CIO John Brown is blending federated IT systems at distillers William Grant's

Like retail, the consumer goods industry is vulnerable to the whims of customer behaviour – emerging trends, new fashions and fluctuations in disposable income all impact the success of the brands they produce. But, unlike retail, consumer goods companies, for the most part, are manufacturing companies too.

This brings several challenges. A fall in consumer demand might be damaging regardless of industry, but for consumer goods it can lead to redundant production capacity; a sharp increase in demand can lead to supply shortfall and unhappy clients.

From a technology perspective, therefore, one challenge floats to the surface above all others. In short, how the CIO can provide the type of reliable information on which supply and demand decisions are made.

William Grant & Sons is one of Scotland’s most famous companies, but its stable of brands – which include the world’s biggest selling single-malt whisky, Glenfiddich – can be found far beyond the Scottish highlands.

“We are approaching turnover of £1bn, have operations in 20 countries and our product is probably sold in 180 or 190 countries,” explains John Brown, IT director and programme director for global change at the group.

Brown was brought in by the company a little over three years ago to help transform the IT systems of the distiller, which, over the past 10 years, had been patched together to meet the rapid growth of the company, the result of which was a fragmented, federated IT environment poorly suited for the demands of a global organisation.

“We don’t have a single set of definitions about the performance of the business, it’s not easy to get a single view of our activities, or a view of where all of our stock sits globally at a single point in time,” says Brown. “It’s not easy to get a comparison between regions about the net sales value or the contribution of our core brands between regions because we have different definitions, local practices and ways of managing and measuring.”

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Approaching milestone

The company does, however, have increasingly lofty ambitions. With annual revenue growth in the region of 10 per cent and a burgeoning footprint in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economies, it won’t be long until that magic £1bn revenue hurdle is overcome. After that, who knows?

“The processes, systems and approaches which have served us so well to date may not serve us in future,” explains Brown. “In fact, given the growth path that we’re on and given the strategic plan that we’ve got for the next five to 10 years, we had clearly reached a stage where we had to do something.”

Core to that has been the deployment of a new, global ERP provided by IFS, closely linked to a Hyperion planning and forecasting system.

But simply deploying a global ERP wasn’t the only challenge Brown faced. Until recently, the company had been using 12 different charts of accounts structures spread across the world which, for a company the size of William Grant, as he concedes, is “tremendously inefficient”.

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