You Can’t Digitize Beer

Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu sets course for the future

There are things at Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu that haven’t changed since 1880. The brewing water comes from the same sources as it did back then, the traditional recipes are meticulously followed, and the sign with the inscription saying “Emil, halt!” still hangs in the courtyard – even though Emil the drayman has long since stopped calling here to load his horse-drawn cart. Technological change and digitization have been shaping the world’s second-oldest profession too, of course, though not in the same disruptive manner as in other sectors. “You can’t consume beer through a digital interface – you’ve got to drink it,” emphasizes commercial director Katrin Glauner. But because beer consumption per head has been falling steadily since the 1980s, pressure is rising at the fourth-generation family business as well. If you want to hold your own in the beer market, you need to get yourself fit for the future. And, with a comprehensive digitization project, that’s precisely what the brewery is doing.

Tradition meets digitization

What comes under the term “Industry 4.0” elsewhere is called “Monk 4.0” at the Alpirsbach brewery. And that’s not without reason. “We chose the project name to paint a picture of the digital future that draws on the values and traditions of our family brewery and helps us to achieve acceptance and understanding among the staff,” Ms Glauner says. “It’s not the technology that ultimately decides on success, but the people who work with it.”

The starting gun for the digitization project was fired in 2017. What triggered it was the outdated ERP system, which no longer fulfilled the increasing demands of the business. But instead of simply opting for a change of system, the Alpirsbach managers looked closely at the topic of digitization and deployed a two-person IT project team to get the brewery fit for the future. The focus was on networking and cooperation between the individual departments and on preparing the data for modelling and analysing the various processes.

Focusing on the individual

At the centre of the digital offensive is the new ERP system, which covers every department and, thanks to new technologies, offers greater scalability and more networking possibilities. Since the introduction of a new administrative system entails a lot of work, careful preparation is needed. The Alpirsbach brewery managers gave themselves a year in which to examine all business processes and to draw up the project plan. “When you wish to change established processes that work well, there’s also a human element,” Katrin Glauner explains. “We took the organization with us on the journey and involved colleagues from the departments so that the various requirements would be taken into account. All this takes time.” The result of the year’s work was a functional specification document with 500 items to be implemented as part of the main project.

Self-service for specialists

At Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu, instead of bringing the new system on stream with a big bang, the ongoing business processes were duly considered and the decision was made to integrate the divisions into the new ERP system step by step. Like, for instance, the Alpirsbach fan club, brought into being in 2010, which up to that point had been managed by means of an Excel list. Now that there were over 12,000 “specialists” with welcome packs, membership cards, birthday gifts and membership fees, this was hardly manageable in that form, never mind efficient.

The brewery replaced Excel with an online shop where the members log in and do their own administration. “We’ve created a system with which we can model and communicate all processes transparently, both internally and externally. As a result of the interaction between the online shop, the payment processor and the ERP system, the specialists and customer service staff always know the status of the orders and the logistics staff know how many packages they need to put together and send,” the commercial director is pleased to report. Nevertheless, the implementation of the self-service portal did not run entirely smoothly. “Setting up a system such as this requires flexibility. More members mean more birthday gifts and consequently more complaints owing to breakage in transport. Thus, whenever the circumstances change, you need to make adjustments.”

The warehouse of the future

At Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu, the management is currently working on connecting the logistics to the ERP system. In the past, orders were printed out and sorted; these days the ordered lists are provided in electronic form and the staff work through the processes on a tablet. For this to happen, the technical infrastructure with a network and wireless access points had to be put in place first. That was followed by the right hardware being chosen, then the software and the gradual integration of the workflow processes. “With our mobile warehouse, we can see when a particular package with particular contents was dispatched. The depth of information allows us to give the customer better feedback on the status of his order.” Despite Katrin Glauner’s favourable preliminary conclusion, one or two minor issues remain outstanding. “We still need to work out how to fix the tablets to the fork-lift trucks and hang up a few bar codes so that they’re easy to work with. Then we’ll have met our own requirements of recording all stock movements and of having a detailed overview of our stock and the individual batches.”

It all comes down to planning

After the logistics, other areas such as incoming goods and contract management are going to be transferred to the new system. The introduction of the new financial accounting system, with which all systems will be brought on stream by the end of 2021, will be the finishing touch. And what happens then? “The key questions are: What do I do with it? How do I prepare the data? How do I handle the analytics? And that’s where it gets interesting,” emphasizes Katrin Glauner. “The crux of the matter is integrated planning. If, like us, you gear your production to the market, you must be ready to deliver the quantities and barrels in demand at short notice. If you think about the processes starting with the customer, then demand is the trigger for all subsequent processes, right through to the purchase of raw materials.”

In Alpirsbach, the managers confronted this challenge many years ago and have a solution up and running that is also fit for the digital future, in the shape of professional corporate performance management software from Corporate Planning. “For me, the Corporate Planning software is a huge time saver. I can concentrate on analysing the data, which is what I enjoy the most,” says the family brewery’s commercial director, adding: “One of the members of our supervisory board knows a great many family businesses and breweries. For him, when it comes to corporate performance management, we’re the model business – and that’s of course how it should stay.”