In its Food Harvest 2020 report, the Irish government set out a target to increase dairy exports by 50% between 2015 and 2020. To help achieve this goal, the Irish Dairy Board – a co-operative with a turnover of €1.9bn, must match the increasingly complex requirements of its customers with the produce of dairy processors and farmers.
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To align data from multiple sources the IDB uses a system based on a combination of IBM Sterling B2B Integrator and IBM Sterling B2B Collaboration Network. This is connected with an ERP system from Infor – which also runs on the iSeries mainframe and DB2 database.
“Our supply chain is made up of a lot of companies of different sizes and capabilities,” said John Nugent, systems development manager at IDB, which is behind brands such as Kerrygold.
“We are dealing with the big SAP and Oracle shops, down to the small businesses that might have bespoke systems. We’ve a lot of complexity in our data exchange and we needed a very powerful platform that could make this seamless, no matter what we are dealing with.”
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Data from customers and suppliers is integrated into the ERP system, into which IDB has built a business intelligence system to match requirements from customers with stock availability from suppliers.
“We take 150 pieces of information for a particular piece of cheese stock – whether that is compositional information, the moisture the pH, or the taste and the textures judged by our graders," said Nugent. "Then we have the requirements of the customers for particular cheeses of a certain flavour and texture. It is like a match-making service between the stock in the warehouse and the requirements of the customers to make sure that the optimal stock is delivered.”
IDB decided to take the burden of managing the complexity of data integration, by using out-of-the-box enterprise data integration (EDI) standards for the suppliers using mainstream ERP systems from SAP and Oracle. Where physical warehouses used industry-specific management systems, IDB worked with a small pool of suppliers to create an XML standard, which they could distribute to the warehouse licensees. Smaller firms are offered access to a web portal to input data.
The approach of combining supply chain integration, ERP and business intelligence seems to be helping IDB meet customer expectations in its 80 export markets.
“One of the things about our business, [for the customer] is it is not like buying a TV. If it’s not what you want, you can’t just return it. It is an expensive thing to export, so it is vital to get the data right for the customer,” said Nugent.