The food and beverage industry is constantly changing, from where artichokes are grown to the way ingredients in zucchini bread are listed on the package label. Few processes remain untouched by the impact of technology, innovation and new consumer-centric business models.
Whether a brewery introduces more seasonal varieties of beer or a cereal producer eliminates artificial colors, consumer-driven change often dominates discussions in the C-suite. Brand loyalty is the secret recipe that every company seeks. Aligning with customers seems to be the direct route to growth.
But, often, widespread changes made to please customers also dominate some heated debates around efficiency and profitability. Change can be costly — stretching resources, taking a toll on employees and putting legacy systems to the test. For example, can a company be sure that adapting ingredients to meet today’s consumer trends will have any lasting impact when the next trend appears?
Food and beverage companies are scrambling to keep pace — looking at automation, robotics, sensor-equipped material handling systems, quality control practices, supply chain partnerships and shipping tactics. Yet, there is one area in the enterprise that has been largely neglected during this modernization clean-sweep: the organizational structure.
Starting with the C-level suite, extending down through the hierarchy to the line of business managers and the technicians assigned to monitor plant equipment or drive the forklift, roles of personnel need to be revamped if the organization is going to be able to support new demands. The entire reporting structure needs a facelift. Of course, this all needs to support the desired company culture — as it will be a direct outcome of policy changes and new priorities set at the top echelon.
Customer centricity and modernization of processes cannot happen without personnel being fully on board. They must continue to maintain the standards of quality, speed and value. But, now, they must also meet customer demands with agility and responsiveness. That means personnel must be flexible, and willing to change roles and cross train — sometimes with little warning.
Policies set from the top levels can help reinforce a modernized attitude that matches the modernized plant. This can range from incentives for innovative ideas to sharing among the team examples of customer commitment “above and beyond” the call of duty. Above all, employees must be given tools to help them meet new performance standards and train them on how to become fully engaged with the technology available. Far too often, consultants hired to help boost productivity uncover that much of the functionality and capabilities in existing software systems are not being used, either from lack of understanding the benefits or from insufficient training.
Modern ERP solutions provide many tools to help users — in multiple stations and roles in the organization — make well-informed decisions, monitor personal or team performance indicators, write queries for detailed reports, collaborate with colleagues and apply contextual analytics.
Roles need to evolve at the top level of the organization, too, since this is where most strategies for growth and new business models will be generated. Several new “chief” roles are appearing in the C-suite of manufacturers and distributors, including ones in the food and beverage industry. Chief Data Officer, Chief Customer Experience Officer and Chief Digital Officer are among the new titles being added. Each of these roles has the potential to bring substantial impact to the organization — as long as the right person fills the role and support is provided. This can be in the form of funding, decision-making authority and enforcing new policies.
A Chief Customer Experience Officer (CCE) is an addition to the team that often proves effective in laying down the groundwork for a new era of customer alignment. The CCE may develop new systems to foster communication with customers, portals for engagement and revamp the delivery of goods to support freshness needs. This key role may also address how to collaborate closely with customers on predicting seasonal shifts and maintaining adequate inventory. Of course, in addition, customer satisfaction can be turned into a science, as systems are put in place to monitor customer reaction through the buying and product lifecycle.
While the title of CIO is not on the list of new titles, it is a title that carries high impact potential during this age of modernization. The job description certainly needs to evolve to reflect the degree of changes and roles of technology. For the CIO to be truly effective and lead the charge for digital innovation and adoption of new automation, tactics to monetize data and sensor-supported strategies, it may be necessary to shift some the long-standing responsibilities.
Again, modern software can help ease the existing burden on the IT team, so the team can focus on more strategic efforts. Currently, onboarding new employees, creating customized reports, managing modifications and monitoring security and backups are some of the typical IT tasks which consume large amounts of time. But, that can change.
Modern IT solutions — especially when deployed in the cloud — can automate tasks or eliminate the need for onsite personnel to perform them. Leaving hardware, servers, maintenance and security to the provider is a heavy load to lift from the CIO’s shoulders. Automatic and continual updates from the provider on new features is another key way in which cloud deployment lifts a burden from the CIO. No longer does the CIO need to worry about upgrades, compatibility and modifications. With cloud deployment, the company can enjoy “always modern” software with no worries.
These new roles, evolving roles and changes to the organizational structure are some of the most critical steps food and beverage organizations can take in order to support their modernization processes. These steps are often overlooked as modernization efforts focus on sensors, functionality and data, but the people — from the CIO to the operator on the packaging line — are what make modern processes work.