Technology: Electronic Brains

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Phil Mellows reports on a regional brewer system that sets new standards.Success brings its own problems. These are usually described as "nice...

Phil Mellows reports on a regional brewer system that sets new standards.

Success brings its own problems. These are usually described as "nice problems to have" but they need to be dealt with all the same, as The Publican Awards' reigning Regional Brewer of the Year, SA Brain, discovered. Fast expansion had produced mountains of extra paperwork and it was clear that the Cardiff-based company was outgrowing its computer system. Over the years peripheral software had been brought in to tackle various tasks but never been fully integrated.

Alphameric Hospitality, which supplied Brains' core Brewmaster system - the one used by many regional brewers - was called in to find a solution.

The result, due to go live in September, is a comprehensive system that links together every part of the company's activities, from brewing the beer to supplying the pubs, bringing improvements in efficiency, quality and customer service along the way.

"We were basically looking to replace our outmoded systems with one that would bring all software under one technology," explains Brains finance director Martin Reed. "This brings down our overheads and generates efficiencies in dealing with data that helps us make the right decisions about the business."

"Brains' high rate of growth meant it was producing loads of spreadsheets in order to control all the information it had to process," adds Alphameric marketing manager Clare Barber.

"The new system has done away with a lot of the paperwork and brought together a number of disparate systems into one, so everyone at the company is now looking at the same data."

It is likely that Brains' pioneering development will establish a new standard for regional brewer IT systems.

"The work we have done with Brains has enabled us to produce a solution that is tailored to the needs of all regional brewers," says Clare. "McMullen's has already agreed to take it on and we have other companies interested."

How the system works

The solution is based on Microsoft's Navision platform. This software is used by 40,000 companies around the world but the trick has been to add on things that tailor it to a regional brewer's specific needs.

To find out exactly how the system has to work a team of three experts from Alphameric went into the Brains business for three months, finding out just what makes the brewer tick.

In conjuction with a team from Brains they put together a checklist of what needed to be done to Navision and set out a timetable of enhancements to bring the system into line with the demands of the growing company.

Although installation began last September, the system will continue to develop over a period of three years, according to this schedule.

Add-ons include a piece of software called Sales Talk, a telephone ordering system that plots a pub's purchasing history so that a sales person on the line has the information in front of them to suggest additional items, offer special promotions and mention new products the licensee might be interested in.

And Sales Talk is totally integrated into the rest of the system to help Brains plan what it needs to produce.

Other enhancements include traceability, which helps maintain product quality, and special systems to take care of gate duty and ullage. It also extends to Brain's pub estate, tracking property maintenance, developments and rents.

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