“It is really all about driving efficiency. It is about enabling decision makers by providing information.”
Insightive.tv: Graham’s The Family Dairy has recently invested in a number of digital transformation projects, what do you think are the main drivers of that change?
Daniel: The World has changed and our business has changed. In the last fifteen years, we have seen exponential growth, turning over almost £100 million this year. Our industry has traditionally lagged behind in technology — there were a lot of legacy systems in place — and that can create a reluctance to invest in transformation projects. But I have done contract work with Graham’s The Family Dairy for many years now and witnessed a definite growth in emphasis on using IT as a key to the business. Over the last five years, particularly, there has been a real sea-change in looking at technology as an enabler.
Beyond larger changes, we really started looking at technological transformation when looking at the way in which we interact with customers and how we deliver milk. Our old system involved using delivery lines printed on paper to facilitate orders to over 7,000 customers a day. This was fine for customers that had pre-ordered, but many would place their orders specifically when the driver arrived. We then had to take all of these pieces of paper and manually re-key that data. This created errors and up to a week’s delay before we would know any day’s transactions — preventing us from being very responsive in terms of pricing and customer needs.
Our first big transformation project was to invest in a new ordering system and delivery handholds for the drivers to make this a straight to digital system that could give us immediate analytics.
Insightive.tv: What are some of the recent projects you have undertaken?
Daniel: We have done a lot recently. If you can think of a technology we have probably either just finished implementing it, are implementing it or are considering its implementation. We put in cloud-based wireless across the organisation, mobile management devices for driver and finished a Windows 10 roll-out. We are currently looking at an IOT project and have had great success with Yammer, Sharepoint and Skype Business. We have been busy.
Insightive.tv: Can you go into more detail about the IOT project you mentioned?
Daniel: I am very interested in this one. The goal is to expand real-time visibility to the entire system, including manufacturing. We are only in the pilot stage for a lot of this — research and proof of concept. Beyond visibility in our manufacturing facilities, we want to conduct proactive fleet maintenance, pulling information out of the ECUs on the trucks to tell us about faults. We use a lot of water in our business — so we are looking at ways of increasing efficiency in that regard through looking at things like silo levels and water processors. This then goes right the way through to putting cloud-based CCTV on our vehicles to record accidents.
One of the simple projects we are looking at quickly implementing is to track the locations of our milk cages — the metal cages you see milk in at the supermarket. Each of those costs about £70 — more than the value of the products they contain. We have to buy about 4,000 of those a year just to keep up with our losses. People steal them, they use them in their stock rooms and other dairy companies will accidentally pick them up if we serve the same store. We are looking at ways of tracking each cage individually so we know what happens to them and putting measures in place to either reclaim them or mitigate losses.
The Holy Grail, though, for us, of IOT projects, is the digitally connected cow — a system by which we can actually look at the health of the cattle. I am not sure if that is one that we will be able to take onboard in the immediate future. But that is sort of my utopian vision of where I want us to go.
Insightive.tv: What do you see as your largest barriers to achieving either these aims or have experienced undertaking recent developments?
Daniel: I think the barriers often tend to be people. Getting the communication up and running and really getting a buy-in from the staff is both the most vital aspect of any transformation project and the most difficult hurdle to clear. For example, with the digital delivery handheld for drivers, getting buy-in from the drivers was difficult. It, ultimately, was not something we could solve from the top down, and it was getting the input from the drivers about what they wanted and what would make their lives easier that secured the buy-in necessary to create a successful project. For me, the technology is invariably not that hard. It’s the processes and the people — getting commitment to the project — that are difficult.
I keep a very tight ship in terms of our IT infrastructure. This means that when we deploy a new piece of technology we always make sure that it syncs with our other systems. If it doesn’t all work together, I’m not interested in it. One of the key things about all of our systems is that they all use the same credentials and sit on the same infrastructure. This is necessary not only for speed of deployment but the ease of use.
Insightive.tv: From your perspective, how can innovation drive profit?
Daniel: It is really all about driving efficiency. It is about enabling decision makers by providing information. On the customer side, it is about making it easier for them to place an order and making us more responsive.
For example, when it comes to customers we are looking at an ordering app. Many people in the restaurant industry work evening, this would allow chefs to place an order at any time of day. This would also allow us to run promotion directly to our customers and offer cross-selling opportunities. We know that all restaurants, between December and January, order more cream. If we can identify the customers who aren’t buying cream, and only buying milk, we can look at that and see if there is an opportunity for a cross-sell. Technology will allow us to not only do that on the level of account managers but also automatically through an app.
But technology can impact things beyond profit. In terms of quality control, we use x-rays to make sure that all of our cottage cheese, and the more technical products we make, are produced to exacting standards. What we are now trying to do is make sure that all of that information goes into a single quality management system. From a customer point of view, we also have to make it easy for customers to get in touch with our quality team so that if we do have any problems they can be dealt with quickly and effectively. This was the vision that inspired the quality framework system we developed around Sharepoint — allowing us to look at that information across all sites in a centralised way.
Daniel Baird is Group Head of IT at Graham’s The Family Dairy. He was brought on eighteen months ago to oversee the deployment of a wide scope of technological upgrades and cement a cultural commitment to digital innovation. Daniel brings years of experience working for the firm as a consultant and over a decade of working in IT. He was most recently Director of IA Cubed — providing Microsoft Cloud solutions and consultant services. We spoke with Daniel to get his insight on how technology has changed business at Graham’s The Family Dairy and how it is shaping the future of manufacturing in the UK.
Graham’s The Family Dairy is a family owned distributor and manufacturer of dairy products. Founded in 1939 the company has undergone significant expansion in recent years — experiencing growth rates in excess of 15% for almost two decades. Their growth, and recent product line expansion has been accompanied by a modernization of their facilities and delivery systems, putting them on the leading edge of technological integration and innovation within the dairy industry.
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