Maybe that's not quite how Homer Simpson would put it, but it's true. A growing segment of the craft beer business is using an application called OrchestratedBEER to run the less delicious aspects of their day-to-day business, such as inventory, production, accounting, invoicing, and more. The software, based on SAP's Business One platform, was developed specifically for small and midsize craft brewers.
Launched in 2009, OrchestratedBEER now counts brewers like The Fort Collins Brewery in Colorado and Fullsteam Brewery in North Carolina among its user base. It includes adds-on such as a customer ordering portal, quality control, analytics, and even one for tweaking beer recipes on the fly. Word has spread quickly through the burgeoning industry.
[ Going out of your comfort zone can be a good thing for your SMB. Read Startup Weekend Made Me A Better IT Leader. ]
Societe Brewing Company, an eight-person startup in San Diego, Calif., wanted to launch with the application from day one, according to founder and CEO Doug Constantiner. But the business was hampered by limited broadband Internet options at its new facility. It made do with Excel while Time Warner ran new cable to the building, a one-month project that ended up taking eight months and costing $120,000.
Constantiner considers himself well-versed in Excel, but he said it's a nightmare scenario for a running growth-minded brewery. "We only used Excel because we had to," he said in an interview. "It was never adequate to begin with--there was no point where it was okay to use."
The final domino was Constantiner's concern about a lack of in-house accounting acumen. He became convinced after calling a reference--an older, quite literally mom-and-pop brewery, who assured him the application was easy to use. "I figured if these people who probably didn't even have Facebook accounts could use Orchestra, that's probably a pretty good sign," Constantiner said.
Since deploying OrchestratedBEER, Constantiner said he's reduced time spent on the grind work that comes with managing the business by some 90%. For example, as a brewery, Societe must file regular reports with state and federal regulators--a task Constantiner describes as "a real pain in the butt." Those reports are now generated automatically with OrchestratedBEER. That fits with Constantiner's desire to run the brewing side in a manual, hands-on manner while automating the business side as much as possible.
The Orchestra app is pretty much all Societe needs in terms of IT; Constantiner said the only other noteworthy tech piece the company uses is Google Apps for email. "We are bare-bones," Constantiner said.
Next up for Societe is to deploy iPads in the brewery, running a virtualized cloud version of the OrchestratedBEER app designed for the tablet's screen size. The goal isn't to replace PCs, per se, but to replace the reams of paper involved in making beer. "There's a lot of paper in a brewery," said Orchestra president Brad Windecker, in an interview. Aside from increasing interest green business, paper reduction is a practical matter: Storing critical documents and data on a clipboard that hangs next to a vat of fermenting suds is a recipe for trouble.
A spokeswoman for SAP said there are roughly 500 applications built on Business One that serve similarly narrow vertical markets. Orchestra's Windecker said that was part of the opportunity--a one-size-fits-all approach to enterprise resource planning (ERP) and related functions rarely meets the real needs of smaller companies.
As for OrchestratedBEER's very specific market, that's no accident. Orchestra is located in Portland, Oregon, one of the country's craft brew capitals, and Windecker and his team like beer. After talking to a number of brewers, Windecker realized there was an unfulfilled industry need for smaller companies.
"There was no player in the industry at all," Windecker said. "There was nobody out there that was telling the 2,000 craft breweries out there that this is the solution for you."
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