Fuller’s brews a cloud-based future with a head on it

Profile picture for user jtwentyman By Jessica Twentyman March 30, 2017
Part of the London-based pub and brewery company’s strategy for weathering the Brexit storm involves an ambitious Infor implementation.

In the run-up to last year’s Brexit referendum in the UK, pub and brewery company Fuller’s took a very different position to its rival JD Wetherspoon on the question of whether the UK should stay or go.

While Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin was a vocal proponent of Brexit, going as far as to have 200,000 beer mats printed up urging customers to vote ‘Leave’, Fuller’s chief executive Simon Emeny warned that a Brexit result would pose:

a significant risk to the viability of the business.

By November, following the vote to Leave and at the announcement of a good set of mid-year results for Fuller’s (full name Fuller, Smith and Turner), Emeny had somewhat tempered his stance, but did still warn that:

There is no doubt that the UK economy is facing some significant challenges. The impact of increases in business rates and the National Living Wage, combined with uncertainty around the UK’s departure from the EU, make for changing times ahead.

He did, however, point to the company’s long-term, strategic vision of its future, along with its good balance sheet and engaged workforce, as evidence it would weather the storm.

A cloudy brew

One element of Fuller’s strategy, it has since emerged, is a substantial investment in cloud-based software from Infor.

As part of a 15-year deal, Fuller’s will implement Infor CloudSuite Food & Beverage, alongside Infor’s Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM), Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Dynamic Enterprise Performance Management (d/EPM) modules across the two divisions that make up the £350.5 million company.

These are the Fuller’s Beer Company, which brews a portfolio of premium beers; and Fuller’s Inns, which has an estate of 195 tenanted pubs and 197 managed pubs and hotels.

This broad sweep of software will replace an elderly ERP system implemented back in 1992, explains Bronwen White, IT development manager at Fuller’s:

While we’ve kept it updated, it is legacy. It’s not being developed and enhanced anymore, so we decided it was time to look for something new and we did that in a proactive way. We’re not on a burning platform, but we did decide it was time to look for something more modern and more up-to-date that could take us on to the future.

The deal between Fuller’s and Infor was signed off on 31 January 2017 and announced by Infor on 20 March, following a very thorough selection process that went on for the best part of a year.

Assisted by consultancy Lumenia, a long list of companies was considered, before eight were invited to engage in the RFI [Request for Information] process. Based on the RFIs, the list was whittled down to three suppliers, each of which spent two days demonstrating their product to the company, before Infor was finally selected. Says White:

We took a really, really structured approach. An important point is that we worked with around 70 people from inside Fuller’s to set out our requirements - because we recognize that the success of this project isn’t only about technology, it’s about how we introduce new technology to the business. The contribution of expertise by 70 people was key to this and it’s something we want to take through to the project itself.

Taking on new challenges

That project is huge in scope and ambition, at an already challenging time for the company. From start to finish, it is expected to take around 14 or 15 months, according to White. The manufacturing resource planning (MRP), logistics and supply chain functions in Infor CloudSuite Food & Beverage will be use to boost efficiency and planning in the company’s brewing operations. Infor CRM, meanwhile, will help to improve service levels to brewery customers.

Infor EAM will be deployed as part of the facilities management of Fuller’s estate, to support its helpdesk for managed house operations (which a pub manager might call, for example, if a fridge breaks down in the kitchen or guttering needs repairing on the building itself), as well as the maintenance teams responsible for fixing such problems and taking care of plant assets in the brewery itself. Infor d/EPM, meanwhile, will provide business intelligence for both estate profitability and brewery operations.

What’s clear is that the project will begin with core finance apps, since many of the modules that follow will need to integrate with these, says White. Planning is already underway, she says, with the project officially due to kick off in mid-April. It will no doubt demand careful change management, since many Fuller’s employees will be working in new ways, but White insists they’re looking forward to it:

We know at the moment we’re constrained by manual processes. People have worked around our systems in the past, they’ve made their own solutions where the tools are rather elderly. But we see the market changing and developing and we want to change and develop with it.

In other words, there are a lot of spreadsheets currently in use at Fuller’s. Stock-taking is performed manually, as are many warehouse processes. In purchase ledger processes, invoices are currently typed in by hand, but Infor will provide text recognition, so they’ll be automatically scanned and recognized. Says White:

People are very excited about the art of the possible, they want to use new technology and they’re excited about it. Our challenge now is not to disappoint them.