Andrew Dalziel of Infor shares his insights into the digital transformation of the food and beverage sector

Infor is a global leader in business cloud software products for companies in industry specific markets. It builds complete industry suites in the cloud and efficiently deploys technology that puts the user experience first, leverages data science, and integrates easily into existing systems.

Over 65,000 organizations worldwide rely on Infor to help overcome market disruptions and achieve business-wide digital transformation.

Infor’s comprehensive and flexible solutions are preconfigured to meet the needs of different businesses, with industry-specific capabilities and user roles built in. Its simplified ERP solutions have food and beverage industry functionality incorporated for operational excellence, product lifecycle management, supply chain planning, and asset management; making it easier to improve food safety, minimize waste, and provide greater supply chain transparency.

“After studying engineering and working in my first graduate job,” begins Andrew Dalziel, Infor VP Industry and Solution Strategy, “I was back home in the family business for about five years. Part of the business involved growing, packing and wholesaling tomatoes and cucumbers. During this period, we moved to hydroponics and computer control for the environment which piqued my interest in computers. So, I went back to university and did a master’s in computer aided engineering design, which covered systems design, and expert systems and artificial intelligence. After completing this, I moved to Denmark for about six and a half years and worked in several technology and software companies. This got me into ERP and advanced planning solutions.

“My role in industry strategy is broad ranging, involving defining the direction of the strategy and the plans for the organization. One day, I might be analyzing new markets, looking for what solutions we could bring to a segment and then calculating the potential market size and spend therein. This helps us to create a business case or what we call the decision-making framework to secure investment that enables a new solution or partnership to go to market.

“On other days, we’ll meet with customers. We have what we call our Strategic Industry Council for food and beverage, with several of our customers tending to rotate and sit on that council, providing strategic direction. Equally, we could be out speaking to user groups or individual customers, hearing what their challenges and future needs are. Through these conversations, customers influence our investment decisions and direction,” he explains.

“We also develop the positioning and core messaging around our solutions. This is then used by marketing and sales to help promote and position our solutions in the market. We support marketing with events; talking at webinars or industry events about the solutions we offer to various sector challenges, and the value that Infor can deliver to its customers.

Built-in capability

“Infor works a lot with industry analysts and technology advisors, such as Gartner and IDC, to gain input and feedback on our solutions and messaging. We want to know whether we’re heading in the right direction and how we are perceived in the market. We also work with product management and development colleagues on potential new technology and product partners with the view to adding value for our customers. From marketing to sales, we strive to support colleagues throughout the organization with advice and information,” he enthuses.

Like any business, Infor is increasingly data driven. “To be able to optimize our investments and truly help our customers we need to thoroughly understand the data. It’s crucial to remain focused on the customer’s problem to resolve their requirement, rather than making a product and taking it to market in the hope that there’s a need out there.

“We’re always looking for what’s next, which is difficult to predict and necessitates evaluation. There’ll be some things we can pursue but from an investment perspective, they’ll be others that we can’t. Whatever we do, it must be a win for the customer,” Andrew asserts.

Inevitably, many of Infor’s successful solutions for its customers surround enabling enhanced operational efficiencies. “Increasingly,” he continues, “machine learning and artificial intelligence are being implemented to identify anomalies and correlations in data trends, which enables the optimization of manufacturing yields in food and beverage manufacturing. From errors in the warehouse to robotic process automation, it’s important to remove non-value-adding tasks and errors. Certainly, considering how common worker shortages are in the industry, automating mundane tasks and ensuring people are doing the value adding activities is key.

“As such, it’s far more beneficial for a company to be able to buy a solution with built-in capabilities rather than having to add to existing tools.” From food safety, quality, and compliance to increasing operational productivity and enhancing speed-to-market, Infor’s ERP solutions can transform operations.

“We are providing the sorts of capabilities needed in the food and beverage industry. Take, for example, a recent case study for a cheese company and its yield optimization. While milk supply varies from season to season, and batch to batch, by taking various ingredients and environmental factors into account, it’s possible to calculate yield and then fine-tune processes to optimize the outcomes.

“Another example is in the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to examine the characteristics of different customers to improve sales team preparation and performance. Preparation times for sales meetings can be vastly reduced and a better selection of appropriate products placed in front of the customer. Additionally, price points can be optimized to ensure that the sales team neither excessively dilutes margins nor prices themselves out of the game,” he explains.

Sustainability practices

Looking at the industry from a wider perspective, Andrew reflects on the short-term challenge of having to juggle inflation and cost increases. “I think many companies are currently doubling down on whether they have control of their costs. Certainly, in the UK, we’re still feeling the impact of Brexit, particularly from the perspective of importing or exporting ingredients or products. The longer-term challenge, however, is the move towards sustainability, which is being driven by consumer awareness and demand. Consumers want more information on the provenance of the products they’re consuming. People want to see the world reducing its carbon footprint and the increasing regulation and associated new reporting requirements is helping to drive that evolution.

“That’s where systems and data can help,” he affirms. “If you have the right technology in place to be able to capture the information and see when you’re going off track, that’s the best position to be in to be able to do something about it.

“There’s increasing awareness about what we eat, how it’s farmed and processed. Consumers are also becoming more health conscious and demanding more information. While potentially not front of mind for customers when they shop, food safety is also a hot topic and particularly so, for processors. As such, we’re likely to see more regulation around food safety. Going back to the topic of sustainability, it’s about making better use of precious resources through practices such as optimization and waste reduction. Something like one third of the food in the supply chain is wasted. Sustainability drives supply chain transparency, it drives food safety, and encourages enhanced consumer information. It doesn’t necessarily need to be an additional cost to business; it can help a business to improve its operations. The way we view the topic of sustainability is vastly different today; most businesses recognize that there’s a need to do something, and that there are multifaceted benefits to doing so,” he suggests.

Future-proof technology

Turning to Infor, Andrew believes there are three aspects to the organization that differentiate it from others and that create competitive advantage for its partner companies. “We deliver food and beverage expertise that’s baked into our micro-vertical solutions. Many of our people have a background in the industry, so our solutions are designed, built, and deployed by people with food and beverage expertise.

“We believe another big difference is our future proof technology; we are cloud-native, which allows us to deliver a continuous solution that doesn’t necessitate regular platform upgrades. We also deploy in a different way. The customer experience is focused on high value and low risk. Our highly preconfigured industry processes allow for speedy adoption, but we also recognize that no two organizations are identical. That said, starting from a pre-configured process allows for faster adaptation than starting from scratch.

“If companies don’t embrace technology and data,” he concludes, “they are likely to struggle. To my mind, this presents an opportunity for the food industry in the UK and an opportunity for Infor as well.”