Power Central’s client, “Pack’n Fresh” (PNF), was a food manufacturer growing up to 50% month over month in the early days of the pandemic. They wanted an ERP with business intelligence built in. And tired from spending hours each day slogging through manual analysis — both inside multiple spreadsheets and within Quickbooks — PNF needed help. Power Central was engaged to introduce an intelligence-driven ERP that could make their day-to-day operations seamless and provide easy-to-interpret, actionable insights. This is the story of how PNF gained tactical and strategic intelligence to ensure on-time delivery and balance profitability with cash flows.
At the outset, we saw how owning accounting, sales, production and shipping functions solo was draining PNF’s most valuable intellectual resource, the CEO. Managing all the departments and attempting to track components of finished goods for FDA/FSMA compliance through firedrill-style operations had spread him too thin. Accelerated growth during the pandemic had at once made it urgent to transition to a fully functioning ERP, and yet impossible for the CEO to be devoted to making it happen.
Benefiting From AI-Accelerated ERP Implementation
The work started with a high-level review of PNF’s 1,000+ SKUs across 60-plus global vendors. Here, we saw how tracking products across 40 brands and various systems (to coordinate shipping/receiving, accounting and production systems) grew not only cumbersome, but also became a serious compliance risk. PNF was challenged to consistently compare buying opportunities and calculate gross profit margin. Keeping up demanded faster and simpler financial decision tooling to control quality, inventory and timely delivery, while ensuring cash flow and profit margins.
Likewise, because the Pack’n Fresh CEO had long carried out most data entry with inconsistent support, each time he onboarded new hourly staff, the quality of record keeping fluctuated. This highlighted, for example, how PNF ended up with 7,000 distinct SKUs across systems, while only 1,050 distinct SKUs actually existed. This made LOT based tracking of goods from receiving through production and shipping overly complex, putting FDA compliance in jeopardy. This also made pricing and profitability calculations inconsistent.
On day one, we knew we were stepping into another vendor’s unsuccessful ERP implementation. $60K already had been invested and months were lost, leaving lots of data to clean up. Rather than misplace expectations on the business owner to pitch in, our team took charge of data cleanup. We leveraged artificial intelligence, using Microsoft Azure Machine Learning services and Power BI, to rapidly de-dupe the data. Initially, what had appeared as 7,000 unique products was condensed into 1,050 distinct products; eliminating these redundant name variations, unintentionally created over the life of the business, told us exactly which items (Master Data) to track and price — by the end of two weeks.
Connecting Departments With Dynamics 365 Business Central
By the time data cleanup was complete, we had a strong sense of the most critical business functions to target for digital transformation. In under 8 weeks from kickoff, Power Central had delivered the first phase of implementation. As a result, the business owner had ultrafast access to his own fully functional Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central ERP to start running day-to-day operations, where Accounting, Sales, Purchasing, Warehousing and Inventory Management (with LOT tracking for FDA compliance) were seamlessly connected through a single, cloud-based system.
Tactical Business Intelligence: On-Time-Delivery
With all data flowing through a single system, PNF could holistically address orders in the pipeline as soon as week 10. The new system accelerated production and procurement planning immediately because Power Central integrated an on-time delivery dashboard built on top of Power BI. This programming layer unburdened the Pack’n Fresh CEO from lengthy procurement and production planning sessions by design. Tactical decision time was reduced right away from 6 hours to 30 minutes a day, creating time to devote to sales and scaling the food business.
Training and Post-Deployment ERP Support
Leading into phase 2 of the engagement, PNF staff assimilated to the new ERP system in under a week. Power Central provided both software training and work instructions, as well as 8 weeks of live, expert support post-deployment – where Power Central ensured a successful transition experience by staying on remotely to handle exceptions and other challenges across departments during regular business hours.
Strategic Business Intelligence: Profitability, Pricing and Cash Flows
Within two months post-transition, PNF’s customized Business Central ERP system was generating high quality data effortlessly. Programmed with strategic business intelligence to do the heavy lifting, the ERP served as the single source of truth for generating reports and forecasting financial outcomes. Custom reports were automated to provide revenue earned per month, gross profit margin, cash flows and pricing on-demand as well.
The Power in Using Advanced AI Conservatively
This phased approach ensured meaningful data flowed into the ERP system. And in the process, the Power Central team used this new data to pinpoint exactly where to leverage advanced AI. Seeing that 85% of PNF’s revenue was coming from just three core customers led us to intentionally limit our “Image-to-Order” initiative (where the ERP system is taught to “read” PDFs from emailed attachments). And so using advanced AI strategically here ensured ROI, along with a more achievable scope of work on our timeline and a significant payoff for PNF — all advantages of consciously applying AI technology in a way that avoids depleting resources with little measurable benefit.
Using Conscientious Data Curation to Advance Procurement
By observing trends in PNF’s product and sales data, Power Central was able to streamline its approach to enabling vendor management. Seeing how just 30 of the firm’s 1,050 products were moving well, we strategically limited the data we loaded, reducing the time and expense to implement advanced procurement planning. So rather than seeking sixty vendor catalogs to ingest data for over one thousand items in PNF’s catalog, we instead focused on the top 30 items across just 4 vendors. This approach rapidly established PNF’s procurement planning function without bogging down the ERP implementation with large amounts of irrelevant data.
Enabling Growing Food Startups into the Future
Founders typically suffer too many long years waiting for the right time to unravel the complexities of an ERP system. Experience tells us that that “right time” never comes. And too often the path to ERP, from contemplating data cleanup to data mapping to high-dollar implementation estimates, becomes overwhelming for even experienced ERP system Users – to the point the complexities prevent most smaller manufacturers from even starting (or lead to discarding the project from lack of tangible results in a reasonable timeframe).
For many of the food manufacturing businesses we work with, our affordable, rapid-style ERP implementation and delivery of actionable business intelligence offers CEOs the ability to scale like never before.