Foods manufacturer ConAgra expects to save $5m a year with data analytics

Food manufacturer ConAgra Foods is using data analytics technology to improve how it makes decisions about hiring and deploying its workforce

ConAgra Foods, a Fortune 500 food manufacturer, expects to save $5m a year after investing in data analytics technology, which will allow  it to plan its workforce more effectively

The US company – which owns brands such as Slim Jim beef jerky and Peter Pan peanut butter – is using analytics technology to bring together data from its finance and HR systems, to give it a clear picture of its salary and overtime costs for over 28,000 employees.

The $17bn company is using the technology to help it make better decisions on when to hire workers, and to make better contingency plans covering peaks and troughs in demand, said Tim Sasek, manager of human resources in talent analytics.

“We are able to lower our costs by scheduling more efficiently and bringing in the right resources. If we are able to reduce our overtime by just 5% a year, that would equate to $5m to $10m in savings a year,” Sasek told Computer Weekly.

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Acquisition prompts analytics investment

ConAgra Foods decided to invest in analytics software after it acquired another firm, Ralcorp, in 2013, adding another 10,000 people to its payroll almost overnight.

The company wanted to integrate Ralcorp's employees, identify the most talented people and ensure they stayed with the company, as quickly as possible. It also needed an accurate assessment of the costs of its workforce.

ConAgra had been experimenting with analytics tools in what the company calls a “below the radar” project to provide HR managers with better data on the workforce.

Following the takeover it accelerated the project, conducting an extensive evaluation analytics and data visualisation technology before settling on technology from Visier, a Canadian HR analytics specialist.

The technology offered built-in metrics and pre-built data visualisations, which meant ConAgra did not have to spend time building these functions itself.

“They are a very new company, their senior leadership are all business intelligence people and they understand the architecture. We were impressed by how quickly they were innovating, every quarter they were coming out with new functionality,” said Sasek.

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Rolling out data analytics

ConAgra signed the contract in February 2013, started populating Visier with data a month later and had an operational system running by May 2013.

The cloud software went fully live in August 2013, when ConAgra integrated the data from its PeopleSoft Human Resources System into Visier, giving it the ability to analyse over 700 metrics about the workforce.

“Because we were an internally developed reporting tool previously, we knew our data really well and how we wanted to format it. That helped us get our data up to speed and get it in really quickly,” said Sasek.

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Datawarehouse for data transfer

The company is using a datawarehouse to transfer data each night from PeopleSoft to Visier.  It is also working on automating the transfer of its data from a SAP-based finance system into Visier, and expects to complete the work in the next three or four months.

The technology has allowed the company to visualise and share information on seasonal workforce trends, and to identify where there are problems with overtime.

“We are trying to better understand the appropriate organisational structure we need to have in place, to make sure we  have the right people in the right place, in the right role at the right time, and how we can do things as efficiently as possible,” said Sasek.

Because food manufacturing is a low-margin business, small savings in workforce costs can make a significant difference to the company’s profits.

“I think this could easily impact our bottom line. Every time we can squeeze some dollars out of the process, that makes a difference – and labour is a big spend,” he said.

Project challenges

The biggest challenge in rolling Visier out was not technological, but encouraging the HR team to adopt the technology.

“Because we have so much data, six years of history, it was about needing our HR people to trust the data and get comfortable with the technology – for some folks it can be an overwhelming experience, “ he said.

ConAgra now plans to use Visier to monitor the total costs of its workforce, including spending on tax and benefits. That will enable the company to look at its return on investment on hiring staff across different areas of the business.


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