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What is an MIS and What can it Do?


What is MIS?

Simply defined, MIS is a system for tracking information useful to managers. The information helps to plan for future work, to control the flow of work currently in process, and to report on activities completed in the past. MIS applications are typically divided into modules. i.e. portions of the software that support specific business processes. These modules may seem like standalone applications, but they are integrated by sharing data in a single database. The standard modules in an MIS system are typically divided as follows:

Defines the individual elements of a job, the processes and materials that will be used to produce them, and the associated costs. This information is combined to create an estimate, which in turn is typically used to generate a quote, define many of the details of an order, inform production scheduling, and relay materials requirements to purchasing. The Estimating module is the core of MIS systems in the printing industry.

Order Entry
Is a module used by customer service to maintain customer information, generate quotes, enter orders, and track in-process and completed jobs. Order details that are not defined in the estimating module are typically maintained in Order Entry, including production instructions and shipping information. Here quotes are converted to orders.

Once an order is received in the system, it must be produced. The scheduling module helps to plan production by determining when and where a job will be produced. Specific equipment, production centers, and production steps are identified—and the job is assigned a time to begin activities in one or all of the production centers.

Shop Floor Data Collection
Captures actual production information for a job. This module acts as a record of time and materials, enabling managers to control those key aspects of cost and productivity. The most advanced implementations integrate with production equipment using a Direct Machine Interface (DMI) so that the MIS system tracks, in real time, the number of units produced.

This module manages the shipment of a job. Typical functions include generating shipping documents and labels, and also storing tracking numbers, package weights, and freight costs.

This module tracks materials and other production consumables. Paper, ink, bindery components, plates, chemicals and other items can be defined in the system. Physical characteristics (size, paper caliper, ink mileage, etc.) are added to the item data to support the estimating process.

Items in inventory can be assigned lot numbers and warehouse locations. The quantity on hand in a location can be tracked providing a real time view of the warehouse. Additional information such as preferred suppliers and desired on-hand quantities are assigned to specific inventory items.

In conjunction with the order entry and inventory modules, the purchasing module generates purchase orders for materials and outside services. An incoming order can automatically generate a requisition, identifying the material quantity required for a specific job. If the required quantity cannot be fulfilled by the material on hand, many systems can convert a requisition to a purchase order. Purchase receipts can be matched with the PO and invoice to support Accounts Payable processing.

Accounts Payable (AP), Accounts Receivable (AR), and General Ledger Functions are located in this module. Connections to the other modules provide an integrated view of accounting information by customer, supplier, and internal cost center. Since accounting functions have tax and other legal implications, many systems also provide integration with 3rd party accounting applications.

Job Costing
Though not present in all systems, this module helps analyze the actual costs of specific jobs and the productivity of various resources. Productivity can often be tracked by employee, shift, plant, machine, department, etc. Data from the Shop Floor Data Collection module is used to support the costing analysis. At the job level, this data can be compared with the original estimate identify refinements that can help produce more accurate future estimates.

While not necessarily a module in itself, most systems provide some standard (aka “canned”) reports within each of the other modules. Nearly all systems enable users to customize the built-in reports and create new reports. No system provides a complete set of reports that can be used to manage every business. Customization is required to ensure that management reports reflect the priorities and constrains of the business.

Reports come in three flavors:

  • Performance Analysis: Compares one entity to a standard of performance or to other entities (e.g. actual production performance vs. production standards, quality measures, identifying top customers, etc.
  • Tactical Planning: Describes what should happen in the short term future such as the jobs scheduled for the next shift or a list of late orders.
  • Strategic Planning: Identifies potential changes in strategy to address under-performing markets and products, or to analyze historical lead times, run sizes and margins.

Most canned reports are fall into the first category of Performance Analysis. This is logical because there is nearly universal need to measure operator and machine efficiency and quality is relatively universal. As reports move from tactical to strategic, requirements change from generic to specific. Many companies may measure make ready waste in an identical fashion; few companies look at their customers and markets in the same way.


What does MIS do?

The power of MIS lies in its ability to help employees in performing business functions quickly and consistently. The collective knowledge of the organization is entered into the modules of the application; the resulting workflow ensures that the steps are performed in the proper sequence and that business rules are applied to each transaction. The integration between the various system modules enables every job to be tracked as a single entity.

  • The ability to implement business rules in the system is a key source of the value of MIS. When the application defines and enforces business rules, the organization saves both time and money. This is accomplished by reducing the amount of employee knowledge required to accomplish routine tasks, and by reducing human errors that can produce costly mistakes to be absorbed by the business.
  • Estimating and quoting provide a prime example of this type of savings. Estimating is the heart of the system. The combination of a good estimator (or estimating department) and the structure provided by the application can avoid production problems, simplify production planning, and ensure that the true cost of a job is factored into the price.
  • Detailed estimates can include specifying of each piece of equipment and each manual step in the production process. Once the estimate is turned into an order, integration with the scheduling module enables production managers to see the impacts of incoming work in real time. Shop floor data collection and the reports that go with it enable the organization to see and understand how the performance of a job is impacted by run length, raw materials and other factors on the performance of a job. The ability of the system to “remember” actual performance on previous jobs reduces the chances of repeat mistakes.
  • Many systems provide estimating templates, which can reduce the estimating department’s effort in the quoting process. Common jobs can be estimated once and quoted to customers many times. Customer service representatives can use existing estimates to create properly priced bids in minutes. If a quote requires a different material, the system can update the cost and price based on the material price and automatically adjust the planned running speeds of presses and finishing equipment automatically. For example, a change from 20lb. bond to 80lb. cover involves more than a change in the cost of the paper. Sophisticated MIS packages can automatically change the production plan of a job to add a scoring process (changing presses if this can be accomplished inline), to reduce the estimated operating time.
  • Most systems also enable each participant in the process to add notes to a job, and carry those through to every step in the process. Bloated job folders with sticky notes, illegible handwriting, and confusing instructions can be replaced with standard messages, and easy to understand work orders. Some systems can even provide electronic job tickets so that equipment operators can see instructions and make notes directly from the shop floor on their data collection work stations.
  • A constant problem in any environment is dealing with last minute changes. With MIS, changes are immediately visible to everyone. If a request arrives late, jobs can be placed on hold to limit further processing. This reduces internal errors and reworks, both of which are very costly to the bottom line.