Premier Foods is the UK’s largest food producer and manufactures some of the nation’s favourite food brands, which include Mr Kipling cakes, Sharwood’s Asian foods, Batchelors soup and pastas, Lloyd Grossman sauces, Bisto gravy, OXO and Ambrosia custard.
It’s a business that has been undergoing a major transformation over the past few years as the turmoil in the UK supermarket sector has taken its toll. That’s resulted in the disposal of various assets, including Hartleys jams and Sarson's vinegar, as well as spinning off its bread business as a stand-alone joint venture with The Gores Group.
All this transformation seems to be starting to pay off, with the firm reporting its highest quarterly market share in three years at the start of this year.
But while there’s been a lot achieved, there are still further efficiencies and improvements to be implemented, including upping the firm’s commitment to cloud computing.
That’s actually been helped by the ongoing restructuring of the wider business, says Mark Vickery, Group Information Systems & Change Director, Premier Foods, who argues:
[It} has given me the opportunity to accelerate cloud adoption for managing flexibility and costs. By the end of this year, my entire operation will be cloud-based.
Eighteen months ago I’d have said cloud was feasible and we would use it where it was appropriate. Our business situation has meant that we’ve speeded up and moved far more towards that transformational element.
To that end, Premier Foods has made a significant investment in Google Apps for Business, dropping Lotus Notes for its 5000 strong user base. The motivation here was to increase the ability to collaborate across multiple sites, including 40 factories spread across the UK. Vickery says:
The collaboration element grabbed us. We are working better because of the collaboration aspect. We’re using Drive. Choosing it for email was just the way in. Collaboration is changing the way that we work as a business.
The fact that Notes was replaced by Google apps was exciting in itself and got users to take an interest in the potential of the cloud, he adds:
The Google thing is interesting. Lotus Notes isn’t the most exciting brand in the world, so when you say, ’I’m going to give you the next release of Lotus Notes’, it’s not that exciting. Google however grabs interest.
Investing in the beast
Elsewhere Vodafone and HP are fronting a move to a hosted infrastructure and a move to the HP Helium cloud. There’s also some Amazon Web Services in the mix as well as a dedicated virtualised cloud for SAP systems.
Premier Foods is a heavy SAP user - or as Vickery couches it:
We’ve got a lot of investment in that beast.
We are a big SAP shop. We’re pushing the engine hard. We have core SAP systems and other elements that have grown up over time. All of our current SAP solution is on-premise. We’re refocusing to move from AIX to Linux.
The latest move by Premier Foods is to put its HR in the cloud in the shape of SuccessFactors HCM Suite, including Employee Central and Learning solutions. The intention is to simplify and bring consistency to HR processes and increase employee engagement. Vickery explains:
Part of launching the ‘new’ Premier is a commitment to our people strategy. The whole modernity and integration of the workforce is key. This isn’t just a case of ‘putting a system in’. The HR director wanted something to support the people strategy.
In terms of SuccessFactors, I’d seen it and because SAP had bought it meant that its look and feel was good. It looked like a very comprehensive product.
Overall, cloud computing has paid a large part in the turnaround strategy for Premier Foods and will continue to do so. Vickery concludes:
We’ve very keen on the idea of working smarter. Cloud, because of its potential and agility can do that. On top of that, we continue to ask whether the apps that we put in the cloud are driving whatever area they are in. Does it help our supply chain? Does it help in marketing and promotion?
Disclosure - at time of writing, SAP is a premier partner of diginomica.