Bean counter keeps coffee brewing
In the coffee industry, no two
beans are exactly alike. Beans change from country to country, city to
city, and season to season. But Silocaf of New Orleans, a coffee bean
processing plant, was determined to find a coffee blend that tasted the
same no matter the location or season. To do that, the company needed
a way to track its inventory of hundreds of different kinds and qualities
of coffee beans from locales such as Brazil, Mexico, Columbia, Guatemala,
Taiwan, India, Ethiopia and Vietnam, so that it could always produce the
Management Systems (IMS)
provide a real-time inventory system that provides accurate and
timely inventory data to clients.
to analyze information allows for better inventory management; an
almost 50% savings over the cost of implementing a commercial inventory
Silocaf already had a system in
place called Lookout, which controlled how things moved through the plant.
What Silocaf did not have, however, was live inventory, according to Sean
Varnado, IS manager. Keeping inventory "was totally man-driven and hard
to do," he explained, and was maintained on paper and through an old,
standalone inventory package. All of that changed with the birth of the
Inventory Management Systems (IMS) project in January 1998.
After examining tools from 11
different companies, the team chose Sterling Software's Cool:Plex for
the project. Varnado —who joined the project more than halfway through,
after the project's founder was promoted — was not involved in that initial
decision. This "change in guard," as he calls it, presented a bit of a
challenge, but Varnado said it was not a big issue. "I knew Cool:Plex
and the way it allows you to finish your data," he explained. "[The project]
was very easy to pick up. I did very little cross-training."
The development team was drawn
to Cool:Plex because of its data modeling feature that allowed the group
to model and complete phases of programming the new system. It also made
quick changes and maintenance easy. Rather than having to make numerous
changes manually as a result of one change, Cool:Plex does it all. "Changes
are automatically maintained by one change," Varnado said. "One change
basically affects the whole world."
IS manager, programmer, two contract
The development team included
two contract programmers with more than two years of experience each,
and two Silocaf employees — a programmer and an IS manager — who each
had three to four weeks of training in Cool:Plex.
The IT department worked with
users to analyze the needs of the company and to provide documentation
for an RFP. The top three proposals were selected and reviewed before
the team finally chose Sterling's Cool:Plex.
The group worked with both clients
(for whom they process the coffee) and users (who use IMS) throughout
the project. A steering committee was set up consisting of executives,
managers, users and clients. The team provided weekly reports on the project
development to this committee. Users were involved in the analysis, design,
testing and implementation stages. IMS went live in March 1999, 14 months
after its inception.
IMS is tightly integrated with
Silocaf's Programmable Logical Controller system, Lookout, that runs the
coffee bean processing plant. Because Lookout tracks all the coffee, blends
and qualities in the plant, this integration allows for built-in, automated
quality checks. If a system operator attempts to put one kind of bean
into a silo that already has a different grade of bean, the software will
not let that happen. Employees enter new inventory information directly
into IMS from computer terminals at the receiving docks. Lookout executes
orders, and IMS validates them. "One [system] cannot work without the
other one today," noted Varnado.
Thanks to IMS, Silocaf's
clients have full access to inventory information and can enter shipment
information directly into IMS. Silocaf is also better able to manage its
inventory and keep its processes within the plant efficient.
— Lana Gates