Category: Supply Chain

Computing in the Clouds

With cost savings and IT reliability in mind, cloud computing increasingly has become a more effective technology tool for beverage distributors and manufacturers.

Generally speaking, cloud computing means data and services previously provided on a local server, which required constant software upgrades, are now stored and accessed on a virtual server, hence the phrase “in the cloud.”

According to Forrester Research, cloud-based supplier resource management (SRM) technology grew nearly 20 percent in 2011. In fact, cloud computing is changing how beverage distributors and manufacturers manage their IT services and connect and work with their networks of customers, supplier and partners.

Many providers like Salesforce.com and MiT Systems offer a popular Software as a Service (SaS) option, which is standalone software provided on demand on the web. Typically, there is a one-time setup fee and then a monthly service fee.

SilverSun Technologies offers a proprietary series of cloud-based SaS solutions specifically to meet the needs of craft brewers and distributors. For instance, cloud-based solutions branded as BeerRun and BrewPub provide brewmasters with a single, turnkey database batch/process solution capable of managing manufacturing operations, from forecasting and planning to recipe management.

With the explosion of what’s been dubbed “big data,” Revionics developed a SaS price optimization solution specifically for retailers to help them manage a great volume of data for real-time, actionable information.

Salesforce.com’s GreatVines solution combines the benefits of cloud computing and the company’s industry-leading CRM to producers and distributors of wine, spirits and beer as its designed to address the unique sales and marketing challenges faced by the beverage alcohol industry. For instance, the GreatVine application supports trade and consumer marketing, distributor management, order entry and trade spend tracking.

Loveland Distributing, a major MillerCoors distributor based in Virginia, has benefited from MiT Systems’ mobile pre-sales and hosted cloud computing MiT EzWebRouter distribution solutions for the past two years. Since launching the system in late 2009, Loveland’s operational efficiency has significantly improved as the ordering process, which used to take three minutes, now only takes about 20 seconds, according to Mark Maraj, VP of sales and marketing for MiT Systems.

“They’ve seen a $90,000 cost savings in the first year alone so those are improved operational efficiencies and reductions in IT management,” Maraj says.

Expanding its cloud solutions, MiT will launch this month its Cloud Ordering Application, a web-based ordering tool, or as Maraj calls it a “business-to-business portal.”

“This allows beverage wholesalers’ customers, such as retailers, the ability to place orders 24/7, without having the software installed, so they can log in and see their previous sales history, up-to-date account receivables and pricing specific to that customer,” he says.

Sean Taylor, director of technology at beer distributor Wil Fischer Cos., suggests that companies interested in cloud solutions should start with non-mission- critical functions first as a way to get their IT departments comfortable with the technology and do sufficient research to find the best cloud solution.

A Springfield, Mo.-based Anheuser-Busch distributor, Wil Fischer began using Google’s Enterprise solution to host the company’s e-mail and document sharing and storage two years ago. The company has moved further into the cloud by using apps like Google Sites to create a web-based, searchable procedures manual that can be accessed by all employees.

According to Taylor, the distributor also is exploring options like Google Expensify, a cloud-based expense reporting tool, and Google Drive, online data storage.

The move led to substantial cost savings due to avoiding the capital expenditure for a local-based server and software upgrades, he says. Moving to the cloud also means more reliable uptime to access data and other meaningful benefits.

“I spend less time maintaining IT equipment and systems to now working on ways that we can win at retail so we can sell more beer,” Taylor says.

For smaller distributors, solutions like Red Prairie’s On Demand online WMS solution not only offers ease and cost savings, but with just a mouse click companies have complete visibility and control of their operations, which lessens the demand for a large IT team.

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