Hall & Woodhouse (H&W) might be regarded foremost as a brewer and pub operator, but at the core of its business is its property portfolio of over 350 assets. Although this has become central to its operations in recent years, its previous IT infrastructure lacked credible property management functionality.
To address this issue, H&W has implemented an industry specific solution from brewery solution specialists, K3, which has provided it with the capability to manage this important division and help place it at the heart of the company.
The biggest issue had been managing its varied array of assets, so this area enjoyed the greatest increased scope when the company came to define its requirements from its new IT solution.
Fundamental to the choice of K3 was its encompassing of much of these new requirements from within its core property module and such is the flexibility of the solution that it was recognised that any necessary customisation could be painlessly incorporated.
Martin Scott, Finance Director at H&W, says: "It seems to be very straight forward to get what you need from the solution. This certainly helps with its ownership throughout the company as you can tailor it to the specific needs of the different parts of the business."
But what underpins this tailored approach is the solution's core database that provides "one version of the truth", which ensures there is a central repository into which all parts of the business can be plugged into and gain access to up-to-date information.
Scott says this has removed many issues from the business: "A property manager might have said he's spent 1 million on a pub but the accountants argued it was nearer 1.2 million. This was because they all kept their own spreadsheets so we've weaned them off this and it's all now in one central location."
The accuracy and transparency of the information across the entire business is one of the key benefits of the new solution, according to Scott, who says: "Getting accurate, minute-by-minute information, and being able to refresh reports instantly is what people want. Previously nobody knew what was happening! The ability to track data is now so easy."
Central to the flow of information is the Drink-IT component of the K3 solution, which contains the brewing-specific capabilities and gives H&W the ability to: manage its premises records; deal with document management across the business; handle alerts and events; provide the links to work orders; and deal with process management.
This translates into a consistent set of working practices and processes across the company-owned estate of 57 Managed Public Houses and the 180 business partnership Public Houses pubs (formerly described as tenanted/leasehold outlets).
"They get accurate control of the information in the system that enables each of them to easily raise orders and process invoices in the same way. Everyone uses the same processes," says Scott.
Improved data flow
This accuracy has been extended into dealing with third-parties like Tesco. As a regular supplier to such groups, H&W inevitably receives lots of EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) requests and responding to them has been enhanced through the new solution.
"It's now much easier to provide accurate information to our sales team and this has helped level the playing field with their buyers as we're confident in the data we're providing them. Promotions are also being set up correctly and margins worked out," says Scott.
Whereas a simple request to extract data might have previously taken up to a day, it now takes a mere 20 minutes. "We no longer have the whole accounting team brought to a halt just to get a number of invoices by a specific supplier out of the system."
Helping this is the ease of exporting and importing data into and out of the system. Data on specific promotional lines can be extracted by salesman using defined terms and then analysed for profitability. This can then be used in Excel spreadsheet format during meetings with H&W's customers.
The ability to export into Excel cannot be overstated, suggests Scott, who believes many property-based businesses suffer from this same issue of not being able to get the relevant 'centralised' information out of their core systems and transferred into a familiar format that the end user/customer wants.
Navigable and user-friendly systems
This seamless movement between the core K3 solution - based on the Microsoft Dynamics NAV platform and the likes of SharePoint and Excel is made possible by them all being part of the broad Microsoft family.
This also makes using the system very comfortable for almost all the company's employees as they "feel relaxed using the interfaces because they are Word and Excel screens," which has boosted its usage around H&W.
"Our old systems were not sufficiently navigable whereas the new solution helps with the adoption of technology, which is important because if it's your main business system then you want it to touch all parts of your business. Traditional ERP systems touch 5% of businesses but with the K3 solution this has been changed as the platform is familiar to all people," explains Scott.
But while data is freely imported into Excel for analysis, Scott re-iterated that "the main thing is there is a base of core data held in the K3 solution rather than in various Excel spreadsheets" scattered around the company.
This core data includes the orders and invoices from the pubs and H&W's off-trade customers, which are all now integrated directly into H&W's financial systems. This has saved a significant amount of time within the accounting team.
As an indication of time saved, Scott says only four days per month are spent on preparing the monthly accounts compared with around two weeks previously, which has helped to revolutionise the operational methods of the department.
The team of 60 (of which just three were qualified accountants) has been slimmed down to 13 people (of which 10 are qualified or part qualified accountants) and they are chiefly concentrating their efforts on analysing the numbers rather than simply preparing accounts.
"It's changing the role of accountants as they are not fighting numbers but are working for the business. They are now an extension of the business and are seen as heroes by many people in the company as they are now able to make lives easier for those individuals they serve," suggests Scott.
The long-term impact
The solution has certainly impacted on the working practices of many people within H&W with 35 'heavy users' of the system among the team of 70 employees at the brewery. Scott suggests "it has brought about a fundamental change in the business and we've been incredibly pleased with it - especially its flexibility on the property side."
The new capabilities are helping the business move to effectively having "one piece of paper related to each public house" so that everything relating to that outlet even down to whether the basin has been fixed is registered when it takes place and is held in the core database.
Despite the major achievements to date Scott says there is still much to be investigated with the solution: "The potential of the system is limited only by our imagination, which is very exciting. We feel we've got the right system that we are totally comfortable with and which will see us into the foreseeable future."