ERP: A missing piece in the print puzzle

Sriraam Selvam says the beginning of 2013 is an ideal time to get started with an ERP implementation, since this gives the print firm time to settle into a new system for the new financial year

23 Jan 2013 | By Sriraam Selvam

The Indian print industry along with its Chinese counterparts has seen a trend of continuous growth and demand in comparison to the world market.

The stakeholders across the spectrum and sizes have been proactive in adopting newer technologies in terms of machineries and even exploring the shrinking web world for unique business opportunities but the need to automate the business processes and seamlessly integrate the entire gamut of operation using an Enterprise Resource Planning system (ERP) and monitoring the company real-time with Management Information systems and Decision Support Systems (DSS) are yet to be given its rightful place in a company’s annual budgets (barring a minority).  
The print industry has been suspicious about an enterprise solution and breaking down popular myth is the first step in the process.
Myth #1- ERP is for the big daddies
This is one of the most common myths when ERP is mentioned “We are a small print company, what will we do with an ERP”. On contrary to popular belief, ERP is ideally suited for even the smallest print company with a growth plan. In fact, a well-implemented ERP solution can fast-track the growth efforts exponentially.
The small and medium enterprises (SME) in comparison to the large scale businesses can derive more benefits in the long-term and also implement the solution quicker because of the former’s capability to adapt quickly to change than the latter’s case of having to replace or augment mature and entrenched processes already place.
Fact#1 – ERP is for firms with a strategic growth plan.

Myth#2 –Investing in an ERP is an expensive affair
Standard ERP solutions come in various sizes and with even wider range of cost proposition. The cost factor has always been a critical barrier in any organisation to even consider it be an option. Ideally, an organisation should budget 3-5% of their revenues for an ERP.
The advent of technology has brought in additional choice to the traditional ‘total cost of ownership’ (TCO) model with the possibility of ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) cloud-based subscription based model with the possibility of burning your pockets less in terms of infrastructure set-up and maintenance costs which is a part of investment in an ERP.
Both the models have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Every  organisation need to take into consideration the strengths and weaknesses that they have to offer.
Besides an efficient ERP can manifold increase the productivity of the human talent in the company, bring down development lifecycles, streamline production and operations processes, automate and reduce clerical errors in mundane, repetitive tasks thereby enabling the management to focus on strategic decision making with quality support system and improve customer satisfaction substantially. Normally, the payback is much higher than the investments.
Fact#2 - ERP is not expensive considering its benefits and is available for all budgets. Finding the right match is crucial.

Myth#3 - The spreadsheets and the tools as and where necessary solves the purpose
In every organisation in our country there is an ‘Excel expert’ who swears that he can produce anything that an ERP can do and management at large continue to be dependent on these complex, error-prone spreadsheets for information and data to make significant decisions. 
There is also a section vouching for individual tools for each print department or business function in the organisation. These tools might work well for one specific business process and the dependency on other processes and functions to derive meaning to the data available in each of them is critical for the success of an organisation. These tools along with the spreadsheets augments the importance of individuals to provide analytics for decision making rather than a ERP driven automated MIS which is largely clean and real-time.
There are some print firms in a bid to circumvent internal resistance to change, employ a huge in-house IT development and maintenance setup to stitch the individual tools together to project an integrated system which in exceptional cases are successful notwithstanding the huge investment on an IT team though in majority has yielded disastrous results.
Fact#3 - ERP is a solution which cannot be replaced by spreadsheets or umpteen number of individual tools.

Myth#4- It is just another software. Why the fuss?
Though on the surface ERP is ‘a software’, diving deep down would make one realise that it’s in a larger sense a Business Process Engineering or Reengineering (BPR) solution which inherits the best practices of the industry to ensure the implementing organisation can employ them ‘off-the-shelf’. 
An ERP is natively built with industry standard operating procedures which can fill several existing procedural gaps and also improve on existing processes of an organisation. One of the notorious and ill-thought reason in investing in an ERP has been to enhance reputation with clients; The truth is the stature of the company and the morale of the employees surely goes up several notches in a system driven environment which in turn reflects in such value added benefits.
Fact#4- An ERP is a company-wide solution incorporated with best practices of the industry in one single system.
Myth#5- We can succeed without an ERP and its additional work and procedures
“We have been very successful with our existing methods and we don’t see a need to invest in an ERP which can cause instability and maybe even slow us down” is a common statement that every print firm CEO has stated. 
With the evolution of multi-location offshoring clients or personalised print jobs being engaged by organisations the success of the print firm is defined by having real-time information collaboration between entities for quick analytics and problem-solving. The additional works and procedures helps a print firm become system-driven and cut down on gaping operational flaws.
Fact#5- ERP ensures success as part of a lengthy roadmap and the work fills the existing process gaps substantially.
ERP Implementation at Parksons Graphics
Animesh Kejriwal, director at Parksons Graphics
Parksons Graphics began developing its MIS in 2000. Over the years, we added functionality and integrated it with their processes. 
When Parksons Graphics implemented ERP, we picked specific departments and started digitising them. We started when we were operating from a single location. Today, the solution has grown with us, and is spread across all four locations and all our departments. We were fortunate that we started small, otherwise complexities and costs of implementing a new system today across the entire organisation would be high.
We’ve found that spreadsheets, and especially online spreadsheets, are a great way to initiate ERPs. When we are creating a new module, or integrating a new process into the ERP, we typically structure the data we want to capture into a spreadsheet form. We get the users to start entering data into the form for a few weeks. This allows us to identify the correct data set to collect, and understand its benefit. Eventually, once we are confident of having converged on the data set to capture and the data flow, we integrate it into our ERP and implement it. 
So while spreadsheets aren't a good substitute for ERPs, they are a good way to create mocks to initiate the process and the mindset.
One of the most known problems in the industry today is availability and retention of a good workforce, and extends across companies of all sizes. We’ve found that the ERP helps our organisation maintain continuity despite staff changeovers. Since most of the data is captured and available in the ERP, getting a new employee upto speed on a job is much easier. Training new staff as well as ensuring processes remain unchanged become much easier when the entire organisation is working on a common system.
Due to our strength in IT, we are able to keep up with the maintenance and improvements required as well.