.
Acquisition, engagement, and retention: A look at sales and marketing software in the commercial printing business
The ability to turn a one-run customer into a longstanding client is one of the most critical challenges for printing businesses. Sales and marketing related software modules, while addressing different features and functionality, are all designed to help improve customer relationships toward the end goal of driving more orders, more often.
- Quoting. Like any company that performs contract work, the ability for printers to provide customers price quotes is a key business activity. A quoting software module helps introduce efficiency into the customer bid process by automatically converting estimates and streamlining document formatting. Quotes can also be databased in order to serve as templates for future similar jobs.
- Order entry. An order entry module provides the basic functionality to turn customer purchase orders into a sales order. Sales orders often begin as customer quotations. Most integrated systems will provide automatic capabilities to convert quotes into sales orders. Further along in the document flow, sales orders can be converted to work orders for the production team and invoices for customer billing.
- Customer relationship management (CRM). Word of mouth is great, but today’s most successful printing businesses are not relying on it alone to maintain a consistent stream of orders. CRM software helps accelerate the capabilities related to tracking, monitoring, and managing customers and prospects. CRM modules can help to not only track basic customer information, but all interaction with clients. What’s the upside? Improved analytics offers better customer targeting and more efficient workflows help you engage more deeply and frequently with less effort.
- Point-of-sale (POS). For retail focused copy shops, POS software is a must. A point-of-sale system provides a reliable means of capturing order information at the register, processing payment, and providing a detailed record of the sale, both for customer receipts and to update core financial records.
- e-Commerce. One of the ways commercial printing businesses are looking to differentiate themselves from the competition is by making it easier for customers to engage over the internet. Online portals that allow quick order quoting and placement are becoming increasingly important technology assets in the printing industry.
Better financial management through better financial software
One of the the buzzword on the lips of executives across all industries is “business intelligence.” The traditional idea of accounting’s role in the business as simply documenting money-in and money-out has lost currency (excuse the pun). Successful organizations are now looking to mine sales and financial records to uncover key business information such as which customers are driving profits, which departments are generating value, what contracts are most lucrative to pursue, and what markets and products should be targeted for future growth. As the role of financial info is expanding to fuel data-driven decision making, executives are simultaneously looking for opportunities to reduce administrative costs by leveraging efficiencies across a variety of accounting modules.
- General ledger. A general ledger module is often described as the “brain” of commercial printing accounting software system. It’s an apt analogy, as the general ledger is in fact where a financial management system will pull together records from other ledgers, in order to create top level reports like the financial statement and balance sheet. A general ledger, particularly when enriched with budgeting functionality, provides the capability to turn raw data into business information that can be used to guide effective business decision making.
- Accounts receivable. Whoever said that a job well-done is its own reward probably wasn’t an accounts receivable manager. Accounts receivable modules provide the capabilities you need to make sure your company is paid as completely and quickly as possible for the work you’ve provided. AR work can be tedious. The ability to automate repetitive tasks such as applying terms, running aging reports, sending payment reminders, and reconciling payments to open accounts can be a major source of increased administrative efficiency.
- Accounts payable. Without strong accounts payable control, it’s impossible to ensure effective cash management. An accounts payable module provides the system of record for entering and tracking vendor invoices. Accounts payable software helps manage vendor payment in order to avoid late fees and help maintain strong business credit.
- Purchasing. Commercial printing businesses generally require fairly robust purchasing software capabilities, as materials often need to be sourced quickly to meet specific order demands. A complete purchasing system will automate much of the workflow and communication process related to purchase requisitions and approvals management. Advanced system can often trigger purchase based on inventory levels or projected demand based on expected sales forecasts. Vendor management capabilities found in purchasing systems help printers intelligently choose suppliers with the most favorable terms or based on their ability to source materials quickly.
Supporting your most important assets with human resources software
Given the fundamental requirement for skilled workers in the printing industry, its no surprise that printing businesses are looking to more intelligently source and retain their top human resources. Human resources and payroll software are helping printers attain that goal.
- Human resources. Human resources software generally can be said to provide three main business benefits: 1) Help find and keep productive employees happy, 2) Make sure employees are being leveraged in the most beneficial way to the organization, and 3) Ensure there’s a record of documentation which shows that no laws are broken when it comes to the fussier side of employee rights compliance. Benefits administration, performance tracking, and recruitment software functionalities provide the raw capabilities to help meet these objectives.
- Payroll. Many financial management tasks require complex problem solving and decision making skills. Payroll processing generally isn’t one of those tasks. Payroll related work is some of the most repetitive and tedious work performed. It’s also a prime candidate for automation. A capable payroll software provides the core functionality needed to handle benefit/deduction processing, payroll reporting, and check printing or direct deposits.