Day-to-day performance and integration compatibility characterize the value of an MIS to a print provider. Keyline has opted to take a new approach in this respect – it’s in the cloud, agilely structured and features an app store, via which a web-to-print link can be established.
In my last “year-end” post I emphasized what the print industry in general and several somewhat “passive” print providers in particular are lacking, namely a comprehensive understanding of modern-day linkage and handling options, which is mostly due to their own mindsets and/or the software they currently use. This definitely includes MIS/ERP systems – and for many print providers they form the core of corporate software alongside or in combination with the appropriate eCommerce systems. I asked Matthias Prinz, CEO of Crispy Mountain, the Mainz-based company behind Keyline – a new-generation MIS – in somewhat more depth about what makes this cloud-based solution so special.
Bernd Zipper: Matthias, you are talking a new-generation print MIS. For the benefit of all those print providers out there, what do you mean when you say that you are tackling this issue “backwards”?
Matthias Prinz: MI systems have to date essentially focused on the business aspects of print operations, i.e. order management, costing, data analysis etc. Nevertheless, the software programs are often unwieldy leviathans that are difficult to handle. Furthermore, there is a lack of receptiveness to integrating them with other applications or even with machinery. Our approach is different – we are tackling the issue from a production angle and going backwards from there into costing, warehouse management and logistics. We always say that Keyline is the data backbone of a modern print business – fit for the future due to an open cloud architecture and so simple to operate like the apps we use in our leisure time.
Bernd Zipper: An MIS should be as broadly based and as integration-compatible as possible. What advantages does your new approach have compared to other, possibly incumbent systems?
Matthias Prinz: If you talk with 100 print providers, you will have 100 different requirements of an MIS. Traditional providers have attempted to accommodate all of them – everything was packed into a single system. That made these systems unbelievably complex and difficult to handle. Furthermore, print providers perhaps only need a fraction of all the functions available. We have a no bullshit philosophy – we want to simplify processes in print companies to enable employees to concentrate again on their core tasks. We accept the fact that we can’t model all print company processes all at once – and clients generally do so too. However, what’s important is that a software program is reliable, is regularly upgraded and can be flexibly extended using interfaces.
Bernd Zipper: No bullshit philosophy sounds like “marketing speak” – how does your concept work, for example, in relation to machinery integration?
Matthias Prinz: We handle machinery no different to software. Both provide information about the status of processes, which are harnessed by Keyline and passed on to other systems and machinery in order to trigger other processes. Keyline also constantly sends information in the form of so-called “events”, for instance if items are set up, altered or deleted. An app can capture these and initiate processes and workflows based on these events. This enables event-driven process chains to be created and processes to be automated. We don’t restrict ourselves just to printing presses; we regard all machinery – prepress, printing or finishing – as having equal status.
Bernd Zipper: That’s what other manufacturers say too – are there any compatibility restrictions?
Matthias Prinz: The advantage of an event- and API-based system like Keyline is that it functions independently of the data structure and programming language used. Keyline events can be received by any type of app and it can do whatever it likes with them. The output is then passed back via our REST API to Keyline. Anybody can therefore become a Keyline developer, which in turn creates an active community, in which everybody can work with those tools that they have the best command of.
Bernd Zipper: What I find particularly interesting about MIS is their applicability together with and in eCommerce systems. How is Keyline positioned in that respect? Are there practical examples?
Matthias Prinz: eCommerce and web-to-print systems are a natural complement to Keyline. Usually the problem is that products, prices and orders in webstores and MIS need to be managed and processed separately. That does not make sense – there needs to be a “single point of truth” and in our view that is Keyline. We have developed a portal that functions in a completely different way to a conventional web store for a client in Latvia – one of Europe’s biggest book printers. Here prices are not retrieved from pricelists, instead the customer can custom-configure their book and the portal passes this product definition via our interface on to Keyline. The product is correctly logged there and a dynamic costing process is triggered based on the production situation and production costs. Keyline reports the price back to the store within seconds. If the customer accepts the offer, Keyline sends the job to Production, where processing is automated.
“Strong on communication, open in terms of accessibility – Crispy Mountain’s Keyline MIS provides a fresh approach in a segment, in which some software manufacturers are lagging behind in terms of accessibility and agility.“ – Bernd Zipper
Bernd Zipper: You recently launched the Keyline AppStore – what role does it play in your concept? Are customers able to choose from a pool of applications?
Matthias Prinz: Let me answer the second part of your question first – exactly, that is the purpose of the Keyline AppStore. Here we are offering a growing range of apps to integrate Keyline quickly and easily with applications and machinery. Because this integration compatibility, this accessibility is a mainstay of the Keyline philosophy, the AppStore plays a vital role in our concept. Of course, other providers would maintain that they can integrate with everything. But the question is what effort and expense are involved? The basic idea behind the AppStore is enabling users to connect with other systems in just a few clicks without involving expensive consultancy projects.
Bernd Zipper: What other apps are you planning? Will app usage via Keyline extend the range of web-to-print opportunities available to customers in future?
Matthias Prinz: We partner with a series of software developers and machinery manufacturers in order to provide our customers with a broad range of interesting apps, from CRMs like Salesforce via collaboration tools through accounting and analysis tools like DATEV, Sage and Microsoft Business Intelligence. In relation to web-to-print – here too we are in active discussions with and have already gained a number of clients that will soon dock their stores on to Keyline via apps.
Bernd Zipper: There are other apps for CRM, shipping, data exchange and internal communication in addition to the ones that have already been integrated. How can other solution and app developers get to be linked in to the Keyline MIS?
Matthias Prinz: The simplest way is getting in touch with us and talking the matter over. We and Keyline are receptive to anything. Our philosophy is simple – we support our clients and partners in everything that they do. In other words, we welcome clients that want to get actively involved in development issues or have partners with whom they have collaborated successfully for long periods. That is why our API documentation is openly accessible.
Bernd Zipper: Crispy Mountain started out as a logistics software service provider – do you have any plans to “dock” this issue on to Keyline? What would be of particular interest here – in the global print eCommerce sector – is the issue of customs declarations and international logistics.
Matthias Prinz: The knowledge that we have acquired as part of developing freight handling systems is also standing us in good stead in this regard. We take a “best-of-breed” approach – if there are already good solutions on the market, then we prefer to integrate these with Keyline, instead of developing something ourselves. This enables us to concentrate on its core functionalities. A logistics example is the app for integrating Keyline with shipping service provider Shipcloud. One swipe of your iPad is all it takes to register your shipments with your preferred shipper – including printing of shipping labels and provision of tracking information.
Bernd Zipper: Keyline has also met with plenty of positive feedback online. What options and extensions are you planning for the near future?
Matthias Prinz: We are continually upgrading and enhancing Keyline. That means that there is no major chargeable upgrade every couple of months or even years, instead we actually update Keyline several times a day. Every Monday we inform our clients about the improvements and new functions that we actioned the previous week. Feedback from our clients is therefore incorporated on a rolling basis. Therefore, our priorities are permanently shifting based on things that prey most on our clients’ minds. Because Keyline is a cloud-based software program, these improvements are automatically available to all users following release.
My take: Management information systems essentially determine how processes function and therefore determine success or failure in the (online) print business. And any software provider that goes down the road of providing simple-to-operate modules and a broad range of connectivity and integration compatibility options for other, more specialized software programs really is developing sustainable systems. Crispy Mountain is taking a coherent approach with its AppStore – and its cloud-based MIS, Keyline, offers a range of pressroom-related solutions. It would be wise to keep your eyes on this one. And if you want to learn something, you should just check it out for yourself – that’s because less is sometimes “more”. 😉