So Much More to Estimating Software

It is almost impossible to imagine that anyone is still estimating prices manually, but they certainly are. And not just small shops, either. While researching this article, I heard about a printing company that runs multiple 40" presses and the owner still does all the price estimating by hand. Just try to imagine the lost productivity that company must suffer. Then imagine how much its sales might increase if the owner installed estimating software and started using his time more effectively. It’s just staggering.

Mark Meyers, president of Estimator Corp., points out that the core reason behind this type of behavior is that some owners are simply control freaks. They can’t bear the idea of relinquishing the process of pricing jobs to a computer—or a CSR. Meyers says that when he tries to sell those owners on the idea of computerized price estimating, he points out to them that they are not immortal.

“What happens if you get sick or want to go play golf? How can you take a vacation?” he asks. “If something happens to you and no one else knows how to price a job, what happens to your business?” The key, he says, is to demonstrate to them that even after the program is set up and others in the company can do estimates, the owner is still in control of the system.

John Fleming, president of printLEADER, sees the same situations. “My experience with some of these owners is that they cannot let go of the control factor,” he says. “So I will candidly ask them how many hours they work per week, and it’s always 60 to 80. When I explain that we can do a ‘brain transplant’ of the owner’s calculation methods into our pricing module, and save that person dozens of hours per week as well as teaching other staff members to access those same rates via our estimating system, they then begin to see the light.”

Of course, there is a long list of other reasons to automate price estimating. It offers better production control, provides a consistent pricing method, and improves the overall efficiency and productivity of the shop. “A lot of potential for human error is simply avoided, and the whole process is a lot smoother,” observes Tony Tarpey, marketing director at Datatech SmartSoft, which developed PressWise.

“There’s no way a company can grow and remain profitable without a good Print MIS solution,” asserts Gerald Walsh, director of market development for EFI Advanced Professional Print Software. “As the number of jobs increase, the cost to manage those jobs grows and consumes more and more of your profit dollars. Likewise, as you add new product lines and new market niches, your business must be able to respond to client requests and demands with the ‘speed of digital,’ and you just can’t do that with a manual infrastructure.”


What’s Missing?

Most print owners have already recognized the necessity for estimating software and use it regularly. However, that doesn’t mean that they are getting the full benefit of their system.

Over the years, most estimating software has evolved into something that much more closely resembles management information system (MIS) software. Programs now provide users with reports that track everything from sales trends to costing information. Some send customers real time email updates on job status or automatic reminders when it’s time to reorder forms or marketing materials. Depending on how complicated you need your program to be, and how much you’re willing to pay, there is a solution for just about everything.

With all those added features, it’s no wonder that few printers are using their estimating software packages to their full potential. As you search for tools to help you maximize your company’s performance, you may not have to look any further than your own desktop. “Midsize printers are so overwhelmed, they rarely have the time to get past the core basics of the print shop management systems,” notes Morrie Brown, president of PrintPoint.

Nonetheless, the rewards are significant for printers who employ more than just the basic tools. Most systems link to QuickBooks and other common accounting programs. Automated invoicing is one of the most frequently overlooked features, and one that has the greatest potential to bring positive change to the print shop.

“The advantages are simple yet very effective, financially,” says Greg Harrison, president of Franklin Estimating Systems. “Often the feedback I get from printers is that they get a much better view of which customers are making them money and which ones are not. Profits tend to rise quickly, given that type of information.”

Customer communication functions are also part of most systems. Tulin Edev, vice president of Printer’s Plan, points out that users can create templates to send out emails to groups of customers. “Users can send emails to a group of customers for various purposes, such as a quote follow up, job re-order reminder, new customer welcome, and thank you notes after jobs are shipped,” she explains.

Beyond performance reports, invoices, and enhanced communication, these programs are now so integrated that the lines are beginning to blur between estimating software, workflow software, and Web-to-print solutions. With all this potential, why are so many printers apparently sitting on their assets?

EFI’s Walsh offers a fairly succinct explanation, which he refers to as the MIS paradox. “The problem often begins early in the implementation process. Businesses evaluate and select a system, and then implement the system—out of necessity—while they continue to run the business,” he says. “In many instances, they’re forced to implement the system piecemeal, one department and one process at a time. While each department may leverage the new software for their area, the piecemeal implementation often leads back to isolated, disconnected processes.”

The software vendors have programs in place to help users get the most from their products, but the only real way to remedy this situation is for printers to make full implementation a personal priority.


New Features Coming

Despite the fact that most printers have not yet attained the full benefits of their estimating software, the developers are not letting the grass grow under their feet. Hints about features yet to come were intriguing.

Many companies plan to implement Web storefront functions. There were several mentions of applications for mobile devices, software as a service (SaaS), and cloud computing. Increased control of automated processes and JDF were also hot topics.

Despite all the bells and whistles, Meyers brings everything back down to earth. “He who estimates first wins,” he insists. “The purpose is to get the order. If you don’t get the order, you don’t have a business to worry about. If you don’t automate now, you’re going to be left behind.”