A leading light in magazine printing, S&G found the conclusion of a three-year process to streamline its workflow to be surprisingly stress-free.
By Jon Severs Thursday, 06 September 2012
At the end of last year, Michael Donovan, technical manager at Welsh magazine printer Stephens & George Print Group (S&G), could finally stand back and feel satisfied with what he had spent the best part of three years building. There was still much to do, as with software nothing is ever really finished, but his KPMG Crimsonwing ERP system was, to his mind, now fully immersed into every facet of the business.
“I liken it to building a house – at the end of last year, I had done all the building work and for the past 12 months I have been busy painting it,” he explains. “We did go live with the system and run the business successfully within nine months of the project start in 2008, so the print side was quick and easy, but since then it was the joining of the other processes that we have developed, from HR to logistics to customer relationship management. At the end of last year, we had all the processes under one roof.”
The scale of the installation at the Merthyr Tydfil-based printer cannot be underestimated. Established in 1912, the business employs 220 people and is a leading figure in the magazine printing industry, recently handling publications for the Olympics. Back in 2008, the vast physical and administrative processes that drove the firm were unconnected and powered by various vendor products that did not work together or allow a single job or client to be viewed as a whole.
“We now have everything – be it HR, warehousing, purchasing, production, scheduling, invoicing, financial management – running through one system,” says Donovan. “Before it was all separate, and having around nine systems handling each slice of the business meant it was impossible to get a full picture of what you were doing. We were trying to marry reports from one area up against those from another and it was ridiculously complicated. So we made the decision to try and get everything into one system.”
S&G approached Microsoft to get a feel for what the market had to offer as a solution and it was referred on to KPMG Crimsonwing, Microsoft’s implementation partner for its Dynamics NAV product. KPMG Crimsonwing set up a demonstration where they showcased the Dynamics NAV platform in conjunction with Printvis software, which was fully integrated within the Dynamics system. This product essentially offers a print-tailored, central workflow software system that incorporates and streamlines every facet of the business through one entry point. S&G was sold immediately.
The print elements were online within the first year. Since then, other elements of the business were brought into the fold. The length of the process may confuse some, but Donovan explains that the complexity of shifting systems – as anyone who has changed MIS supplier will know – means installation time will be extensive.
“You are taking out bespoke software systems and trying to incorporate that functionality into another system. For that, you need to spend the time getting the right data channels and the right analysis set-up,” he reveals. “We are a very large business and we knew from the outset that each module would take time.”
Donovan says the effort was more than worth it. He cites the example of when the time came to get the sales team onto the system. S&G’s existing sales software platform was replaced by one within the ERP and this meant that instead of acting in an information silo, sales teams could now use the same customer data as the production and finance teams. This offers the sales team a complete view of appointments, tasks and jobs for any particular client.
KPMG Crimsonwing was on hand to support S&G the whole way through this conversion process for each module, both from its London and Malta offices. Donovan explains that the service and support from the KPMG Crimsonwing team has been excellent throughout.
“Most of the developers we deal with on a daily basis are in Malta – we talk via email or, if we are launching big projects, they come over to the UK,” he says. “They can be here on a day’s notice if we need them. There was never any worry from our side that they were based outside the UK and we have always had fantastic service from them.”
Part of the success of that service, says Donovan, is the fact that the software has been right first time around. This limits downtime to reboots of the system incurred when introducing new modules. He adds that if you do find an issue, you can isolate the relevant area and allow the rest of the system to run while the problem is fixed.
A year on from the final core modules going in, the system remains error-free and Donovan says it has had a massive impact on the business.
“We are so joined up now,” he says. “The goal was to understand how our business worked, where costs were incurred and where profits were created. We needed a clear and effective flow of information to make key decisions. This system lets us do all this. It has given us clarity in our thinking, turning decisions that traditionally could have been seen as risky into actions based on solid facts.”
The ‘house painting’, to borrow Donovan’s term, is not finished yet, however. S&G is still introducing new elements to the ERP. Payroll was added just a few weeks ago and there are other new additions in the pipeline this month.
“We are going live with our JDF this month, so we are creating the job in PrintVis and sending it on to our Apogee workflow,” he says. “When the job is printed, the data is fed back to the ERP and we can analyse performance. Currently, we have our pre-press and press processes linked up and in the next six months we will also link up the post-press processes.”
He adds that in October a fully barcoded warehouse system will also go online within the system. This, he explains, will enable every reel and sheet of paper to be tracked through the warehouse, showing where stock is going and how it is being used.
All of this software power may well be conjuring images of vast server rooms by which to facilitate such a high degree of number crunching and capacity. Not so, says Donovan.
“People would be absolutely shocked at how small an infrastructure system this needs,” he reveals. “We just have one server and a back-up server, as it is all client-server driven. It is so manageable.”
It is also manageable for the staff that use the system, he says, explaining that employees have really embraced the system, understanding that it can be developed through their input. Donovan reports that S&G staff have really got involved in making suggestions and offering solutions and additions.
Overall, then, the upheaval and the constant tweaking and additions have all been worth it for Donovan. He says he is surprised that other printers have not taken up the opportunity to at least look at an ERP as opposed to an MIS; to his mind, it is much more comprehensive.
“It has had a massive impact on us. We are more productive, leaner and more knowledgeable,” he says. “We would never go back to an MIS. everything we would want to do in the future we can work into this program, so we have no need to ever use anything else. It is just so adaptable. I don’t know why other printers are sticking with MIS.”
- Base technology Microsoft Dynamics NAV
- Modules Include costing, data collection, electronic job bag, accounts management, invoicing, remote job tracking, report generator, production control and logistics
- Price Around £30,000-£50,000 for an entry-level system
KPMG Crimsonwing: (+44) 020 7367 4300
Merthyr Tydfil-based Stephens & George (S&G) is celebrating its 100th year in business in 2012. The magazine printer employs 220 staff and counts PrintWeek publisher Haymarket Media among its high-profile clients. It runs a fleet of Heidelberg presses, including two 10-colour XL 105s, and its finishing equipment includes a Muller Martini Bolero B8.
Why it was bought…
S&G had a fragmented view of work and of clients due to separate workflow and management systems for each slice of the business. It decided that it needed to bring all these elements together to enable a more unified, lean workflow system that would enable a more accurate analysis of the business.
How it has performed…
Technical manager Michael Donovan says the ERP has had a massive impact on the business. Not only has it delivered in giving S&G a clearer and more accurate view of the business, it has also made the company leaner and more knowledgeable. He adds that staff have embraced it fully and have been keen to engage with the system to make improvements and suggestions.