by George Nott

Life of Pies: Inside Patties Foods, makers of a million Aussie icons

Jan 31, 2017
Digital TransformationIT ManagementProject Management

In the lush green surrounds of East Gippsland in southern Victoria, an Aussie icon is born every second. It’s here that Four ‘N Twenty pies are made.

Work at the Patties Foods bakery in Bairnsdale never stops. The company employs some 500 people in the town, who are responsible for the production lines which run for twenty four hours every day.

Maintaining a strong output of pies (Patties also makes Nanna’s sweet fruit pies and Herbert Adams gourmet pastries) is “mission critical”, explains the company’s general manager of IT Zelko Erdec: “It can’t stop.”

For this reason Erdec has embarked on what he calls a fit-for-purpose cloud strategy, rolling out cloud solutions where possible, but not when they might risk a pause in the production process.

“As long as there isn’t a dependency, something that will affect our manufacturing process, we are either looking at doing a cloud based solution or we’ve already done it,” he says.

Pies in the sky

Most recently IBM’s enterprise mobility management solution, MaaS360 has been rolled out to Patties 50-strong field team who are responsible for nurturing relationships, finding new business and administering return orders.

Armed with iPads, the team travels the country and need to access real-time reports, customer profiles and set ups, the latest promotions, merchandise and store planning tools, route planning and asset management applications.

A previous solution was proving too time-consuming and put a strain on Erdec’s small team of five.

“We did have a solution there and it was quite comfortable to deploy and get up and running. But then we had to maintain three servers. We found that we had to upgrade the solution across the three servers on a yearly basis,” says Erdec.

“That wouldn’t have been so bad if they’d been pretty easy, follow the bouncing ball type of upgrade but we found that we’d have to go back to the vendor and even then sales had issues upgrading.”

Upgrades, Erdec says, could take anything from two days to a week to complete. Partner ISW rolled out the replacement solution in less than a month.

The main benefit has been a “headache gone”, Erdec says. Three servers have now been decommissioned, freeing his team from making time consuming back-ups.

“The usual maintenance hassles are all handled in the background,” he adds.

As well as operational expenditure being reduced, there are knock on benefits too, Erdec explains.

“There is functionality in there that’s made our life easier like being able to mass message our guys in the field if we do have any outages – you can pick and choose fields or state based people and the like. It sounds like a simple thing but previously we’d have to provide a whole stack of mobile numbers and group them and… it’s very quick.”

If there are any issues with staff accessing reports in the back end, they can be quickly notified, avoiding an overstretched helpdesk.

“And they would call,” Erdec says. “You just want to try and mitigate 50 calls coming through to one person.”

Upper crust

Patties Foods was bought out last year, its fiftieth anniversary year, by a private equity investment firm. Finding efficiency gains, while maintaining output and quality at the production facility, is paramount. The business is increasingly turning to the IT team to achieve it.

A packaging automation robot prepares pies for retail on one of the production lines and Erdec and his team are exploring further automation within the plant in the coming year.

There’s also a continued focus on getting the most out of existing systems. The team will look to leverage on the full functionality of its ERP – an Infor M3 version 10.1 – which was upgraded in 2012, and “really capitalise on that investment”, Erdec says.

“Being able to lean on partners helps alleviate ourselves of those mundane tasks and keeping the lights on, to fully immerse ourselves with different functional areas of the business to get a good understanding of what they do. We can bring that objective view or opinion or thought process to help transform the business [and find] the benefits,” Erdec adds.

“We’re always trying to transform IT to be a value-added partner to the business.”